Self Care

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26 thoughts on “Self Care”

  1. We can take care of ourselves and use CI intensely. I get much more crazed when I allow too much English to enter, because I feel that I’m not being the teacher I want to be. But it’s not a crime to teach a little grammar here and there of course, or to do a read-aloud in English, or to just sit and chat with kids about SLA or their perception of class. And it’s also not crazy to decide that our classes are all about CI, in my opinion.
    I think we can do both of those items A and B at the same time, and that’s my goal, personally. Your shift isn’t as dramatic as you make it sound, is it Ben?

  2. …your shift isn’t as dramatic as you make it sound, is it Ben?…
    It is. It’s just more internal and I have a hard time expressing it. What do I mean by internal? I used to think that my core motivation was language gains. I wasn’t even conscious of the self care piece, the piece about relaxing in class while teaching. I was always thinking of CI skills and practice, to a fault. Now I am doing that less, maybe because I am doing Vinyasa (flow) yoga here in India to replace the Rocky Mountain biking nuttiness. Or maybe because after fifteen years this stuff is really easy for me. I don’t know but there is a definite huge shift in they way I approach the beginning of each class. My conscious thought is to enjoy myself and not freak if it’s not all CI.
    So the reason the shift in my view is dramatic Jim in that it has evolved to where, when I am full on with CI, there is NOT A BIT OF ENGLISH FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME AS PER THE DETAILS WE HAVE DISCUSSED HERE RECENTLY but there is also at its core a sense of taking care of myself and having fun. You are right that I am not changing much in terms of how I use instructional minutes, but the attitude is deeply different. If I stop the (full on TL) CI for a few minutes or a whole class period, I don’t get so wigged out about it.
    Knowing you, I think that you may have been able to keep relaxed and do CI at the same time, but I have never been able to do that. Now I separate instructional minutes into pure CI, but do it in a much more consciously relaxed way. There is no fire and I just don’t feel guilty about not being in CI all the time.
    Did I explain that clearly and does that make sense and answer your question?

    1. I think I get where you’re coming from Ben. I’m glad you found a place of calm with it.
      Honestly, the post comes across to me a bit condescending of much that we’ve been working on the past several years, developing the skills and courage to speak with our kids in TL, in as loving and light-hearted a way as we can, while not making them feel stupid because they don’t get how to conjugate verbs yet after tens of hours. Perhaps that wasn’t your intent but my interpretation.
      Then I reread this “I had forgotten that the key to good gains in language learning lies in slow pacing and a sense of fun and relaxation” and I’m totally with you. I thought you were always there anyways.

      1. I can see where you would think of it as condescending to all the work we have done, as if to dismiss it. Like we can do anything we want now after all these trying years to develop the treasure that we have.
        Really, it’s an internal change. I was just going too fast up the CI mountain and don’t want to blow up. I was going too fast. Your question was really well timed and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on it since. I think the quality of the CI is even higher now, because that sense of “getting this TPRS stuff right” is really fading fast.
        This is not an easy planet to relax on, but I intend on doing it. So yeah, good solid CI with no blurting aloud is still the order of the day. Thanks as always for your thoughtful insights, Jim.

        1. And another thing Jim and I know you feel the same way is that the quality of happiness of interaction with the students is #1. I always used to put the CI first, now I put the quality of happiness in the classroom first. Kids need so much right now to be approved of and told they are worth something, and CI lends itself to that in so many ways. They need to feel useful in a group – the jobs do that. They need to feel excited about their learning – the stories do that. So many aspects of CI naturally lend themselves to students being happy. With what we have developed over the years, we can truly say that we have strategies that bring real happiness into the classroom. Stendhal’s definition of happiness keeps coming back into my mind:
          Un bavardage sans détour et la présence de ceux qu’on aime.
          An endless conversation and the presence of those one loves.

          1. I think Jim is right in that you’ve been saying these things all along, Ben: the importance of the relationships with the students, the importance of teacher self care, the need to deal with school expectations and culture in what we do in class. The need to relax and not feel inadequate or frantic about how/what we teach. Maybe you are experiencing these at a new level internally in your new school and situation.

    2. Attitude is everything. I remember an expression while living in France, “sois-zen”. Yesterday, I used a timer for PQA– it was an excellent move for the day but EXHAUSTING.
      Today, there were 200 6th graders touring our middle school, so we had fun when they came. We sang Happy Birthday for someone in the class and another time we did a TPR thing where everyone was turning around like an elephant. It saved my boring ROA lesson where kids were exhausted from the same boring structures.

  3. For us Latin teachers, doing a grammar lesson or a culture unit in English is easy, and it’s what a lot of kids and parents and admins expect. So why not give ourselves a break, and get the critics off our back?

    1. Ditto, John. NOTHING we do is going to satisfy our critics. CI will not “prepare” them for the rote memorization of grammar charts and asinine vocabulary lists. All we can do is create an evidence trail that proves that we “taught” grammar. So what’s the rush? None of the work we do will be valued by our most critical colleagues, administrators or parents. They don’t care if our students have acquired ANYTHING. So when we stress out about getting enough 1st person plural reps in of a high frequency verb, instead of enjoying our time with our kids, we are applying that pressure to ourselves.
      Let’s just teach our kids today and enjoy our time. Hell, 1 50 minute block of CI is more effective than an entire year of traditional teaching. All of us are already going way above and beyond the call of duty every single day. We don’t need to recreate the abusive relationships we’ve endured with colleagues and admins in our own minds.
      I also happen to be a fan of busting into an English culture lesson to help kids engage more deeply into a reading. Why not?

