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Teacher's English shortcomings - what to do?

Original post made by Parental, Crescent Park, on Dec 8, 2013

My child goes to Paly and has a math teacher whose English is oftentimes hard to understand. In fact, the teacher's English is so bad that my child and at least several other students are having to either get tutors or spend time with the teacher during office hours.

I am nervous about bringing up this topic with the teacher or staff for fear of being labeled a bigot. The issue is real, though, and is making it hard for my child to learn. Anyone have advice for what to do?

Comments (9)

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Posted by The coming storm
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 8, 2013 at 9:32 am

This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem at all levels. Foreigners who are well qualified to teach EXCEPT for their accent and English skills should be required to work with an accent-reduction specialist; there are PLENTY available.

We had such an employee; she passed all the required tests, but we then had no test of English or writing. Eventually, we had to dismiss her because she was unable to adequately speak to clients, especially on the phone, nor could she write: she wrote the same way she spoke! Yet, someone at Stanford allowed her to get a bachelor's degree on engineering.

When my son was on college, he had a couple of professors with this problem. He was allowed to drop their classes. I had one in college, my husband had two in college. Back then, they eventually lost their jobs.

Talk to your child's counselor about transferring to another class. Be honest, tell the counselor the problem and suggest accent reduction or ESL for the teacher ASAP. Surely there are other similar complaints about this teacher.


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Posted by The coming storm
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 8, 2013 at 9:38 am

I should also me toon that I recently had a neurologist who may have been a very good doctor, but her poor English skills and heavy accent made her difficult to understand. This caused severe problems when I was hospitalized recently! because the staff could not understand her and her writing was as bad as her accent! which caused a couple of medical errors. A third was averted due to a quick-thinking nurse.

Needless to say, she is no longer my neurologist, in fact, she misdiagnosed me because she did not understand English well enough. The question is, why was she allowed to graduate medical school here in the US???? Technical ability can. E useless if you cannot communicate it!


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Posted by suggestion
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I think minimal English language skills should be required in jobs and professional positions where it is necessary! However, this is clearly a politically incorrect topic here in liberal SF Bay Area.
The definite worry is: the very direct impact of medical professionals with overseas degrees and poor English language/communication skills and teachers, who impact our children in major ways, can even impede their future! Those who handle money and must communicate about it, or describe products (accurately) are also an issue.
I do recall De Anza College used to have some elaborate program with special professionals who worked in assisting people in English language skills and accent reduction. Worth a look into that to see if the program is still available, for anyone interested.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2013 at 8:09 pm

In our current world, the people who speak poor English are likely to work for the least amount of money, therefore in the quest of spending as little as possible on actually doing a job as opposed to collected as much profit as possible or pay for the "manglers" they are going to continue to be hired. We all might as well face up to that reality. When you go anywhere now you see people who can just barely do their jobs, as might be defined by the customer public, but who have a right to work here, at least many of them.

I would suggest we just teach our kids to get used to reading the book and trying to get through classes without teacher support, like we have to get through our computer or product problems without customer support from many who cannot speak English ... past "I'm so sorry [customer name] that you have this problem" ....


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Posted by Chinese-American
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Speak to the principal, Kim Diorio. She has counseling background and should be sympathetic. It's not a bigotry issue at all - the children should be able to understand the teacher. I wonder who hired the person, because certainly, Phil Winston has better sense than to hire someone with such a thick accent that students cannot understand. Math is already insane at Paly - the accent is unfair to the students.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 8:40 am

Not sure if this is the same teacher, but we had a teacher like this several years ago.

Unfortunately nothing really happened. Most of the kids in the class were being tutored outside school anyway, many spent a lot of time in the math department at lunchtime or during preps. It seems that some of the other teachers were carrying the weight of this teacher and probably none of them suffered unduly. However, there was the fear of being thought un pc when trying to discuss this at school.

The teacher was very personable in other ways and when speaking one on one the accent wasn't such a big issue. It was just when standing at the front of the class teaching that the accent was a problem, possibly something the principal had never seen.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2013 at 8:59 am

I agree with Chinese-American, speak to Ms. Diorio and perhaps suggest she sit in on the class for a few minutes. Not being able to understand you teacher is a huge issue, my daughter had a math teacher at Jordan who spoke English as her 3rd language and was very hard to understand.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2013 at 1:41 pm

If it is who I think it is (female European), one of our kids had the same problem. We were able to change teachers at the new semester.

The teacher was hired before Winston was named Principal - but can't tell you when.


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Posted by An increasing problem
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2013 at 10:27 am

When our son was in first grade in another district, he had a teacher who was a Japanese national. Not only was her accent thick, she could not spell and kept trying to re-teach our son how to spell his name--incorrectly! Then she told the whole class that Abraham Lincoln was the second US president! She taught the class many other incorrect historical facts, and really messed up their spelling lessons.

At a parent-teacher conference, she complained that she could not understand what many of the children, including our son, were saying. She actually said ( verbatim), "You son he talk funny."!!!!

Then she flunked our son and he had to repeat first grade. Well, he got almost nothing out of that school year because of her accent and her lack of literacy. Yet, she graduated somehow from SJSU! We tried to appeal it, along with several other kids who were held back a year from her class. All the district did was transfer her to another school--they even said they could not bring "race" into it!

A lot of harm was done by this teacher.

On another note, I recently had a doctor from France, though her diploma showed that she graduated from a medical school in Indiana ( never heard of it before, do not know if it really exists). I could not understand a lot of what she said. Fortunately, she also spoke another language which I am fluent in, and we communicated better that way. Still, I had to explain to her the difference between Intravenous Infusion and all the types of injection: intramuscular, subcutaneous, arterial. It scared me so badly that I changed doctors!


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