Peace Is My Goal

This article follows up the discussion found here:

https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/03/21/read-the-novels-to-them-with-love/

So who gets Krashen more, Jody or Krashen? I vote for Jody. She knows everything he wrote, but has the added advantage of having lived it in the trenches for decades. That’s authority.

When Jody says to Ben that movie reading has been tested and found wanting, Ben mounts an unrelated defense about how hard school it is to survive in the teaching profession, especially now at the end of March. Was that lame?

Being Ben, I think that Ben actually has a very good point, even if it is unrelated to Jody’s. Really, the recent discussion about movie reading boils down to one issue and it’s a big one for us. Are we to try to do what is best for our students in terms of language gains, or in terms of our own mental health and theirs?

Krashen only knows what best results in language gains, he doesn’t know what goes on in American secondary schools. Not really. He is a data guy. Up to 80% of the kids in most American classrooms could give a rat’s ass about language gains. That must effect what we do with them.

I’m voting for the mental health side of this. I now have about ten strong statements from blog members – very strong teachers – made in the form of comments since that post (link above) in support of the calming effect of movie reading on kids. That’s enough for me. In schools, we must do what is best to maintain focus and order, not necessarily what results in the greatest gains for our kids academically. It’s just that way.

It’s about longevity and survival in the classroom. That is called making a career out of it as opposed to teaching fangly for a few years and then becoming one of the 50% who quit in the first three years (statistic applies to urban schools only).

TPRS/CI has given us a tremendous leg up on the profession. Everyone we present to (Annick and I presented to our school’s math department yesterday on Krashen and CI) glares at us, outwardly or inwardly (half of the math teachers who attended our session glared outwardly), yet we are right.

So, we have the method. Now, we need to have and implement an emotional raft so that we can cross the waters of the Ocean of Insanity (teaching) by bobbing up and down on top of the waves, which can reach 40 feet in a strong spring storm, and reach our destination (the City of Peace) at the end of a wonderful career with many life lessons learned on the level only a teacher can learn them about compassion, forebearance, and right adjustment to others (loving those whom we cannot love).

Krashen only gets it in his head. We have to get it in our hearts if we are to survive. So, when I say to read to them in movie reading with love, I mean it. I personally don’t give a rat’s ass about their gains, just like they don’t give a rat’s ass about gains, if it means that I am going to burn out in the pursuit of same.

If we do just that, read to them with love as per that post from a week ago, we can express a kind of mastery in teaching that few achieve, and we can have long and rewarding careers. What a big learning I got from you, Jody. Thank you for precipitating such strong discussion in our group. We all benefit greatly from each other and that makes me feel that we are accomplishing exactly what I set out to in making the blog private.

It’s not about the gains. It’s about sailing over calm waters on a crystal sea over many decades, as we float surely and safely amidst the most violent storms. We have the method, now we have to align our hearts with what teaching is really about, which is definitely not about learning the most stuff. 

When master teacher Paul Kirschling does projects to finish the year, and when other master storytellers like Anne Matava stop stories in March to do other things, and when I spend a lot of time working on writing for a few weeks every spring even though I know that it doen’t help them a bit at level 1 (way too early for output), I do it because they like it and enjoy it. Same with dictée. Teaching is about right adjustment to others, is it not?

Now all I have to do is feel that truth in my heart, and stick yet another dagger into the superachieving competition driven workaholic teacher that I used to be, much to the detriment of myself and my students. Peace is my goal.

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31 thoughts on “Peace Is My Goal”

  1. I wanted to push the ‘Like’ button. Sanity is wonderful. If we do things in our classroom that make us want to be there, then students will want to be there (hopefully). Or, at least they have a chance of you staying for a few more years.

    Thank you for this post, Ben. Honesty is so lacking in our profession. If we can function as a group which increases the longevity of teaching careers AND student success in learning a language, we ‘win.’

    Peace to all.

