Response to A Letter to Myself

Well, the day is over. How’d it go? Let’s respond to your suggestions from this morning point by point:
1.On the no English rule, I went overboard. I came across too strong on the enforcement. Maybe scared a few people. And, of course, to enforce it, I used English, so what’s up with that? All in all, though, the effect of the crusader act on the no-English rule worked today. I used to think that it was all about SLOW, now I see that, for me, it’s even more about no English. So being a little on the intense side paid off on this point today. I will do it again. Especially with the young boys who are testing their teachers at every turn of every class they have all day.
2. As for my own use of English, I made the bed and have to sleep in it. Since August, I have allowed myself digressions, and then all of a sudden I want myself to now speak in L1 in class? Ain’t gonna happen. If I want to be able to completely stay out of L1 in my classes, I’m gonna have to start that pattern in the first ten days of class (I would give myself the first week of classes to use enough English to set the rules, of course). But this is one of those deals where you can’t change horses in midstream. I’ll do my best with this and put it on my list as things to be most serious about when starting the year doing CI.
3. I didn’t go out of bounds much at all. Big victory there today. There was just one expression that I consciously remember presenting that I shouldn’t have. This awareness, of course, put me in great contact with the barometers. Even kids absent yesterday were happy with their understanding, which is all about not going out of bounds, so I give myself a good review on this point, which Diana has been key in pointing out for the past year or so when she visits my classroom.
4. SLOW was good today. I find that the kids pretty much determine my speed through their eyes.
I didn’t have to “hope” some kid wouldn’t interrupt inappropriately because the first two kids who did wished they hadn’t. I remember playing this card on them: “I’ve worked for over ten years to learn how to do this and you will not ruin it for me. What if you worked for ten years on something day and night and then somebody came in and messes it up? How would you feel?” That snarkiness worked. I really do believe that the problems we have in our CI classes are brought on by ourselves and no one else. We are the adults. We can’t “hope” they will behave. We hammer on them until they do, and we hammer on ourselves as well to avoid English.
Somebody has to be in charge. If the (usually younger) teacher sends out the vibe in the classroom that they want to be liked and like back and oh what fun this is going to be a fun class full of fun activities, they will be spit out by the jackals in the class, who lack empathy and usually don’t start showing up until October. Such teachers send it out that they are not sure who is in charge. But if you are not the authority, it makes sense that in any human community one will emerge, and if no humans emerge, the jackals will.
For some reason I had no fear today, maybe because I got this letter from you this morning challenging me to not use English and to avoid going out of bounds. I need to say that again. I had no fear today. I was loosey goosey, flying high, letting myself go into the magic. That is rare for me because if there is a video there or an observor, it all changes for me, because there is fear in me. We could have perfect skills, but.f there is fear in us, and we then don’t run our freak flag up the flag pole every day, then we are going to suck in the same way that a professional baseball player can get into a hitting slump just by worrying about getting a hit.
Which one are you going to raise in class? Your own affective filter with the kids, or your freak flag? Why even bother with this intensely emotional experience of trying to teach using comprehensible input if you can’t relax into the technique, if you are always worrying about whether your instruction is o.k. or not?



11 thoughts on “Response to A Letter to Myself”

  1. “Somebody has to be in charge. If the (usually younger) teacher sends out the vibe in the classroom that they want to be liked and like back and oh what fun this is going to be a fun class full of fun activities, they will be spit out by the jackals in the class, who lack empathy and usually don’t start showing up until October. Such teachers send it out that they are not sure who is in charge. But if you are not the authority, it makes sense that in any human community one will emerge, and if no humans emerge, the jackals will.”
    I’ve been waiting for you to say something like this in the blog as it is something I need to hear (or read). I think this is a big struggle for me being newer and younger and I have a passive, nonconfrontational personality. It is sometimes hard for me to be the authority figure as I’ve never had to be that ultimate authority figure anywhere else. Even though this is the biggest thing I know I need to work on, I don’t know how, I guess I just need to man up and grow a set, really. Any tips? When I try to enforce the rules, I don’t think some kids take me seriously as I’m not the most intimidating person. I don’t have “that teacher look” that so many are able to give, most of the students are taller than me (I’m 5’7”) and my voice isn’t really very deep. I’m definitely not an intimidating person. Maybe I should grow a goatee and shave my head?

