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Love The Ones You’re With Archived Post …4.24.10

(originally posted 4/24/10)

There is a difference between going in to school every day to teach students who should appreciate us and don’t and going in each day to teach students who don’t appreciate education but have the potential to.

The difference is in the emotional weight of the perspective.   The difference is in the expectations.

When we perceive ourselves as going in every day to teach students who SHOULD appreciate an education, SHOULD  understand the power inherent in knowledge, SHOULD see the value of the work that develops skills, SHOULD thank us for choosing this career and working hard at it, we are placing OUR values and expectations on our students.     When, invariably, our low-achieving students fail to live up to those expectations there is a great deal of hurt, disappointment and anger.

So why do they fail?   Because we are teaching the students we think that we SHOULD have….rather than teaching the students we DO have.

Frankly, the students we think that we SHOULD have do not exist.  I don’t care if you teach in an urban, rural or suburban setting.  It doesn’t matter if you teach 40 kids in a class or 14.  If we don’t get to know these students that we have right now, we do not know whom we are teaching.

What I often hear sounds something like this….

These kids don’t know the meaning of work.

These kids don’t do homework.

And so on.

What those folks (and I myself have been one) are REALLY saying is this….

These kids don’t know the meaning of work….AND THEY SHOULD…(like the kids I used to have, like last year’s group, like when I first started teaching, like I did, like my own children would etc. etc.)

These kids don’t do homework…AND THEY SHOULD…(like they would if they were smarter, like they would if their parents gave a damn, like they would if they had had me for a teacher last year etc.)

One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is to teach the students we have…not the ones we wish we had.

But unless we stop comparing our students to who we think that they should be, we cannot truly get to know, love and teach the students that we have.

I know that you may not agree with me….but think back to my original post

This is an idea I think it is worthwhile to consider.   Who knows how powerful it could be?   Sometimes it takes just a little tiny turn of the handle to open the door…….

With love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Cleaning House Can Get Ugly Archived Post …4.23.10

(originally posted 4/23/10)

This week I have been cleaning, really really cleaning, out my house in preparation for a move.   It’s not the kind of change we often volunteer for because we know how much needs to be done.   Change is not for the faint of heart.  j

In order to get to a new place, I have had to empty out the old one…or at least get it ready to empty out.   I had to dig deep into the deep dark places that I have resisted looking at and have become good at avoiding.

I had hoped to move earlier, but this delay has had it’s benefits.  I’ve been able to sort through some things, many things actually, and determine their value to me.   (Is this really important enough to take up space in a new place?)

It has become a question that I am asking myself about my teaching as well.   Change is a process and the fact that I started a CI journey ten years ago does not mean that I have arrived at the end of it.    So I have looked at a few things to get rid of….and as usual….a few new ideas have crept in to take their place.

Ideas to Let Go Of….

  • Language must be learned academically.
  • Memorizing the rules and the exceptions to the rules is the PRIMARY prerequisite for success. (i.e. Only “bright” students can learn a language because memorizing rules and vocabulary is required.)
  • The amount of homework assigned and completed has a direct correlation to the ability of the student to be successful.
  • The older students are, the less desire and ability they have to be independent learners.
  • Students and parents do not see an immediate benefit to studying languages and cultures because they are uneducated or inexperienced.
  • Students have been taught by parents and by society to understand that education is a vital and important investment in themselves and their futures.
  • Students who do not invest themselves in school work are making an irrevocably bad decision and should be blamed for their own failures.
  • Students should be expected to rise above a negative situation outside of the classroom. Those who do not have their priorities “messed up.”

Ideas to Try Out…

  • Language is acquired through an intellectual, social and/or emotional interaction via Comprehensible Input.
  • Rules can be identified and utilized when students have a) enough language or b) a natural interest.
  • ANY student can acquire a language.
  • The main reason to memorize rules/exceptions is to perform well on tests required by an external system.
  • Many students who are high school age or younger do not achieve large gains in language acquisition by completing regularly scheduled homework activities.
  • All human beings are naturally independent learners.  Our students teach themselves all the time.    Students who are interested and motivated will continue acquiring language outside of the classroom experience.
  • Students and parents who experience success will be motivated to continue with language study.
  • Students who compare and contrast their personal experiences with the cultural and personal experiences of others are very interested in these topics.
  • MANY children are not raised to see any value in an education.    Some have received no instruction about schooling, others are influenced by their caregivers’ negative experiences and still others are directly instructed that education, particularly past the secondary level has little to no value.     They have also been raised to believe that teachers value education because they want to keep their jobs.  Their suspicion of schools, and of us, is understandable given these circumstances.
  • Students often lack the maturity to prioritize more than two items at any given time.   The item with the most immediate value often is perceived as the item having the most value.