  2. I have a new hypothesis. It’s called the “Forced Input Hypothesis”.

    This entire year I have wrestled with my fifth-period class and met resistance the whole way. I’ve written more referrals just since the start of second semester than I had written in 17 years of teaching at the public school. This is a class that I view as an anomaly (or at least I hope it’s an anomaly and not the face of the future), but if I were a second- or third-year teacher, this class alone would probably cause me to quit. We have as far as I can tell accomplished very little toward language acquisition this year. As an example of class behavior, today a student had a can of grape soda. I didn’t see it, and he knocked it over, causing a large spill on the carpet. (I have a policy of water only in the classroom.) It took a full half hour for the class to even begin to focus again; I had to deal with rude remarks, general talking and other disruption. The student who had spilled the grape soda proudly announced that he had actually done everyone a favor because, “they don’t want to do this stuff anyway”. A few students replied that there actually are some in the class who want to learn German. Unfortunately, for a significant portion of the class, his statement was true.

    After school I spoke with an Assistant Principal, and she knew every problem student in the class from personal experience. Somehow a large group of students came together and was placed into my class even though they are not interested in the slightest in learning German. It is generally known that I do not give homework, so they view this as a “free pass”. During first semester I tried to give them a sense of accomplishment, which I now realize merely has fed their entitlement mentality, and I am seeing the result during “March Madness” of what is essentially a gang mentality. The AP assured me that this particular group causes trouble in every class and outside of class, but I am the only one who got them all. We discussed what can be done; the year is probably a loss at this point, but we are working on how to break up the gang next year. A couple of students will simply be removed from German. I will speak with the head counsellor about having a 1-2 combination for the lower-achieving students who continue and a 2-3 combo for the higher-achieving students. By breaking up the group, I can deal with the one or two per class (I think); getting a larger group in the same room becomes nearly impossible.

    So what does this have to do with my hypothesis? Blaine has often said that TPRS really only works with willing students. I’m seeing that. My hypothesis states that “Forced Input, i.e. input that the student doesn’t want, is essentially Incomprehensible Input no matter how transparent the teacher makes it. As such, it is not effective in helping students acquire the language.”

    Ben, your comments about the difference between the world of the theorist and the world of the public school classroom are right on.

    BTW, this is one of the few places I feel comfortable sharing all of this. Another place, interestingly enough, is the church choir I sing in. (We call rehearsals “therapy sessions”.)

  3. “Blaine has often said that TPRS really only works with willing students.”
    My jaw literally dropped when I read this. So we really are on our own here. But on the other hand, this seems to give us permission (or at least the confidence) to take everything that any scholar, professor, linguist, or other expert says about language, and subject it to the testing fires of our classrooms. We spend our days in the ultimate language acquisition laboratories, which contain to extreme degrees all of the truly human attributes that university linguistics departments are so insulated from.

    1. I think I would change Blaine’s statement to “non-resistant students” because there really is an unconscious dimension to acquisition. I came to understand Swiss German by hearing it without intending to acquire it. Unfortunately, this class as a whole is resistant to everything except their own pleasure.

  4. Ah, I was so hopeful–against my instincts–that movie reading worked because my students liked it and, yes, it did calm the whole class down. And this time of year, calm is a very good thing.

    So– I’ve made peace with the goal of peace. Maybe we all need a break occasionally from the hard work of negotiating meaning and making our input comprehensible. Maybe it seems like we are copping out, that we “fight and run away” but what is the rest of that saying? We run away so that we may “live to fight another day….”

  5. It made me sad to read this story, Robert. You, of all people, un vrai chevalier and a true scholar , are a real example of what any young teacher would ever want to become over the years.

    Your honesty is so refreshing, and speaking in this way again points to the absolute need to keep people out of this group who can’t stand the heat that comes from honest open disclosure of what we really experience in this at times ridiculous profession.

    At one point, luckily over twenty years ago, before I had this method, I was trying to control a class that had just one dark soul in it, not an entire group, just one kid who was kind of a devil person, and, at one critical point of behavior conflict with this kid, I felt my left shoulder, by some invisible force, shoved physically downward. It was as if a hand had shoved me down toward the floor.