    1. Hey, most of my students are taller than I (I’m 5’2″). Also waiting for a response to your great question! LOL
      Tips on enforcing the rules. Maybe it will be advice I already know but don’t have faith I can do.

      1. My thinking is that this is not easily done. It takes a long time. At the core of the answer is a simple idea – you don’t need their approval. They don’t have to approve of what you are doing. There should be no doubt about what you demand. And this change to believe in your own authority is an emotional one. It might go against the persona you wore in school yourself, which is usually one of obedience. It’s a big topic, and a deeply introspective one, but you get a lot of days to practice. There is no magic formula. Ultimately we just have to believe in ourselves and what we are doing. If they see a chink in that armor, they will go for it. That little bit of my opinion, by the way, only took me over three decades to learn. My conclusion is that being a nice guy is bullshit in schools. But it’s doubly hard, because the teacher persona must be loving, with the steel underneath. Just develop that steel. The rules are made of steel. You can do it. But, again, time, much time, is needed. This is what teaching has to teach you! Honestly the real answer comes from John below. He put his finger on the real cause of this weakness. It is fear. Read what he said, and vow to be less fearful when in your classroom. They are children. They don’t know. They need us to guide them. Not trick them, not intimidate them, but guide them. And if we don’t believe in our own rules, we can’t guide them. The big one is the no English rule for both students and the instructor. But go read what John said fear again, in the comment just below. It is fear. That is the real culprit. There is a chance that Carol Gaab might be in my classroom tomorrow. I should be full of fear but I won’t be. I just won’t, even though she is a real expert in this stuff. Freak Flag time, and No Affective Filters allowed. Fear is connected to all of what we do, right? No wonder TPRS is making it into classrooms so slowly. The language teaching profession has a lot of cowards in it. Not too many folks want to step up to the plate and play Krashen Ball. They’re too afraid. They want to stay stuck in their heads, where it is safe. But, to do this stuff, we have to reach into our chests and show courage. Bam!

  2. “Even kids absent yesterday were happy with their understanding, which is all about not going out of bounds”
    This really is key to keeping the flow of the class going over the course of the week (and the entire year), despite the absences which, regardless of their reasons, are out of our control. This is where the traditional / textbook approach breaks down. If everything must be learned in a certain order, and no one can move to the next level until everyone has “passed” the previous level, it all just breaks down when faced with kids’ realities. Kids are going to miss class sometimes, sometimes they’ll get really sick and miss two or three weeks. According to the textbook, they might as well stay home the rest of the year, since there is no hope for them to catch up.
    Enter Krashen’s net. I have had a few kids miss a LOT of school, 10, 15 days in the first quarter, but for the most part they are not “Behind” because I’m not pushing large amounts of vocabulary. They’re just back in the CI soup, swimming around with the rest of us again. I’m trying to go slow, and I want them to tell me when they don’t understand something, and everyone benefits from that process. More reps.
    Ben, I think your advice on retakes really supports this process: I had a student come to me today wanting to take a quiz he missed, and I was able to tell him: don’t worry about it. I’d rather have you focusing your energy and effort on what we’re doing NOW, and be ready to succeed on the next quiz.” That is so liberating, for me and for the students. I used to be on a power trip, thinking that if a student missed school, he/she must do that work. It wouldn’t be “fair” to the other students to just “let it slide.” But all these games have nothing to do with acquisition. I can just let it go.
    “We can’t “hope” they will behave.”
    Marcus Aurelius used to admonish himself by saying (and I paraphrase): why are you upset or surprised when a mean person acts mean toward you? Rather the fault is with you for expecting him to act differently than what you know is his nature.” In the classroom context, hope is for teachers who are not in control of a situation, and it can be a product of fear, fear of those confrontations in class which students provoke. We shouldn’t hope, we should make it happen and own our authority, since that is what students need from us more than any content (this is advice to myself as well).

