What You See Part 1 Archived Post…4.26.10

(originally posted 4/26/10)

(Please remember that I am working out my thoughts as I write…not necessarily preaching a sermon!!!)

A number of years ago I wrote a piece for the moretprs list about kids with “attitude.”   Lots of things have changed in a decade, but the fact that adolescents often have “attitude” has not.  This piece talks about what you see….so I will start with it:



Okay ladies and gentlemen…here it is..

We are a threat to hair flippers.

It is a well-developed protection mechanism designed to preserve a lifestyle which focuses on these young ladies’ social strengths…beauty and social position.  Hair flipping is an art and a well-practiced communication device.  It says:


Other students have this protection mechanism as well.  Each group has its own:  The Swagger and Swearers, The Smell like Smoke Shufflers, The Eyebrow Raisers,  The Can’t Stop Gigglingers, The Smart Remarkers,The Grunters, The I Still Love Last Year’s Teacherers,  The Eye Rollers, The Incessant Whisperers, and among others..another one of our favorites…The Great Sarcastic Remarkers.

These devices are automatic…particularly at the beginning of the school year when you don’t know them, they don’t know you , and the class doesn’t know each other.  The mechanism says clearly:


In our position as language teachers we ask them almost immediately to do things WAY outside of their comfort zone.  It is very very threatening..  It is threatening because:

THEY ARE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES. (to them a mistake is NOT always doing something wrong..sometimes it is doing the wrong thing)



Deactivating these mechanisms takes love and time.  Be yourself.  Love them. Push gently.  Be patient.  Show them that you are proud of your weird and wonderful and individual self.   They will see you as a role  model…even if they have to be out of their teens before they begin to emulate you.


Stuff we all need.


I wrote this just as I was beginning my TPRS journey and it resonates even more with me today.  Personalization is so central to TPRS…yet our students often work very hard to cover and protect what is really important to them.  How do we combat that?

First, we accept that they have reasons for their cover.  It really doesn’t matter if we like those reasons or not…what matters is that we acknowledge who/what walks in our door.  How? By treating them as real, regular people…regardless of their hair color, hair cut, number (or location) of piercings, choice of music, addiction to video games etc.

(now…that doesn’t mean that I am advocating the acceptance of foul language, degrading t shirts, pants on the ground et.al)

One of the requirements in my room is that we treat others AS IF they are intelligent, interesting, capable and important.  It is as hard for me, some days, to remember that as it is for my students.  Frankly, they don’t always act intelligent, interesting, capable and important.  I have some students who make an extreme effort NOT to appear to be any of those things….

However, treating them AS IF they are really does work.  In time, using patience, and understanding that they may ultimately work hardest to keep their “cover” in place…but it does work.

It has been much easier to do since I took Susie Gross’ advice to “teach to the eyes” to heart.  It takes them a while to get used to being taught to that way…because it is harder to maintain a cover that way.   But it works….and the cover starts to melt…or at the very least to transform so that it more closely resembles the heart of the adolescent within…and less like the suit of armor that protects it.

I’ve also learned to open my eyes outside of the classroom.  It is amazing how different some students can be outside of my four walls.  I’ve seen spiky-haired, black-rimmed-eyed giants play piggy-back with their younger siblings.  I might see an exquisite water-color displayed that was created by a lineman.  I have had extremely well-coiffed young ladies who can dismantle a four-wheeler…and reassemble it.  I have seen tiny fairy-like creatures kick and run like wildfire on the playing field.  I am constantly surprised by the many facets of students’ interests, abilities and personalities.

I never really know what will be the key that opens a student up.  Sometimes it is something that we do in class: a story, a poem, a movie, a song, a current event.  Other times it is casual observance of a tshirt design, a new pair of shoes, a sketch on the front of a book cover.   Occasionally it is an item in my classroom…this year the fans that I brought back from Spain have opened up many doors of conversation.  Rarely, if ever, am I the one that opens the door.  It is almost always the student who shows me, if only for a tiny instant, a glimpse beyond the armor.

It is my job to be open, ready and PAYING ATTENTION…so that I do not miss it.

with love,

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