Honesty Is Refreshing

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13 thoughts on “Honesty Is Refreshing”

  1. Honesty certainly is refreshing. I will probably make some confessions later on when I have time.

    When it comes to the other teachers, Ben is right about keeping quiet and working on your skills. I was told last month the same thing about the need to “use a variety of techniques”

    As far as classroom management goes, it all comes down to personalization, setting rules and being consistent on enforcing the rules. As Ben says, at the very first infraction point to the rules. You gotta make those parent calls early. I personally think it is a good idea to tell yourself “I’m going to make at least 3 parent calls the first week of school just to show that I mean business”. But you can’t fall apart week 2, gotta stick with it.

    I think most of us are sending kids off to 20th century grammar “communicative” teachers. Susan Gross told me at the workshop in March to do TPRS all year long and blast through the textbook the last month. I will admit that I’ve been doing textbook stuff the past month already. So I’m taking the last 2 months to do textbook crap in my Spanish I classes. Surprisingly, they already know most of the stuff so it’s easy and quick. I ask them “how do you already know this?!?!?” and they reply “Pobre Ana”. “Oohhhh, that awful book we all complained about actually taught you something?!?!?”

    That’s the way to get around the teachers “above” you. Do the textbook crap the last month or two, that way you can say you covered it.

    Blaine Ray’s workshops are going all around the country this summer, see if one is going near you.

  2. Honestly I won’t be using a variety of techniques any more in my career. I won’t be entering kids in contests, and I won’t be teaching two dimensional grammar. I’ll be using comprehensible input. I’m finally in a school where, if I used the book for the last month, my departmental colleages, the AP who is our WL team coordinator, our principal, and Diana Noonan at the district level would not allow it. When I think of all of the teachers who aren’t as blessed as I now finally am to work in such an environment, and how they do things that are not pedagically proven to work just to please some lame ass page turners, it seems kind of tragic. Think of all of those precious minutes lost to CI so maybe one or two kids in the class can look at a word and say whether it is a. an object pronoun, b. a definite articles, or c. a form of a regular verb.

      1. It took a few people with vision who were in touch with Krashen’s research and Blaine’s and Joe Neilson’s and Susan Gross’ application of it. That was our Diana and Meredith Richmond.

        Then it took those two bringing that into East High in 1998 or so with Biddy Casey and being attacked by everyone around them. I’m talking articles in the school newspaper mocking the method. Yes, believe it. I have read them.

        Then the big move came with Diana leaving East with the resultant implosion withing the building, but with her taking her act to the district level as WL Coordinator of 100 teachers, 97 of whom basically laughed at her from 2004 until about 2009.

        The only others with her were Meredith and Biddy Casey, still duking it out at East, along with Paul Kirschling at Thomas Jefferson, who had been quietly practicing the method since 1996.

        By 2009 Diana, and this is the big answer to your question Drew, had not given up. Her vision was unpolluted. Her strength of character was magnificent. She was tested everyday and never quit once for those hardest of years. Her personal friendship with Krashen certainly helped.

        After that it was kind of a momentum thing where people joined her. From 2010 until now a large amount of new young teachers popped up out of nowhere, many from other states, notably Joseph Dietzic (AZ) and Reuben Vyn (WI), and others at George Washington High, a few middle school teachers like Nina Barber, and two or three elementary teachers like the absolutely wonderful Erin Gottwalls.

        There were a few steady veterans who shifted, like Barbara Vallejos at Abraham Lincoln. Then Annick Chen showed up at Lincoln and that was a first round draft choice who led that department forward with good cheer and incredible Mandarin instruction.

        Currently in the district we have about 40 people out of the 100 trying it, but the feeling among the other 60 is not one of attack – they wouldn’t dare do that now with the new CO state standards change of Dec. 2009 and the new LEAP initiative in Denver Public Schools, which aligns with the three modes and with the 90% use position statement of ACTFL, largely due to Diana’s leadership.

        They (Diana and Meredith) actually got the 90% use statement into an appendix of the document, which was simply huge in bending perception by administrators. The feeling is that we are educating open minded administrators in a district that actively and verbally embraces reform.

        All this is happening in a few areas, yours in SoCal included Drew, as you know – I mean, anywhere you find Jason Fritze, there will be fast and exciting change. It is about a few people’s devoted attention to making it work in their classrooms, quietly working, people like you and Robert and Doug Stone. I feel as if that whole LA scene is about to hit the fun part of the exponential curve in a matter of months.

        Then there is Grant and Shannon, not to mention a big group of Chinese teachers in MN, strong as fire. And other pockets – Chill and Brigitte in the NJ area. Of course I am leaving lots of people out. Bottom line is through faith and hard work we are making changes.

