I Can Own My Part

Today a kid had a head down. Red flag. I was either going too fast, or going too wide into new vocabulary that was not part of my lesson’s objective, or maybe both. I was also possibly not checking for meaning often enough. And I probably wasn’t putting enough air between chunks of sound.
So, if I see a head down, I want to learn how to right there on the spot internally go over this list:
– too fast?
– too wide?
– not checking for meaning (with ten finger check or whatever)?
– not enough air between sound chunks?
Was this kid making a mistake? Was the kid lazy? Was the kid at fault in any way? I don’t know, I can’t talk for the kid. But I can own my part in it.
(By the way, the kid picked her head up and got back in when I slowed down).



5 thoughts on “I Can Own My Part”

  1. Holy Crap.
    This exact thing happened to me today. I feel bad because it was my fault and I singled him out and made him feel bad. He had been putting his head down for a few days now and it starts to make sense to me. I handed him one of Bryce’s behavior contracts and… blah blah blah, I was a jerk.
    After class he told me that he can’t keep up and that I always talk to fast. He also told me that he puts his head down and doesn’t ask questions because he doesn’t want people to think he is stupid. We made a secret hand signal and that made him feel a bit better because I am willing to work with him. I wonder how many other kids think I am going too fast. But how many kids think I am going too slow? They look bored. Are they tired of telling stories? We have 14 days left–gotta push through.
    Slow slower slowest is so hard to remember to do. They look like they get it. Or maybe the ones that do get it are the ones I focus on. I thought I had this TPRS business down, but I gotta put myself in check and bring it back to the basics.
    Thanks for this one, Ben.

  2. It is so hard to do. I have kids who sit in my class and are determined to fail. It does not matter what I teach, how slowly I teach, how much I talk to them in the hallways… these kids are completely insubordinate and rude. They put their heads down as soon as they walk in the room. They talk in English for 86 minutes, distracting everyone around them. They write nasty, crude things in my books. They stand up and walk across my room interrupting me when the urge strikes them.
    I keep finding myself asking, at what point do I give up on these kids? At what point do I tell them that they have my permission to fail? When do I stop reminding them to sit up straight and look me in the eyes? When do I stop slowing down for them?
    But, is it their fault? Am I just one more adult who is going to give up on them? Is my giving them permission to fail going to be one more brick in the wall?
    At what point does my going slow for them, and insisting that they participate detrimental to the other students?
    At what point do I decide it is too hard to keep fighting for them?

  3. It’s not their place to decide if they are tired of doing stories, Drew. If a kid even breathes that in my classes, I respond swiftly with something taken from the following litany:
    “My job is to speak French to you. Your job is to listen to me speaking French to you. So, sit up, square up your shoulders with me, and show me in your eyes that you will do your half, which is to try to listen to me and communicate to me with a fist in the other hand when you don’t understand. We will work together to do what I am supposed to be doing so that we don’t waste taxpayers dollars. Isn’t it great to have a class with no homework, no tests (really easy quizzes only) and all you have to do is listen? Know that you will understand some but not all of what I say. But this is what we will do. Then, when we are done, we will read together. It is my main responsibility to speak to you in French, and yours is to simply listen. Don’t forget that. If you forget and put your head on the desk, that will be my signal that I am doing something wrong, not making myself clear, and I will go back and start the class again, just for you, much slower this time, and all you have to do when I do that is remember that it is my fault and not yours. I forget sometimes because I speak the language and you don’t. Let me learn how to be a better teacher, so you can learn. Let’s work together so that we both win at this.”
    And, Drew, you never have to push through. Push through to what? The end of the year? Falso! Embrace the moments of langauge, be happy in those moments of only L2. Such beauty in language! Teaching doesn’t have to be some kind of punishment. We can do this. But, for that to happen, we can’t be weak on the rules. The kids do what we say, that’s the end of it. That means that they are largely silent as they listen, and that they convey respect in their demeanor. Phone calls back all that up, of course. That is why we make phone calls on any kid who conveys disrespect in the first few weeks of the year, so that they know all year long, including now, how to behave, what our expectations are for them.
    Jennifer, when a kid gets up to walk past me to the restroom, I stop talking out of respect for myself. I just stop and give way. I can’t keep them from exercising their right to go to the bathroom, even though most of the time it is simply for that little moment of insult they get on us, that little moment of triumph in the midst of a day of being told to sit down and shut up. I just stop talking and I wait until the kid is gone. I do the same thing when they return. You will notice something. The class will turn on them after a few days. Do it. You’ll see.
    Everybody relax. Give it all up. Stop struggling. Teaching is easy. We make it hard by grasping at what we are trying to teach and making it the center of our lesson, when it is not.

  4. Heads down make me feel down. And some of the kids do say “I’m bored.” It helps that I’ve heard Ben do his litany in class, and that I can tell them that it’s really critical for them to listen to me if they’re going to acquire the language.
    But what I’m afraid of is that some of my heads-down kids have decided that they don’t trust me. That if they look at me I might pick them for some ill-placed on the spot demand for output, or that I’ll pick them as a focus just because they’re looking.
    I have to slow down just so I can read the students better. I think that if there’s too much air space, I start to feel uncomfortable and try to fill in with something, anything. So I ask more personal questions, but it’s almost like I’m begging them to tell me something, anything, and they’ll condescend to give me a scrap once in a while. I have to figure out how to really be present when students are having a low energy day, and to relax while I’m trying to find something that interests them.

  5. Watching Blaine really helped me to appreciate the power of the “space”. He is so comfortable with the pause. He’ll tap his head, scratch his chin, nod several times…making eye contact all the while. Instead of getting distracted and bored, or feeling tempted to chat with a neighbor, the students are drawn in….in anticipation…what is coming next? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.
    This would be a great thing to practice in coaching or with a observation partner….watching someone else play with space and timing might help us to relax and enjoy it!!
    with love,

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