They. Don’t. Fail. We. Fail. Them.

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33 thoughts on “They. Don’t. Fail. We. Fail. Them.”

  1. I love this post, Ben. It reminds me of the really important lesson I’ve learned in my first year of TCI: When I come to class focused on the content, that lesson bombs. When I come to class focused on the kids, that lesson flies.

    The pressure that so much of face from traditional colleagues can really wreak havoc on our classes. I find myself coming to some of my classes tense, nervous, frustrated, and scared because I am so uncertain of what I am doing with them. They are acquiring tons of Latin, but they will never use it with my traditional colleagues. They don’t care if they can do anything with the language other than fill out verb synopses and decline noun + adjective pairs. Then they are going to blame me because their students “don’t know anything”. I then second guess what I do, frantically flip through the textbook and see how I can somehow get the kids enough exposure to the grammar garbage in the book while still teaching CI…AHHHHHHHH!

    When all of the these thoughts are coursing through my brain, my love for my kids gets lost in the frenzy. I don’t want to hang out with them anymore. I want them all to be perfect little robots who can spit out grammar explanations and fill-in charts so that my co-workers will get off of my back. I don’t feel the same warmth for the kids whom I know will never succeed in a traditional high school Latin class. I need to prove to my stubborn colleagues that I am a good teacher and that my kids come into their classes prepared. I need these kids to prove me right and to make me look good.

    When a textbook becomes our curriculum, when our assessments are on “chapter 8”, when our goal is to prepare our 12 year olds to pass the AP exam, we are not teachers. We are nothing more than full-time employees at Pearson test prep centers.

    When our students are our curriculum, when our assessments are authentic, when our goal is to give every kind of learner a great experience in another language, we are teachers. We are teaching kids through genuine love, communication and care.

    Thanks again for the great post, Ben. I really needed this one right now 🙂

  2. And John look at what you wrote here:

    … I need to prove to my stubborn colleagues that I am a good teacher and that my kids come into their classes prepared. I need these kids to prove me right and to make me look good….

    That second sentence really hit home with me. I spent most of my career with that second sentence dictating my life. My kids just had to win the top ten spots in the National French Exam each year at the state level and at least two had to get a national score. They just had to.

    But on some level I know that you wrote that in order to test it as an idea. I personally don’t agree that you or your kids need to prove anything to anyone. You don’t. Just keep on keepin’ on with what you’re doing. You are a big time winner at this and your colleagues just aren’t and bless their sorry old backwards thinking hearts. So why would you need their approval?

    You fought that big fight last years and I was under the impression that you were now done with it and had made such progress after it that you had elevated your game up and out of being enmeshed with those teachers.

    Don’t let them draw you back in. Teach the way you know is best. It will all come out all right. Don’t worry about what they say. Teach your kids. It will all work out. You can do it. Your job is not to please those teachers. It is to teach your kids Latin in the best way you know how.

    You’re good, man. It’s gonna work out. I promise. And you have a very large fan club here rooting for you, as Sean said above.

    1. You’re right, Ben. Putting the dark thoughts in writing has helped me exorcise some demons. I spent a full professional development day working on curriculum with these people and it was soul-sucking. On the plus side, the day reminded me of exactly why I abandoned my traditional ways in the first place. My darling children chose to learn Latin from me. I couldn’t continue to pull the old bait-and-switch on them and teach them grammar terms as opposed to Latin. Thanks for the kind words Sean and Ben. I have tenure, so my fellow teachers have no real power over me. I’m going to teach my kids, instead of content, today 🙂

      1. I had not thought of it that way, John. But it is “the old bait-and-switch.” The kids enter thinking they will learn the language and ending up with terminology to identify, analyze, and manipulate the interchangeable parts. To used a term that Eric introduced the other day, the kids assume they will get “a listening vocabulary” but the best they get is a silient sight vocabulary.

  3. “When I come to class focused on the content, that lesson bombs. When I come to class focused on the kids, that lesson flies.” YES!!! This is such a great mantra to have! Thank you John!

