It's O.K. To Suck At This Work

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28 thoughts on “It's O.K. To Suck At This Work”

  1. Were you in my classroom today or are you just psychic? My two classes of fifth graders tolerated me today–barely. They are so kind and good that they will probably let me come back tomorrow and torture them again with less than stellar storyasking. Oooh! That critical voice in my ear was roaring today. Thanks for reminding us about the cumulative two steps forward, one step back motion that characterizes this work. Blessed am I who enjoys the sweet relationship with these kids that this method helped to create and foment! They are so forgiving of the boredom I created today. 🙁
    Today’s story is only half over. We get another chance tomorrow to change the course of language history in this country!!!!!! I’m ready.

  2. Ben – this is a huge issue in my life. I carry around with me in my tprs mind a standard or a picture of how IT is supposed to be done. This picture of perfect TPRSing has been created by adding together all the posts from teachers telling about a perfect day when it all comes together.
    No where else in my life, do I apply such a high standard. And it makes me miserable sometimes!
    My husband was reminding me last night that I am perfectly satisfied with going to the gym twice a week, cleaning my house only once a week, spending only 15 minutes getting dressed & putting on makeup….why can I be relaxed in other parts of my life, but not with my TPRS life. It’s like how I measure myself/evaluate myself.
    Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of freedom – Some part of me said, “Oh, well – there was not as much creative input today in French 2 as I would have liked” and the other part of myself was amazed at how free that felt.

  3. Maria,
    I feel the same way. I want so badly for my students to get something from my class that they can only get from my class. I want them to leave this class speaking Spanish in a way that means something to them. We put this pressure on ourselves.
    Part of it too is that I feel like I have to prove to people in my school that this method works. I’ve recently been accused of “driving” our curriculum (as the young guy of the department).
    I know I have more good days than bad days. Maybe the bad days keep us humble.

  4. Maria this is big. You said:
    “Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of freedom – Some part of me said, ‘Oh, well – there was not as much creative input today in French 2 as I would have liked’ and the other part of myself was amazed at how free that felt.”
    Today I am being observed by Donna Tatum-Johns, who did a DPRS (get it? DPS + TPRS) workshop for the district yesterday (excellent, I might add) and by the DPS WL Czarina, Diane Noonan, plus Linda Li. And maybe a few others. Am I nervous? Hell yes. Do I trust them enough that they understand and have experienced the same exact fears that I am feeling today? Yes.
    And it is from that trust, and in that honesty, just as you state SO HONESTLY that you found a place to be “free” in that fear, that we in TPRS are fabricating a new kind of collegial glue between us, one that will keep us together in spite of all distances, and in spite of all whys and becauses.
    And it is that TPRS glue, which I have never found in any other method, that sticks us to each other in common purpose no matter how much we suck. The best example I have seen of that fearlessness is Michel Baker in South Carolina, who, though brand new, has grown into the method faster than anyone I have seen precisely because of that determination to work work work and fail no matter what. She knows that it is in being bad at it first that she will get better at it later. Today I say a prayer:
    “God please allow me to at least aspire to climb to the top of the beautiful mountain that Your bulldog Stephen Krashen has discovered, and I ask You to bring into my heart humility, openness and trust to whatever happens in my classroom today and every day. Teach me to learn to trust my kids and love them as we work together, genuinely, and to let that trust manifest as fun and real acquisition in class.
    “Teach me to count on my students, as I count on You, to help us create together some interesting CI, and, if none happens, at least help me to stay in the target language and speak French from my heart, as French is just one more thing of many that You have created that is really beautiful.
    “Teach me to stay in the moment of boring CI and ALLOW IT to turn into interesting CI, in that magical way via questioning and circling. Help me to remember SLOW. At three o’clock, teach me to not wish that my classes could have been better and to trust that they were as You wanted them. May Your will be done in this and in all things.
    “Let me remember, when these awesome teachers who are observing me are, first and foremost, that they are not here to judge me. I know that they are not, but past training makes me think that way and I am asking Your help in obliterating the memory of that awful training, that thought long ago that got in me that I had to be a perfect teacher.
    “Thank you for drawing people like Diane, Donna, and Linda into TPRS, for I have enough colleagues whom I mistrust. Please help others who are like me, just average but passionate TPRSers, step up to the plate and put it out there.
    “When I am old (well, older anyway, not as old as You) make it so that, when I look back, I can say that I saw something very challenging, the road less traveled, and went down that road with those whom I have met here in Colorado but also in national conferences. Thank you for Susie Gross. Keep the national conferences alive, Oh Lord, so that we keep the wonderful summer contact with each other, which warms us all year when we are away from each other.
    “Allow me to suck at this. Don’t allow teachers to turn away from TPRS for fear that they won’t be any good at it. Make them see that they will need a better reason than that one to rip off millions of kids. Amen.”
    Thanks, Maria, I don’t feel so nervous now. Diane and Donna and Linda are just too kind and real for me to get nervous. They will give me permission to not be perfect, and in that lies the hope and future of the method. I will have fun today, despite anything my mind tries to fool me with.

