This is my bio. Learning how to use CI and stories is changing my world. It probably saved me from burnout, or something worse. It certainly is making me a more humane, empathetic teacher and person and it is healing me.
This is my 24th year teaching. I taught elementary school in the late 80’s. I taught HS Spanish for 7 years in the 90’s. From 1997 to 2009 I was the lead teacher in my district’s community day school, teaching “proven risk” kids who were expelled from regular schools for fighting, drugs and weapons.
It was a demanding, turbulent, rough assignment. I loved it. I learned alot about myself, the kids, and schooling. A cataclysmic failure of district politics in ’09 had torn the school apart. Worse, there was a very tense gang rivalry in the school and there was one student who was really the cause of a lot of this tension. My requests to transfer this dangerous student (sans acting principal) to a county program had been falling on deaf ears at the district office. Within a week, it happened. He and his gang friends stabbed a classmate named Adan to death after school. Adan’s family was devastated, of course. Me too. I was paralyzed with anxiety and depression and could not return to teach there. I had to resign. I took up yoga and meditation. I travelled to Mexico for a month and got daily tutoring in Spanish language. 3 other teachers resigned after me.
I returned to work once again as a Spanish teacher in a regular high school. I taught for a year using the book. It was dismal. I was trying hard to teach the grammar and vocabulary in fun, novel ways. But I was going nowhere and I knew it. In despair I went to a FL conference in San Diego where I saw Carol Gaab teaching Hebrew. Her demonstration of TPRS was my first exposure to this method and I was transfixed. The next year I threw myself into stories and CI. I lasted about about a semester, then retreated to the text. That summer I got training with COACH in SoCal. Last year I taught my level 1 students all year long with TPRS. It was a great year. I finally started to get some pqa chops and got students involved with stories. I went to NTPRS this summer and my mind was blown. Especially in Ben’s sessions.
This year I am doing all CI and storytelling. My students are amazing. Last Monday, I looked up at the clock and noted that there was only about one minute of class left. One student remarked on how fast the period had passed. I asked her why that happened. “Because we just talked the whole time about stuff WE like.”
My challenges include what to do with the nagging feeling that I am not teaching all of the “stuff” they need. I don’t have consistent ways of dealing with past and present tenses or with 1st-2nd-3rd person singular/plural. I want to get better at creating extended versions of readings. I also feel guilty because I don’t do very much with culture as Standards seem to indicate I should do.
My strengths include using songs and ASL gestures in order to reinforce alot of high freq vocabulary. I am getting better at teaching to the eyes. I am learning to breathe during PQA and go more slowly yet “funkily”, and let communication take shape. I have grown to where I can really milk a story these days.
Finally, what I am most proud of, is how beautifully my students come together in class around the language. Language learning is like the campfire that warms us all, and provides the medium for us to be human, to laugh, to share, to listen and be heard. We all need these things. I am thankful that you provide a place where we can share and learn to teach from the heart.