    This is what teaching is about. All teaching. It makes me feel very sad that this is all but forgotten in schools. And also very hopeful for us because CI gives us the opportunity to get back to this essence. For our students it may be the only opportunity they have in their school day to be really seen and heard and have the learning based on THEM.

    Maybe right now we are the only ones who see this. But we have to have faith that it will ripple out.

    1. I just came from my most difficult morning block having entered class with that mantra in my head, and it was the best class we’ve had all year! We had really pleasant PQA and the kids got a good amount of CI. The vibe in the room was very warm and loving.

      It’s useful to remind ourselves that we found our way to CI because we were determined to find a way for all of our students to experience success and joy in another language. We didn’t get in this to appease or defeat our grammar grump colleagues.

      You are absolutely right, Jen. What we do makes a difference in the lives of kids. Hopefully that energy will “ripple out”.

      1. John said:

        …the vibe in the room was very warm and loving….

        This is no small thing to say! How many language classrooms have that? Most are like tombs. Is that not the goal? In that way, even if they acquire not one word of the language, they will have been given some degree of respite from the cruelty that exists in so many of their other classrooms. But will they not acquire, in fact, if the the vibe in the room is very warm and loving? They will!

        This is the entire topic about how kids learn when they feel good in the class, which jen’s friend who wrote that book talks about (and thanks for sending it to me, jen – it’s fantastic!):

        The Invisible Classroom, Relationships, Neuroscience and Mindfulness in School, by Kirke Olson, Norton Books, 2014

        I’m sorry but I just have to say again, like a prayer:

        God, please bless everyone in schools right now. The only way out of the pain they must endure is through your angelic kindness. Please go into all the classrooms now, use your angels or however you do that, and let kindness, your divine kindness which is like nothing else, bless those administrators and parents and teachers as they struggle to bring real things, real things, to their children, who are going through so much right now in this critical time in American schools. Help us out the teachers who make kids suffer – and give teachers like John Bracey the strength to endure the rancor they have to endure in their buildings. Help them to see all that difficulty as coming from You, which makes it not so bad, and help them see their role in this change and embrace it and bring strength and courage to their work each day, so that one day the teachers who make kids hate languages will all be gone, in the same way that You are now outing those torturers in our government, who have distorted our image as a nation among our sister nations for far too long now. May teachers who make kids feel stupid, who also have distorted what we do for far too long now as well, disappear from the Earth. May our work with languages be pleasing in Your sight, and thank you for letting us do our small part to help You knit the nations together, so that the world, Your world, can heal now. That is my prayer to You today, God.

        Related:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cvz9PvczUMI
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vSWHkxZgOI

        1. Ben, I’m looking at the free part of the book you mentioned on Amazon right now. (Yeah, instead of writing curriculum.) It looks really cool. The teacher describes his first high school teaching experience and says it was like he was the common enemy of the students in the class; the more he punished them, the more they unified against him.

          It strikes me that we must become, from the first day of the year, a MEMBER of our classes. We need to be the alpha member of that invisible neural network. We cannot let ourselves be outsiders. We cannot let the students compete against us. Enter Circling With Balls and Jobs and the Rules.

          1. James I never thought of myself, not once, as the leader in the classroom. I tried so hard to get the kids to lead. Those teaching ideas I thought of are all coming from that one idea. Perhaps I should have never become a teacher, because I didn’t have that control thing going on. I always felt so out of place in schools, with all those teachers walking around who walked and talked like they knew everything about teaching. I just cowered for so long, in the corner, and hoped they wouldn’t find out that I didn’t know what I was doing. But then I met Susan Gross and I realized in one workshop that I could be a teacher. Thank you Susan, Blaine, Jason, Diana and all those who led the way in this work and all those others who sense its power and are doing great things now to bring it to their kids. I bow down at the alter of your courage.

    2. John said:

      “When I come to class focused on the content, that lesson bombs. When I come to class focused on the kids, that lesson flies.”

