At The Beginning….Baby Steps

by lclarcq on December 1st, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Creating Stories, Encouragment, Engagement, Relationships, Starting The Year, TPRS techniques

If you are just starting out with TPRS, and you feel as if you are not doing enough with your students fast enough….take heart….you have an enormous advantage!!!

WE HAVE TO START SLOWLY. I put TPRS+slow into Google just for fun and discovered HUNDREDS of pieces that address how important it is to start off slowly with students who are new to language and/or new to being in a TPRS classroom.

I am choosing only one skill/concept as a goal for my students per week. The only goal I am really focusing on this week is Listening Well. I have to be honest….it’s killing me to do it. I can think of DOZENS of things that I could add to class right now that would make it more interesting, but I know that if I want them to listen WELL, I’d better stick with that.

Now, I am sneaking in opportunities for next week’s goal which is RESPOND WELL. We all know that no skill really works in isolation. But I don’t expect to see any progress in anything other than the LISTENING WELL.

I’m trying to remember to:
Point out what it looks like. (See here for more info.)
Thank students when they do it. (individually or as a group)
Be patient when they get too excited about what we are doing to only listen.
Remind them that listening and talking should not be done simultaneously.
Wait, and wait, and wait, until they are listening.
Ask any student who responds to or asks a question to wait until their peers are quiet before they speak.

It is so hard to move in baby steps when there is so much ground to cover. But this kind of teaching is about the journey not the destination. I have to be where my students are, NOT try to get them to where I want to be. It’s the only way we will ever be together.

I realized today that part of my ‘inner stress” comes from thinking that I am not in control if I meet them where they are. My perspective was skewed. I cannot change where they are right this minute. I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN CONTROL OF THAT. I can only be in control of where I am and how I interact with them. If I chose to meet them where they are, we will be together and I can help them on the journey. If I stand at the finish line, impatiently waiting for them to show up, expecting them to arrive in a place they cannot get to on their own, I am choosing stress for all of us.

The dear and brilliant Brian Barabe told me once that TPRS is like yoga…and to use the mantra “You are where you are supposed to be.” I need to remember that more often.

with love,
Laurie

Starting Over

by lclarcq on November 28th, 2016

filed under Classroom Management, Encouragment, Musings, Relationships, Starting The Year

Hello from California!! I managed to be retired for all of six weeks before I moved cross country and sign on for a new job. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it was a good one!

For the past 30+ years I have worked in small districts in rural, upstate (seriously upstate) New York. For some of those years I taught grades K-8 but the majority of them were teaching high school students. My new job is teaching 6th-8th graders in a suburban, well-populated section of Northern California!

The students had another teacher for over 10 weeks and now we are all starting over.

I had met a few times with the sixth graders and today was our second real day together. They have been out of school for two weeks between Science Camp and Thanksgiving Vacation!!! So yes…we are really, really starting over.

The 8th graders and I got started the week before Thanksgiving. So today was day 6 for us.

I forgot how much there is to accomplish at the beginning…….

These students, all of them, are brand-new to me. Our very first accomplishment will be working together. Seriously. They are used to a different set up in class and mine requires a great deal of self-control…..or at least more than they have had to use. 🙂 I know they are capable. They know they are capable. Now…I have to get them to agree to do it.

The first day I worked with them (class sizes about 30), they were sitting with friends in groups of four. I tried to speak. I tried to get their attention. No one stopped talking. Not one student.

My pulse was racing, my face was flushed, my smile was frozen and my heart was pounding. I did not know the name of one single student. For the first time in nearly 30 years I also did not know their parents, their siblings, or even their other teachers.

I don’t know how long I stood in front of the room before I tried again. It was probably seconds…it felt like hours. I was being completely ignored.

So I tried again. I used a ‘signal’ that their former teacher had used. A few students noticed and responded half-heartedly…then kept right on talking. This was not going the way I had hoped!!!

Try number three….in a slightly louder, more authoritative voice. This time more than half of the class looked at me, shifted in their seats and mumbled a response. AND….made eye contact.

