Tam Agosti-Gisler

I told you our new School Board President spoke to the World Languages teachers yesterday. She agreed to let me post the text of her talk, so here goes!

Tam Agosti -Gisler

Speech to World Language teachers

Cross-district in-service, Dimond High School, August 19, 2013

Good morning and travelling west to east….

Buenas dias, Bonjour, Guten Tag, добрый день, 你好, and おはようございます !

It’s fitting that I am here talking to you at Dimond High School, the place where I begin my career as a French and Social Studies teacher in 1982.  However, when I began at Dimond-Mears as a teacher, never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I would be standing here 31 years later talking to World Language teachers in my role as School Board president. It’s amazing the paths that life takes you on. 

So, reflecting on the years as a teacher, and looking forward to where we are going with 21st education, I have four points I want to make with you:

1) Be innovative with technology!  The digital natives in this room are unfazed by this concept, because technology has always been a part of their existence.  It’s kind of like saying: ‘ breathe air.’  And their response,   ‘duh, of course!’ The digital immigrants in the room have to work a little harder to constantly adapt and not become luddites. However, considering the fact that everyone in this room has mastered at least one other language and culture, the process of adapting to technology should be easier than it is for our monolingual friends.

Even though my children don’t think I’m tech savvy, especially my son who works in IT (and mainly because I don’t care to on-line game except Words with Friends), I do utilize technology every single day for my work and my social life.  You know how much it has permeated my life when the first things I’d grab in a fire are my laptop and my phone!   I encourage you to be creative in utilizing this technology-rich world in ways that make language more accessible to students and to make your work more efficient.  Back in the 80’s, I wanted to give frequent comprehension quizzes without using class time.  So, I devised a way using my answering machine to give these comprehension quizzes as homework.  I recorded a short piece and students had to call in to listen and write down the answer to the question as well as the time they called. The time note was important as I changed the recording at various times so that if a student tried to simply copy a friend’s answers, s/he could get caught.  I also turned the ringer off on the phone so I didn’t have to hear the phone ringing all night.  This worked well, except when my friends called that evening and heard some crazy message in French!  Nowadays, there are so many ways you could accomplish the same with a You tube link or a recording on your website, etc. 

Another method I used in the 90’s to help students achieve mastery of new vocabulary were TPR cassette tapes, which I mass-produced using a high-speed recorder.  Students were instructed to physically interact with the language on the tape in 30-minute increments.  In other words, when we were learning body parts, they would hear a series of commands like, “Touch your nose, scratch your noose, wiggle your nose, plug your nose, etc.”  They were provided a tape script that was numbered and in English, which could be consulted when a command was not understood. Recognizing that it was time consuming to stop the tape, pick up the tape script and find the number of the command just said, rewind the tape and relisten to the command, I encouraged students to find a sibling or a parent to be their guide. When something was said that wasn’t understood, all the student had to do was look at his or her guide who would model the action.   The unintended benefit, beyond the timesavings, was that the person guiding the student inevitably learned all of the language l too.  I laugh when I think of the call from a parent who said she had mastered all of the language on tape 1 and was wondering when tape 2 was coming home!   I often had students show up in French 1 as 7th graders who already possessed large hunks of language obtained being their older sibling’s guide. It was a masterful recruiting tool for my class.

If I were in the classroom today, I would use a you-tube recording with a link on my class website for students to access. I would make specific video recordings for material I want students to rewatch and master.  I would probably simply record my actual classes if I was doing a TPRS lesson and let students see where other classes took a story.  (Recording the class would be an ideal classroom job for a tech-nerd student or one who needs to be kept engaged.)

What are the advantages of the use of technology in this way?

Students who are absent can easily make up the class. 

Homework is a meaningful language acquisition exercise.

Students who need multiple repetitions of language in context are given the opportunity to repeat view as many times as they like without any stigma.

Students aren’t simply exposed to language, they MASTER hunks of language that are stored in long-term memory.

If you teach an upper level class, consider having students publish their work. The Internet has countless tools that allow students to publish their writing or research from which the world can learn and be inspired.  These days, students shouldn’t create work solely for their teachers to see, but for the world to see.  The positive peer pressure of the eyes of the world will improve the quality of what your students produce!


I hope that this year many of you will share stories about your innovative use of technology with your colleagues and me. 

2) Involve the community!   You need to find ways to get parents and business partners physically into your classroom to observe all the wonderful things you are doing with kids.  A war is being waged on public education in this country and educators need to become foot soldiers in the cause.  When parents and partners spend time in a classroom, especially if they interact with students in a meaningful way, they usually become your biggest advocates.   If you have a noon hour class, I would work with your principal to invite parents to come eat their lunch in the classroom and just observe. Obviously, you’d need to have a Google doc signup on your website so that just one came at a time and it doesn’t become overwhelming.   Invite school business partners to come do a “promo” on how they think language skills would be useful in the work world.  This need only take 10 minutes of class time, but gets them in the door to see what you and your students are doing!  Invite school board members, especially the one assigned to your school, and legislators, especially those who represent your school’s area, to come and observe what students are learning.   I guarantee that impressed parents, partners and politicians will be singing your praise around the community when they truly understand how you are leading students to global competency through language study.    Don’t underestimate how impacting this “in the classroom” experience can be on education funding and legislation that directly impacts your life. 

3) Get involved in a professional learning group. Michele Whaley of West High School has been leading one for a couple years that meets on the first Friday of the month. I’ve attended several times and have been very impressed with how colleagues of all experience levels are assisting each other to develop creative and pedagogically sound ways to teach.  If this time frame doesn’t work for you, start another one with other colleagues, one day a week after school.  Teacher development goes hand in hand with teacher evaluation and as the state implements new evaluation requirements; I encourage you to be at the forefront of shaping how that will be applied in our district.   One of the reasons that 30 minutes has been added to your proposed contract is specifically to address professional development without pulling teachers out of classes, and without the funding to do otherwise.

Finally, don’t forget that your interactions one on one with students are the most important thing you do.  My goal as a WL teacher was to make students fall in love, not only with French and the culture, but with learning itself.   I wanted them to leave me knowing they were capable of learning and achieving whatever they were willing to work for.  If you genuinely believe that ALL students are capable of learning, this will permeate your thoughts, your words and your actions.

When I taught in an at-risk program, other educators told me those students were not capable of learning another language.  I proved them wrong.  I capitalized on the fact that most of these students had never been allowed to enroll in a second language class and thus had never failed one. I was able to get around these students’ pre-conceived notions about what they were and weren’t capable of doing by adapting the way I taught so they couldn’t help but be successful.   Granted, the pace was much slower than in a class of students who come with less baggage, but what they learned, they learned for life!  I’ll never forgot one of my former SEARCH students running into me on the street with her husband and baby and stating that she still had all of that French stuff in her head.  She was wondering how to “get it out.” I laughed and said I didn’t know how to help people unlearn things and she said, “I guess I’m stuck with this French for life!”  I responded, “Yes, dear!” 

Merci! Have a great school year!


3 responses to “Tam Agosti-Gisler

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!!! Tam did a fantastic job! It was wonderful to meet her last year in Breckenridge. We need more folks like her in our world!!

    with love,


  2. How wonderful to have an administrator with language teaching experience!!!!


    • It’s almost unbelievable! With everything else that is going on in education, having Tam on board is going to make much of our path easier, or at least more manageable, since she gets what we do. The last two years, she was the person in charge of world language interns. I’m sorry she’s not doing that any more, but she’s certainly cognizant of the current situation in the schools.


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