with love,
Laurie

P.S.  Look for more thoughts later on this week…these need to be taken apart….
All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Soulmates Part 2 Archived Post …3.28.10

(originally posted 3/28/10)

Many times our Teaching Soulmates are not located in our own buildings or even in our own districts.   In this day and age, there are so many ways to find and keep in touch with the people who will keep us going.

Locally, look towards your Language Teachers’ Associations.  Several of my closest friends in the world, and my almas gemelas, came from WAFFLE (Wayne-Finger Lakes Foreign Language Educators) and our association with NYSAFLT (New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers).    NYSAFLT conferences have connected me with other kindred souls.

If you haven’t yet been involved with a listserv, there is always FLTEACH  and the moretprs list through Yahoo groups.  At www.moretprs.net you can find a bulletin board-type of forum and all kinds of people to chat with about teaching and life.  How do you find a teaching soulmate here?  By reading posts.  And no, you don’t have to have them all delivering messages to your inbox.  They all allow you to join and read posts on the site itself…without ever having to open a message.

Many people have soulmates on these lists…and have never even communicated with them.    Sometimes a frequent poster has a point of view or way of thinking that sparks your imagination.   You will find yourself drawn to reading his/her posts whenever you need a boost.

Sometimes “lurkers” will send a message ‘offlist” directly to a poster’s email, and an electronic exchange begins.   I have “met” several incredible individuals this way.   Then, of course, sometimes a friendship is sparked by a good old exchange of ideas on the list.  At the annual NYSAFLT, NECTFL, Central States, SWOCLT, ACTFL and other conferences, folks put dots or smileys on their nametags so that they can identify fellow listers (lurkers or not!!)

Some of the most powerful connections have come when someone writes to the group with a need, problem or concern and is rewarded with an outpouring messages, on and off-list, from other teachers.   We are here for each other in a way that is sometimes not possible in our own buildings.

Recently, websites and blogs have created another way to build a family/support system for teaching.  Check out the TPRS map for folks who have volunteered to be mentors!!

There has never been a better time to make a friend…

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Soulmates Archived Post…3.28.10

(originally posted 3/28/10)

Soulmates

Right now teachers are in a tough spot.   We are being flattened by the expectations and criticism of administration, parents, the state, the government, the media and the public.   What we really want to respond to is the needs of our students, but blindfolded, hand-tied and foot-bound by checklists and paperwork, we often feel trapped, immobilized, crushed.   The image I carry around is that of a car crushed into a little cube in the junkyard and treated like scrap, yet being expected to function as a limousine carrying important dignitaries.

It is exhausting, demeaning, frustrating and frankly, impossible.

What will keep us afloat, or drag us down, in these difficult times is each other.

It may be time to approach our interactions at school like we do our Facebook pages.   The folks that whine and complain, point out all of the difficulties and pull us down with them need a Delete button right now.   Not an Erase button….they are still our colleagues.   But a Delete button, that lets us go and visit them from time to time, when we want to……rather than listen to their obviously and continously negative status day after day.

What we need to do, and are rarely equipped to do, is to seek out our teaching soulmates.

We have to do it ourselves.  Although most schools have mentor programs, they are designed to match subject area teachers to assist with curriculum and alignment.   They are NOT designed to match teachers who will feed each other professionally with inspiration and a shared passion for teaching.  How do we do we find those people?

1)  Listen to the students.   Whom do they talk about with respect?    Are there teachers whose activities they are still talking about with enthusiasm when they get to your room?   These are teachers that you may want to get to know better as educational partners.

2)  Look around the building.  Who is displaying student work?  Who is inviting folks to observe student displays, inventions, competitions?