This was the most crucial moment for me. It happened in all three classes. I had to maintain eye contact with the 15 or so students spread across the room. With a smile on my face, I held my ground….for maybe 15 seconds. A small girl near me whispered to me, “I think it’s working!” I tried to just keep breathing!! One by one the rest of the group settled down and then turned around….finally realizing that something was happening. When everyone was quiet I smiled at stared at them while I (painfully!) counted to 5 in my head. Then I finally introduced myself. I think that was the most challenging 30 seconds of my teaching career.

I am dead serious.

I have no history at this school. No reputation precedes me. I felt completely naked and alone in front of those kids waiting for the silence, and for their attention. My head said…wait, wait, wait it out. My heart said…this isn’t going to work…they are going to ignore you forever.

I’d like to say that after that one encounter in each class, that I was able to establish order in a heartbeat with a look. Or at least using our signal.

Um, no. The 8th graders and I have found a direction in the week we have had together…but daily reminders, and those 30 second wait times, while not nearly so heart-pounding, still happen once during every class. The 6th graders? Well….we didn’t get much done today academically. There were maybe 10 “usable” minutes out of 35. i’m still learning names, getting them into a routine, helping them adjust to transitions and working to get them to function with a new seating system (where they all face forward and don’t sit with their friends.)

BUT…in one class 5 of those 10 usable minutes were truly beautiful. Students were asked if their vacation was “excelente” or ‘terrible” or somewhere in between. Only one girl said terrible. I asked her if the reason was a secret, she said no, she wanted to share. (Thankfully the class was quiet and listening….and this, of course, is why we needed it…) She shared in a whisper to me that her aunt had cancer. I told the class in Spanish. Then I asked, in Spanish, ‘Who has a friend, or someone in their family, with cancer?” Over half of the class raised their hands. Even though these kids had only a few weeks of Spanish, I could say to her…The class is with you. They are your friends. You are not alone.

I could tell the class that in 2013 I had cancer. And we learned the word hope.

She needed that. So did I. So did I.

with love,
Laurie

NTPRS15: The Ripple Effect 1

by lclarcq on July 29th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Coaching, Encouragment, NTPRS, Relationships, Sharing CI/TPRs, Teacher Training

Ah…the ripple effect. It is the essence of teaching. Teaching, I’ve often said, is a prayer. You send your message (lesson) out each day, hoping against hope that someday, in the unseen future, it will make a difference, because you never really know. That is why it was so beautiful to watch the ripples happen right in front of us.

What did we see?

Kindness and encouragement.
The first day (Monday) FIFTY people showed up for the first coaching session. Now you should understand that at the same time participants could choose coaching, a Spanish lesson with Blaine and Von Ray and a Mandarin lesson with Linda Li. Now that is some stiff competition!!!!! I cannot ever remember a year where FIFTY people showed up on the first day. It was beautiful.

And they came with the desire to not only learn, but to support and encourage. Because the coaches gave clear parameters and modeling, there were NO criticisms…only insights, positive reflections and encouragement.

A willingness to share.
Teachers had so many insightful observations that I couldn’t stay away from the coaching sessions. Beginners were volunteering to teach after only FOUR hours of instruction!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Teachers with all levels of experience in the classroom and with the method were together and sharing for one purpose: to grow and to recognize growth.

A desire to honor other teachers.
At one point we began to limit not only the teaching portion, but also the feedback portion of the cycle to five minutes because groups could have easily gone on for an hour sharing feedback! It was so wonderful that we hated to cut it short, but wanted also to honor the fact that many teachers wanted the opportunity to be the teacher. The result of that was that teachers who did not share aloud shared notes and observations personally with teachers when they saw them later. Wow.

A need to be heard.
Nothing touched me more than the woman who came up to me after a teaching cycle in which she had been an observer. “They listened to me. And they really heard me. No one has done that in years. Thank you so much for making this available. I needed it so much.” She was in tears.
That happened several times during the week and I was so moved..to simply be heard.

The beauty of being in the moment.
Because we were focusing on what the teacher was doing right, and how that was reflected in the actions/reactions of the students, everyone in the group was in the moment in an amazing way. There was no chatter between observers. There was no typing emails or answering texts. Coach, teacher, students, observers all in the same place at the same time focusing on the interaction between students and teacher. Beautiful.