      And then jen said:

      “This is what teaching is about. All teaching. It makes me feel very sad that this is all but forgotten in schools.”

      I would add that I am concerned that even in the CI world many of us are making our own teaching more and more resemble the formulaic extrinsic model that has existed as a kind of dark side in the TPRS world for years.

      In the early years, as Laurie once said, it was like when we got to a national conference we were like a bunch of kids at summer camp, and then we would go do a year of teaching and the only thing that got us through, because this way of teaching is so awkward at first like learning to ride a bike, was knowing that we we would see each other the next summer, learn from each other and keep doing it that way.

      What we did was so natural and based on trust that the story would unfold if we let it. Now, the pedagogy of CI is showing a competitive and controlling side to it. But we cannot control this work and squeeze down on it and turn it into a formula to teach grammar.

      Yes. We are seeing teachers starting to teach in a very formulaic way, even presenting ways to use CI to target object pronouns and the like, and the whole thing about backwards planning is getting a little bit too much attention in my opinion.

      So this is where we are, in my opinion, starting to show signs of wanting to use CI to teach in a traditional way, if that makes sense. What jen says, the way Laurie expresses it, is the way I want our group to go. There are other sites for figuring out how to use CI to teach grammar. I don’t want in on that. Thanks to Joseph Dziedzic for helping me figure that out last weekend.

      Hope that makes sense. I need to republish some articles supporting the idea that less is more and the less we try to control everything in our CI classrooms the better the classes will be, to echo John’s original statement above and sorry for the rant.

      Let’s just not turn our treasure into a formulaic thing. Let’s keep loose. Let’s keep trusting that the right language will happen if we stop squeezing on our stories so hard.

      1. The nice thing about TCI/TPRS is that the three steps are highly malleable while still providing a solid framework or skeleton for support.

        As we approach Christmas break, I am juggling several different things in my classes. Each year we go caroling, so I am teaching several German Christmas carols. My students need to know them well enough to sing them with confidence, and that requires practice time. However, I don’t want to spend the entire period in “choir rehearsal”, but I don’t have as much time to pursue a story, etc. So, I’m breaking the story into episodes and doing a little bit each day. On Monday we started either “Visiting Santa at the Mall” or
        “Wants to Cut Down a Tree”. We started by setting the scene and then did a bit each day. Today in first period we finished the tree story. The basic outline: Santa wants to cut down a tree, so he goes and finds Mr. Rogers. (Day 1) Santa and Mr Rogers go into the forest and search for the perfect tree but fail to find it. (Day 2 – this class is my dull class, and no one wanted to act, so I made them all stand up and be trees, then I played Santa and Mr Rogers and walked through the “forest” rejecting all the trees; I would look at the tree and then ask the class, “Do I want to cut down this tree?” [target structure] No matter what the class replied, I said, “No, I do not want to cut down this tree because I am looking for the perfect tree, and this one is not a perfect tree.” BTW, I did have some creatively grotesque tree formations.) Santa and Mr Rogers go to Costco and find the perfect tree, but it’s artificial; they try to cut it down anyway with a big axe. (Day 3 – I have a large cardboard cutout of an executioner’s axe that we used) Then Mother Teresa comes with her small axe and cuts down the tree with a single blow. (Day 4) Tomorrow we will do some reading. Next week we will do some other activities with the story to give students even more exposure to the language.

  4. Yesterday the 8th grade administrator called half the homerooms down to the auditorium for cap and gown measurements, leaving me with only 7 students. I tossed my lesson plan and just talked to the students who were there about their after school plans. It was delightful. I was so happy and relaxed, we were enjoying each others company. The the rest of the class trickled back in as they finished up, and the good feelings got lost. It was partially that the intimacy was gone, and partially that certain students just don’t buy in. I was really sad because I had a fleeting moment of clarity and joy, and then I lost it. I want to focus on the students but some of them make it difficult.

    But I’ll keep swinging, like you say Ben. Because I do not want to go back to the dark ages!