3)  Listen in on classes as you walk by.  I can promise you that incredible things are happening in your building.  We just rarely have the time to notice.  Pick one period a week where you take just 5 minutes and walk around the building and take it in.

4)  Think about the club advisers.  Who is doing cool stuff with the students?  Activities that resonate with your approach to education?

5)  When you are at a conference day at school, sit near people you think may think like you do in order to get to know them better.

In some buildings, it is actually AGAINST the school’s culture to display enthusiasm for learning new things and becoming a better teacher.    If that is the case in your school, believe me, you are not alone.  I have seen it in many places.  I also know that within those schools are deep pockets of dedicated teachers who, in their own corners of the world, are reading journals, keeping blogs, joining professional organizations and changing the world.

There is someone in your building that you can connect with as an “alma gemela” (twin soul!).   It may not be a teacher.  It may be a guidance counselor, a secretary, a custodian, a cafeteria worker, an SRP.   But I can promise you that fostering that professional friendship may keep you sane over the next few years….and be an incredible blessing in your life.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Lovin’ Laughter Archived Post …3.27.10

(originally posted 3/27/10)

Yesterday was such a great day!  It was a conference day…and as most language teachers know, it’s a rare conference day that has anything good to offer.  We have gotten used to digging deep to find a way to connect what is presented on conference days to our classroom reality.  But yesterday?  Whoo hooo!!

The presenter’s name is Randy Judkins and he hails from Maine (apparently lots of good folks up there!).  Randy is a retired math teacher but un-retired educator, juggler, jester and lover of laughter and levity.   We started the day off with a wonderful presentation and worked with him in smaller groups throughout the day.  Had Randy been inspired by a language teacher early on, he would surely have become a TPRSer.  Because the reality of it is, that what Randy is, is a really great teacher.

Here is what I observed Randy do yesterday.  With a group of about 150 reluctant (we don’t do much in the way of conferences in our district) educators.  He surely recognized the reluctance, but chose to embrace it and work with it, the way any good teacher would.  By the end of the day he had won over even the most critical and curmudgeon-like folks in the group.  How?

  1.  He requested, and worked the group up to, as close to 100% participation as possible.  How?  He made it painless, easy, and fun.  He asked questions, asked for group/choral responses, and then responded.  If the response wasn’t as strong as he would have hoped, he forgave us and tried again, by changing the question, or how he wanted us to respond, just a bit….until he had nearly everyone playing along.  Even better, those who weren’t participating found their colleagues cajoling them into joing in.
  2.  He was himself.   He showed us first that he was not afraid to be open, honest, funny, risk-taking or silly.  And very smart.  He shared a bit of his own (his)story.  Not details that made us uncomfortable or that were overly personal. …but the details that showed us what we had in common.  (hold on to that thought…)
  3.  He chose individuals to participate and treated them with kindness, respect, gentle humor and dignity…even when he was being silly.
  4.  He used humor that was pure.  No sexual innuendos, no overt violence, no put-downs.  Humor that was based on the true, the unexpected, the silly, the fun elements we all experience every day.
  5.  He spoke clearly and slowly so we could catch all of the humor, interest and passion in his message.
  6.  He accepted applause graciously…as if it were a great gift.
  7.  In workshop mode, he frequently stopped to observe and reflect on his observations….because observers see much differently than participants.
  8.  He PERSONALIZED.  He asked people what they taught, what they coached, and took note of clues that they offered (consciously or not) about themselves.  Then he responded to that information.
  9.  He laughed.  At himself.  There was no greater gift yesterday than the message that it never helps to take ourselves too seriously….and how taking ourselves too seriously is one of the behaviors that separates us from our students.
  10.  He did not try to change us.  He did not tell us what we SHOULD be doing.  Instead, he offered us the opportunity to be students for a few moments.  He showed us what laughter and love in the classroom COULD do….for everyone.

I wanted to pack him in my suitcase to take to NTPRS 10 in Chicago.  I found myself wishing that I could really attend a Maine Meeting Of The Minds this summer and bring him along.  I wanted to offer him a ticket to the SoCal get-together to meet Stephen Krashen and share his gift of humor and humility with all who are attending.