Honoring the journey
Each of us is on our own journey. We each take a different path, move at a different pace and pick up different ideas/thoughts/memories/skills along the way. This year there was much less of a frantic pace to “get to the mastery level” and more of a joyful exploration of where we were and what we were doing. There was the opportunity for us to enjoy our journey and to observe and celebrate the journeys of others.

These ripples, and more, spread outward as participants brought a new perspective back to coaching over and over again, as well as to presentations and workshops. It changed meal time conversations and opened a new door to what was called, “The War and Peace Room.”

with love,
Laurie

When Students Are “Lost”

by lclarcq on June 20th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Classroom Management, Engagement, Grading/Evaluation/Assessment, Language Classes, Participation, Relationships, Starting The Year

Laurie says:
Taken from my post on Ben Slavic’s blog:

In our department we have created a scale of engagement (with the language and activities) that looks like this:

Stage 1 : Attention
(student is looking at/listening to w/intent to understand)
Stage 2: Identification
(student can locate sounds/text that are recognizable)
Stage 3: Comprehension
(student can visualize/dramatize meaning of the pieces they understand)
Stage 4: Clarification
(student will seek information needed to comprehend any missing pieces)
Stage 5: Interaction
(student will respond to aural input/text to the best of ability)

It’s ‘jargony” which makes admins happy. It breaks down expectations, which they are also looking for.

But it’s actually useful. We can ask the student, “What stage are you at with this?” Then we ask, “What do you need to get to the next stage?” Sometimes the answer is as simple as, “I have to try.” :o) But it has encouraged students to a) realize that this is their 50% and b) We can help if we know where they are.

Now, perhaps I should have prefaced this with a HUGE given, a message that we deliver from their first year on and reinforce as needed:

We are professional educators. We understand language acquisition. The district has hired us with the expectation that we will lead classes where language is acquired. We have designed classes with that in mind. Students are required to participate.

Then we work diligently to establish relationships with each student and each class. We adjust our plans based on our students. We are transparent about these decisions with our students.

Students who do not engage/participate will not acquire. Therefore, their assessment grades will be low. If non-participation affects the other members of the class, it is then considered a discipline issue. We address it by working to strengthen our relationship with that student and finding ways for that student to have a place/way to engage successfully in class. It’s often easier for them to participate than to not!! This works in our favor. :o)

We do not tie behavior to a grade. A) The disengaged student rarely cares about the grade B) Disengaged students don’t show growth anyway. C) The disengagement is rarely ever about Spanish. It is a signal that other issues are preventing this student from wanting to be successful and have fun!!!! This is a serious issue. D) The extra attention to the student as a person, rather than as a grade, is far more valuable.

As for our scale….it isn’t a participation grade. It isn’t a rubric per se. It’s used more as a diagnostic tool when students need help.

If you need help/things aren’t making sense, identify where you are:

I didn’t hear it/don’t see it.

Stage 1: I heard/see it but I don’t recognize it/can’t identify it.
Stage 2: I can identify/recognize it but I don’t know what it means.
Stage 3: I heard/saw it AND I recognize it AND I’m pretty sure I know what it means.
Stage 4: I checked what I think it means with the context to see if I’m right.
Stage 5: I totally get it and can respond verbally/physically to it.

In assessments we often only grade students on Stage 5….and there is a lot that goes on beforehand that we want our students to recognize and use to their advantage.

I can use it to set up formal assessments if I want to, but it is most valuable as a tool that we use as we use language to communicate.

Hope that makes sense…

with love,
Laurie

I Apologize…

by lclarcq on April 7th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Classroom Management, Not So Good Days, Relationships

No one is perfect. This afternoon I had the chance to reflect on some of the many things I would change if I could go back to my first 10, or maybe even 20, years of teaching.

To my former students…

If I posted the agenda for the class and made darn sure we did everything on it, even if it wasn’t understood or didn’t make sense, I apologize.

If you voiced a concern and I not only didn’t address it, but also asked you to stop thinking and talking about it, I apologize.

