Report from the Field – Craig West

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25 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Craig West”

  1. My favorite sentence in this paragraph is:
    …I’m really seeing that language learning and language ability is all about imagination and creativity….
    It’s a strong argument against word lists and in favor the the non-targeted piece.

  2. Craig said:
    …the only thing I can really do with these guys is just to give them an activity to do each day, and give them the opportunity to either pass or fail it….
    Craig, when you say they can “fail” in an activity, what does that look like?

      1. Craig! I am living through the same thing right now. Don’t know if it’s creativity but so few of my students will even complete work at school, and they attack when asked directly to do work. I’m developing a little repertoire of survival strategies and am eager to know yours! Please shoot me an email and my heart goes out to you. They are very lucky to have you.

        1. Meg I am working on a new way of looking at classroom management and surviving the kinds of nightmare worlds you and Craig teach in. I haven’t had time to write it up yet and it still is sitting here in my mind. It looks at how I interact with myself first and only once I have done that work does it reach out and have its effect on the students.
          It’s meditative and internal work. The main concept is that I have to get to know myself and my expectations with them, to define those before I act, before the school year even starts. Hard to explain. One thing it involves is that I won’t be obsequious with them but neither will I force them to do work. Can’t wait to write it up. It’s different.

        2. Craig and Meg I feel this pain too. As much as I try to keep the relationship at the forefront, I struggle so much with all the converging dramas. It is truly overwhelming. Today was one of those days where I wondered why I was even trying to have a class. There was literally an interruption of some sort about every 1-3 mins. all day long. Between kids wandering in late, leaving for guidance, being dismissed, phone calls from the office, insubordinate defiance, bathroom passes, and of course like Meg mentioned, the direct attacks when asked simply and calmly to complete a task / participate in the way I have defined. Many also attack directly when I try to have a conversation with them.
          I can’t keep up with all the brush fires, deliver input, and do all the documentation I am supposed to be doing constantly in real time, like if I have marked a kid absent then they come in late, I am supposed to go change that immediately in the system. Then stay after to do all the parent communication.
          How do you all handle this? I feel like Sean’s advice to let the attacks dissolve requires such solid grounding in one’s self that I have apparently lost. Of course that is the answer. Build it back. This is indeed deep inner work. Ben, I cannot wait to read this latest angle on classroom management.

          1. Then why do we ask such bonehead classes as you three have – no blame but they sound full of bonehead kids – even do tasks? Why do that? I never did. It’s like trying to reason with a drunk. I just didn’t engage w them, making up fake, very low grades. If they gave minimally I passed them, bc fails make more work for me and it’s all about my own mental well-being.

          2. Jen said:
            …if I have marked a kid absent then they come in late, I am supposed to go change that immediately in the system. Then stay after to do all the parent communication….
            I took roll half way through class as a nice break. If a kid wandered in after the bell when we were doing reading I had that time to give them a zero in the book and mark them tardy. I neglected a lot of parent communication about unexcused absences, preferring to only contact parents of kids who were on the administration’s radar.

          3. If we are in right adjustment to ourselves, we can know when we are being “played” by rude hormone cases. If we can find the right balance between our empathic tendencies (most teachers are empathic to a fault), and if we can find the right aspect of ourselves to be the one to run the classroom (this is the subject of the book), then nobody will dare cross us and do all that b.s. that they do on teachers. Really, the road to excellent classroom management traverses our inner beings, our sense of self, and is not at all an external road of apparent control.

          4. Without NTCI and the Invisibles, I might add, the entrance to this internal road of real class management will remain blocked. It is because of the community piece. If we cannot create a community in our classrooms, and if we can’t be in right adjustment to ourselves, then we can’t be in control of our classrooms.

  3. Yeah that’s what I figured. For me, the way I handled that was very delicately. I spoke to the kid privately and I said, “Look, I don’t want to fail people and you have to trust me on this that if you put out ANY effort to get one of these tasks done, and if you make ANY kind of visible effort in class, I can justify a passing grade. If you take this one step toward me I will take ten toward you.” It actually worked a lot of the time, and sometimes big turnarounds happened, but I had say those words and mean them. But don’t let other people overhear. That sentence is a kind of key I hand to the kid as a way of opening the door to trust.

  4. Imagination and creativity… so true! Whether it’s with the very successful student who wants the worksheet and wants to follow the familiar path or with the very unsuccessful student that has too much stress in their lives to listen with an open heart to me, the lack of imagination and creativity stifles them.
    It’s also such a vulnerable experience, as a teacher, to try to speak to these students’ hearts. When we’re standing in front of them, peeling back, with our conversations, the layers of protection from hate or criticism we put up, they can attack. They do attack. And we absorb those attacks, letting them dissolve into dust.
    But with the older students, especially, it’s really hard to help them be more imaginative and creative.

