Caution Advised

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29 thoughts on “Caution Advised”

  1. My response:

    You’ll get through this fine. It requires open dialogue, that’s all. The truth always outs.

    We are all always in this position, but we just don’t know it. Each of my 37 years has been a wakening up to this. It’s so easy for those kids who are so deeply unconscious to do this, to put us in these positions.

    My own boys watch a lot of that kind of TV and so do those kids. All teachers are pervs on shows starting ten or more years ago with Malcolm in the Middle. Go watch a few of those involving school scenes and that is where it all started, in my opinion. I am shocked about the image of teachers in our culture and it seems like every day another teacher goes to jail bc they really are sick people.

    Most important thing you say here is:

    …don’t go for extreme BEP and protect your job….

    I have “been there” probably ten times over the years in my efforts to make the CI compelling. Each time there was a period of about 24 hours while I waited for the parent shoe to drop, but fortunately it never did. But each of those instances, things I totally walked into with no thought that what I said was going to be misinterpreted, freaked me out, if not the kids. Now I am so careful with a kind of inner filter about what I say that it’s ridiculous.

    The boys are bad too – a kid who is a sociopath, I think for real, and whom I control via jGR now much better than before, said an extremely inappropriate sexual comment in a blurt. I threw him out to another teacher but failed to take it to counseling. I think I actually didn’t want to bc he is that certain kind of sick kid – the same kid about the other kid being dark brown from that thread a few weeks ago here – who can turn it around on me and make me feel like I am way overstating the case. So I leave it alone now where in the past, when I was a younger teacher, I would have tried to “help the kid”. Flying low is the only way to go with certain kids. Unfortunately you can’t do that here.

    I like what you said here:

    …don’t accept student suggestions for answers to questions that have anything to do with sex, drugs or rock ‘n roll…

    I have always had an internal code I live by to avoid discussions of religion, drugs and politics. I don’t always succeed in that, but it has helped me in general in my life. All we have to do is think that at any given moment a kid can record a class on a phone without our being aware of it to remember that. The first case of that nationally was with a kid about eight years ago here in Denver at a DPS high school where a kid from a conservative right wing family taped a political rant by a left wing history teacher that ended up being the subject of a right wing talk show in Washington, DC that week, making national news. I think that in that moment of cell phone use the true ability of teachers to teach using free speech was officially taken away from us. I’m not saying the left wing rant was a good decision, but I don’t think that the teacher meant to “indoctrinate” anyone – he probably just wanted a good dialogue but got nailed in much the same way your students have done.

    We are just not in a safe country anymore, the thought police are out and parents are listening. I live in a deeply right wing county and my god these parents are sick. My boy goes to Columbine and that is a sick school. I want him out of there. The same principal is there from the time of the shootings. The jock culture is still alive. Bullying is the same. My son – a freshman at Columbine – is bullied daily, and some of the bullying, trust me on this, is done by teachers. Another thing on my list of things to do. We are not better off as a nation. We are not growing.

    In one good sense, we are in a much safer position than language teachers who use English. They can always put their foot in it, especially since they must be so fucking bored teaching grammar. They are constantly in danger of a side conversation or a little comment going off the edge, especially with the kids today who watch all the TV as discussed above. We are only in danger when our CI goes in the directions you listed above.

    And male teachers should never touch a student of either sex, in my view. I once saw a kid put a finger on the chest of a kid half his size and push him back hard in the hallway so that the small kid, always picked on, fell on the ground. I went to the big kid and put a finger on his chest and asked him how that felt. Next thing I know I am explaining myself and apologizing to parents, and was not allowed to even bridge the topic of their son’s behavior. That was ten years ago. I haven’t put a finger on a kid since except with males to tap their backs when I say their dialogue for them in a story while they lipsync it.

    I don’t think we can blame this on the kids. We have to realize the climate we are in. It has changed and there is a lawsuit around every corner now, especially with parents being financially strapped these days. We are far more vulnerable than we ever were. We are CRAZY not to be a member of our teacher’s unions for representation if need be.

