Our Jobs As Teachers

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18 thoughts on “Our Jobs As Teachers”

  1. Ben, wow, great post, loaded with ideas. I guess the question at the end of the day– whether or not we think it worth asking– is going to be “what can Johnny, having been in Prof Slavic’s or Señor Stolz’s class, *do* in French or Spanish?”

    I can’t forsee a future devoid of numberz and gradez. I would LIKE to– assessment is the least important part of teaching– but I don’t think I will.

    Ben, you are so PASSIONATE it’s farkin’ awesome. Most ppl with 30 years in the classroom are counting to retirement…not Ben (not a coincidence Ben went into Français!)

    1. Chris I think your point is valid for most teachers. It is true that we need to ask what a kid can do after a year in our classes. It is the essence of the system. However, as a freak, I don’t care what they can do. I just care about how they feel about their ability to learn.

      If it takes 15,000 or more hours to master a language, and I have 500 available to that end before they graduate after four years, what matters most to me is not how much they know or can do with the language, but how fertile the land that I have sown with the seeds of the language is.

      I will never see what the fruits of my work are. So I plow the land with love and kindness, if I am able to withstand the data driven environment, and I look for smiles that show confidence and happiness and a desire to learn French. That’s all I can do – count smiles and return them as we make whacky shit up and thus enjoy our lives spent together that year.

      Yes, I have top scores over decades with my kids – too many. But now I know how destructive it was to me and my kids to pursue those scores. When my stars earned super high scores nationally, getting 70 out of 70 questions right on the National French Exam in a few cases, we all came up empty because as I taught to the test and to the five stars in the class, thirty other kids felt stupid.

      I can’t do that anymore. Susan Gross showed me all about it. She saved my professional life with her uncompromising insistence on focusing on the child and not the score. So that’s what I do, with all respect to your position, which is the position of the vast majority of teachers and I get that.

  2. I have to comment, as you mentioned my favorite Blaise Pascal quote, “The heart has its reasons that the mind cannot know.”

    I struggle with the grading issue. I tell my students, I tell my administrator, I told the people who hired me for this job, “I don’t care about grades.” And I don’t. Comes from my homeschooling background where I didn’t put grades on papers–my kids just had to re-do things until they got them right. They didn’t know if they were “A” or “B” students when relatives asked them.

    My students know I’m sincere about not being impressed by grades. Grades are a joke to keep everyone happy. Or unhappy. I really don’t care what “grade” they get; I care if they are trying to keep getting better at this acquisition thing.

    I strive for “mastery learning” but I know that my students will not come close to any sort of mastery of Spanish in the 9 1/2 months that I have them in class. I praise their little accomplishments–mostly, I point out their progress since they began. But I’m realistic and tell them they aren’t fluent yet and really can’t write well or speak well. And that if they want to achieve real fluency, they’ll have to spend a lot of time on their own listening and reading and interacting. I had a group this year that intuitively understood and trusted me. Very few 4%er’s. Mostly kids that teachers had written off as “unmotivated.” I now understand that to me “unmotivated by grades.” I think that’s why we got along pretty well.

  3. Lori,

    You absolutely wrote how I feel about grades and THANK YOU for that:
    “My students know I’m sincere about not being impressed by grades. Grades are a joke to keep everyone happy. Or unhappy. I really don’t care what “grade” they get; I care if they are trying to keep getting better at this acquisition thing.”

    Just had the finals this week and I decided to do a story and 10 true/false questions as a final. My decision was based on Ben’s feedback after I had such a hard time creating a CI friendly final exam on Semester 1. Since our grade book mandates 100 points for final, I just multiplied the score by 10.

    I told my kids that they would be assessed in the same way that they have been assessed all year. We do a story. If they use all the interpersonal skills we’ve practiced all year long, they will ace it. 97% of them go 100%.

    My DC wanted me to submit a copy of my final and I told him I didn’t have one, I didn’t use the common assessment b/c I did what I’ve been doing all year, stories and since they are all different, I couldn’t use a common assessment.

    I still have to hear back from him…

    1. In the future give him something that looks like an exam. Then do what you want for the final. We’ll have to talk about this in SD. It’s tricky – I do a story for the final but the kids fill out something that is kind of related that they fill out during the final. It’s a shrewd lie by me. I lie to my bosses to protect my kids from bullshit finals. My final is not here with me but on my school computer or I would send you a copy.

      There is a cautionary from Annick here. Arguably one of the great CI Chinese teachers in the world, Annick refuses to hand it lesson plans at Lincoln because she is so on top of her game that she doesn’t feel as if she needs to take the time. Last year I saw the principal discussing it with her in the hallway. It was not good. Afterwards, I told her to just give some bullshit to the admins.