If I offered extra credit, but only gave the points to the students who needed a higher average, I apologize.

If I suggested ideas that would help you to become a better student, never told you that they counted for a grade, and then took off points if you didn’t do them, I apologize.

If I followed every compliment with….But….and proceeded to berate you, I apologize.

If for every positive statement I made about you, I made five negative ones, I apologize.

If I assigned you a project that I had no experience with and then criticized how you did it, I apologize.

If I required you to use technology that I did not understand, and then criticized how you used it, I apologize.

If one or two people in your class didn’t do something correctly and I scolded all of you, I apologize.

If I asked you, in front of the entire class, to raise your hand and tell me that you didn’t do an assignment (even though I already knew that you were the only one who didn’t do it) I apologize.

If you ever arrived late to class and I made fun of you and let the class laugh at you, I apologize.

If it was clear by my words and my actions that I favored some of you and disliked others, I apologize.

If I made you feel that by being my students you were a burden to me, I apologize.

If I attempted to motivate you with sarcasm or by poking fun at you, I apologize.

I truly hope that I didn’t do these things, or at least do them very often. I’m sure that there are other things that I should apologize for as well…and I am sorry. I’m sure, at the time, I really did think that I was doing the right thing, the best thing, by behaving that way, but I was wrong…and I am sorry.

Why I am thinking about these things today?

I saw them happen…..and it really, really made me angry. Not to students, but to adults, and it still made me really, really angry.

And it made me remember, or at least worry about, times when I may have inadvertently treated my students poorly. I’m sure that I have, at some point, made my students as angry as I was today…and for that, I am sincerely sorry. Please accept my apologies.

with love,
Laurie

Incredibly, Uniquely Beautiful

by lclarcq on February 5th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Engagement, Grading/Evaluation/Assessment, Musings, Pacing, Relationships

Midterms are over. But I worry that the mindset isn’t.

Even those of us who don’t enjoy assessment, tracking data and recording grades can get caught up in the tidal pull of measurement and the undertow of evaluation.

Well….that might be a little too metaphoric, but we ARE teachers. Since the age of 5 we’ve been playing with tests and trying to win. That is hard to let go of. Many of us were test champions and grade royalty.

(The following is my own opinion and might be considered heretic in this day and age)

I realize that we must assign grades and that students require passing grades in order to move to the next level. We have all worked hard to create systems that allow the progress our students make to be accurately reflected in the grades. Our jobs depend on it. But…in the great scope of life…

THE GRADES DO NOT MATTER. They are artificially “scores” that someone/something determined would measure value in schools. They are part of the system, BUT THEY DO NOT ACCURATELY REFLECT ANYTHING.

They certainly do not reflect value. No human being can be given a numerical value. It’s ridiculous to even think of it (although sadly, it is commonly done throughout American culture, not just in schools.)

Every moment that we see our students in terms of a number, we have lost an opportunity to see them as people.

The system, and most of the people in it, will try to change your mind about that. They will also try to convince you that YOUR value will also be determined by numbers: your students’ numbers. They will tell you that not only are students are numbers, but that we should compare students using these values. Actually, they would like us to line them up according to these numbers. They want us to believe that the students should all on the same place on a line of measurement at the same time. Finally, they tell us that the students should be moving along that measuring line at the same pace. On a day to day basis.

They are also trying to convince us that it is our job to make that happen. If we don’t, we are failures. (Yes, they use THAT word….a word we have secretly been afraid of since we entered a school at age 5)

My dear friends, that is a crock of horsepucky. All of it. Including the idea that we are special because we “earned” good grades when we were students. Grades do not make anyone special.

EVERYONE IS SPECIAL.

Its really difficult to see that. Our job doesn’t always let us remember that, even though that is an elemental part of our profession.

Please remember it.

Everyone is special and everyone is unique.

Our students are not supposed to be alike. They all enter our classes at different ages. They enter with different backgrounds and experiences. They did not learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to read their first language, learn to ride a bike, learn anything at the same rate. Why? Because while we may all be wired in the same way, we are all unique and incredibly miraculous human beings.