    If any of those accusations of your being a perv come to light again, I would immediately get representation and defend myself aggressively against whoever said them. I call that slander. But you are the one who got yourself into it and your letter to us here is much appreciated and I sure don’t blame yourself for not identifying yourself. What you shared here may save more than one career, especially of some of the younger teachers in our group.

    I don’t know about the class talk. It doesn’t feel quite right. The kids are too young to get it, I think. Let it disappear.

    1. “We are not better off as a nation. We are not growing.”

      Ben, I talk about this often and I believe with all of myself this to be true: The percentage of adults that are emotionally mature in this country is VERY small. I am still learning, but I feel that I have hope because I am aware of my immaturity and am constantly trying to grow. I really truly believe that most people have the emotional intelligence of teenagers. It is as if most people stopped growing emotionally when they turned 16. I think it goes hand in hand with our hedonistic, crass culture.

      P.S. What is BEP?
      P.P.S. How can I make italics?

      1. B = Bizarre
        E = Exaggerated
        P = Personalized

        In front of the word(s) you want to italicize, put an i within pointed brackets: (but with no spaces); after the word(s), put /i within the brackets: (again with no spaces).

        You can do the same thing with b /b (bold) and u /u (underline). There are many other html commands, but these are three of the most common.

        1. Okay, that didn’t work so well because
          1. Ben’s program read those as commands even with the spaces
          2. underline apparently doesn’t read in this program

          Pointed brackets are >>>> and <<<<; for purposes of html the point of the bracket faces "outward" from the command.

          I hope this makes sense, since I couldn't give you a visual.

  2. I will comment more on this later when I have time but Ben is right about what our popular culture and tv shows portray teachers as. My principal said last year that he doesn’t allow his children to watch iCarly on Nickelodeon because they portray all of the teachers as creepy buffoons.

    Ultimately, you’ll get through this. It’s important to not take this stuff to heart. One thing I’ve found while in the middle school setting is the terms “pervert” and “pedophile” are extremely overused terms and the kids don’t even know what those terms mean. Plus, they use those terms in such unserious, jokingly ways that those terms carry no meaning to them. They are always joking calling people pedophiles and even calling their friends that. They have no clue what the word means (which is somebody who is attracted to PREpubescent children). The words carry no meaning to them, they were probably joking around with their friends saying “so-and-so is a pedophile” just being stupid kids, and the parents who actually know what the term means freaked out.

  3. ..…don’t go for extreme BEP and protect your job….

    I completely agree. I’ve always gone for the most extreme, shocking BEP I could think of, because that’s my sense of humor, but I’ve learned to tone it down to avoid trouble. People take offense at EVERYTHING nowadays. Last week we did the boy who cried wolf story from Cuentame Mas and I typed out an alternative reading to read in class. Basically what happened is a family lives in the mountains, a wolf eats the daughter, but then a shepherd comes to the mountain and the family adopts him. The shepherd laughs while the wolf eats the sheep. The dad yells at him so the boy eats the dad, and then the mom. The police come and are mad because the shepherd boy ran to the woods and now lives with the wolf. Now, there were no problems with this, but I also didn’t assign it as homework to read to a parent. Will I do this reading again? Probably not, could get accused of promoting cannibalism or something, who knows… But this reading is really representative of what my sense of humor is and what I like injecting into my classes. Probably not a good idea, though.

  4. Kids have a lot of power, and some of them know this and some of them are oblivious to this and just say things, especially if they find it funny. Either way, we don’t want to give them anything that can be turned into a destructive rumor, even if there is no truth to it. Something taken the wrong way can reverberate through a school via students, parents, administrators, and colleagues, and can undermine that delicate sense of trust that is essential for the teacher/student relationship. Outside class, I often try to think like a 12-13 year old just to remind myself how what I say or do will be interpreted. This allows me to capitalize on their sense of humor, and to filter topics and comments that are likely to be taken in an inappropriate direction. For example, you simply don’t want to use a FL word that rhymes with or alludes to an English bad word, unless you are ready and able to use that association in a limited and appropriate way, and not lose control of it. (This is where non-native speakers of English can get into trouble, not professionally necessarily, but in terms of students having jokes that the teacher is unaware of. If you sense that this is going on, ask a student you trust outside of class).

