TEA Transitions: Reflections on Past and Future

This article was published
in the January 2002 issue of
the LOTE CED Lowdown.

NOTE: Inés García retired from her position as Director of Languages Other Than English at the Texas Education Agency in the fall of 2001. Carl Johnson, previously Assistant Director, has taken over the position and now, among other responsibilities, oversees the work of the LOTE Center for Educator Development.

by Inés García

After approximately 40 years in education, I recently retired from my position as Director of the Languages Other Than English Unit at the Texas Education Agency. Following a long and very happy career, the decision to retire was made with a mix of sadness and excitement. Sadness because of my separation from the many wonderful colleagues that I came to know well and respect highly. Excitement because I see retirement as a different path that will allow me to continue to serve. Reflecting on my years in the classroom and at the Agency, I am in awe of the miraculous revolution that the language learning profession was able to experience in those years and that I was lucky to be a part of.

My student teaching assignment was at Wynn Seale Junior High School in the Corpus Christi Independent School District in 1963. The adopted textbook that I was required to use for Spanish I in Grade 9 was El Camino Real (Houghton Mifflin, 1946). This textbook was a legend in the field, having been adopted by the state in 1946 for the first time, but already a very popular and widely used revised edition nationwide. El Camino Real was a textbook designed to teach reading comprehension through heavy emphasis on grammar and translation. The book’s treatment of culture was quaint, full of stereotypes, and principally “big C.”

During my first years of teaching, I was fortunate to have been a part of the district textbook adoption committee that selected the first and very controversial high school audiolingual textbook. The methodology reflected in the textbook series was an obvious backlash to previous textbooks and focused on the teaching of speaking and listening comprehension. I can still remember the professional development sessions that prepared us to lead oral group recitations of dialogues and the choruses of student voices being led in the correct pronunciation and intonation of formulaic expressions and dialogue sentences. Those dialogues have been committed to memory for all of my days!

While at the Agency, a forward -looking state textbook committee adopted the first Spanish textbook developed by Houghton Mifflin that was based on the theory of communicative competency and the use of transformational grammar. This very carefully structured and scripted textbook required teachers to follow the material closely, left teachers with little room for adaptation, and aspired to lead students to more real-life use of the target language. As I remember, while many Texas teachers remained skeptical of the methodology exhibited and uncomfortable leaving behind the more recognizable and familiar textbooks, some innovative souls embraced the new materials with great enthusiasm.

The eighties brought the proficiency-oriented classroom and once again a shift and a refinement of the goals of language learning. The earliest significant impact of this philosophy in Texas was in the area of teacher standards with the adoption of the oral proficiency standard as a prerequisite for Texas teacher certification in Spanish and French. Next came the national standards, the TEKS, and the state emphasis on professional development through the LOTE CED. In 2001, more students in Texas learn languages than ever before, foreign language study is required in the recommended high school program, more students begin language study earlier, language teachers have a higher proficiency in the languages that they teach, more and better focused professional development opportunities are available for Texas language teachers throughout the state, new standards for teachers of languages are about to be developed, etc. As kids say these days, "It is really awesome!" A bloodless revolution was led by legions of inspired, tireless, and enthusiastic foreign language teachers. And the best is yet to come! I cannot wait to play a part in the next chapter.


by Carl Johnson

The new Director of Languages Other Than English at the Texas Education Agency? Me? Oh my. How do I feel about that? And what does it mean for the future of language education in Texas?

First, my feelings. I feel profoundly sad at Inés García’s retirement, having worked at her able side for more than 24 years. We, with Bobby LaBouve, were often affectionately referred to as “the triumvirate,” together for 16 years as the threesome from Texas (LaBouve from 1966-1993, García from 1974 to 2001, and Johnson since 1977), one of the very few states ever to have three language specialists at the state level consistently over time. But then there were two, as Bobby passed the torch to Inés on his retirement in 1993. And now, after eight years of strong leadership and generosity to the profession as Director, Inés, too, has passed the torch to the remaining family member... moi!

My task for the present is to mask my sadness, jump to the challenge of the work at hand, and reconfirm a vision for the future of languages in Texas. I can do that! At hand, in our case, means supporting a number of critical efforts: continuation of full support for the LOTE Center for Educator Development, under the very able leadership of Elaine Phillips and Chuck Reese; the various initiatives operating under the agreement between Texas and Spain, with Inés helping on a contractual basis to ensure that those efforts flourish; a massive new textbook adoption, for the first time in all languages at all levels at the same time, with the actual adoption to take place in 2004 with new materials in all classrooms for August 2005; work with the State Board for Educator Certification on LOTE teacher standards and teacher certification test development and revision; continued efforts to collaborate and cooperate with school district LOTE leaders in implementing successful language programs around the state; and hiring shortly a new assistant director to help me out!

For the future, my hopes and dreams are to help ensure quality language programs for all students with outstanding, qualified teachers who choose to continue to grow professionally, in programs that begin in the early elementary grades and continue in an articulated manner through the middle and high school grades into college and life beyond. Everything that goes into making that happen has implications for the work we must do: dealing with teacher shortages while trying to start and build new programs; ensuring that students and teachers have access to the best instructional materials; continuing professional development efforts that are readily available, meaningful and effective; working with the profession to find ways that legislative and policy-making bodies can support and encourage our efforts and become advocates for language study for all.

I am moved to learn from our past efforts, continue good works in progress, and dig new ground for the future. I know I can count on many of you to help me bring it off, and I look forward to your recommendations, your vision, and your support!