      They don’t read that shit. They collect it and put it piles, for the most part. We work for them, so we do what they say, keeping ourselves under the radar. Right?

      1. Ha! “Hand in some shit.” Perfect.

        You could also make a “generic” plan that outlines the tprs steps. Est meaning, pqa, ask story, retells, reading. (You could even include basic explanations). Then tell the Adminz and Headz that you ALWAYS follow this plan– with minor variations, like thretells, point-of-view rewrites, maybe a quiz, etc etc– so that at any given time all of your classes will be somewhere in that schedule. The only thing that changes is the vocab/structures which all depends on grade and where in year you are.

        When Adminz or Headz come in to Make Teachers Accountablze, you just hand them the outline and say, “Good Morning, Mr Tightass. Today, this block of French 8 are doing establishing meaning and PQA with the structures “wants to be free,” “thinks tests are bullshit,” and “would rather be surfing.”


      2. I handed in some shit last month — it felt awesome! It *did* go in a pile somewhere!

        Actually, the French Government’s website provides a practice copy of the DILF, DELF, and DALF for anyone to look at and use. The practice test comes with rubrics, audio files and other good stuff. It is CI-like in its appearance. I just printed a copy of each test out and handed it in to my boss.

        Now, I can be a team player! Yay!

      3. Corinne Bourne

        As I read this, I am under pressure to write a course description for Russian IV. I have had one or two students wanting to progress to a fourth year of Russian for the past two years, but I have resisted creating the course. When I wrote my Russian III course, the reviewer at the University of California turned it down with these words:
        “At the third level of LOTE students are expected to have some exposure to works of literature written and studied in Russian. That does not appear to happen in this course. Please reconsider, and resubmit if appropriate, showing where the study of literature appears in the outline, the assignments and is assessed.”
        I was absolutely dumbfounded to think that someone could imagine studying Russian literature after two years of High School. Having said that, it was my fate in the 1970’s to “read” four wonderful works of literature in my third year of grammar-taught Russian. I remember having to look up 90% of the words. It was miserable. I don’t know how I persevered. Anyway, even knowing that this expectation is a totally unreasonable use of anyone’s time, I wrote some Russian short stories into the course. It reads like a college class. (We read our own stories ?)
        Of course I have encouraged my great, motivated students to continue for another year, but they are so fixated on accumulating credits and grades and GPA that the idea they could just come and chill in my class (blended levels 2-4) for a fourth year and develop their skills without the pressure of testing is outside of their reasoning.
        If submitting some BS is what is needed to enable these young people to develop further in this essential human skill, then I must climb down from my high horse and get on with it.
        If any Russian C.I. colleagues who have a level 1-4 program could send me info on their upper levels, I’d be most grateful.

  4. Ben,

    This is such a beautiful post and great closure on that chapter I think.

    Quotes from you that really resonated with me are:

    “Indeed, can the intellect be used to learn languages?”
    ” it’s about process, it’s about the how and not the what”
    “the brain orders languages in ways that the analytical mind cannot possibly understand”
    “how we feel when we learn a language.”
    and finally :
    “This movement away from mind and into the heart” leading to that beautiful quote by Blaise Pascal”.

    Very true and inspirational indeed.

  5. Jeffery Brickler

    I’m glad we had this discussion. It certainly does help me. Since many of us work in an ignorant environment, we need to be aware how to play the game to get done what we know is right. It’s a shame that we have to game the system, but we must. It seems everyone from kids to teachers are trying to game the system.

  6. Ben wrote:

    “Conclusion 2: We are no longer in an age where the intellect is in charge. In the future we must learn intuition and trust with others. Google has taken care of the need to fill our brains with information. Now we must learn how to interact with others and work from a basis of common trust. I will assess my students’ ability to cooperate and interact with me and it will be part of their grade. I no longer worship the intellect.”

    He also referred to “moving at warp speed” and I am totally feeling all of this. The competition vs cooperation piece is also biologically based. And, let’s remember we are living beings! I cannot quote verbatim and don’t recall where I read this, but I read an article about how Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” was actually misinterpreted (or maybe overemphasized) and that really survival of species depends more on adaptation and symbiosis. So pretty much it is about learning to live with each other and the absolute necessity of species having specific roles/ niches that work all together in a system. Like our student jobs!!! Don’t quote me on this…I am interpreting rather freely, but that was the gist. But I do have a t-shirt to prove it. Yeah. If it’s on a t-shirt it’s definitely true ;). It is a quote from Charles Darwin himself:

    “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

    We are definitely in the “tsunami,” as Ben says, of a massive transition. The transition in education is just one more sign that global or even cosmic shift is in progress. I know that sounds “out there.” But I feel it. Some of the shamanic cultures talk about this shift in terms of moving away from masculine energy (competition / mind-centered) toward the feminine (cooperation / heart-centered). Another way I have heard it described is “changing the dream.”