  4. …why not give ourselves a break, and get the critics off our back?….
    I’m in a school where they think that they are learning when doing grammar. I’m giving them traditional grammar. It’s grammar on my own terms – only translation of simple sentences for under ten minutes only once each block. But they think it’s valuable. And it is so easy. What’s the problem? I agree John. It’s like we on this site are starting to collectively agree on the importance of teaching languages as per the demands made on us by the buildings we are in, and not get so crazy about TPRS/CI like we used to. And I bet the kids, sensing the flow we bring to class, are learning just as much as when we taught in that frenzied way, with our CI Commando hats on.

    1. “It’s grammar on my own terms – only translation of simple sentences for under ten minutes only once each block.”
      I do the same at the beginning of class. I adapted the “cinq par jour” warm-up that almost everyone in our district does except instead of canned dialogue, I use translation. I even do a “choix libre” which requires them to write 5 sentences of their choice. Then I call on them individually. It keeps the kids busy and admin happy because I call on kids randomly to say a blurt of TL — even if they are not ready. It makes them aware that the need to listen more often. I think it puts the heat on them, slightly.
      ” And I bet the kids, sensing the flow we bring to class, are learning just as much as when we taught in that frenzied way, with our CI Commando hats on.”
      Perhaps even better? For me, sometimes I need to relax. I realized this after my son was born (about 2 weeks ago). So I genuinely smile more often and realize that kids are kids. If they are going to be captivated to learn French, then they will create the opportunities to learn it.
      I did.

  5. I agree with your thoughts here, and I also think that if I understand the concept of the affective filter correctly, we don’t need to dismiss our relationship-building (in, out, and around the TL) by prefacing it with a humble/dismissive “just,” nor do we need to call it “wasting time.” Isn’t that the point? That as teachers, knowing what we know about working with students, we are redefining what it means to waste time, and that having a good time with students (in, out of, and around the TL) actually develops their capacity to absorb CI when the CI happens? (right?)
    To zoom out a bit, this is a classic dilemma of teaching, not only in language teaching but in all of (at least elementary) instruction. Are enjoyable activities a). a waste of time or b). helping create lifelong learners? I think many educational scholars and writers see rigor and enjoyment as mutually exclusive, and current accepted elementary practices (the death of recess, the strangling of science and social studies, the privileging of test prep) speak to this. And teachers who lament that test-driven “best” practices lose joy, lose connectedness, lose room for creativity– can be portrayed as lazy complainers who are afraid to work hard, rather than people who know that in order for students to learn well, the affective filter must be low.
    In fact, I could posit here that rigor actually gets deeper when some class time is spent on enjoyment– not because of use of time or material discussed, but because of a transformation that takes place within the learning community. Yep, actually. Positing.

    1. I mean I feel like I’m walking a tightrope between giving in to laziness (“Oh, let’s just hang out today, guys!”) and being a busy-body teacher (“WE WILL WORK BELL TO BELL AND IF YOU ARE OFF TASK I WILL TREAT IT LIKE THE BIGGEST DEAL IN THE WORLD!”). I think I am trying this year to find the happy medium, where we do lots of good work but it doesn’t really feel like it.

      1. I think we’re all looking for that happy medium James. Thanks for articulating it.
        Schools are weird, and as someone who likes to dream of the ideal, I often imagine what else it might look like… but for here and now… I’ll search for that place along with you.

  6. If you teach foreign language all day everyday, you are like the hot blonde. You can and should have more fun. But not too much… wink.
    As an ESL teacher, I feel constant pressure and I have 5 times the extra paperwork, meetings, collaborating with classroom teachers, etc. For my students, the stakes are higher: some face only a few more years of high school, and then they may or may not have job and college opportunities based on how much language they were able to get caught up on.
    ESL teachers are more the hot brunette (think Lana del Reye). We have to find ways to have fun despite immense pressure, and lower affective filter for students who spend their days constantly confused and overwhelmed and their evening with headaches from too much incomprehensible input.
    It’s so hard balance to strike for you. It’s even harder for others. If you see an ESL teacher, give them a hug. Especially us hot brunettes.

  7. Another thing on grammar I am noticing. The exercises or examples need to be taken from past class stories. That makes sense and we would probably all do that anyways. But something’s really cool about that: It makes it possible for me to keep holding everyone accountable for all the old structures. Just a collection of 8 sentences from past class stories lets me recycle tons of old stuff. Sometimes it can be difficult to include “plays” in a new story, but with a little light grammar we can see it in at least one sentence every day.

    1. Do you keep copies of old stories around for FVR? I have them and many kids enjoy revisiting them. They’re easy because they’re so comprehensible to them after all the work we’ve done with the stories in class.

  8. I have a school WP blog like this one and each class has a category so the drawings and readings go there. Easy to access. Kids go there (invited, not forced) and translate the stories into their L1s for their happy and impressed parents – in one class I have not a single kid from the same country. They also like to (some, not all) like to tell the story to their parents from the drawing. Middle school kids still want to do stuff like that. They also like to see the Invisible Creatures from other classes to compare and see which class has the coolest creatures. Right now it’s my Block 1 class hands down:

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