    1. Carly please rest fully assured that that same relaxed teacher with those 7 is in you for the others, for the entire class. You are just so new to this that you have to be patient. It is there, part of your teaching personality, and you don’t need to hide it. It takes time to dismantle old ideas of what teaching is. Each of us has to do it. Then one day when your students, who got loved on so much by you, want to become teachers, it will all change. Languages will flourish and interact in new ways all over the planet. Dead languages will come to life. That feeling that John had this morning and you had with that small group yesterday will be the norm and not the exception. Be patient. I see that relaxed teacher in you from our work last summer – it is there. You have it going on. Just trust that it will emerge in the same way a good story emerges, when we don’t push and control it.

      1. Carly, I echo Ben’s comments on your teaching based on our work at iflt. For a more short term solution to your struggle with this difficult class of yours, I would try to remember to keep your attention on those students, the eight with whom you shared that great class, and the others (probably the majority) who are not trying to disrupt your class. This is my goal for tomorrow with my difficult class: not to give all my attention to the ones who are trying to provoke me in some way. Last week a man struck up a conversation with me when he saw me grading student work at a cafe. He told this story about how in high school he had a teacher who was having a very difficult time with a challenging class. When he saw that teacher a few years later, she thanked him for saving her job. A month into that difficult class, she had decided to focus on this student, because he had goodwill for her, and that was what got her through. This is not a way to reach all your kids, which is what we all want to do, eventually, but we also need to get through the day sometimes. Happy almost Friday.

        1. You just have such snotty kids in the Bay Area, John. What’s up with that? We need more reports on what is happening out there in this first year in that building. Be like a reed, bending but not breaking. Give them the traditional instruction they want if it will save your job. I know very well this feeling you are being faced with in that particular class. They just don’t have kindness, and that concerns me. They need to learn to be kind first. If their dinner table conversation with all their fancy parents taking the inventory of the new teacher with the whacky new ideas does not include parental instruction on how to respect the adults in the school, then all the Latin declension talent in the world will not save them from themselves, from their warped sense of entitlement, so you are doing important work here on many levels. I am very proud of you. You have made it half way through your first year with them.

  5. John, this is right on:

    “I just came from my most difficult morning block having entered class with that mantra in my head, and it was the best class we’ve had all year! We had really pleasant PQA and the kids got a good amount of CI. The vibe in the room was very warm and loving.”

    I’m getting more and more convinced that a lot of my problems arise from my perception of how things are, not how they actually are.

    1. “I’m getting more and more convinced that a lot of my problems arise from my perception of how things are, not how they actually are.”

      This is a fundamental aspect of the Zen tradition. When we start to label and judge an experience, it becomes unexperienceable because labels and limited perceptions get in the way of reality.

      I’ve had a very similar awakening recently as well, James. I’ve caught myself thinking that many of the things I do at school and outside of it are just utter crap. Then I asked myself “Where’s the proof?” There wasn’t any. I’m doing the best I that I can at this time of the year but something in my mind was making it easy to forget that. Some mental habit was casting long shadows on the reality in front of me. It’s as if my mind was writing this elaborate story that had no truth to it.

      I found more reliable proof of reality today at the school’s French Cafe this afternoon. My 7th graders would say “Je voudrais” to get their food but described how it tasted in Gaelic with more confidence, accuracy, and feeling. 🙂 I think that’s a sign that I’m on the right track and I need to let go of these mind stories that pop up. Much easier said than done for sure!

      1. So true, Jason. This kind of reflection that is emotionally honest is so refreshing. “Mentally casting long shadows in front of me” is a great way to describe what I and many of us do as the sun falls closer to the southern horizon during this time of the year.

    1. I notice, too, that kids bred on CI are picky little buggers. If you try something that sucks with them half way through the year, or if you give them a grammar worksheet, they will smartly complain. We set the bar high and our kids come to expect a lot from us.

  6. I have been feeling the pressure of having my kids ready to take the “common exam” after Christmas. It is paralyzing. But a few things happened recently.