  5. Hooray for sucking and for having the BALLS to try something out of our boxes! I believe in my heart that I am teaching the way that I was meant to…and in a few years, I hope I kick butt at it. But in the meantime…at least I’m trying! Boo to those teachers who instinctively say “That would never work in my classroom…” I hate that!!

  6. Amen to that! We can’t be so hard on ourselves. It gets better little by little just like anything else. That is really easy to write, but hard to believe when we have 30 teenagers booing us off the stage. It takes a lot of courage to get back on that horse. It’s worth it, though. We have to remember what the students will be able to do in May. Ben, I like what you said about the glue. I feel closer to tprs teachers across the country than to many teachers in my state. Most tprs teachers are willing to help you with about anything because they all know how hard it is. I hope we never forget that there is someone there who can guide us. All we have to do is ask. Thanks for all the comments. They keep me going every day!

  7. Ben – thank you for affirming what I shared. The lines that jumped out to me from your response came from your prayer –
    “Teach me to count on my students, as I count on You, to help us create together some interesting CI, and, if none happens, at least help me to stay in the target language and speak French from my heart, as French is just one more thing of many that You have created that is really beautiful.
    “Teach me to stay in the moment of boring CI and ALLOW IT to turn into interesting CI, in that magical way via questioning and circling.”
    My prayer these days is: Lord, give me your GRACE TO THINK ON MY FEET, let this class NOT be about how great Maria is, but how You came through to help me do what is RIGHT for my students, to help them stay interested so that they GET THE INPUT and understand it.
    I hope you were richly blessed by the observation and feedback today.
    I want you to know how much our community gains from your posts. I know they take a lot of time. What you write blesses me every day – and stretches me.

  8. Amen! So sublimely supportive. How many other teachers leave their rooms every day agonizing about how to engage the students better the next day?How many fall asleep at night thinking about how to teach better the next day? What true professionals I am blessed to have met!

  9. “We all suck. I just wanted to say that.”
    That’s great news to me. It encourages me every time I hear it (which is mostly on this site.) It helps me relax and hope for a good future. Thank you.

  10. Ben, I also want to thank you for the “we all suck” comment. I’m reading your books and watching your videos and you’re great at coming at TPRS from all different angles and making it fully comprehensible. (It’s comprehensible input, your stuff, yessiree.) But knowing that someone who has such clarity on the method can still have a sucky day in the classroom makes me feel a little bit better about my sucky days. Thanks for being honest and open. It’s a true gift to the community. Keep doing what you’re doing with this blog. It’s saving my sanity this year.

  11. I think peer coaching is the answer. We need someone we trust, and respect give us feedback and constructive criticism. I think it is preferable to get a teacher that doesn’t do your language.
    How do we get started?
    I haven’t done ANY peer coaching since the conference ben. I suck!

  12. Wow. Ben Slavic you’ve read my (our) minds again. After 7 years of doing TPRS, I still suck on many days. After 7 years, I fall asleep every night agonizing over how to better engage my students. If only it were easy to relax! After 7 years, I believe more than ever in the power of TPRS because I have the former students to prove it. In a new school after 7 years, I’m back at square one. More challenges, more frustrated tears, more agonizing classroom moments, more reason for me to keep it up. I believe I say (a version!) of your prayer every day! Thanks, Ben.
    Nikki in VA