 

Since I can’t do that…I am inviting you to visit Randy’s website at www.randyjudkins.com .  If you ever get the chance to see him…please GO!!    You will enjoy every minute of it….as a participant, as a teacher, as a TPRSer.

 

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Start With Simple … Archived Post 3.23.10

(Originally posted 3/23/10)

Many people wonder and worry about how to choose the best structures to focus on IN STORY-ASKING OR READING.    As usual there is no one “right” answer.   I think the easiest route is to first eliminate what DOES NOT need to be a focus structure.

We DO NOT NEED TO CREATE A FOCUS STRUCTURE from:

  1.        Cognates

We want to USE a ton of cognates in our listening and reading activities….but we do not want them to be the focus phrases.   We want to build stories around other structures.

  1.        Things you have only seen in textbooks

This is just a waste of everyone’s time.   Choose  words/phrases that students are likely to come across over and over again.

  1.       Words/phrases that can be “TPRed “in a VERY clear way.

Save these words for TPR!!!

What does that leave us?  At the beginning levels we need structures that will allow for stories to take place.     If we combine the words below with other key words we can create nearly every story we need at the beginning level.   How?

Pick a phrase.   Add a word or two.   (ie  goes to the new supermarket)  Add cognates.  Add TPRables.    Add emotion (see next post) Done.

is + adjective (physical, personal, possessive…however your target language is structured.

is named                                    Lives in

Has     (to)                                  Needs (to)

Wants( to)                                 Should

Goes (to/towards)                    Leaves (from/for/towards)

Looks (for)                                  Finds

Says (to)                                     Asks (for)

Answers                                      Responds

Receives                                     Respects

Likes                                            Knows   (that/how)

Understands   (that)                 Thinks    (that)

I realize that it seems like it couldn’t be that simple.  But it is.  Start with simple.

With love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

A Chrysalis…Archived Post 3.17.10

(Originally posted 3./17/10)

Ok…Let’s face it.  Some folks don’t like caterpillars very much.   They are very wormy-looking.  They might look a little slimy or hairy.  But for the most part, lots of people think that they are cute little critters.  They appear to be curious, lifting up their little antennae-decked heads to sniff around.   Their colors are often beautiful.  And as we all know…they are hungry.  :o)

Children have been compared to caterpillars before.    Yes, I know…they often run around in a way caterpillars never do.  But……when it’s time to get ready to go to school?  Put on their pajamas?  Yup.  Caterpillars.

They are curious.  They can be fuzzy.  They can be adorable.  They can also be hairy, slimy and wormy.  And boy oh boy can they eat!!

If children are caterpillars, then adolescents must living in a chrysalis.  How perfect is that? They create a tough, ugly, protective coat of armor.  Underneath it they look as if they are sleeping…if you can see them at all.  There is little visible movement, although, over time, a great deal of change.     The shell keeps the world at bay until those changes take place.

Now caterpillars are a little luckier.  They can plant themselves on a tree branch and hang out.   No one is making them get up, get dressed, get to class, get a job and get moving while they get their act together.  Teens are not as lucky.  It’s no wonder then that they look for ways to pull the armor (hoodie, hair, shades) over their eyes and withdraw.  They need that withdrawal in order to work on their metamorphosis.

In our society, we have pushed adolescents to come so far out of their shells that it is inevitable that they find ways to crawl back in.   Society says “Get good grades, take as many classes as you can, get a part-time job, play a sport, play an instrument, go to church, have friends, have a boy/girlfriend, help around the house, volunteer, demonstrate leadership….. or you will not be successful.”

Is it any wonder that our students end up using chemicals, over-involved in sex or participating in self-injury?    That shell is there for a reason.  The evolving creature is very very vulnerable.  Yet, this is the time that we push the hardest for young people to get out and expose themselves to the world.

I’m not advocating that we lock our teens up in a protective fortress.  They are, after all, NOT caterpillars.   However, I do think that we occasionally owe them time, space, activities, and permission to withdraw…just a bit….from the childhood and adult activities going on all around them…in order to find a little peace.  They have enough going on inside to keep them busy.   Maybe if we did that, we wouldn’t find them going so far off of the deep end to do it for themselves.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

When We Are In It Together Archived Post 2.10.10

It Ain’t Easy…Bein’ Sick  (this post originally posted 2/10/10)

For the last week and a half I’ve been fighting mano a mano with a sinus/double ear infection.   Between the two days with subs and the fact that talking sends me into long-lasting coughing spasms, my students and I switched from our usual dose of verbal interaction to activities that are more reading-centered and group/pair-oriented.