    First, I prayed for several of my kids who were less cooperative. I saw a big change the next day in several of them. It was as much a change in me as it was in them, but it was a change in them.

    Second, I talked with my colleague, Scott, who has launched back into TCI/TPRS, a lot of it due to me sharing things that I read here. He was saying that when he starts class with set direction for the story it is forced and less effective. He is learning to pull his structures from PQA on what happened this weekend–focusing on the ones that need more reps. That helped free me from the chains of “they have to learn all of that vocab/grammar for the midyear exam.”

    Third, I looked over what the other teacher said she had covered for Spanish 1 and four ideas came to me. One, I think my students can do this–they have picked up more than I thought. Two, I am going to keep doing what we have been doing and not labor under the weight of prepping them for the exam. Three, we have to fill out a reflection paper which includes weighing the validity of the exam. Four, I will do what I can to make sure that their grades are not crippled by an unfair exam.

    This all having happened, I walked into a difficult class today with the thought that students should be able to know family words, and using QA and circling with a family tree that we build. I noticed that one student was writing with this very exquisite pen which appeared to be handcrafted. I told him I liked it and started asking questions about it. Did you buy it? Is it a gift? It was a gift from his friend’s grandfather. Bing! Bing! There it was. A perfect set-up. Then it was a matter of establishing and circling the facts supported by new vocabulary and a growing family tree for visual support and something to pause and point at. Ernesto has a “special pen.” What is the friend’s name? What is the friend’s grandfather’s name (notice the necessary and natural syntactical complexity: the grandfather of the friend of Ernesto is called Papa”). How old is the friend? Does the friend have a father? What is his name? Does he have a mother? What is her name? And how do you spell “Maya?” Did the friend’s grandfather make it? What color is the pen? (We had to negotiate this since it was a swirl of two types of wood. I thought it was white, but one boy thought it was yellow and so I asked the class. They agreed that it was yellow. And thus Daniel was dubbed the “color expert.” The bell rang. I do not know where this is going. I will see tomorrow.

    Carrie Toth told us at Maine TCI that, while silly can be engaging (and I love silly), it is not the only way to engage. Emotions are also engaging. A special handmade gift received from and made by a friend’s grandfather.

    1. Nathaniel it seems almost comical to me that someone of your obvious talents would even have to worry for one second over the common exam thing. I’m so glad you are not stressing about it.

      Our colleagues get to write the tests based on what their kids can memorize, and draw us into that nonsense. But what our kids know is literally immeasurable because it is lodged in their unconscious minds, where tests cannot go.

      So sad are they, resembling ringwraiths, cowering behind their shitty tests, throwing stink bombs at those who try something different. It’s just so frickin’ weird that someone like you would have to even communicate with such people. I can’t seem to get over what so many members of this PLC have to deal with every day and especially around this time of year.

      1. And I echo Ben, that really sucks that you and anyone for that matter are put in this position with your teaching and forced to make feel you aren’t doing good enough for your students.

        And in John’s words, the knife being twisted in the whole deal: “They are acquiring tons of Latin, but they will never use it with my traditional colleagues.”

        It’s bad enough that they try to make a research-aligning teacher feel inept, but then they will follow up these kids’ language careers with heavy junk that doesn’t allow them to celebrate what they’ve acquired. I mean, as if the teacher will be ok if Johnny is doing the restaurant dialogue with Jenny, and Johnny was a CI kid and instead of following the prompt and focusing on the grammar lesson du jour, he ad libs it in language that would sound wonderful to anyone but a grammar nazi. Maybe they would, but I feel it would be more about getting Johnny back into line and “focused” and “disciplined” with the language study. I probably would have done that in the dark days.

  7. John, your comments at the very top of this post were powerful to me. Thanks for sharing. And Ben, another pointed and poetic post that deserves to go into the front pages of your next book.

