Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm Teaching Level 3 and 4/AP Next Year, By The Way

At the end of Spring 2011 I asked for Spanish Levels 3 and 4/AP next year and got them. That means...I've got to write new stories and lesson plans for those levels, because I honestly don't know a better way for them to retain the vocab and be able to use it in context than by hearing and reading stories.

My students agree, actually. They complained a bit about the stories in level 1, then in level 2 this past year did a complete about-face, telling me they remembered everything from level 1 because the stories really worked. They wanted to make sure I was still going to tell stories in class. My students are extremely blunt. They will not hold back in telling you exactly what they think, and they have opinions on everything. So when I got this feedback from them, it was really gratifying to have them recognize what worked for them in their learning and tell me so.

So this is my plan: 1) In both levels (3 and 4) to speak a LOT of Spanish, and to do a lot of free-form conversation activities. 2) To weave all the required vocab into stories that I will (deep breath) mostly make up with my classes on the spot. I have a good enough relationship with these students to feel comfortable "winging it" (especially the incoming threes, because I've taught them now for two years already,) accepting the fact that sometimes a spontaneous story falls flat. 4) To take the best of the spontaneous stories we make up and write a reading to go with it, which I'll have my own (native-speaking) Spanish tutors edit before I copy for the class to read. 5) To figure out more reading activities involving outside books and sources. This has been just too hard for me to do in levels 1 and 2, for two reasons: most of what you find (even in children's books) is just too hard for those levels, and I have an intense desire to recycle my target vocab in readings so that I know they'll really know the vocab. That's next to impossible unless you write your own readings, which is why I do it.

I plan to prepare something for publication and sale next summer, for level 3 especially. Not sure about level 4/AP (whether I'll have something ready to publish or not.) But I will keep anyone interested updated throughout the year, and share my stories and what I'm working on, so...keep in touch, especially if you are teaching levels 3 or 4 this next year...please! I'll need your good ideas too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Have You Noticed They Aren't That Kinesthetic Anymore?

Ten years ago our big push was kinesthetic learning because we had all these active, hands-on learners who needed to move around the room and get their hands on the material and do something with it in order to stay engaged for learning.

It was easy to do TPR (Total Physical Response) for days and days. It was easy to get actors for stories. You needed Kagan training to learn all the different ways to get kids up and moving.

I still believe in all those techniques and I still make my students get up out of their seats at least once or twice per 90-minute block.

But they aren’t into it like they used to be. They’d rather sit. I hear some people say how “lazy” kids are these days. I don’t find it helpful to ruminate on that thought, but I have recognized that these students are different, and rather than judging it or trying to change it, the important thing is to identify exactly how they are different so that we can use that in our teaching.

They aren’t kinesthetic anymore.

They’re relationship-oriented. (It’s Type 1 on the 4Mat wheel.)

They care about who likes them and who doesn’t like them. They are obsessed with it. Listen to them talk in the hallways. It’s all about which teachers like them and which teachers hate them.

If they think I don’t like them, they will resist everything I try to do like mad. It used to be that if a kid thought you weren’t crazy about them (in second language acquisition theory, anyway) it would raise the affective filter and hinder their learning a bit.

Now there is more at stake than that. Yes, they won’t learn as well, but I can also expect misery in the classroom as far as behavior problems, if they believe I don’t like them.

This year I made absolutely certain that whenever I had to get on to a student, I never, ever let them get the idea I didn’t like them or that I was even mad at them. I showed no anger, ever. My classroom management improved a hundredfold just with this one, simple change.

I know (believe me I know) how hard it is to NOT show anger or even slight perturbation when on the inside you’re seething. But personally, I won’t do it, now that I’ve seen the difference it makes. Not with these kids, these days. If I show anger I’ll pay for it for weeks, maybe months, in a damaged relationship.

My students think I’m the most patient person in the world. Little do they know…I’m just being selfish. J I want students learning Spanish and smooth classroom interactions, in that order. And with today’s kids, that means I’ve got to build relationships. I’ve got to convince them I like them, that I enjoy having them around, that I think they are cool.

It’s weird, too, because the more I’ve worked on convincing them of that, the more it is true. I really do like them, value them, and enjoy their company. We had a blast together this past year. And now they do whatever I ask (for the most part,) because they know I care about them and their learning more than anything else, and because for them, it’s all about relationship.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Makes Teaching So Hard (or Easy)?

In my opinion, these things make teaching hard:


Kids are forced to go to school, and they don’t always want to be there or in my class.

