Circling Emotions

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12 thoughts on “Circling Emotions”

  1. This really resonates with my experience in the classroom. I immediately think of when I begin to “test” them on gestures by saying a word and doing the wrong gesture. I can immediately see who is paying attention, and who is following what I am doing, not what I am saying.

    “If these studies are accurate, it means that many language teachers plan their teaching around less than 10% of what is actually happening in the classroom!”

    I think this is another trap we 4%ers fall into. Being freaks of nature who actually pay attention to the content of a class, to what a teacher is SAYING, to us, being interested in language as a concept, we naturally assume that everyone else thinks like we do. In reality, almost nobody functions that way in a classroom, for a variety of reasons–and even most of us 4%ers were bored out of our minds in most classes.

    I can tell when I’m tapping into that 90% of communication: it’s the energy, the emotional responses, “flying,” the thrill of having an exciting interaction with kids who are just looking not to be bored for a few minutes in their long-ass mind-numbing 8-period days. And when I’m ignoring that 90%, which is fairly often, I usually have a terrible day, either because the kids are checked out or all over the place. Why do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot? Repetition compulsion?

  2. I think those bad days are just unavoidable. It’s not a knock on the method, but on what school buildings have become. We all know that teaching adults or teaching people who are paying and therefore interested in gaining the language, how well that goes. It is strikingly better. So, my answer to:

    …why do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot?….

    is the school environment. When we go home and go to sleep after a home run day of teaching using input methods, the angels applaud when our heads hit the pillow.

    Actually, they applaud every day, but, knowing how difficult it is to get lift-off in stories, especially since this stuff, CI, is all so new in the world, so new, they applaud a little louder after those great days when we, in spite of all negativity and darkness in the room, step up to the plate and do well.

    Hell, any little bit of a smile crossing a child’s face during class because they are momentarily happy is a big deal, a big success. We forget sometimes, after a few years of success with TPRS/CI, how really dark and boring it used to be.

    So shooting ourselves in the foot is a normal daily thing for most of us because it is normal for teachers in all fields in all American classrooms on every hallway in all school buildings in every state to have very few toes left, and to have all kinds of holes in their feet. Teachers have not been able to reach kids in language education in classrooms EVER. Think about that. EVER.

    Jeff, who has belted a few hits out, if not home runs yet, now just weeks after starting (like jen did last April when she started, not content to wait over the summer), expressed this same concern somewhere. Failure is NORMAL and only the stronger type teachers who are determined to make it work are the ones who get to feel the joy inherent in this new kind of proximal, human teaching.

    Sorry for the ramble, but we really need to get how much of a challenge there is in our decision to teach in this way. If we are not aware of that, we may quit out of frustration and the bloom that is the promise of our career choice will quickly go off the rose.

    One of the aspects of the genius that is Susan Gross is not just her perfect knowledge of how to do this, it is also in her refusal to back down from the challenge. That may be her most valuable gift to those lucky ones whom she has trained, her ability to help us be confident in our efforts to move aside obstacles that come up when we start.

    Like the San Antonio coach said to his players when defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed imminent tonight, “I see you backing down, playing on your heals! I want some nasty!” (he meant for them to get some courage in that moment). They came out and went on a 26-9 run and won the game.

    If we are beat down now, crawling to the finish line at the hands of some fool shit educator who simply doesn’t get what we do, we need to heal, lick our wounds and rest and come out fighting in the fall.

    A person left the profession yesterday, who was almost clubbed to death metaphorically by her (suburban Denver) department. It has been a long drama, and she received big doses of hate every day for the past two years as she tried unsuccessfully to make stories work.

    She went to work up in Vail in that industry. She has to heal, but we are not forgetting her in DPS. If she is meant to be a teacher, she will come back, and some places will be better for her than others. Those attacking clones are out there – they really are, and they are shooting first and asking questions later. They must and they will be stopped.

    Really drifted on that comment, John. I can’t even remember my point. Or the question. That’s bad.

  3. While we are learning to teach via CI precepts, we must also evaluate ourselves in within those same guidelines. :o) Too often we work to change our teaching style, see the need to evaluate our students in a new way, and continue to “grade” ourselves based on the old paradigm. Our growth and development is also “under the surface.” It is also nearly impossible to see the majority of our own change, even our own teaching. Bryce’s “checklist” ( scroll to the very bottom of the page) is something that we need to use for ourselves…not just for our admins.

