I've Had It

I get so tired from teaching that I have to sleep. But, somewhere after midnight, I wake up, because there is so much to process, so much to think about in this massive learning change that we are all in together now. Thoughts come into my mind and they won’t leave me alone and I have to process them.
Verb conjugations. There is so much to process about all that fake teaching that I used to do many years ago in my classroom. So much to let go of. But I can see clearly now and the rain is gone. I wake up at night and and I see the sun and I think about how stupendous this change towards comprehensible input really is.
Those who reject comprehensible input as the principle agent of change in their foreign language classroom – I just can’t think of anything kind to say about that kind of ignorance. All I can see is how thick it is. I wouldn’t attack it so vociferously except for the fact that it hurts kids, millions of kids. So I attack.
When Jennifer wrote that post of yesterday about signing kids to the next level – what she is experiencing there blows my mind. How brave she is. It is such a massive emotional event for a young teacher who was trained in the old ways. And, seeing Jennie teach in my classroom yesterday, how wonderful that was. How brave those two Jennifers are. How brave we all are with this stuff.
The parameters, the boundaries set by the old ways of teaching, those walls that have surrounded our classrooms for so many decades now, those walls built by book companies, those walls made of books and worksheets, are quickly becoming old and thick and resistant and dark and moldy. They close too much in on my spirit, and they push in on me and I push back.
Those walls made up of millions of worksheets and books, stuck together with the tears of millions of kids who think wrongly that they are not good at languages, are about to be set ablaze. Telling kids that they can’t get to the next level, it is so sad. Jennifer knows this and many others.
How to destroy the walls? Krashen made and lit the match, and the fire is started, but we must also head butt the walls. Like Zizou did. Just turn around in the middle of our classrooms and head butt them. How long do we accept ignorant teaching that hurts kids before we just start with the head butting? How long do we wait for the blaze to actually start? How long do we keep our cool?
Dakota Ridge High School’s acceptance of a 90% drop out rate after two years of foreign language study to me is astounding, but it supports their basic premise that most language learners are stupid. They don’t know what we know.
We and we alone determine how we react to our teaching at the end of each academic year. It is soon time to do that again. Some of us choose to try new things, others not. Another summer is approaching. A summer when we can act like there is no need to change. Or a summer when we can embrace the change that we know is necessary.
If we don’t try new things, we will soon be dinosaurs in a mud pit, and nobody will want to employ us. Principals are waking up, as so many of us are this spring. We cannot stay asleep.
We must wake up! We must learn to teach for comprehension, not memorization. We must learn to reach our kids. This may cause us to wake up at night, often, for long periods of time, and we may be tired for some years as we retool, because aligning old ideas of instruction with Krashen is not easy, but what are our options? Unemployment.
We can go get trained this summer, before we endure another year of solitude with our kids. The best comprehensible input training I am aware of is the one in Los Angeles this summer, the one that Diana Noonan is organizing. That is just my opinion, but, with Krashen and Jason Fritze there, it will probably be the best one. There is also Chicago.
Just go get trained. Be willing to hurt. Be willing to be afraid. Be willing to change. Be willing to wake up at night with ideas that won’t leave you alone. Do it for the kids. Give up your verb conjugations, for God’s sake. Wake up.
I’m going back to sleep, though, because in less than three hours I will be in front of 22 kids who have studied French for four years but don’t know anything. They are so smart but they don’t know anything.
I will bring them donuts, and try to speak in French to them 90% of the time for 90 minutes. And I will succeed and some will come with me. Some won’t, because the damage to their confidence has been astounding.
That is what keeps me waking up at night. And I will continue to wake up at night and keep writing stuff like this in the middle of the night until I see some of the ignorance around me dissipate. In the meantime, I will, along with Jennifer and all of us who refuse to tell a kid that they are stupid, keep headbutting until that fire catches. I’ve had it.

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7 thoughts on “I've Had It”

  1. Thanks for keeping the fight alive, Ben. The old school grammar-translation crowd gets me down sometimes too when I see the results of the insanity of my former approach.
    Two weeks ago I had a student transfer in with a grade of 96% from another district. She thought she was good, but I can’t tell that this kid understands anything and have watched as it dawns on her that she knows no Spanish as we chat about Guatemala–not good for her self-esteem and not good for our profession.

  2. I keep thinking this thought over and over again:
    I defend the right of teachers to teach as they wish – it is their professional prerogative, BUT not at the expense of children and their self-esteem.

  3. This is how I got to know Ben, by reading the middle of the night time-stamp on one of his posts to moreTPRS a couple of years ago, and then teasing him by asking if he had to get up and milk the cows. (I grew up in dairy country, and I also distinctly remember the scene in the movie “Witness” where the Amish patriarch wakes up the big city detective hiding out on his farm with a rousing “Wake up John Book. Time for milking.”)
    I’m trying to think of some poetic metaphoric connection between milking the cows that are always there and dealing with kids. Absolutely impossible and too gruesome to imagine. So we’ll just let that line of imagery die right there.

  4. I was joking that my students come to me second, or third or fourth, year without knowing nearly as much French or Spanish as they should. Their teacher from previous years didn’t give them enough input, spent too much time in English, explained too much about the language. But their previous teacher was me. So my fight is against myself and against teaching the “defensive” way, which protects me with the justification of tradition. Teaching like Ben does leaves me so wide open and vulnerable.
    I can feel the reasons for the resistance from traditional teachers because I chicken out and teach that way sometimes. My fight against myself is really my fight against my own ego. Once that is out of the way, there is only the flow of the moment. The thorny defensiveness is gone and I can truly see my students, truly connect with them.
    Maybe this continues in a separate topic: when I raise my own defenses and feel the need to present myself as She Who Knows, my students do the same. Then we’re all encumbered and we can’t join in the dance together.

  5. That is at least a sujet de thèse if not a book. How trying to show off doesn’t work. If I’m really smart they will like me. Bullshit. It’s about allowing them to be in the room. Allowing all of them to participate in the flow of the comprehensible input. Talking about them because they are important.
    I remember K as an eighth grader. She is actually in one of my DVDs, the back of her head anyway. But the way she focuses and is involved and moves her arms and the flow of the language in her can be seen. That is what we want. Not the knowledge being blocked by their boredom.
    I used to think I was just lacking energy, but now I know that in those days I was just blocked. I would throw out something erudite in English and expect oohs and aahs. Instead, few really cared or understood what I said. There was an invisible filter in front of them, and so the energy I was creating before was sent back to me, reflected back into me, so the energy never really got to flowing. I hated my job then.
    No flow equals no learning. Now, this way, the French goes into their minds, sometimes into their hearts and bodies, and it flows and when I get it back it is so different, because it is actually experienced by them, they want to know what I say, and we dance and laugh and it isn’t all dead and silent anymore.

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