  13. Well, here’s the report. I didn’t suck. And I know why. It was because my guests were with me in the spirit of learning and in the spirit of comraderie. They were pulling for me, and they were not judging me, and I felt that.
    Had three colleagues critical of TPRS been observing, I probably would have really sucked for real, because the invisible dynamic between us would have been one of judgment, and not of facing together in the same direction. Sensitive approval seeking needy person that I am, I would have caved under their scrutiny. It just goes to show that we should be very selective about whom we allow observe our classroom. If they have an agenda, I’d say no.
    Judgment of TPRS teachers is no different than the astounding research that Aimee posted here a few days ago about students, research that showed that when kids are rejected, their I.Q.s plummet. And I know that, because back in Jefferson County in my middle school, a lot of those who came to observe me did so in a spirit of finding out what was wrong with TPRS and not what was right with it (Jeffco is not a TPRS friendly district), and I fell into that dynamic with them. That has happened to me recently as well. It sucks. Doesn’t it just prove that, the more we pull for our kids, the more they succeed?
    One of my African American students who is on every risk list in the building came in today, defeated as usual. I went over to his desk and kneeled down, failing to obtain eye contact. He thought I was going to get in his face about not having his notebook out, as I was giving out the vocabulary for the day. But I felt how defeated he was, and so I just said to him that I was going to make a deal with him – I wanted him to stop doing anything in my class except lean back and listen to the language and try to understand what he could. I said that he was going to be graded in a different way now. He shook his head, indicating that he understodd, but he didn’t make eye contact. But I know that I got through, because he tried in class. I told him after class that I was going to be on his side, and that I wouldn’t abandon him. I told him that because Susan Gross taught me to. Then I went and taught the class. This was just a minute before my observors came in, because they were down the hall with Meredith for awhile. Anyway, THAT KID DOESN’T NEED ANOTHER TEACHER GETTING IN HIS FACE right about now, and, in the same way, WE DON’T NEED PEOPLE OBSERVING US WHO ARE LOOKING FOR FLAWS in the method. It will affect us!
    Good Lord Almighty, what right have these people to come in and, when it comes down to it, judge TPRS in their Chesire Cat disguises? How dare they? They can do that when they are comfortably seated in the catbird seat with all kinds of solid research and test scores that show that their hackneyed, boring, out of date, English-based, two-dimensional sorry ass way of teaching actually produces any results in the real world. There’s something goin’ on aroun’ here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mrs. Jones….
    I hear that from TPRS teachers all the time. They comment in wonder how it is that so many people who DON’T REALLY KNOW THE METHOD (I’m thinking of Myriam Met here) can comment on it, when they haven’t a thing to show us that their own bullshit methods work. I CAN SAY THIS, because I did what they do for twenty-four years and IT DIDN’T WORK. Anyway, I think I’m off the point.
    There was a point in there, before the rant. Oh well. Hey, I did video those classes today and as soon as I can get some time I may stick them up on, like that other sixteen minute thing up there now.
    Oh, another cool thing about today was that between classes I got to talking to my guests, and Meredith was there for one of the classes. So just joking around, knowing that Linda, Donna, and Diana, were two feet away from us, we got a therapy-via-humor thing going, and we decided to have a Suck Hug. That is where we hugged, and said into each other’s ear, “We suck!” Knowing that those three TPRS muscle women were going to observe me for two more classes of 35 more kids each, I just said, “I suck!” and Meredith said “I suck too!” And there was born the first Suck Hug in history. It’s therapeutic to say that we suck. I’m thinking of getting a t-shirt made and walk around in the mall with it on. It will say:
    I Suck At TPRS
    I hope that I don’t see any of my students, which is usually my favorite thing that happens when I go to the mall. Then THEY TOO would see that I suck at TPRS. But, and here’s the deal – sucking doesn’t matter when you are in a district and around people that aren’t judging you. It just doesn’t matter anymore, no matter what happens in our classrooms. WE ARE TRYING, and we are also trying to love each other unconditionally in TPRS, and avoid judgment of each other. We try to honor the memory of TPRS teachers who have come before and worked their butts off and are now gone from the scene. In particular, we honor the recent work in TPRS of Biddy Casey at East High School in Denver. Thank you, Biddy, for paving the way. Thank you, Diana, for making such great professional development so freely available to your teachers in DPS. It is honoring to Biddy. Thank you, God, for sending me these three to observe me today, and not somebody else. Thank you for sending me people I can trust.

  14. Not Supposed To be Here (Mr. S. you know who I am)

    That’s it! I’m making all of us T-Shirts that say “We Suck!” and then in french on the back, great idea, mal buddy, jk. Tee Hee! You know what, I’m going to start posting stuff here, lots of back up, we can be a tag team Mr. Slavic! WEEE! ok, now im serius, I’l go to sleep now… Bye!