        1. I have to meet this Jason man, of whom you speak. Its been a 14 year process from what I read. So by the time I’m in the middle of my career we should see Rancho Cucamonga High School among the names on that list…
          It doesn’t hurt to dream.

          That position of WL Coordinator doesn’t exist here. In order for our explosion to happen we need to fix our budget problems. That’s a different thread though.

          Until then I’ll teach Spanish to students that enjoy being with me and whom I genuinely enjoy.

  3. Dear Everyman,

    You are not alone. Let me repeat that.
    You. are. not. alone.
    You really are “Everyman” – every one of us goes through some version of the same thing, though perhaps not to the same degree. There are days that I am convinced I will never be a “truly effective teacher”, need to admit that I’m a fraud for pretending I know how to to this, and ought to go do something else. When I first started teaching, my master teacher for the credential became my colleague and the person to whom I passed my students. I was convinced that she would ask herself, “What in the world is he teaching these students?” because they weren’t prepared to move on in the language – and she was anything but a “traditional grammar teacher”. Every year I take level 3 and 4 students to our weekend German camp. I’m convinced every year that all of the other students and teachers will think that I haven’t taught my students anything because the other students will speak and understand so much better than mine.

    So, first of all, self doubt is normal. Unfortunately, your situation magnifies that self doubt. As Ben said, the situation itself is sick. It’s like teaching someone to ride a bicycle, then worrying that the next teacher will find them lacking because they can’t identify all the parts of the derailleur and tell what they do and how it’s all put together. A professional may need to know all that, but not the casual beginner – in either bicycle riding or in language.

    You are also right that you need more training. But, again as Ben said, you need training in TCI and TPRS, not in classroom management at this point. We can all learn things about classroom management, but your real need is training in the method. If at all possible, get to CO or NV – or even the conference in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Then you can combine relaxing at Club Med with the intense learning that will go on. 🙂

    I also want you to note something very positive that you wrote: The class . . . were helping me along . . . . You have connected with the class; if you hadn’t they would not have helped you out. At some level and to some degree (probably not as fully as you would like), you have connected with these students, and they want you to succeed.

    Also, note what you wrote here: He watched some crap lesson in which I attempted to PQA off the top of my head some stupid and useless vocab from our text book. You took the worst vocabulary (from the text), tried PQA “off the top of my head” and still the administrator spoke highly of the lesson. You had to have been doing a lot of things right for that to happen.

    I also think you are being too hard on yourself. Among other things, I think you are taking onto yourself what you can’t change – your colleagues. Do you know the Serenity Prayer? “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s obvious that you care passionately about your students and your teaching, but don’t take responsibility for things that lie outside your control or influence.

    You also wrote, I am not only a colleague of the other language teachers but a true friend. I know they are supportive of me but it bothers me to think that I am busting my ass to try this new thing and they keep chugging along with the traditional methods. For a different reason, I would echo Ben’s advice: forget them and focus on your own needs. They may not be as serene as they appear, and their “chugging along” may represent their fear of change. I have colleagues who complain about the district’s benchmarks, express a longing to use TPRS/TCI techniques in their classes, and absolutely refuse to make a move – I think they are afraid of “looking bad” as they adopt a new method. So they keep “chugging along” in their traditional methods and continue to watch huge numbers of students abandon Spanish in the upper levels.

    One piece of advice I would give that differs from Ben’s is to talk to your friends – if they are indeed true friends. (N.B.: You may be their true friend, but are they your true friends?) At least talk to the teacher(s) who will receive your students next year. Be open with them about your struggles to get a handle on classroom management and the method you are striving to employ. Let them know that it’s hard and you are not consistent. Then talk to them about what they can expect your students to be able to do – speak, read, write, understand in context. Be honest that your students won’t know the “lingo” and technical terms. Tell them that any gaps in your students’ knowledge are because you are still learning the method – ask them for patience with you. If they are truly supportive, you may be surprised how much slack they will give you and your students.

    At the same time, be sure everyone understands that it is unprofessional to denigrate a colleague’s teaching in front of students. You won’t say anything bad about their teaching, and they mustn’t say anything bad about yours. Also, some of your angst makes me wonder how secure you are in the alleged support of your colleagues. If you aren’t sure they are truly supportive, that will add to your stress.

    You are right that your lead teacher is describing life skills rather than language acquisition. That doesn’t mean they are unimportant, they just aren’t what acquiring language is all about. You need to decide how important it is for you to help your students acquire particular skills. I would submit that most teachers are focused on teaching students traditional “study skills”, the importance of homework, meeting deadlines, etc. You are probably the only one teaching them the equally or even more important interpersonal skills of being authentic human beings who relate with other authentic human beings.