    I don’t know much about the invisible world, but clearly, there was something really strange going on in that moment in that classroom in Myrtle Beach High School in South Carolina that afternoon so many years ago.

    People really need to back off when they attack teachers. They don’t know what we know and they don’t know what we experience on a daily basis. Robert, my brother, we at least have each other to ride alongside, through this hardest of professions.

    If one begins to slump off their horse, the other can grab their shoulder and hoist them back up full into the saddle. This is not melodramatic talk, nor is it hyperbole, nor is it indulgent. It takes real courage to do the work we are doing, to believe in something new and to try to make it happen when most administrators and most little shit students like the one with the grape soda don’t even know what the hell is even going on.

    I never want to see a can of grape soda again.

  6. Robert, you describe my English class (a group I have for two periods in a row daily), at least in terms of mindset. Every time I mention one of the kids, any teacher nearby will sputter because the kid can derail any class. Luckily I have a few advantages, the first one being that they are all identified as lagging, reluctant readers, and therefore there are only 16 of them in the room.

    I don’t know whether this could help you, but maybe it could provide a kernel of an idea for occasional relief. The other day, I divided them up by mistake into the ones who are more interested in talking and sharing ideas and the rest, who still refuse to take ideas in and chew on them (can you guess which kids’ reading levels have come up 2-8 years on our quarterly tests in this year alone?). There was an observer in the back of the room, which allowed me to believe what happened. I had a 20-minute discussion with the second group, while the others were working independently. For 20 minutes, I gave them up to a minute of wait time to make them answer questions. It felt like I was pulling teeth, and mostly all I got was blood and bits of gum. Then the first group came, and they actually discussed the questions I was asking and showed some interest, even while they tried to lead me off on wild goose chases. Twenty minutes went by in a flash. The observer (who has just finished her student teaching) was as amazed as I was that there could be such a difference. I decided right then and there that I am going to try that set-up several times in the next few weeks, and then I’m going to try switching it, to see whether maybe the interested ones can model being better students. At least I can then feel like I’m a halfway effective teacher, rather than wondering what the heck I’m doing wrong with the group. It has been incredibly disheartening to deal with that class on many days, and now I know why.

    The other thing that I am thinking about in your situation is to go through the 15-activity plan that someone offered on the yahoo group a while ago. I saved it on my page and can send you the link. It’s what I do when a class’ behavior is getting to me and I need to rein them in some with super structure.

    And the last piece of hope I can offer is that, knowing what a super teacher you are, and knowing what has happened with students who are in a TPRS classroom even against their will and interest, there is a really good chance that a lot of language is getting through to these kids and that when they mature, they will be able to make use of it. I can’t say that’s happened to me with Russian language students, but I can say that my hardest-case English students routinely volunteer to visit my class if they make it to senior year. They come in and tell the kids how much this class can help them if they will only take advantage of it. Honestly, the class almost never pays attention to them, but it always gives me a boost to know that even when I thought I was failing completely, they were understanding on some level that there was good happening. It’s a good thing that you have the administrative knowledge of the group, but you also need to know that you are 99% likely to be getting through to the kids, even though it may not show for a couple of years.

  7. Michele, can that 15 activity plan be found on your website? I think I might need something like that as well, even though my classes are not nearly as disheartening as the ones you and Robert describe. However, I have one class with a few wise guys in it who constantly try to derail the whole group and it is getting harder and harder as the year progresses to keep them interested (maybe I’m running out of steam a bit, too).

        1. the ????? as supposed to be “thank you” in Russian – I guess the special characters don’ t come through here.

          1. No, I got the link. I just wanted to thank you in your language and when I hit the “‘submit”, only question marks appeared instead of the Russian characters. Sorry I made you do more work. All I wanted to say was “THANK YOU” for giving us the link.

