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Alta High School English teacher Becky Laney would almost shock those who oppose bilingual education and want to proclaim English as the nation's official language.

She is a firm believer in bilingual education and agrees with several pedagogical researchers around the country who argue the bilingual method teaches students English while educating them in their native tongue.Laney, 39, says those against the program are "racists."

"I see them as an act of futility. I really think there's some racism behind it. If we try to implement these kinds of policies, we're going to have a larger percentage of students who either drop out physically from the system or remain uneducated.

"I think we'd better get serious in a hurry about the demographics of the United States. We're going to have more and more students who come from a home in which another language is used besides English."

With her curly hair and kind smile, Laney is one of those teachers capable of brightening a student's most depressing and difficult day. She spends most of her summers developing curriculum and her approach to teaching.

"I really don't want to do anything else besides teach," she said. "I chose to be a teacher, and I put a great deal of energy into trying to be a good one."

Her efforts haven't gone unnoticed. Laney has received teacher of the month awards at Eastmont Middle and Alta High schools. She has also been recognized by Utah State University for her curriculum development ideas.

"I don't have a lot of official awards, but the most rewarding thing about being a teacher is student feedback. That's the very best reward."

Laney has made curriculum changes that have challenged key facets of educational dogma. She almost invariably comes up with new, and often startling, information teachers and school administrators welcome with curiosity and enthusiasm.

She is so dedicated to her profession that a few years ago she took under her wings a Vietnamese refugee student who needed to learn how to speak, read and write English.

The student has become a success story. Every day, Laney said, she would spend two hours of her time after school with him encouraging him to learn and practice pronunciation.

"I was one person of many teachers and people who impacted this student, but I felt that what I did helped him a lot. He's exceedingly articulate. He speaks very well. He deserves most of the credit because he was so motivated to learn the language and be successful."

Laney also spends between 25 and 30 minutes reading each 20-page writing assignment she collects from more than 160 students.

She comes from a family of educators. Her husband, mother and three brothers are all teachers. "I like dealing with people. I like being able to deal with them humanely, but there are so many students that I can't begin to meet all their individual needs. There are a lot of kids whose needs don't get met."

A Colorado native, Laney moved to Utah in 1972. She graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

"Every year you have a different group of people in the classroom. It's wonderful. I've never been bored. There's constant change and variety.

"These are my kids," she said. "In many ways, I'm like their second mother, but I would never presume to take over a parenting role. I try to be a student advocate, and I feel very close to teachers."

One piece of advice she has for teachers is to be very clear about why they want to be in the teaching profession. "If they're going into education (for reasons) other than wanting to have a positive impact on students, then they better think again. In many circles you take a lot of heat for being a teacher, you're devalued in a lot of ways."

She said there are so many intangible rewards teachers receive that those who are considering entering the profession have to feel like that will be enough. "It's not a high-status job, but a very rewarding and worthwhile profession."

And if she could get one wish, she would like to reduce class sizes by half. "If I could have half the students I currently have in the classroom, I could do three times more work."