  15. Ben,
    I can’t be in the “I suck” club. I prefer the “I sucked today” club.
    A good friend of mine and I often talk about life in general, and you know how it is with people: some people suck the energy out of the air; others energize us with their presence. She is one of the latter group (like the people on this list, colleagues at school, etc.)
    Anyway, we often share books. She carries with her a book that was a national bestseller called “The Secret”. Since she believes that there are no coincidences (probably because I lent her the Celestine Prophecy three years ago), when i saw her book and said, “You have that with you a lot”, she said, “You have to read it. Since you noticed that, you were meant to read it.” With her, i created a monster!)
    While I can’t “get into” all of the Secret’s philosophy, I do believe what the book maintains: We often become what we think, that many of those thoughts that we send out “attach” themselves to like energy…(think of all of those times when things are rolling; then think of those times when nothing seems to go right…what part do we play in all of that? What do we think and what messages do we project during those times? )
    We see this all the time: A class clicks and runs on full cylinders and we feel great. In the next class, it is a bust. Same kids, same teacher, different result.
    Then there are classes that are good to great every day. Same kids, same teacher. We may have another class of the same level that may range from good to not so good. The same teacher teaches both classes, yet one flows, the other is “tough sledding”.
    So, my philosophy has been and is: Stay the TPRS course. Have faith that it works (it does). If a class does not go well, look at possible reasons: poor circling; distracted kids (like one of my sophomore boys in my class last week…I learned after class that his girlfriend is pregnant—no wonder he didn’t seem”‘with it”); school events that pull a third or half the class away; hunting season (in this region, that’s big); flu and cold season. You name it.
    I have seen so many gains this year that I just can’t say the words “I suck”. I HAVE said, “I sucked at circling today” (but had tons of Ci, so it wasn’t a wash) or “I sucked at wrapping up that story”, but then again, I got so many clever answers from students, and the student who in September came to me saying, “I don’t know anything”, is now into every single story, adds details, is funny as hell, and slams his fist into his hand the second I say anything he doesn’t understand (I thank him every time). While I may have sucked in his class at times, it wasn’t for lack of effort.
    So, you may say “I suck”, but my mantra on those “non-homerun days” will be: “I sucked today in that class”, but I’m getting better all the time”. But, I DO want to still be part of the TPRS club, so I will carry the water for the “I suck” club and you can refresh yourselves.

  16. to Mr. “Not Supposed to Be Here”, is your name true? Are you sure? Have you asked? I doubt there’s any teacher here that wants to stop learners from being here. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!!) It feels like this isn’t just a place for teachers but it’s also for learners.
    For example, there was also the voice of a Hog (one of the students in Lambert’s class in Maine??) a few weeks ago. I thought it really refreshing. Is this ok? Should there be less? What if there was more?

  17. Thank you for this post. The others, thank you for your comments. Since I’m not an experienced tprs teacher I thought:
    I didn’t understand the technique
    I forgot this or that
    I don’t know why I can do it one period and suck the next!
    What am I missing?
    Gees I need to reread everything about tprs
    I’ll make posters for myself in the classroom-SLOW, CIRCLE, PERSONALIZE
    Am I improving AT ALL?????
    So, what do I think now? It’s OK to SUCK!!! I need to relax and be less critical. Then I remembered what my mother told me when I was a kid and had had a bad day- “Tomorrow is a new day to try again and be better”

  18. It’s not OK to suck, because here is really what sucks: Chicago Public Schools and CEO Ron Huberman (no past experience as an educator, previoiusly was in charge of the troubled public transportation system); Arne Duncan former CEO of Chicago Public Schools with no prior experience as an educator but now Obama’s Secretary of Education; and, of course, his honor, the mayor.
    Don’t you just love that word “virtual”? I bet you never thought of virtual personalization! As far as pedagogic sucking goes, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! Just give them more time at what they call innovation. (Warning: Chicago, right now, is the official– officious!– national laboratory for urban public schools.)

  19. Thanks, Ben. I really sucked at TPRS today. One of my students (who is on the “do not send to the office and do not suspend” lists because he will do ANYTHING in his power to get sent out of class/suspended) told me IN FRENCH, with a huge smile on his face, that he wants to staple my mouth shut, because I am annoying. We had just spent about 30 minutes on who is annoying, why they are annoying, who they annoy, etc.. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a nice thing to say, but he was engaged and has sat through enough CI that he can tell me something relevant in the target language. And honestly, we all had a good laugh over Mme M. being so annoying that J. wants to staple her mouth. The rest of the class period sucked, because I completely stink at story-asking, but realizing that I am helping this guy learn SOMETHING definitely does NOT suck!

  20. To help us all wallow in our suckiness (would that be “Saugheit” or “Saugkeit” in German?) I’d strongly recommend seeing both of these films ASAP, that a close friend recently put on my netflix list:
    -Flow (about what we humans do to the planet’s water supply)
    -God Grew Tired of Us (documentary about 3 young refugees from Sudan–
    really, REALLY has changed my perspective on what in life could
    REALLY suck, and what pure hope is.)
    Most of us have probably been so well trained in our various model-centered forms of upbringing to be (self-) critical when “X is not like S”. Our form of language instruction belongs in a new “X is like X” educational paradigm that embraces and cherishes human uniqueness and potential.