    Case in point: several folks here came to the workshop in D.C. and gave me feedback on it. Anny, in particular, wrote a very detailed description of what she got out of it. It blew me away. I was not CONSCIOUSLY aware of most of the things that she observed. I was evaluating myself on completely different criteria. Her observations were an incredible gift, and an eye-opening one. Much of what we do as teachers may be ‘invisible” to us. It is why Bob’s feedback from students is so powerful. Simply by focusing on the key elements of personalized CI we are acknowledging that the human brain is more powerful than the human “teacher”. We eventually (although it’s a tough fight sometimes!) let go of more and more of our teacher ego and hone in on what nature (or God or the universe) has given us to work with. We actually transform. How can that be measured?!!!!!!

    And yet we try. We look for the immediate and “measurable” changes that we think should be happening. (every story is a homerun story, students immediately “acquiring” …ha!..language every day, etc. etc.)

    My personal thought for the day: The best way to evaluate ourselves is to be grateful and jubilant each day about having the opportunity to be alive and in the classroom. Send a prayer of thankfulness to wherever we send these prayers. Ask for the grace, humility, joy and courage to do it again the next day. Be aware of the opportunities that this approach offers us to be better people and to see other people through better eyes and with better hearts.

    with love,

  4. This is an EPIC issue. The whole sense of failure as a teacher. I think we are set up for failure by the simple fact that we are teachers. We are doing something that nobody respects. Everyone complains about teachers, right? From the “top students” to the “troublemakers” to the parents, administrators, and the general population who is convinced that we make too much money for “not a real job.”

    Yesterday at a family gathering I felt the truth of this very deeply and it made me feel invisible and at the same time more determined in what I am doing. I just wish I had a few great one-liners to lob out every now and then. Since I am more toward the introvert on the spectrum, I’m more likely to listen and watch in social situations, so yesterday I got many earfuls while at my niece’s graduation party.

    I married into a family of four per centers. More like 0.0004 per centers. I love them, really. But am never actually part of a conversation because it’s always about whomever is doing something truly awe-inspiring like going to medical school after piloting planes for the air force. Or choosing to follow in the footsteps of that cousin (the air force pilot-turned ER doctor) and planning a medical career upon graduating from high school. Or heading off to Jordan and Egypt to study Arabic with the goal of a high-paying, high-risk foreign service career. Or going to law school after Yale, including several summers working in Mexico as a legal assistant and then landing a job in a big NY firm working on Latin American something or other. Or knowing from the age of 7 that professional soccer was what you wanted…and having the singular focus to go after that…and since the WPS crumbled, you move to Japan to play pro soccer there.

    Anyway, get the picture? And then there’s me. Livin’ the life! Trying to reach kids every day. Trying hard to keep my focus on connecting, because every single one of them has the right to shine. And I really do feel like I am “livin’ the life” because kids freakin’ ROCK! But every other message in their lives, from parents, peers, media, political “leaders,” and even other teachers, is all about beating everyone if they want to “make something of themselves.” So it all fuels the frenzy for top grades and top scores, for advancing quickly and for getting to shine only if you are the top 1%. And these messages permeate my reality daily, so they are hard to ignore, since I am working “against” all of that, I guess.

    I shudder when I hear derogatory comments about classmates. I know they are teenagers and that is what they do. I was/am one once! But it trickles up to the parents’ attitudes about how their kid is somehow better. So the “idiots” everyone complains about…what have they gone through before walking into the classroom that day? The whole house of cards is set up with this 4% illusion. That is why we shoot ourselves in the foot daily because we are products of it AND we are/were 4%-ers who by a great miracle have seen through the veil, and now tread precariously and march fiercely because we feel the source. One step forward, two or fifteen steps back. Day after day.

