Monthly Archives: December 2011

Teaching Foreign Languages and Loving it at Seventy

Here’s an article about a teacher, who at seventy years old, continues to maintain his love for teaching foreign languages to students. Article written by Jean-Bernard Hyppolite for, December 9, 2011:

You’d think that at the age of 70 and after retiring from teaching French and Spanish in a Philadelphia public school (Northeast High) for more than 30 years, East Mt. Airy resident Andrew Sellers, 70, would want nothing more than to vacation in Madrid or the French Riviera and stay as far away from a classroom as possible.

For East Mt. Airy resident Andrew Sellers, 70, teaching was always about much more than a paycheck and even much more than teaching foreign languages; it was always about leaving a lasting impression on his students, whether they were kids, teenagers or adults.

But for Sellers, teaching was always about much more than a paycheck and even much more than teaching foreign languages; it was always about leaving a lasting impression on his students, whether they were kids, teenagers or adults.
So even after he retired from public school teaching, Sellers offered to teach Spanish five years ago at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, a community-based school that offers dozens of non-credit courses on a wide variety of subjects. And after five years of teaching mostly adults at MALT, you could not pry Sellers out of the classroom with a crowbar.

“There’s such a different attitude,” explained Andrew. “The students are there because they really wish to learn, not because they have to be there, and they really do want to participate. And again it’s the same feeling that when you see somebody learn something; that expression, that smile, when they now have this jewel of knowledge. That really affects me.”

Why did Andrew decide to teach foreign languages, something that very, very few African Americans did 40 or 50 years ago? “I don’t know … I like to talk. I started studying Spanish in 1953, and I found out that the things I wanted to say had another way of saying it. I just became interested in it and developed a talent for it.”

Sellers began teaching at Northeast High School in September, 1969, and retired from the same school in 1999. “I basically taught French, and as tides turned I had to teach more Spanish. Things changed at the time because of a political situation between France and Israel … that dissuaded many people from studying French.”
(In the late 1960s relations between Israel and France were at a low point because of their governments’ widely divergent views on the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A significant percentage of Northeast High students at that time were Jewish, and apparently many opted to take courses in Spanish as their foreign language requirement instead of French.)

Throughout his time at Northeast High, Sellers of course observed dramatic changes in education. “There are so many advances in technology, which sometimes make more intense study not as much of a joy.” Sellers indicated that a lack of concentration, the “television mentality,” has become much more commonplace. “Students expect to be entertained, not taught. This is what I see basically occurring, and I suppose it will continue to occur.”

Nevertheless, Andrew Sellers simply loves to teach. He loves being able to get young minds to think. In fact, he is still an occasional substitute teacher. A source of great joy is the fact that Andrew has reacquainted himself with several former students, some from as far away as California and England, and he has discovered that they’ve had successful lives. “It’s a joy to see them, and it makes me feel good to know I’ve played a part in their lives.”

During Andrew’s early years at Northeast High School, he was one of only four or five African American teachers in the school. Andrew proudly noted, however, that there were no racial tensions to speak of, especially considering the fact that the civil rights revolution was at its height. Sellers believes that society needs to be more open regarding racial matters and not be on “constant guard, looking for offenses.” Sellers noticed that when he was in Europe, people didn’t pay as much attention to the subject of race compared to America.

Sellers was born in North Philadelphia. Because he was ill as a infant, doctors advised Sellers’ parents to move to an area where there was access to cleaner air. Thus, Andrew lived on his grandparents’ 100-acre farm in Florence, South Carolina, until the age of 6. He then moved back to Philadelphia. Sellers attributes his earliest experiences in helping him meet, understand and respect all types of people, even in the segregated south. He attended Roosevelt Junior High School and graduated from Germantown High School in 1959, immediately traveling to Europe, where he lived and studied for six years. While in Europe, Andrew observed that most Europeans were able to communicate in more than one language. He decided to emulate them, so in May of 1969, Andrew completed his B.A. in Foreign Language Education at Temple University. He was never married and has no children of his own, but many former students consider him a great father figure.

Along with teaching at Northeast High School, Andrew has also worked with the Germantown Theater Guild for years, participating in children’s theater. Through his love of puppet work, Sellers learned the value of “pulling children up to the next level.”

“The most important thing is not the subject that you teach,” said the lifelong educator. “It’s the idea that you’re teaching. It’s that you enjoy doing it because you’re imparting knowledge.”

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Diplomats Protest Foreign Language Teaching in Scotland

From Scotland on Sunday, December 3, 2011:

FOREIGN diplomats in Scotland have banded together in a unique protest sparked by fears over how foreign languages are taught in our schools.

They fear that unless something is done Scottish pupils will lose out in the international market.

Consul generals from five of the country’s major trading partners – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and China – have expressed their joint concern over an 80 per cent fall in the number of foreign language assistants (FLAs) teaching in Scotland’s schools over the past five years.

They claim the reduction has been caused by financial cutbacks by councils and warn that if the trend continues future generations of Scots will be at a disadvantage compared with overseas students.

The cutbacks have emerged despite a Scottish Government aspiration that all pupils will eventually study two foreign languages. It says modern languages are “central” to the success of the Curriculum for Excellence, the controversial teaching framework introduced in August 2010.

But figures compiled by the British Council, which manages the FLAs programme, show that the number of teaching assistants from overseas has fallen from 285 in 2005/6 to 59 this year.

The five countries have trade links with Scotland worth around £4.5 billion a year. They point out that the cost of hiring a foreign language assistant is just £8,000 a year.

Javier Jiménez-Ugarte, consul general of Spain, said: “The Spanish Consulate General regards the dramatic reduction in numbers of foreign language assistants in Scottish schools as one of alarming concern. As native speakers who use the language naturally, FLAs provide an opportunity for young learners to speak another language for real.”

Pierre-Alain Coffinier, consul general of France, said: “Learning a language is not only about learning vocabulary and grammar, but about being able to develop self-confidence, communication and intercultural skills in a foreign language and culture. That is the key to opening Scottish youngsters’ horizons and to broaden their prospects in life.”

Lloyd Anderson, director of the British Council in Scotland, said: “As the most senior diplomats to Scotland from their respective nations, the consuls general are living proof of the importance of language learning for intercultural dialogue. Their alarm at the decline in foreign language assistants must be taken seriously.

“By allowing our foreign language assistant intake to dwindle so sharply, Scotland could be hampering efforts to encourage our young people to continue studying languages to a high level. In the long run, this could undermine our ambition to increase trade and investment with other countries.”

The British Council manages the foreign language assistants programme with a grant from the Scottish Government but individual local authorities decide whether to take on and pay for them. Schools are currently expected to offer at least one modern language no later than P6, although there is no specification over which language that should be. It is expected that all pupils should continue to study a foreign language to at least the end of S3, although there is no statutory requirement for this.

The Scottish Government’s target is that all pupils will eventually study two foreign languages in addition to English from primary school.

A spokesman for Cosla said spending priorities were decided by individual councils, but added: “Along with other important subjects the teaching of foreign languages in Scottish schools remains a crucial part of our education system.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Foreign language assistants make a valuable contribution to Scottish schools, enhancing classroom learning through ‘real life’ language practice, and we welcome the fact that consular officials here in Scotland recognise this valuable input and are keen to see it continue.

“Our Languages Working Group will consider how they can help deliver our ambitions to boost language learning in Scotland’s schools.”

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