  21. On a related note to some of the things being said, I was at Cirque du Soleil for a final show this weekend and they had beautiful T-shirts that said: Tout est Possible. Of course it reminded me of the classic “Tout est possible dans la classe de francais” response often given by myself and many TPRS teachers. I didn’t buy it because they only had XXL sizes left. I’m kicking myself today. I should have bought it and mounted it in the class. I think their show is starting in San Francisco next week so…if anybody is going, check out the shirts and have a medium shipped up here with an “I sucked today” bonus shirt included. That would make my day much less sucky.

  22. Janine is not hidden anymore!

    This is me! Formerly known as Not Supposed to be heere and for your information I am completely and entirely female. As you can see i made that post at around 1 in the morning, so I was not in my right of mind. I am a student of mr. Slavic’s, and we were talking about these very things. I do fell like I belong here and hope to contribute some good feedback.

  23. Janine your voice and Jason’s (Main Hog in Maine) are welcome here, as are those of any other conscious students who understand the idea and purpose of this kind of blog. The dialogue needs your input, your perspective.
    Just remember that we are all going to be saying some pretty blunt things about teaching here, and that we do so (I can honestly speak for this blog community) with every intention of providing a better product for you. So that is a disclaimer.
    This is not a calm time in the history of education, esp. foreign language education, so we apologize to you if we overstep what may seem to be the same boundaries that we show in school. We know that we need to be brutally honest with each other here, and we need student input as well. Why? Because, as a student and a superstar, we need to know what you think about our teaching. And because you may be a language teacher some day!
    Mr. S.

  24. I will keep this in mind. I look forward to the day that I can speak as fluently as you and mess up on my native language, that is kind of funny. Thank you again for the superstar props, but im realy not that good. I’m just a nerd who was wonderful in lit class since I was born, and irrevocable wants to learn French or die if I don’t. As always I am completely comfortable with being concise when criticising and evaluating. I will give the brutal truth, for the sake of journalism and other writing crafts, as well as the forien language department.
    Look out TPRS, theres a new sherrif in town and her name is…. um… well u get my point… 🙂
    BTW, nice little speach in the second paragraph there, it made me feel like I was in a shampoo comercial.

    1. I’m certainly no prude, but we definitely should not offhandedly use the expression “I suck at ….”, because it’s a metaphorical derivative of “suck ####”. (I leave it to you to fill in the complement.) I venture that most students are aware of this, at least in the higher grades. So, at least don’t use the expression in front of them. Just say “incompetent”, “bad”, or as Ben says, “clumsy”, or any non-obscene expression.

  25. My first day of Mvskoke language class for this semester was Friday Aug. 27 at 4:30 p.m. It was the first week of school. Sitting before me on the floor were 5 kindergartners (no reading there), 3 first graders, 1 second grader, and a bored 4th grade boy. It sucked a big one as middle schoolers would say. Oh and I forgot to say there were two classroom teachers sitting in the room wrapping up their day before the weekend.
    I managed to get them up and down a few times in TPR fashion and we did a little friendship dance that was culturally correct and then we were out of there and on the playground . That was the best I could do. 20 minutes at tops. Thank goodness I saw the sense in having sheer play at that point.
    Yesterday was my birthday. No, we didn’t sing a birthday song, I don’t know the words. But, as it was also the beginning of Labor Day weekend I had a smaller class. I had convinced one of the middle school boys to come to my class, the 4th grader stayed because there was a big kid. I had 3 kindergartners, and 2 first graders, and one second grader. Oh yeah, the two teachers were still there.
    I had a simple goal. Sustain their interest for 20 minutes before I gave up for the playground. I wrote out what I was going to say. Yes, a script by golly. I had practiced. I did not TPRS as I couldn’t respond spontaneously in Mvskoke yet to what they might say. (Remember I am learning as I teach–boy am I learning). We reviewed for ourselves last week (once a week is all I get). I let them lead the up and down session–which they had fun doing and they got the singular and 3or more plural. We sang a song (I sang a song–they sang if they wanted to–and a couple did). I have three bi-lingual students–1 Italian, 1 Mandrian chinese, and 1 Russian. they laughed, I laughed and 40 minutes passed in play, inside, and in the language mostly. And then when the kids went outside and I was clearing up the room the teachers said–Wow they were with you? How did you do that? They were so engaged.
    Some days you suck a big one, and other days you go out smiling. Thanks for all that you guys are teaching me. Some day I will be fluent and my kids will have a respect and knowledge about the language that was spoken first in the bio-region in which they were born.

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