I hung up the phone and exhaled. The interview had gone really well, and it seemed as though I was set to change career fields away from teaching Spanish to using my skill set in the business world. I stared at the high school where I was working through my car windshield and thought about the last eight years of teaching and how surprised my colleagues and students were going to be that I was done. Done with teaching. Wow, did that feel exciting to think.
The daughter of a teacher, education was in my blood. After I took my first Spanish class in 9th grade, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue teaching. I never thought I would be having a career crisis. No one else knew either, except my husband. You see, I had helped to create a four-year Spanish program that culminated in a concurrent enrollment college class. My students respected me and it seemed as if they were learning so much in my classes (as was evidenced in my long, long vocabulary lists and pile of grammar concepts each semester). Yet, I felt like a fraud. Yes, they learned these things for a fleeting moment, but they were quickly discarded for our next topic. Oh, and the ACTFL recommendation of 90% in the target language was definitely unattainable. How could I explain the subjunctive to them while only speaking Spanish? I hung my hat on those few students who were able to communicate, but the reality was the majority struggled when having to listen or to say anything unscripted. It was inauthentic and I knew it. “If only they could live abroad, then they would really learn it,” I would constantly repeat to myself. At least that was my own experience, and I couldn’t see beyond it.
I didn’t get the job. Luckily. My whole perspective and passion for teaching were about to be reignited. During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to attend iFLT in Denver with funding from my school district. To say that attending iFLT was impactful on my career would be an understatement. It gave my teaching purpose and direction again. For once, I could see how teaching via comprehensible input was possible on a day-to-day basis and the results it produced. Before the conference, I knew about TPRS and CI-based teaching but did not understand how to implement it as the sole basis for a language program. I mean, where were they going to learn all that grammar? Am I right?! The greatest component for me was actually seeing language labs with students as well as being a student myself in a Russian CI classroom. It clicked. Plus, even though it was initially difficult to put myself out there, receiving coaching from other experienced instructors helped me grow and feel confident in a few short days. I couldn’t wait for September to build a classroom community like the ones I had seen. I was all in.
Two years into the process, the road hasn’t always been smooth, but the results are evident. My students can listen and speak (and also read and write)! We are consistently close to that 90% mark ACTFL desires. What we are doing feels real and not contrived. We laugh, we create, and we learn Spanish while using primarily SPANISH! Now, I couldn’t imagine leaving teaching. I know so many TPRS and acquisition-based teachers have followed a similar path to my own. I also know that there are countless colleagues out there who are feeling exactly as I felt in the school parking lot before iFLT . Help them by showing them what is possible. After all, the type of classroom I have now is the classroom I always imagined having. So, a huge thank you to everyone from Fluency Matters and iFLT for changing my professional life and inspiring so many teachers and, by extension, the future generation of language learners.
Julie Meier (@SraMeier) Julie is a Spanish teacher from Minnesota with over ten years of experience.