In today’s relaxed disciplinary climate, I can’t count on parents, other teachers, or principals to make sure kids are submissive and cooperative in my classroom. I can only count on myself and my own skill at managing the classroom and engaging them in my material.

Too much of a teacher’s day is spent in front of students rather than preparing the lesson and regathering energy and focus. My ideal ratio would be 50/50. Smirk if you must, but teaching would be a completely different (and far more attractive) career if we taught for 3.5 hours and planned/collaborated/ regrouped for 3.5 hours a day. (I’d even go for 4 hours teaching, 3 hours planning/break.) We’d be more relaxed and creative in class, and you’d see less attrition in teaching. (The attrition numbers don’t lie. If this were a super-attractive career, people would be flocking to it, not away from it.)

Too much of a teacher’s day is spent on time-wasting, energy-sucking tasks like a) meetings that have no relative point or actual effect on anything; b) endless, redundant data entry (often into sub-par software programs that aren’t user friendly because they were created specifically for sale to school districts, who are often sold on fancy presentations and false promises. I could go on a major rant here, but I won’t. Not right now, anyway.) And c) sifting through unrelated emails and/or papers in my box at the front office.

And last, outside sources have various expectations of what I should be teaching, how I should teach it, and what the outcome should be for students. Those expectations may or may not line up with my own, and I often feel unnecessary pressure to meet others’ expectations.

So, what would make teaching easier?

Kids who want to be in my class and are engaged. They don’t automatically come that way, so this is up to me to create. (More on this in future posts.)

Classroom management strategies that I can actually make work for my particular teaching situation (this school/these students) and my personality. (More on this in future posts.)

Getting smarter about how I prepare so that prep work is at a relative minimum. A lot of this has to do with my organization strategies and literally where I store certain things in my room, to minimize unnecessary time/motion as I set up a lesson. (More on this in future posts.)

Saying no to unnecessary committees, meetings, and other time-wasters. In my opinion, one reason this remains such an “expectation” on teachers is that most of us try to accommodate and please our administrators in order to be seen as a team player, a valuable member of the staff, etc. I'm not a lazy person by a long shot, but I do have limited time and energy. I personally have chosen to focus my time and energy on my teaching in my own classroom, because the truth is, if I deliver the goods in terms of excellent teaching, happy students and parents, it doesn’t matter that I said no to the umpteen requests to join committees, cover others’ classes, etc., they’ll be reluctant to fire me (I say with rather brazen assurance.)
(**Okay, disclaimer about meetings: There are, of course, some meetings you should attend, like IEPs, RTIs, entire-staff meetings especially at the beginning of the year, etc. Also, if you are in your first year, my advice is be sure to attend everything that is expected of you but avoid taking on too many additional committees, clubs, etc. if possible.)

Coaching myself and my mentee(s) daily, if need be, that my true clients are my students/parents, not other teachers, the administration, the other high school, or anyone else. So the primary expectations I need to meet are those of my students/parents and of myself. (In my teaching situation, if the students are happy, the parents are happy, so that’s why I say “students/parents” as a unit.) 

If students are learning Spanish and enjoying it, my goals are met. If every student in my room makes progress on his or her own scale and feels good about taking Spanish, my goals are met. If 90-99% of them go on to take the next level of Spanish, my goals are met.

What would make teaching easier in your opinion?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why Teach?

Good teaching is hard to pull off. Let’s talk.

I’m licensed as a “Master Teacher” in the state of Colorado, and hold National Board Certification in World Languages Other than English. I’ve taught middle school, high school, and adults. I have 12 years experience in education, and from my second year of teaching, I’ve mentored and trained several other teachers.

And I’m still figuring out how to do my job.

I think teaching in public school is the hardest job on earth to do well. Just my opinion, based on personal experience and observation. Unlike some teachers, I've had a variety of other jobs. I've sold snowcones at carnivals, plowed wheat fields with a tractor, been in the Army, worked as a switchboard receptionist managing 40 incoming phone lines, worked in women’s clothing retail, supervised 10 teachers as the ELL coordinator for my school district, and written an online course for a university. Teaching in a public K-12 classroom is by far harder than any of those jobs.

Yet I choose to do it on purpose. Why?

I love the challenge, and when I actually pull off an excellent day of teaching, I feel like a million bucks.

Seeing students learn and enjoy it is incredibly fulfilling.

Summers off.

I know the average human could not step into my classroom and do what I do, and that makes me feel pleasantly smug.

The U.S. is in desperate need of good teachers.

My students give me so much love and joy. Usually.

I know that I am making a huge difference in a lot of young people’s lives. Hopefully mostly for the better.