I like all of the activities.  I think that they are educationally sound.  I think that my students are getting a lot of good, quality, written Comprehensible Input.  But I am astounded at the difference in the classes.

First of all, discipline is off.  I have to employ signals and silences more often.  I really don’t enjoy that.  Neither do the students.   It isn’t a lot of extra tension…but it is enough to change the classroom atmosphere.

What is REALLY missing, however, is the strong sense of “being in this together.”  When they work in pairs or groups, when they work at an individual pace, there is no sense of collegiality.  There are no group “inside” jokes.   The class feels very different without that!!!

When I am “conducting” the class, and everyone is working on the same story/idea/conversation/topic, it is like being on a family car trip.  Sure, there is a little bickering.  Yeah, it’s annoying when someone has to stop and go to the restroom.   No, everyone does not like the radio station.   But….. there are  shared moments of hilarity and common experience that create an atmosphere like no other I’ve taught in.

I can’t wait to get back after a week of vacation (next week).  Hopefully the coughing etc. will have subsided and we can get to work on using as much Spanish as possible hanging out together.   The story of Ana and her adventures in Casi Se Muere are just more interesting when we read it, and talk about it,  together.   Not just at the same time in the same room.   But really together.   It goes from being Ana’s story to our story that we read about Ana.

Oh we’ll still do activities that allow students to work ‘out of the group”……but not as often.   We need that together time.   It’s who we are.  We all miss it.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Are We Even Making A Difference? Archived Post 1.25.10

Are We Even Making a Difference?

January can be a very bleak month in education.    The days may actually be getting longer, but the skies are so dark that it can be hard to notice.  We are being pushed forcefully through the funnel of midterm exams.    There is a feeling of frustration that we still have a half-year left and a feeling of desperation that there is only a half-year remaining.   We are getting closer to those days when school boards make the decisions that fund or eliminate our programs and our positions.  And we ask ourselves….

Are we even making a difference?

There were many Januarys (and Junes) when I was sure that the answer was no.

I was wrong.

I used to think that “making a difference” meant “fixing everything.”

I was wrong.

I never fixed a thing.  I never rescued a child from poverty.  I never saved a student from suicide.  I never turned a D student into an A student.

I never inspired a student not to drop out of school.  I never convinced every colleague to change a curriculum.  I never revamped a program that was a disservice to students.  I never turned an administrator into a building leader.

I never graduated a newly bilingual student.  I taught a rare few students who achieved a 100 on a state exam.    I couldn’t convince  a district to expand our program.    For fifteen years, I didn’t manage to take students abroad.   I didn’t coach a team that won a state title.

I often wondered WHAT I was doing.   I sometimes wondered if I should stop teaching.  I occasionally wondered if anyone would care if I did.

Then, little by little, the years went by.  Life forced me to look at things in a different way and my perspective shifted.  I realized that “fixing everything and saving everyone” were not part of my job description.  To be honest…..I figured out that for most teachers…there is no job description. …just a giant checklist.  A checklist that could never be completed.  So I stopped trying.

Realizing that I wasn’t saving/fixing the world and that I could never do it all freed me to finally do what DOES make a difference:  the day to day interactions with my students as citizens of the world.

My lessons became less about getting through the material and more about connecting the material to the student.    My focus changed from being the teacher to working with the students.  I began to listen.    I began to watch.   I stopped comparing my students to the ones I thought I should have and started to concentrate on appreciating the students I did have.

Students still struggle.   Students still fail.  Students still drop out.  Students still get pregnant, end up in rehab, get suspended, run away, and get sent to jail.   Parents may move them to another district.   Teachers may call them dumb or lazy.    Peer still talk them into unhealthy behaviors.   They still get cancer.   It wasn’t ever my job to stop those things.

It was my job to treat them as important, intelligent, interesting, capable individuals regardless of what what they did.  Regardless of what was done to them.

That I can do.  That really does make a difference.

with love,

Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

 

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