Have you ever seen a group of one year olds together? They are all at very different places in height, weight, ability to walk/talk etc. If they are paying attention, if they are in the classroom approximately the same number of days, they are all getting the same amount and quality of input. AND THEY WILL STILL NOT BE IN THE SAME PLACE.

Some students show growth in slow, steady increments. Others will grow in “hops”, showing improvement every two to three months….but very little in between. Others are icebergs. Everything grows beneath the surface and we see nothing…then all of a sudden BOOM! After six to eight months (or more) of nothing….amazing things are happening.

No one is really “ahead” or “behind”, despite what society might want us to believe. If the student is there, and involved, if we are providing a rich environment and comprehensible instruction, then the student is where the student is supposed to be. Period. They will move when they are ready, at the pace that is best for them. We can pay attention, and we can respond, but there is truly little we can do to change that.

And it is no reflection on us.

Hard as that is to remember.

We need to enjoy each student where he or she is….or we will lose sight of the beauty of the human brain, the human mind and the human spirit. How each and every human is unique and heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Nothing else really matters.

with love,
Laurie

What do students need ME for anyway?

by lclarcq on January 21st, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Engagement, Musings, Relationships, TPRS techniques

This post started as part of a response to my friend Skip….and then it grew from there. Thanks Skip for asking me the questions that make me think.

I never wanted to be a Spanish teacher. I wanted to teach kindergarten…or third grade. I wanted to sing songs, read stories, and introduce my students to history and heroes. Actually that is what I do, I am just lucky enough to do it via Spanish. But that is not what most of my colleagues were doing when I started thirty-plus years ago. I truly admired and respected those teachers, I just couldn’t be one of them. Maybe it was because I didn’t start out as a Spanish major (although I ended up with a Spanish and an Education degree), or maybe it was because I wasn’t very confident about my language abilities at the time….but my goals as a language teacher were a bit different.

Truthfully, I never thought that I would be able to convince teenagers to commit to memory the hundreds of rules and thousands of words necessary to master the language. I loved it, but I never thought all of my students would. And I wanted ALL of my students to love Spanish class the way 5 year olds love kindergarten (okay…think 30 year prior to Common Core!)

Thirty years ago (and more), we used to consider it our job to teach the understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the language…its history, structure, details. And we did that. Sadly, few students were able to draw on any of this knowledge after a few months….much less a few years.

We then made it our goal to teach the students the vocabulary, verb forms and highly irregular patterns so that they could also communicate with others. We created texts and materials that we thought would help our students to be able to put all of the pieces of the language in order to function while traveling, doing business etc.. But we still taught as if mastering the al to help students to communicate. It was a great deal of work, and yes.. fun, to create activities that allowed students to pretend that they could communicate in a real-life situation.

Sadly, once again, students failed to retain the language for any length of time.

It was the first reason I was so impressed with the results of TPRS and teaching with Comprehensible Input. The language stuck. For a long, long time. I was pretty excited about that!

Then along came technology.

I think that our job as language teachers has seriously shifted. And I am afraid we may not even know it.

Any knowledge about the language that students need can be found easily on the Internet. All of it. Communication can occur with a cell phone and an app. And almost instantly. And with about the same accuracy that our students used to have….probably more.

I had a great reason to switch from learning to acquisition in my classroom. But if my students can just use a machine to communicate…..why would it even matter if they acquire a language?

What IS our job now? Why would students need to be able to communicate…device-free…in a world quickly becoming overrun with devices? Why do they need us? Can’t they get all of the language they need via technology?

I think we need to be asking ourselves, and our profession, that question. What are we doing that students cannot now do for themselves…..without us?

For me (and you’ve heard me say this I think), I want my students to acquire Spanish in order to explore the hearts, minds and souls of people who speak Spanish. I want them to acquire Spanish so that they can think more deeply, express feelings to others, ask questions about the universe and SHARE that journey with people of other cultures…..and they can do that so much better in more than one language. AND WITH A PERSON…not a machine.

I believe that our job is less about teaching the language and more about using the language to teach the skill of making personal, social, historical, artistic and even political connections.