    Since people are sharing celebrations here today, I’d like to share one as well, from my Spanish 2 class that is .75 along in their year (block class):

    Today, after 3 days of being absent, I came back into the classroom. Things were a bit weird. Nobody was seeming very excited about class. I played the usual start-the-class-song while they listened and tried to answer my question on the board about the song (a popular song by Mana). All still a bit crusty. I had plans to introduce a word and start using it and “teaching” something, but then I realized I needed to re-connect with them before we go any further. I was fine if that’s all we did, because it so dearly just needed to happen. So I sat down in front of the class and gave up on “teaching” anything.

    So I just started going around the room and talking to each kid, looking back at the class, asking each kid how they are and what’s going on with them. It was like a switch turned on. Faces loosened, eyes sparkled. After about 20 minutes of this, which flew by, and the kids getting a good dose of “trip” and “farm” (a group was leaving soon to go visit a local turkey farm), the conversation naturally moved into one kid’s fancy clothes and how he had nicer clothes than me, and so I asked him if he wanted to be the “profe”. He smiled and accepted (brave outgoing kid) and came up and chatted with the class for 5 minutes before he and the others had to leave on their field trip. I loved it. I thought, “it doesn’t get much better than this.” (in terms of seeing what a extrovert kid can do after 1.75 years of Spanish, and being able to just sit and enjoy the back and forth between him and the class, including myself).

    Then, another great interpersonal communicator asked if he could be the profe. We had 50 min left of class at this time. So after a drink break he assumed the role. I sat down with the class (of 9 at this point). I figured, ok, he may last 10 min. But he lasted the entire 50 min!! I’m still wondering what the hell happened, it was amazing. I could have sat there lamenting his inaccurate grammar here and there, but his message was communicated, and he kept engaging the class. The class asked him about some things, and somehow it came out from a misunderstanding that he “has a lot of kids”. So he went with it, and the kids followed, and soon we found out all kinds of stuff out about his little family (so many kids that he can’t count them nor can he see the floor of his house, the stork brought them, his oldest is 6, they’re purple “sminions = smurf + minion”, one special one called Saggitarius was bought by some kids in the class for $-100, so he “gave them” money to take the sminion, the sminion has a dog called Perro, no nose, a little sombrero, etc, a girl got up and illustrated the sminion for him, as he described the sminion, so I’m referencing that drawing right now. He even drew out the receipt for the buyers of his sminion, with signatures required and all, and this kid was not resorting to English!! He even has a island in the North Pole where he and his sminions live. When things got slower, he would ask a kid a question, or they would ask him a question. And to put the cherry on top, he conducted a comprehension quiz, a surprising good one.

    None of this would have happened today if he had been sitting up there trying to figure out the first person singular conjugation of “to give” and worrying if his syntax was flawless or not. His goals was to communicate a message, and he was happy if he got the response from his “students” that they understood what he was saying. Maybe he’ll be one of those future TCI teachers we have been talking about lately!

    [All this being said, I wouldn’t want to give the impression to any new teachers that this could have been achieved (by me anyways) without me speaking with them in a simple and fairly targeted way LOTS beforehand.]

  8. This makes me verklempt (sp?): “I realized I needed to re-connect with them before we go any further. I was fine if that’s all we did, because it so dearly just needed to happen. So I sat down in front of the class and gave up on “teaching” anything.

    So I just started going around the room and talking to each kid, looking back at the class, asking each kid how they are and what’s going on with them. It was like a switch turned on. Faces loosened, eyes sparkled. ”

    So incredibly cool Jim. Wow. It really does not get any better than this! Please give your students many many aplausos from us! 🙂 Actually, to all of you out there who are so inclined, please extend many many aplausos to your students from us!

    It is no less than a miracle to me to hear everyone’s daily victories of connection, no matter how small they may seem.

    1. I can’t wait to talk with them about what that day meant to me and why. I’m guessing we’ll all remember it with smiles Sean. I’ll pass on the aplausos for sure. And thanks for the new world (verklempt).

      1. correction: new *word*

        Yeah, there’s a lot of common terms I haven’t run into yet. My partner always teases me when she says an idiom in English and I haven’t ever heard it and so don’t get it.

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