  5. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Don’t wanna go all existential on y’all on a Friday, but I hear Craig – I think it’s so hard to find meaning in our work unless we get some kinda response or affirmation – the smile, the playful retort, the silly dramatization or story detail.
    My husband teaches HS social studies so we often compare notes. He says my job sounds hard, but my remuneration is so concrete and immediate – I get fist bumps, laughter and sometimes even hugs. On the other hand, you HS teachers, whether working in bratty entitled communities or hardscrabble struggling ones – hats off to you. It takes it’s toll and ounces of flesh to come back with a cheerful invitation to play, day after day… A lot more inner work to sustain optimism.

  6. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    The fact that even Al Franken crashed & burned is another disturbing sign o’ the times.
    My colleague and I were talking abt how emotionally and therefore physically draining it can be to be a public servant in our capacity with all the toxicity swirling around.
    So we need to look hard for signs of, and remind ourselves of, those sources of joy, humor, resilience. Go Stuart!

  7. Alisa said:
    …so we need to look hard for signs of, and remind ourselves of, those sources of joy….
    For me in this profession that search took the form of freeing up my teaching spirit guides from their bonds of targets, circling, etc. Once those bonds were taken off, I was able to experience the joy.

  8. Hi Craig,
    I’ve been away from the blog but as I prepare my finals, I chose to stop by instead of running to make copies. Real quick, I wanted to play devil’s advocate. You said,
    ” I’m really seeing that language learning and language ability is all about imagination and creativity.”
    For students who end up playing, this holds true. I teach at an application school– blue ribbon, about 40% of students went to gifted schools blah,blah, blah. Anyway, this year many of them are not playing as years before. They like to play with things that they are already know of. Internet things, memes, etc… It’s a fine line that I understand many may not want to walk. Then there is a layer underneath–the students who just want to be fed the input. These students are either incredibly shy or are just conditioned to THE Screen. These students would never do traditional PQA but they stay quiet and the occasionally smile at the characters.
    It is these last students who have amazing ability in their freewrites. Yet they didn’t contribute with suggestions. Some of them want pure factual stories and no interaction.
    So what is my point? Just develop the relationship as best as you can. Tell stories of multiple kinds: fiction and non-fiction. Maybe throw in some appropriate internet humor like Thanos Car or Phil Swift. Also, it is not just continuation students who are lacking in imagination and creativity. A whole generation is increasingly consumed by the screen.

    1. Thanks Steven I agree with you. Asking for student input and creativity the way we do in CI classrooms isn’t really like anything they see in other classes. It feels foreign to them. All of their other courses simply provide input. They may require them to create things but those creations are done in English in mediums they are familiar with. I do keep a lot of humor in my classroom.

      1. Craig said:
        …they may require them to create things but those creations are done in English….
        It might be worth studying in CI classrooms if the amount of English allowed impacts the fun and creativity. I went on a tear about five or six years ago and demanded 90% TL as per ACTFL for a few years. I didn’t like it and the fun was less. A lot less. But ACTFL with their robotic ideas doesn’t know about fun. I ended up allowing up to 50% English and never looked back. Without a feeling of community, we have nothing, and we can’t build community when we are constantly telling our kids no English.

        1. Good point here. I use about 70% TL. Whereas before I would use about 85%. Though, our student pop. is changing and getting more diversified, more and more students just want what they want particularly my 8th graders. Something is missing in their coming-of-age.

  9. So true Steven. Craig’s realization (his word) that what we do is all about creativity and imagination is in deep conflict with his own (continuation) kids’ lack of ability to go there. But what I hear you sayings is that within the empty “fishing for energy” from them there are many types of students and they are all benefitting in some unknown way, as you delineate above. That is such a refreshing thing to read, that yes a small smile on the face of a left brain robot might mean more than we know. We can’t measure gains, academically or in terms of their relationship with the language.

  10. My thought to add to what you said above Steven is that is that we should continue to think that it is not us and go forth and deliver the CI and not worry so much about gains and let the CI flow ever deeper into the unconscious mind and just let it all go.
    Such a good plan. We aren’t going to see wonderfully engaged classes w many (most?) kids. The screens rule. But as you said it doesn’t really matter much, unless we are hyper-needy on the approval side.
    It’s not a joke. We need to keep things in perspective, that we have chosen perhaps the worst profession in terms of crabby clientele and we need to either get another job or do what we can.
    What can we do? We can do our best and not take our own inventory if the class isn’t a barrel of laughs. The times we live in now are not a barrel of laughs. Just getting through one day of teaching these days is a triumphant feat.
    There is not one language teacher whom I do not bow down inwardly to when I meet them. They are stronger than 90% of the professional population in the U.S. who could NEVER do what we do.
    In workshops I sometimes get down like I’m praying and touch my head to the ground in front of the group. I did that in Atlanta in 2017 in a district training with over 150 people there. I didn’t care what they thought. And when I got up I told them that I didn’t do that for show and I explained why I did it and I told them how deep my respect goes for them.
    Why don’t we do that more often? Sean does. Jen does. Others do. But we need to start giving each other more props. Not just here, everywhere. We have to make it through. That’s the way it is in spiritual warfare.

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