I believe that our job is about establishing relationships, nourishing relationships, growing as a result of relationships …..Relationships that are a)built via communicating so that we are understood in another language and b)built because we understand others in their language .

It’s about understanding….and being understood as a human being. It’s a job that no machine can do.

They need us for that.

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.

Kindness: Why It Matters At The High School

by lclarcq on January 17th, 2015

filed under Archived Posts 2015, Encouragment, Relationships, Uncategorized

It isn’t easy to be kind at the high school. It isn’t at all cool. (and it doesn’t matter how old you are….) Nice people are perceived as stupid, or weak. These are things to be avoided at all costs.

At the high school, the operative word is tough. Tough is smart, tough is strong. These are things to be achieved and admired for.

Tough appears to be the overall winner. Tough attitudes, tough faces. Tough courses, tough tests. Tough teams, tough practices. Tough kids, tough teachers. No question,tough prevails.

Why even try?

Because Tough APPEARS to be the overall winner. Tough attitudes, tough faces. Tough courses, tough tests. Tough teams, tough practices. Tough kids, tough teachers. No question,tough prevails….on the surface. But underneath, BECAUSE tough prevails, kindess really matters. It’s desperately needed as a matter of fact.

You wouldn’t know that by teen behavior, but it is.

If you’ve ever parented a toddler, it is a little easier to understand. From the age of one to four years old, childen live in these adorable little teflon-coated cocoons. Nearly everything we say bounces right off of them. We don’t expect REALLY expect toddlers to say please and thank you. We don’t expect toddlers to be patient. We don’t expect toddlers to be responsible. Yet…we spend several years “pleasing and thank-youing” to them anyway. Even though…..we will see them throw tantrums, refuse to share, make faces, pick at their food, throw things and a number of other challenging behaviors. It is as if they do not hear a word we say. FOR SEVERAL YEARS! But we keep on trying anyway. That is what parents do. When children emerge from their “toddler-armor”, they have actually absorbed many of the behaviors we have been raining down on them since before potty-training.

I’ve often felt that toddlers and teens have a lot in common. Obsession with potty talk and bodily functions for one. Then there are the passionately emotional/stubbornly indifferent twin sides to their personalities. Both groups have moments when they are completely committed to doing things independently, even when it is impossible or riduculous to do so. AND this selective hearing issue occurs in teens just as virulently as it does in toddlers.

Then…at some point, a young adult emerges from this tought cocoon and it turns out that,yes indeed, they really had been listening all those years.

It is a rare, rare adolescent that is thankful for the kind people in his/her life. Some adolescents are too busy being focused on their struggles and miseries to be appreciative. Others don’t have the social skills to say thank you. Many would be just too embarrassed to try. But they do notice. And they remember.

True, it makes being kind a very thankless job (pun clearly intended!) So, if as human beings, we are being kind so that others will appreciate us, we may be disappointed. But, if we are kind because kindness speaks to how we want to affect the world, rather than how much we would like to be appreciated, being kind isn’t all that difficult to achieve.

Being kind opens the door for choices. It says, I can make decisions, I can be in control of my responses. It shows my students that…and it shows me that. On the days that I am worn out, feeling low, frustrated and grumpy, the choice to be kind is reassuring to me.

Being kind opens the door for additional kindness. It clears a space for the positive. It makes more good things possible. We all could use a little more of that.

Being kind feels better, physically and emotionally. Life is too short, illness too prevalent and pain too powerful to not open up a door that makes us feel healthy and strong.

Being kind communicates hope. Where there is hope, there can be change. When there can be change great things happen. I vote for hope.

It’s true that things at the high school level can get a bit more serious. If we are going to get serious, why not get serious about something as far-reaching, and life-saving, as kindness?

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

“Mildred”

by lclarcq on December 20th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2014, Encouragment, Musings, Not So Good Days, Relationships, Tough Students

“Mildred” is a “fictional” student in Ben Slavic’s book PQA in a Wink. She is representative of the students that disrupt class, challenge our authority and almost appear to work hard to NOT be successful. The Mildred in Ben’s book comes from an abusive home in a high poverty neighborhood. I’ve been thinking a great deal about Mildred this last week before the holiday break and….