          2. That is way too funny. You’ll be glad to know that I have the same trouble…did a whole thing on Cyrillic alphabet for someone with a circling lesson, and after about a week, the person wrote back that they couldn’t figure out the difference between the question marks…

    1. If the phone call question is for me and my English class, yes, they fail. The parents don’t speak English (in which case I use my Spanish but don’t have Tagalog or Samoan or Y’upik and have had a hard time with conversations in which I am trying to get action…mostly it’s a failure of interest, and parents aren’t interested in hearing that) or their phones are turned off or wrong numbers, or they’ve lost their jobs…

      1. . . . or the parents spend the next 30 minutes bemoaning the fact they they have no idea what to do with their child, and couldn’t the teacher (who has initiated the call) give them ideas,

        or their child couldn’t possibly be doing anything wrong unless the teacher is provoking the child, so it must be the teacher’s fault.
        (The AP has hit the same issue with one of the girls – the mother is an enabler to the max.)

  8. forget the phone calls – it’s always my fault. I’m not wasting my time on these anymore – it just gets me more aggravated than the kids’ (mis)behavior.

  9. So have we arrived at a point where kids and parents can bully us? The topic that nobody wants to address – parent bullying, student bullying? I do agree, Brigitte, in that we can’t allow ourselves to lose our balance over these bozo parents and lame ass kids. The job is just too hard. The teaching is so hard, the parent contacting is too hard – my situation is like Michele’s re: the poverty being a factor, it’s a mess. We must have administrative support. Leaving the situation alone is not an answer, unfortunately. What a big topic. Yesterday I found out about a teacher with a medical condition being mocked for it. You guys want to keep talking about this stuff or let it go? Personally, I think talking about PQA when this kind of shit is going on is pretty stupid.

    1. I’m okay to be done with the topic…it’s very reassuring to know others are out there with the same issues, especially when it’s the gurus…but then we have to get back to the stuff that only we can do. And that is…teach as well as we can, with the ongoing support of the CI/TPRS community, tweaking the ideas to fit our existing classes and knowing that even the best theories can fall flat with the wrong audience.

      1. Hmmm… I guess you’re right, Michele. Maybe I jumped the gun on recommending staying on this topic. It’s true that there isn’t much that can be done by us. The only thing we can do is do better at this CI stuff. Talking about this stuff only pisses us off but doesn’t accomplish anything. Although it is very nice to be able to vent in this private group and get tips from one another.

    2. I think this is pretty important to talk about. I hate having to call parents, it’s my least favorite thing to do. I haven’t run into any problems while calling parents but I’ve heard so many horror stories about enabling parents that my heart rate goes up every time I reach for the phone. It would be so much easier and less stressful to write up an office referral but at our school we’re expected to make parent contact before getting the office involved, it’s our “progressive discipline plan”. Unfortunately, when we do get to the point where we have to write an office referral, it’s always a slap on the wrist. There have been so many times I’ve written a kid up and all they get is a lunch detention. A frickin’ lunch detention! I could have done that!! And then when our AP does hand out a deserving punishment, all it takes is a parent phone call to the superintendent and the decision gets reversed. It is well-known by all the teachers here that the parents basically run our school district. No backbones whatsoever because they want to pass levies, they don’t want to upset anybody.

      In my opinion, mocking a teacher for a medical condition should be an automatic suspension; in my school it would be a good talking to and a phone call to a parent.

      1. I teach in an upper-middle class suburban district, by the way. Not too much poverty going on. Seems like those of you in the urban districts have no parent support because the parents are either: not involved, not around, working 2-3 jobs, or too busy doing drugs to care. Those of us in suburban districts, while we do get some good parent support, we get a lot of the helicopter parents and the major enabling parents who think that their precious little prince or princess would never do THAT!

  10. I see us, in general, not always, acting as victims when we shouldn’t. If a kid drops a grape soda and then goes off on the teacher and the teacher hears it, to me that is a five alarm fire. Everything else stops. That is my new priority -to stop that kid from behaving like that again. Who else will stop them? I am in a kind of disbelief that we would roll over on things like this.

    1. Just so you know, Ben, I did stop and address the behavior, but I knew that it all had to take place inside the classroom. Also, when other students reacted in support of learning German the kid backed down.

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