    Sorry for the ramble, but just now I figured out that what bothers me is the two-tiered approach. Well-meaning people, upstanding citizens…but they are what Paul Farmer refers to as WLs, “white liberals.” They have the “progressive” “liberal” political views, and sympathize and donate to and such but in the same breath they say things like “if you are working in Malawi and you get sick, of course you’ll be medevac-ed out.” Hmmm…why isn’t the focus on raising the quality and access to medical care in Malawi rather than ensuring “we” can get out? Just sayin’. I love Paul Farmer because he’s for real. And he tells it like it is…like “not one of the patients I have worked with has ever complained about the cost-effectiveness of her treatment.” Kinda like the kids we work with…probably not real concerned with the education budget, right? They just want to be seen and heard and feel part of something.

    So yeah. EPIC issue. Sorry for the ramble.

  5. Good ramble, jen. Excellent ramble. If I had to vote today on the most true statement ever made in this internet space since it began in 2007, it would be what you said here:

    …I think we are set up for failure by the simple fact that we are teachers….

    If we could get the truth of that, it would be gold. But we can’t. We can’t get it anymore than we can get that we incarcerate more Americans of color due to an inherent racism in our society than any other country, including South Africa at the height of Apartheid. I’ve been reading Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crowe” which pulls back the curtain on our social justice system and reveals that the War on Drugs was a War on People of Color, in fact. And yet, Americans, even Americans who read that book, won’t get it. It’s just too far-fetched. Even if it is true.

    It’s like that, jen. It’s almost as if we would rather make our own failures and guilt and inadequacies in the classroom the real reason we suck, instead of stating the truth loud and clear, that we suck because the system is ridden with termites and about to fall down on our heads, that it is the environment around us that is sick, and that we are doing a much better job than we have any idea in spite of our literally crazy acting old school colleagues.

    One day we will know the truth of this fact that we are set up for failure by the fact that we are teachers, and then we will know something, and we will be able to accept and love ourselves much more than we do now, and we won’t give a shit and just tell stories and find out deeper truths about life*.

    *I sense, every so slowly, a kind of group defiance among us in the TPRS/CI community against any who would question our work with comprehension instruction without knowing the research. I sense a kind of nascent group refusal on a national level to accept the shit flung at us from the baboons who surround us. The strongest among us on this point, the few who could care less what others think, are Susan Gross and Diana Noonan and Jason Fritze, who let’s his freak flag fly every day, with true courage, openness of heart and nobility of spirit.

  6. Thank you for the thoughtful comments Jen and Ben and Laurie and John. They’ve helped me kind of understand (but I don’t think quite GET it though) of why each year my classes are going SO well, until later in the semester and things start to crumble a bit. Our relationships start to wear, things get a bit tense. It was like that today with a group of 9th graders. They sense lately that I am going to test them, that they will be judged by me, and that I am going to put the content they SHOULD have learned over what they actually learned. I don’t do it on purpose. But it happens anyway, somehow, without my intent, I just get sucked into it. Maybe it’s me trying to show some rigor in the classroom, or maybe I start doing it a bit more toward the end that I did before.

    I also speak more English the last couple weeks of class that I do the rest of the semester. I think that allows for more of this attitude, somehow. Huh, is that it? Is that where the majority of the issue lies right now, with my overuse of L1? Or is it that when I am speaking L1, I am usually doing it to explain what they need to do, how, and by when. Hmmm. I need to think about this, because I just now saw it as the possible culprit.

  7. …I am usually doing it to explain what they need to do, how, and by when….

    They don’t hear those explanations. They only feel that

    …they will be judged by me….

    They are like dogs that way. The feeling tones coming through trump the actual thing you are saying.

    My insight is that you think schools work. And you are the teacher. And you are supposed to bring the rigor. Why not? You are the teachers. Bring it. And then, when it fails, because schools are designed in their merciless judgement of children, to fail, you can, sometime later in the summer, internally ask them for their forgiveness, bc you forgot what language classes actually should be – places where permission is given to be whom one is, permission is given to just lean back and let their deeper mind work and absorb and mojify and have fun and not be judged and, from time to time, to boot, laugh. Now, someone will disagree with this very California concept, but, guess what, it’s true nonetheless that if our students are being put in positions of being judged, then that will activate their conscious mind and then in comes the fear, and, with the fear, the loss of it being what it should be – an unconscious absorption of the language in a loving way. I am worse than you about this, Jim, much worse, because I had so much longer than you to do it the old way, but, if you ask me my own opinion, that’s what is going on. Why do exams turn me into a slightly irrational tester who then misapplies what SK really says about how we really learn languages (WITHOUT CONSCIOUS ANALYSIS)? Because that was my training. I’ll never unlearn all that shit about what people thought language learning should be. Bottom line: we cannot learn languages by conscious analysis and testing has no role in anything connected to that learning and if you want to test them do so in a way that gives them confidence bc w/o that necessary confidence they will fail anyway. That is why I had fun on my finals – we just did stories. Don’t tell anyone.