…..Mildred had a rough week last week; I can promise you that. She is facing a two week “vacation” from school, which is the only place she gets a decent, consistent meal. In my district, it may be the only place she can take a shower. Or have heat. She knows that it will be hard to get out and get away from a caustic environment where she can’t do anything right and will hope just to stay out of everyone’s way and keep the possessions that she has out of everyone else’s hands.

Knowing what was ahead, Mildred was NOT in the best of moods and when some girl starting bragging about the gifts she already knew she was getting and the flight to Bermuda w/ Grammy and Grandpa, she muttered something under her breath. Another “Mildred” heard her, assumed it was about her and swore at her. It went downhill from there.

When the math teacher crammed in the last chapter so that she could give the unit test the Friday before vacation………

……. and the Economics teacher made the group project due so that she could correct them over the break………

…….and the English teacher assigned internet research that Mildred had to do in the library because she doesn’t have internet, (but Mildred spent three periods this week in the Dean’s office) Mildred only got 1/3 of the way through those assignments.

Her average now in those classes is failing and there will be a phone call and a letter home due to district policy, and the adults in Mildred’s life will be pissed as hell that they are being bothered by the school. Each of those teachers gave Mildred a lecture this week about getting her act together, telling her that she is failing, and pointing out how “little” it would take to be a “good” student.

It takes a lot of work and time to develop a relationship with Mildred that will allow her to be interested in any kind of “story’ that we might come up with in a TPRS class that can distract her from the reality of her everyday life. There isn’t a current event that compares with her tumultuous life. No matter how carefully crafted our lessons were last week, it’s pretty likely that we couldn’t engage Mildred.

But every hello, every patient response, every nugget of positive action can (I won’t say will, I can’t promise that) work towards creating a relationship where one person may create an atmosphere in a classroom that might be the only place in school where Mildred feels welcome…..where she doesn’t feel like an unwanted, unrequested, unneeded “guest.”

You see, school may be the place to feel fuller, warmer and safer, but it doesn’t feel like a place where Mildred belongs. Truth is, she is treated like an invader, an imposter, as someone who doesn’t deserve to be in the building. That began in kindergarten when she didn’t bring in school supplies or the required contribution of glue, crayons and Kleenex boxes for the class.

It continued through elementary school where she never brought in a permission slip, didn’t bring in a gift for the Christmas exchange, couldn’t be in chorus because she didn’t own dress shoes and a white shirt, never handed in one science or social studies project. In middle school she didn’t shower much and she got in some trouble because other kids made fun of the fact that she didn’t own a bra and wore the same shoes every day. Day by day the staff, mostly without realizing it, pointed out to her that she was different from the kids who were “good” at school

…and over the course of her ten years as a student she has learned to behave as she has been treated.

There are a lot of Mildreds in our schools. More than we can imagine. Some of them spent the week in the in school suspension room. Some stayed home for several days because the environment there was (believe it or not) less painful than the pre-holiday anticipation flying around the building. Some tried to fly under the radar…silent, not making eye contact, falling asleep during the movie whenever possible.

But, if they are lucky, there is a room or two in the building where Mildreds are welcomed. In my building I could see Mildred in the Ag Science room making centerpieces to distribute for the FFA fund raiser and selling t shirts during lunches for the Entrepreneurship Club. I saw Mildred watering plants in the Bio room. I watched another Mildred go from classroom to classroom making jokes…and scooping up uneaten Christmas goodies. There was a Mildred hanging out in the attendance office after coming in late, and several in the weight room after school. Two or three Mildreds purposely move slowly on art projects so that they can come in to work during study hall or after school. I caught one Mildred cutting paper snowflakes in there. There was also a Mildred reading in the corner of the library.

I’m blessed to teach in a district with a number of staff who have connected with at least one Mildred. It’s a good thing…we have more Mildreds than we find “homes” for. It can be overwhelming.

If you teach in a district with many Mildreds, don’t give up. One day Mildred may show up in your room asking for a pass to come down and cut out paper snowflakes. Or she may contact you on Facebook to let you know that she was grateful in high school that you let her know that she could, but she just never felt comfortable enough to do it.