    Anyway, all of this has definitely been percolating away for me. Yesterday was graduation at our school and I was asked to speak. I knew immediately that I would talk about listening. It was not even a thought. I just knew it on some gut level because ever since I began my own transition into CI this is what I have been most obsessed with, to the point that I am always observing people’s listening or lack thereof. And in yoga what we practice is listening to our breath which links important signals from our bodies. So it is all connected. Listening and connecting.

    Anyway, what came to me with no thinking involved was one of the rules on the poster in my classroom: “Listening with intent to understand.” I point at this rule all the time, yet I had never really contemplated it’s power and significance until yesterday as I wrote my speech. I realized as I wrote, that many of the obstacles and rough spots in my classroom came from me not truly getting on a gut level what this means, and therefore not conveying it or breaking it down for the kids. I believe fiercely that the art and skill of listening has faded and so I have been assuming a lot. This is great news for next year, because I am going to break it down and practice it with the students!

    Anyway, I wanted to share a chunk of the speech where I talked about this:

    I will just float this out there because I’m figuring it out as I go along.

    Listening with the intent to understand means opening yourself to the possibility of connection. Listening with the intent to understand is a choice we make that says yes! I acknowledge you, your shining light and what you bring to the world. Listening with intent to understand is expansive and healing. Not listening with intent to understand is restrictive. When we do not have the intent to understand we put up a barrier. We hear what we want to hear or what we assume the person is saying. We close ourselves to possibility. Not listening can cause or exacerbate pain.”

    This part was not only related to listening and human connection for students, but for everyone and was also a “subliminal message” to our admin bc in our institutional transition it has been ugly because…well, folks are not listening with the intent to understand!

    So thanks to all of you I am diving more deeply into what it means to listen and how I can bring this practice into my classroom and therefore out into the world. How lucky we are to have each other and this space to bounce things around and figure out what we think?! It is truly an amazing grace!

  7. Great words, jen.

    Yes, people have misunderstood the concept of “survival of the fittest”; it really means that the individuals best able to “fit” their environment will survive. But what if the environment changes (as it always does in the real world)? The those best able to “fit” the new environment (i.e. the most adaptable) will survive. Furthermore, it isn’t even a matter that a few will survive at the expense of the others; potentially, all can survive if they can adapt.

    I also like your T-Shirt quote. It reminds me of the following quotes:

    “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and events* happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
    *The Hebrew word is usually translated as “chance”, but the word’s other occurrence in the Bible and the related verb (to occur) indicate that “occurrence, event, happening” is a better translation. I won’t go into all of the theology, but the writer of Ecclesiastes would not have believed in “chance”.

    Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)

    Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

    You are right that “listening for understanding” goes far beyond just hearing the words and knowing their surface meaning. BTW, the Huffington Post had an article about why learning a second language makes sense. Among the reasons: it makes you a better listener.

  8. ^like^

    In biology, the fact that successful organisms must collaborate with both peers, environment AND opponents is called “multilevel selection theory.” It basically says that while genes are, pace Dawkins, selfish, their success is totally limited by the extent to which they collaborate with others. (a fact also confirmed by tons of computer models of “gene wars”)

    1. No question is bad. jGR is Ben’s acronym for jen’s Great Rubric, a means for holding students accountable for Interpersonal Communication on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.

      Scroll down the right side of the page to “Categories”, then continue to scroll until you get to jGR. That will take you to a page with all of the threads about this subject. Or just click the link below.


  9. I wasn’t sure where to post this, but it is something that came up on facebook that is at the core of our work! A former student posted this observation of a coffee house near his home (can’t remember exactly where he is, but somewhere near Atlanta), comparing it to coffee houses he’d frequented while living in Spain (for several years, marrying a Spaniard) and traveling extensively in Europe. This quote was a caption to a photo he posted of four people at four separate tables, all seated looking in the same direction (not at each other) and busy working on their laptops.

    “A beautiful coffee house fostering community, a community of individuals ignoring each other. In Spain and France, I was often distracted by all the noise at cafes– conversations, laughter, boasts, guttural greetings. In the US I’m distracted by all the people doing business on their cellphones and then by the atomistic silence of the eternal disconnect.”

    This really struck me as what we are working so hard to overcome–“the eternal disconnect.” It fuels my desire to work harder at this. 🙂

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