Thank you Michael for this bio:
I haven’t yet gotten around to writing my bio, but I could cut and paste the majority of Jen’s bio into my own. Everything she said about not feeling like a “real teacher,” trying to do things “the way we’re supposed to,” having lesson plans and sticking to them, commanding respect and giving a bunch of challenging homework and projects, all this struck a chord when I read it because it’s exactly how I felt too.
While trying to conform to the mold of the “ideal teacher,” I’m absolutely positive that I crushed the hopes of all but the 4%ers of ever learning Spanish. My department chair and mentor teacher was against TPRS and when I asked why, he said that one of the schools in our district did TPRS instead of following the district pacing guides and curriculum, and whenever we’d have one of their students transfer over to our school, they wouldn’t know anything. This was confirmed when I actually had a student from said school transfer into one of my classes and despite having had Spanish for the same amount of time as my students, she did very poorly. She even came to me and talked about how much she loved Spanish class when she was at her former school and now she was failing and very concerned about her grade. I kind of chuckled to myself and thought, “Yup, the dept. chair was right. It might be fun, but kids don’t learn anything using TPRS.” She ended up dropping the class at the end of the semester and I just hardened by heart and felt relieved I didn’t have to fail another student.
I started teaching in August of 2007, but after two years of teaching Spanish, my contract didn’t get renewed. I pretty much burned myself out in the first year. I started teaching with an emergency license and got my teaching license through a 1 year alternative licensure program. I never worked so hard in my life. I was a full time student and full time teacher, and I would get to school at 6am and wouldn’t leave until 6pm or latter sometimes, and then go home and do my online class work. I spent so much time trying to come up with authentic, interesting and innovative ideas on how to teach, but no matter what kind of dog and pony show I tried to put on I just couldn’t please those darn kids. “They just don’t want to learn!” I’d say to myself, but deep down, I knew that there had to be a better way. I really wanted to teach students to really speak Spanish, not just do grammar and conjugate verbs.
That year I didn’t get my contract renewed, was a really tough year for me. Due to district policy the administration wouldn’t tell me why I was getting canned. I really didn’t see this coming. I would have figured that if I was doing that bad, I would have been told something like, “Hey, if you don’t change this or that, you’re going to have to find a new place to teach.” Can you imagine what calamity we’d incur if we teachers failed a student without giving them feedback or a reason why? Apparently administrators aren’t held to the same standard, at least in that district.
I pretty much pleaded with them to tell me why, citing the fact that I needed to know what I was doing wrong so I could make changes and perhaps keep a teaching job in the future. I got told my contract wasn’t being renewed shortly after my 2nd formal evaluation of the year and they told me that in my post formal evaluation meeting, my evaluator could go over some of those things. The AP that was my evaluator pretty much avoided me and didn’t respond to my emails after that. Anyways, I spent the next year effectively unemployed. I was completely crushed as a teacher and was considering other career opportunities.
In October of 2009, I got engaged to the love of my life and with the prospects of marriage and not finding many alternative employment opportunities in the current economy, I decided to give teaching another try. I ended up landing a part-time elementary Spanish teaching position, (hardly enough to support a wife, but it was the only job that was offered to me).
Being the only Spanish teacher in the building gave me an incredible amount of freedom to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about sending students on to another teacher that would complain if my student knew this or that, so I started experimenting with more communicative methods. I was teaching 1st-5th grade, and I saw each class every four days for 40 minutes. I started the year mainly doing TPR activities, teaching songs, and playing games. I never once gave a work sheet. The response I got from my students, fellow teachers, parents and administrators was tremendous. I was so surprised because I felt like I was slacking off- no grading worksheets or tests? Come on! What kind of teacher does that?
Despite the limited time that I saw them, they were learning, engaged, enjoying Spanish and having fun. But, I knew the techniques and activities I was using were not enough. I wanted my students to be able to communicate, and not just know how to follow commands and know vocabulary. I decided to experiment with TPRS. Towards the end of that first semester, I started using TPRS and comprehensive input. I bought the “cuéntame” TPRS curriculum, but found that the stories just didn’t work for me and then I started to make up my own. I stumbled across Ben’s website and watched one of his videos on Youtube and was absolutely impressed hearing his students responding so effortlessly and willingly to the French he’d rattle off. When I saw that video, I knew that’s exactly how I wanted to teach, so I started reading all his free materials, and bought some of his books.
Despite that year being an overwhelming success (Both my formal evaluations were perfect), state budget cuts forced my administrators to cut the Spanish program. (No hard feelings. I probably would have done the same in their position.) But that same day my administrator broke me the news, she also told me that she recommended me to the middle school and that if I wanted it, I’d have a full time job as the new middle school Spanish teacher.
So now I’m a middle school teacher, and I’m having nearly the same overwhelming success as at the middle school. I’ve been using Ben’s methods and techniques almost exclusively it’s working brilliantly. It’s so weird and surprising to me to have students I don’t know come up to me in the hallways and say, “I can’t wait till next quarter when I get to have Spanish class!” or students that I have had or have currently approach me and want to try talking to me in Spanish. That never happened to me when I was a Spanish grammar teacher at the high school.
So now I’m a happy teacher and my students are happy too. I’m really thankful to Ben and all those who went before him to pioneer TPRS and Comprehensive Input.
Falcon Middle School, Falcon, CO
Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could