WHAT YOU DO MAKES A DIFFERENCE THAT YOU MAY NOT EVER SEE.

If you teach in a district where it appears that there are few Mildreds, think again. In these districts, the Mildreds are simply more sophisticated. They come from families where the “differentness” is accompanied by an early-learned skill in “appearing normal.”

Your Mildreds may have money, a lovely home and an amazing wardrobe. Your Mildreds have perfect or nearly perfect GPAs. In fact, your Mildreds MUST maintain a façade of being the best in order to hide the atrocities that they deal with at home. They freeze US out with condescension, criticism, and by turning parents against US so that we turn a blind eye to what is really going on in their lives.

Some Mildreds are dealing with challenges within their own minds, hearts, bodies and souls that they have not yet shared with anyone. These Mildreds are the most lonely and in the most pain.

As you head home for a week or two, it can be a relief to be “Mildred-free.” I sometimes feel guilty about that. But we have our own challenges as human beings. Sometimes we need Mildred-free time to focus on our own world in order to survive. We can’t help anyone when we haven’t attended to any of our own needs.

If you have been trying to reach a Mildred, or two, or twenty….and it doesn’t seem to be working…Hang in there. Love wins. It truly, truly does. It may not win the battle that you see. It may not win the in the way that you want it to. But Love, because it gets noticed, in itself creates Hope. Hope is the enemy of fear. Hope is the enemy of complacency. Hope is the enemy of despair. Hope is the enemy of apathy.

Hope is frightening. In Mildred’s experience, Hope proceeds Disappointment. Hope has proceeded Pain. So a teacher who offers Hope is frightening, potentially disappointing, and painful. No wonder Mildred gives us trouble.

What Mildred doesn’t yet know is that Hope and Possibility together can create a new future. But you do know that….so don’t give up. Rest up. Then go back and keep offering Love and Hope. They are as valuable a gift as any this season.

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

Teacher Vulnerablity Archived Post 12.13.10

by lclarcq on December 7th, 2014

filed under Archived Posts 2010, Encouragment, Relationships, Teacher Training, The Teaching Profession, TPRS techniques

Originally posted 12/13/10 For more insight on Vulnerability consider watching this :

The second idea that has been following me today is this: We are all insecure. All of us. We generally choose to handle it one of two ways:
a) Active, decisive, “strong” behaviors designed to give us the power to create an image that hides our insecurity from others.
b) Passive, indecisive, “weak” behaviors designed to give us the power to avoid other so that they cannot see our insecurity.

Wow.

Talk about insight. Talk about a smack in the face. Apparently we are usually one or the other….the one that we learned in childhood got us the most bang for our buck when it comes to protection of the heart and soul.

Now I’m sure that volumes could be written (and probably have been) about who chooses which protection mode and how those choices create the lives they lead. But I have been pondering the simpler side of things:

We are all insecure.

All of us. All the time. About something.

Our Money, our Friendships ,our Height, our Weight, our Skin color, our Families, our Work, our Relationships, our To Do Lists, our Faith, our Future, our Profession, our Job, our Health, our Vehicles, our Skills, our Possessions, Love….

And what we would do ( or how can we continue to survive) without these things…..

Some folks are worriers…their way of taking control of the insecurities. Others are worry-less…their way of taking control. Some are planners. Others just let everyone else make the plans and follow their lead.
Do we consciously know that we are insecure? I think we do…but we have long-used well-ingrained habits in place to “work” with it….so we don’t have to think about it all the time.

Nor do we actually face it.

Vulnerability is highly underrated.
Think of the real power that could be generated by educators if, for a few minutes per day, students’ vulnerabilities were actually seen as their strong points, as their gifts. Of course we would have to be willing to do that for ourselves first.

It is one of the things that attracts me to the TPRS teaching community. There is a common understanding that we are all vulnerable because we are always examining our weakest areas and trying to strengthen them. Then we communicate that with each other and even with our students so that we can really face our weak points, accept them, embrace them, learn from them and be better people and teachers because of them.

It is at the heart of what those who teach from the heart do.

We uncover it so that it can open.

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.