    1. How EASY it is to fall back into that trap. I went two years just doing stories for the final, with a short reading too, and that worked just fine. This year I’ve felt the need to give more reading than the oral story. I think I’ve found that I can evaluate their knowledge of what we’ve studied over the year if I write up a big new story that has a bunch of the structures we’ve hammered over the last 4 months, and then ask them questions about the story in English that they have to answer in English. Even though it seems like a pretty fair way to test their comprehension, it still breeds resentment. Some teachers/parents/students might say I’m taking it all too personally. It’s hard not to when “personal” is what I am always striving for, personalization, human interaction. I judge them on their ability to decode messages, and it turns some of them against me. (I’m sure some are against me from the get-go because of the simple fact that I’m a teacher and they associate teachers with schools and they despise school. Really, I’m not sure I do believe schools work Ben. I have been questioning this for a couple years now.)

      1. I’m saying that they don’t work. I’m not saying to give up on them for that reason, just that they don’t and haven’t worked for the past 100 years or so, if not a lot longer than that. I feel it’s changing, though, but the curve is so slight we don’t notice it.

        1. I won’t, not now anyways. I tell my students that they have an incredible opportunity, something that a lot of kids would be extremely happy to have, and that is for their community to pay a specialist in language to devote hours in the day specifically for this purpose, and that I am doing all that I can to make sure I am aligning with current LA research my work, and that maybe it’s not the perfect setting for us to do this, but it is what we have here and now and we should take advantage of it.

          Sometimes I have to put aside what I believe to be root problems with our schools and society, and get money to pay my mortgage and buy food. We all do though. Tough luck Jim.

          1. I wonder if I would have stayed with it so long had I known that it can’t work. I think I would have. Nothing works, ultimately. We’re just here to learn. The thing that bugs me about all this TPRS stuff is that when we communicate with new people, especially, about comprehension based instruction, it comes off as if we are kind of like cheerleaders jumping up and down doing the “Look What We Found and You Didn’t” cheer. But that’s not the case. All most of us want to do is to make people aware that the vault of the old way of teaching languages has finally cracked and there are other ways to do this job. But I digress. Yes, Jim, we certainly can agree that we are blessed to at least work with the most precious commodity on the planet, children’s minds and hearts. So whether schools work or don’t work is not for us to decide, really, is it? It is to do our best to help those whom we serve. Very few teachers actually help kids, I have learned. Not really. It’s a scam job. And lately we are seeing an strong increase in suicides and in very young kids. We could complain about schools and go work somewhere else, try to start a hedge fund or something, maybe open up a Subway, or we could continue to feel the awful burn/burden of this profession and gasp for air here in May and then obsess about whether we are going to get enough rest this summer before we have to do it all over again in the fall for another year. It’s a choice and, like you say, society’s problems have little to do with what we do. This is public service and, since I am a fanged patriot, I will do this teaching gig the best I can, in service to my country. And when I say my country I don’t mean a part of it that is based on skin color or whatever like that kind of bullshit.

  8. Ben, it’s a pleasure to do this work with all of you and all the kids I serve, and all the families they represent. I feel honored to be given such a duty, in this time of change in language instruction.

    What I wrote above made it sound like I give the kids the guilt trip and that they are lucky to have me in their presence. Not the case, or at least I try not to do that.

    Even though we are just classroom teachers, I think we do need to keep pressing the fundamental obstructions to developing caring, thoughtful, self-motivated and critical citizens of the future. It’s kind of like an engineer realizing that the rate at which they take corners on the rails is way too fast, dangerously fast, and not worth the added time that is saved on each trip… who else is better qualified to give her opinion of experience on this topic? So I do think we have a duty to speak our minds and raise hard questions, but of course we still have to do our job and do it well. We agree on that for sure.

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