15 Mar Ready… Set… Grow! by Carrie Toth
You walk in your room. You see the slack faces and hear the groans as you say “Get out your book and open to page…” Your heart sinks. This is the career you chose because you loved this language and the students sitting in front of you just don’t get it. Is it kids these days? Is it your delivery? You ask yourself these questions every day… maybe 3 times a day… and at home at night… and when you wake up from another nightmare about the group who keep asking you why they have to learn this anyway… since everyone needs to learn to speak English. Your heart is heavy and you don’t know if this is really your calling after all. You’re at the edge of something.
So many of us have been there. We’ve stood on that ledge looking down. Leaving education looks so attractive. Just one scary jump and you can be out of this once and for all. But… you love your language. You love working with kids. You worked so hard to get this degree… Is leaving really the answer?
You take a step back. The pressure of the textbook… cover this… reach this chapter… have students conjugating verbs in 37 tenses and moods by June 1… the department final with 300 matching vocabulary questions. Nope… the jump is your only hope. You suck in a deep breath and lean forward a hair hoping gravity will just pull you in… and then you feel a hand on your shoulder. It’s the hand of a friend, a colleague, or a mentor… or maybe it’s the hand of a blogger you don’t even know… but they’ve thrown you a life line.
“There’s another way,” says the mysterious stranger. “The pressure, the student disengagement, the huge attrition rates are not the only destiny of a language department.”
Your heart soars… there is hope.
If you’re on the ledge today, I’d like to share with you 5 important things to consider before you walk away.
- Like all fields, ours is constantly changing. Have you changed with it? Sometimes we teach as we were taught because it is the path we know… but what if there is a better way? Today, language education is about creating proficiency in our students! When I was a student, our focus was on the mechanics of language but as a classroom teacher today, my focus is on preparing my students to use the language outside the classroom. Have you begun to find your own path to proficiency in your students?
- Check out the webinars on fluencymatters.com.
- Go to iFLT in Denver, CO this summer to learn from experts like Stephen Krashen, Bill VanPatten, and Carol Gaab.
- Visit actfl.org and investigate the proficiency guidelines.
- Look into OPI training!
- Follow bloggers like kplacido.com, somewheretoshare.com, and cipeek.com then follow the blogs they follow!
- Grace isn’t just for church! I find that, as a teacher, it is easy for me to show grace with my students. I am good at forgiving them, adapting for them, and encouraging them… but with myself, it is not the same. I want to be good at all things, all of the time… and I want to have every lesson be successful. If they aren’t, I really put myself through the ringer… but why?? Every time a lesson that is full of comprehensible target language comes off a little flat, I still delivered a solid dose of CI. We could all use a little more grace when it comes to our practice! If you’re starting to feel like you’ve been trying to fit too much in too little time, you’re not alone. Figure out where you can cut a little, cut it, and forgive yourself for not being able to tackle it all at once!
- The old horse and the colt. I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m an old horse. In 11 years, I’ll be retired… watching birds from my deck while I write blog posts about cardinal nesting habits or some other boring thing! But as an old horse, I am committed to keeping the heart of a colt. So many colleagues my age have checked out of the learning game. A conference isn’t an opportunity to better their practice, it is 4 hours of life “I’ll never get back.”
Have you come to a place where you think you have nothing left to learn? Well… you still have a lot to learn! There are so many people thinking up so many new things that my plan book has not been the same from one year to the next since I dropped my textbook! Those younger teachers, those colleagues with the pie in the sky ideas, those administrators who make suggestions… maybe they’re not wrong. Give some new ideas a try before rejecting them.
- The textbook is a guide but not a guru. There are things about a textbook that can be very helpful to a teacher in a district with a prescribed curriculum, but don’t be lulled into thinking that the text is the only way you can teach language. With the right mindset, you can take what you MUST do and make it into something that will benefit students.
Start with the verbs. Do you know that an advanced level speaker is proficient using present/past/future and is comprehensible to a native speaker not accustomed to language learners? Our college graduates with study abroad experience by and large represent Advanced Low level speakers. If it takes that long to get present/past/future down pat, why do we expect level 2 Spanish to memorize ALL of the past tense verbs, irregulars, commands, etc. and use them perfectly? Rather than breaking verbs down into years of study, expose students to power structures like has, needs, and wants in all 3 times every year. If they leave a four year program with a strong foundation of these verbs, imagine the proficiency they can achieve as they continue on.
- Retention rate is your barometer. As language teachers, we’re an elective. We have to advocate for our programs if we want to keep them alive and thriving.
A program with a 10% retention rate from levels 1-4 isn’t healthy! It needs some CPR via CI! Find every opportunity you can in your curriculum to engage students via your passions, their passions, stories, novels, movie talks, and cultural exposure. When it becomes less about a constant focus on what makes the language tick and more about a focus on how the people who speak this language tick, students will lose those slack jawed expressions and groans. The human side of language is what creates a lasting love in the classroom and beyond.
So as you draw nearer the last quarter of the year, make a pledge to get ready, get set, and grow. Try to breathe new life into your classroom by adding one new thing per week for the last 9 weeks of school. Look to #langchat on Twitter, to CI teacher mentors, and inside your own self to find that passion for teaching again!
Carrie Toth is a Spanish teacher from Illinois with over 20 years of teaching experience. She was the 2014 Central States Teacher of the Year. Carrie has authored La Calaca Alegre, La hija del sastre, Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos, and Vector. She blogs at somewheretoshare.com and can be found on Twitter@senoraCMT.