  3. Ben, I loved reading the letter you wrote to yourself. I think I have this kind of internal dialogue about my teaching almost daily but it was so good to see your internal dialogue written out for all to see.
    I am at a coffee shop now, taking a mental health day because I have been getting eaten alive by my 7th graders (I know, still, I’m working on it.) I had such a headache yesterday, mostly because I’ve been stressing about my 7th grade classes. I have been super strict with them and mean, I feel, giving detentions left and right. This authoritative approach is almost necessary for this kind of class. I appreciated all the feedback given to me on the 7th grade blog post. I started doing grammar work and I realized my students just weren’t getting it. I had them write an essay in English about being an “American” and tried to tie in some of the grammar work here. Some interesting observations during this time:
    1) instead being on the same team as the students, I felt like we were against each other, a terrible feeling-this must be what many teachers feel like everyday
    2) while students were working on their warm ups (which I’ve started assigning) or their essays, I heard them using Spanish spontaneously from the stories (like “es obvio”) It’s like they WANT to learn Spanish-whoa! What a revelation!
    3) Students have been LESS engaged in my class during this evil time, almost behaving even worse, because they weren’t interested in the grammar and didn’t understand it.
    4) Several students have asked “When are we going to do stories again?”
    So, I’m ready to get back to CI with them, but I think I need to ease into it. I think the suggestion about directly addressing the difficult students and calling parents was an important one. When I’ve held these students for detentions, I’ve talked to them about it. I think I just have to be super structured within the story as Carol Gaab suggested, not giving them much choice, and most importantly having them raise their hand instead of blurting out.

  4. I have had the best luck with short structured stories. Too few details and the story is boring;too many and it gets confusing. I was doing wants to have, goes to some place – like a restaurant, and takes. Andreas wants to have a big juicy hamburger (I happened to have a plastic hamburger in my desk), he wants to have a a hamburger from Five Guys, but he is poor and goes to McDo and “takes” small flat hamburgers. His friend, Gina, is rich and snobby. She goes to 5 Guys and finally buys 13 and a half hamburgers for Andreas. It worked for a few reasons. I got actors up as soon as I saw the way the story could play out, I had a hamburger handy, I stayed with the main structures and did not go out of bounds except for juicy and flat. Rather than have a home run day, I would rather have a string of good, solid days. Today, I did “needs” My counter told me I got 139 reps. I was getting answers like needs a pencil, pens. I finally said in English: “Isn’t anyone gonna play with me today? Okay, I am gonna get right in your faces – you guys who never say a word- what’s the deal? I need input. Mind you, I wasn’t yelling and the kids who “play” on a regular basis were laughing. At this point, I am all over the room. I got some better answers – like bug spray. One boy had asked to go to the bathroom, denied! When I asked him a few minutes later what he wanted, he said “bathroom”. We all laughed. One girl fell off a horse and broke her arm. With a sad look on her face, she told me she needs a horse. Then I started getting need to sleep, need good grades stuff that is important to them. I really let the Freak Flag fly today and it felt goooooooood! I gave the job of rep counter, quiz writer, and fact keeper – I asked him to include a list of any random vocab that the kids wanted to say. Later, I culled the “needs” list for the five “needs” that would be most universal for them. I will kiss the rest of the words up to sight vocabulary. The roller coaster continues.

  5. Annemarie keep writing here about this here until it’s solved. There is no easy answer. It’s the little things. Can you get Matava over to your school, or Skip? This is going to be a team effort. One thing that chill made me think of is those PQA counters and the artist and quiz and story writers, those six kids over those two days. They bring so much more than their job work into the class – they bring a lot of buy in. That is what you need now. So that is one idea when you go back to stories. We’ll get this. You can do this.

  6. Thank you for your support-it helps so much. Matava is over 2 hours away, but maybe I can get skip…
    What school do you teach at in Colorado and where is it? There is a chance I may be visiting the Odyssey school in Denver in Feb with colleagues (related to our PLC on student engaged assessment) and I would love to see your work or someone in the denver area.

  7. Diana Noona is Coordinator of WL for DPS, a close personal friend of Krashen (he does her dishes when he is in town) and a truly great leader in that she has worked tirelessly for 7 years now to galvanize the district’s 100 WL teachers around Krashen and using comprehensible input. She is also so relaxed and easy to be around that one can’t help but feel confident at this method. I haven’t heard about the Odyssey school, but will ask her tonite at an ACTFL thing. What is really great is that when we have the chance to welcome teachers from out of state, like Beniko Mason a few weeks ago, it feels exactly like a group of friends getting together. This is not true in other districts, trust me.

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