    I think this also touches on our compulsion to be entertaining all the time. It’s like the class clown who feels the energy and will say or do anything to keep that energy going. As we have all observed with class clowns, that is often when they end up saying inappropriate things. We need to remember that it is not our jobs to keep things going in that way. It’s an unreasonable expectation. If students are entertained, and if we are able to direct that energy into a story in appropriate ways, great. But that is not the norm, nor should it be. This is about letting the students do their 50%, and our role being provider of CI and facilitator of the conversation through asking, listening and re-directing when necessary. Ben and I were emailing recently about how much psychic energy CI teachers feel they need to put in–and that this is not necessarily the case. Perhaps this is not the place for that subtle discussion, but I see a connection here in terms of our teacher-as-entertainer tendencies: It is when we are trying so hard to make the class compelling that we may go against our better judgment and approach or cross that line of what is (or could be perceived to be) inappropriate.

    1. …For example, you simply don’t want to use a FL word that rhymes with or alludes to an English bad word……..

      I will never use the preterit form of “poner” actually I hate even using the infinitive ‘poner’. And the spanish word for -page- is “pagina” (with an accent over the a), I’ve had plenty of students make comments about those two words

      1. I also made the mistake two years ago that the final exam that I was making was “bigger, longer and harder” than the one given to me by the high school teachers. That was a big mistake

          1. That is so silly. Well, again maybe because I am a woman, I will say vagina or penis without a smirk because they are parts of the body. Vagina vagina vagina.

          2. Trouble is, with some classes, just saying or hinting at a word like that can ruin the entire “period.”

      2. they make a big deal out of jugue (pron. “who gay” – for non-Spanish teachers) it means s/he played.
        A couple of years ago I had a class FULL of immature freshmen boys — as juniors this year, they’re not much better! but they rolled on the floor over the word for 70 – ‘setenta’ (because they heard “taint”) I had to progressively put my foot down with their continuous snickers, until I finally let go on them about it — and told them to GROW UP (that actually made a difference!) :-}

    2. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak

      You hit it on the nail:
      ” this is where non-native speakers of English can get into trouble, not professionally necessariy, but in terms of students having jokes that the teacher is unaware of”. That happens to me a lot! I hate it but what can I do? So I’ll ask the nice kids and they tell me what it was all about after class.

      1. It also works the other way around. The first time I asked the students to take out a “sheet” of paper, I got some very startled looks. Then I realized that since most French have trouble hearing the difference between “fit” and “feet”, and since there are English words that are never taught in the classroom and which everyone knows, they weren’t at all sure what I wanted.

  5. When I first read Krashen’s idea of compelling input, it spoke to me right away both as a learner and teacher. (My own daughter tells me with her tears about just how not-compelling are her high school classes.) As a dedicated teacher I’m willing to do anything to make Spanish come alive for my kids, yet here I realize that many factors come into play, especially the over-entertained brains of our students who get, via internet, tv, movies etc content that is wayyyy more interesting to them than mini plastic elephants. So it’s tempting to venture into content that kids find compelling, yet are verboten, especially sex and drugs.

    Makes me think, What are some safe, compelling topics for teens?
    Cars, sports, computers, food, aliens, music, movies, celebrities, money…

    1. Gosh, I have a hard time making the class come alive. I am trying but my kids are duds. What is compelling to one kid it seems like the other kids are bored of. GRRRRR.

      1. …I am trying but my kids are duds….

