Visitors Today

Of course we have talked about how freaky it is to be observed, but I have come to an awareness after today that the level of kindness in the heart of the person observing us is a huge factor in how we present our version of this kind of teaching to visitors. Today Kristy Placido and Carol Gaab – in town for ACTFL – along with Laura Friesen and Diana Noona of Denver Public Schools, observed two of my afternoon classes just after observing Annick Chen teach Mandarin across the hallway here at Abraham Lincoln High School. I felt so relaxed because of the wonderful kindness these four teachers brought into my classroom. Carol, who is a coach for the San Francisco Giants (language coach, not third base coach, although we all know that Carol is a heavy hitter in her field) had her World Series Championship ring from last year when the Giants beat the Texas Rangers. It is studded with diamonds all over the place and the kids loved looking at it. Many professional baseball players never get to see such a ring themselves in their entire career, let alone wear one, so that was very cool. Then, I did one class of a story, King of Pain by Anne Matava, and the kids rose to the challenge, and there was that overall feeling of fun and kindness that I didn’t have to manufacture all by myself, so that I just flew, as per the definition we now have of what it means to fly in our classrooms, and then in the other class I did a reading class that went really well too. In discussing the classes afterwards, we got into a discussion about embedded readings and scaffolding and those terms are still not completely clear in my mind. But, anyway, it was great to realize that a lot of the fear we carry about the method, about being observed , is largely imagined and very much dependent on who is doing the observing. If you told me that I had to teach French in front of Kristy Placido and Carol Gaab even a year ago, it would have buckled my knees.But that kindness was there, and the wonderful invisible world agreement among us today that this is all a new process for all of us – even those of us with years of experience – it is still new every day – so why not just relax and share our teaching with each other and laugh a bit or a lot and be vulnerable and take risks and just try our best, which is all we can do, right? And (an appeal for videos here) this theme of trust and kindness is the theme I am hoping to establish on this site with the videos although I know how hard that must be especially for new people, but do your best and send what you can in. It won’t be so bad if we love each other. Thank you, Carol and Kristy and of course Diana and Laura, who are now like family because Diana has set up so much peer observation in our district in connection with the new Colorado LEAP Document that when other teachers from the Denver Public Schools come in to my classroom it is like meeting people in a bar for a beer like in the old sitcom Cheers. That is the way we can learn and grow most deeply into the method, when we feel like family with each other. Cultivating that feeling in a school’s WL department will do more for our growth professionally than all the data gathering ever done. How wonderful to be able to say that when we do this work together there is no “that person sucks” or “she is just not teaching it right” or “needs improvement” column. There is none of that. Everybody is accepted exactly where they are, which is a fine place indeed to be accepted at, when one is working with something as mentally tricky and emotionally challenging as retooling and rethinking everything one has ever known about teaching languages. It is the kindness and the commonality of purpose, the shared vision and the camaraderie that made my day so much fun. I am very happy. They didn’t come to judge me. We could therefore just play. And we did. Praise God for his kindness in all things!



3 thoughts on “Visitors Today”

  1. This was a beautiful post. Your experience today really uplifts me. What happened today strikes me as the perfect parallel universe to the kind of atmosphere you work so hard to create in your classes.
    Just as “kindness, commonality of purpose, shared vision, and camaraderie” made you feel like “flying’, fearlessly doing your best in front of the observers, so it is with our students.
    When kindness and trust (embodied in the teacher) are running the show, the kids can “laugh a bit or a lot and be vulnerable and take risks and just try their best”. “Everybody is accepted exactly where they are, which is a fine place indeed to be accepted at.”
    The last one is the kicker to me: “They didn’t come to judge me.” I really believe this one is the death knell for our kids. We hate it when it when we are judged; so do they.
    I am so glad that happened for ALL of you today–including the observers. What a perfect circle! The kids really feel it, too, don’t you think?

  2. Thanks Ben for sharing that experience. It really is very much about the kindness energy buzzing in the air…and about our own fears.
    I had a kindness moment today. My colleague (fellow Spanish teacher) who is the most open to TCI stuff than all of them (her brother uses TPRS successfully in Chicago, she has tried it, but without the type of constant support we have here on the blog…she was alone with it, fell flat, and gave up on it), mentioned to me that she needs to hang around me more often (casual conversation on the way from the parking lot into the school this morning). I said, “Oh? Why’s that?” She tells me that some of her former students are coming back to her (she teaches level 1, I typically do level 2) and saying how they are having fun this year in Spanish and that they are understanding and speaking more. (Yes!) I played it down a bit (“Ah, its probably that easy grade they get”), but the truth is that I KNOW it really is happening. Not for all of them, to be sure (fly, pigs, fly!), but for those playing, there’s the hint of a breeze that’s beginning to give them lift.
    On another positive note, one AP (not my direct supervisor) told me today in casual conversation that my supervising AP had recently made some positive comments to him about my scales that I am using in my class (that interpersonal communication stuff…) (Yes!)
    Okay, so third period is like one big pig sty right now, but I’ll take working that situation over the old textbook days anytime. I haven’t opened that book even once this year! (Yes!)

    1. And you probably won’t ever open it, that’s my guess Brian. I told my admin they should sell the almost brand new class set of Expresate textbooks that were sitting there when I took the job. They said they’d rather not, since they didn’t know who might come after me if I were to leave after a couple years. Understood, but what a waste. I should add up the cost of those books alone, then request that much in reading material for the classroom!

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