    Several years ago a former principal tried to work on improving the school culture. One part of that was the “Take a Second Make a Difference” campaign. Another was a presentation of the “Fish Philosophy”. We watched a video about Pike Place Fish Company in Seattle. It was excellent, and I chose to adopt the four principles for my classroom. They have made a difference, even though I am not 100% consistent or successful in implementing them. The four principles are
    1. Be There – show up physically, mentally and emotionally
    2. Play – enjoy what you do
    3. Make Someone’s Day – do something for someone else
    4. Choose your Attitude – then act that way (a former pastor used to call this one “as if” behavior; act “as if” you were happy or confident or whatever)

    I work hard to demonstrate these four principles and then encourage my students to do so as well. Each one of them is important, and most students don’t realize how empowering those decisions can be. When they complain about things I remind them that they have the power to choose their attitude.

    Here are the URLs for two videos about Pike Place Fish Company and the Fish Philosophy. I recommend that you watch them in the order I posted them. The first one is a video of the fish company in action. The second one is a student project that presents the four principles in action. The video I originally saw was professionally produced and used footage from the fish company, but I have been unable to find it, so I used the student video instead.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt8bQ8QeyhE&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY0qjuYeKwA&feature=related

    These are life skills that I choose to teach students rather than study techniques, importance of homework, etc. (though I also mention those from time to time).

  4. Our Mandarin teacher, Annick Chen, brings to life (as in “resuscitates”) children who seem dead and she does so on a daily basis. Her classroom is that Seattle fish market. She doesn’t care how dead they are. She reaches the ones she can. She doesn’t care if they seem unable to give back. I am amazed and sometimes I go in there just to hang out and feel the energy. How she does it with ungrateful students every day all day makes her my hero. What Annick does in her classroom is what Robert is pointing to as possible for all of us. Indeed, we must be cheerful in spite of all negativity because we have found something that allows us to do that and so now we are responsible to share what we know with others.

  5. Thank you very much for all you posted here. I recently feel that I lost my cool with my students, then I feel like I have lost my classroom management. Not that they have behavior issues, it’s just that I don’t get the same responds as in the beginning of the school year. It has been tough since I got myself tangled up with a speech contest preparation. Thank goodness it’s over now. With that though I feel I have lost focus. I don’t know if it’s senioritis, or whatever, it’s the last quarter and everyone seems tired. I don’t get much respond and the same energy from my big class lately. It’s my bad that I let that happen and let it get under my skin.

    Thank you so much Robert for your advice and the video. I saw it in the beginning of the school year and was fire up. Now it’s the end of the school year, the fire was almost gone already and I had forgotten all the wonderful messages. I’ll print out the four principles and post it somewhere me and my students can see on my cart. unfortunately I don’t have my own classroom and can’t really put anything up on the wall :/ Thank you Ben when you said, “Indeed, we must be cheerful in spite of all negativity because we have found something that allows us to do that and so now we are responsible to share what we know with others.” I should know better, I’m the adult in the classroom.

    On another note, I recently talked with one of the administrator regarding my opinion on grammar oriented instruction. I think it was a successful discussion. She was a Spanish teacher before stepping into the WL and Bilingual education Coordinator. I didn’t use riding bicycle as an analogy, but along the same lines, I told her that when we learn to drive a car, we don’t learn all the engine parts and how it works before we drive, we just learn to drive. Only when one wants to be a mechanic I guess, he/she would want to know how it works. So why are we wasting students’ time training our them to be mechanic and don’t know how to drive when they actually want to drive! She was very interested in the idea and share with me her experience as both teacher and student. She wants me to speak with other language teachers in the department about my ideas and how I teach, etc. I was chicken and say no…. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes 🙁 I’m the new teacher of the new language in the WL Dept. plus I don’t feel that I was very welcome. There is a lot going on in my WL Dept. that I prob. shouldn’t take away everybody’s precious time reading the same old story. I guess my point is, I really do believe in what we do. I’m lucky that I find out about it sooner in my teaching career: my first year in two new districts, first year CI/TPRS, second year teaching. I’m lucky to be part of this learning community. I actually planned my PDP to be about CI and TPRS. I’m really nervous to give it to other people in the dept. to read. It’s still a long long long way for me to craft the skills, but i guess I have the time.

    1. I like the driving the car vs. being a mechanic analogy; think I’ll use that one myself. Others on the site can speak better to how you can/should share with your department.

      As far as losing one’s cool, that usually happens to me in May. This year, it happened early, in February. I hope that’s it for the year! The thing is, the end result for me has been positive. I’ve apologized to my class when I’ve over-reacted, explained what kind of things will upset me the most, tell them that I get angry, but I don’t hold grudges, and they have understood. I move on.

    2. I am with you on your decision to not go to talk to the others, even though invited. They didn’t ask. The coordinator asked. I say tell those who ask but not through an entremetteuse. Seems like the best decision.

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