        They’re not duds. You are passing onto them your truth that

        …I have a hard time making the class come alive….

        because you are taking too much on yourself for the success of the class. They only look like duds. Listen to them and relax and make openings for them as per:

        Then you will see something. Focus on listening to their cute answers. Here is that Blaine quote from years ago that opened it all up for me:

        …I believe people who are the most effective at TPRS don’t tell stories. They ask questions, pause, and listen for cute answers from the students. The magic is in the interaction between the student and teacher. TPRS is searching for something interesting to talk about. That is done by questioning. Interesting comprehensible input is the goal of every class. If we are there to tell a story, we will probably not make the class interesting. We will be so focused on getting the story out that we won’t let the input from the kids happen….

    2. And of course, themselves. Even when it’s something kind of ordinary (like when I spent a lot of time PQA’ing when different people in the class go to sleep) they were way more into the discussion.

      I agree that it’s difficult to compete with the entertainment world in a classroom! I hope that they have a different filter for “interesting” from a class than from a movie or video game. But there is probably always student willingness/buy-in at play.

    3. I think this is why I have found CWB so incredibly powerful. When I stop talking about “THEM” it NEVER goes as well for me or them. They will let me talk about “THEM” without any trouble… Their ability and or willingness to engage in other CI is much diminished in my experience.

      Safe and compelling topic for teens would include topics that are about them. In level 3 their cards are “their favorite possessions” and this is always compelling.
      We spent 3 days talking about shopping because one Sp 1 student drew shopping on her card. In Maine a VERY powerful topic is hunting…. (The hunting story script is always very compelling….

      I would strongly encourage teachers to use the cards or whatever you want to call it – Scott Benedict calls it “power PQA” or something like that and he has students draw anything about them – pets, trips, even girl-boyfriends…

      It is a challenge to shelter vocab sometimes and not go out of bounds but, I would argue, probably not that much harder than when doing “stories”

      I will always feel grateful to Ben for bringing CWB to me…

      1. hahaha — skip is SO right about hunting being a MAJOR topic in Maine. My best success this year is the PQA about what they liked to eat, and I caught one boy drifting off and surprised him, and he said he liked to eat Moose meat — that brought my stuffed Moose into the story (his name is “marcel”) and he has been the center of a story EVERY week! BUT….then it hit me a couple of days ago that my students REALLY know the words for “hunts” “to hunt” “kills him/her” “father is dead” and I started to worry that some kid might go home and tell mom and dad that all we talk about in Spanish is killing!!!! (that’s why my turkey story today had a happy ending!!! – he escaped to Mexico had a great meal then married and had a baby!)
        I’m getting bored and the kids are — and I am feeling like a failure tonight! So, thanks for heads up about “entertaining” them !!!!

      2. You are welcome skip. I will always feel grateful that you are there, helping so many do this work, being your courageous self. Really, it’s not the CWB so much as your willingness to go out of your way to make the subject each day “Listening To Them”.

        For the last few days I have had a thought banging away inside my head about how we just don’t know how to listen to them, not really. How we are not educated in our country because we don’t know how to listen to each other. We don’t know what empathy is, not really.

        If we did, if we listened in the real way, by exploring each sentence that comes up either in a story of PQA just a little deeper before moving on, trying to milk it a little more for more information from the kid, looking at the kid and actually seeing her, we would see something.

        On some days they are two dimensional. Those are the days when we don’t go deeper with our questioning. On the days when we explore “just this much more” (as per Steven and Ondrea Levine), when we explore the edge of our sentences, trying to find “just this much” more from them, we will see them more.

        When we thus see them more, when life is thus allowed by our heresy to enter more and more into the dark bricked zones of death called schools, then happiness and music will be there. We are so close. Like Gnarls Barkley said, “Do you really think you’re in control?” and then he laughed.


  6. I always think of something that was mentioned on this list or at NTPRS, I forget exactly when or by whom:
    No one has ever been bored by being asked how they are doing

    If it’s about them, it doesn’t have to be wacky or outlandish. It just has to be relevant, and adolescents’ circle of relevance is forms a very small radius around them and their friends. But if you can keep the focus within that small circle, it can be low key, as long as it’s genuine. Genuine human interaction is the only thing that can compete with their electronic screen world. It’s easier said than done, but give them something relevant to them and something that they can be proud of, and you’ve got them.

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