Report from the Field – 1 – Jen Schongalla

Hey Ben –
I wanted to balance out some of the other things I have been posting about. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. Thank you for the post about the energy in the building and the “gun culture.” I am asking myself pretty much the exact question you used “Am I thriving?” The answer is no. So far it seems I have to choose either self care OR getting work done. I feel good at school when I take care of myself. And I get more and more behind. I am taking this weekend to sort it all this out.
I am self-conscious about the amount of negativity I have been absorbing, whirling in and projecting. I have become “that person” you want to avoid…”Debbie Downer,” due to the innumerable things I’ve allowed myself to focus on instead of the flow that is constant.
Last week I came to the realization, or more accurately, admitted to myself what my body has been signaling all along: “Get out! Get out! Get out! Save yourself! You are depleted!” So I began crafting a very short letter of resignation: “For health reasons I have decided to step down….” I may submit it this coming week.
AND YET…something shifted this week. I don’t want to over analyze. It still may be in my best interest to let go of this gig. AND YET…there is something making me question bailing out at this particular moment.
Here are some bright moments that I have been taking for granted and /or not fully appreciating. Some of them are actually pretty huge when I allow myself to “go there.” They won’t go in a portfolio of any kind. They won’t get written up by my admin because they are not part of a “highly structured and detailed lesson plan.” They don’t even reflect any language acquisition gains.
* I had fun yesterday. Real live honest to goodness fun in the way I remember being joyful in the classroom. Maybe I had fun because I am about to leave. I don’t know exactly. A student in my level 2 commented “maestra, es muy cómica hoy!” to which I replied without missing a beat “yo sé!” Ahhh. The old me is still in there!
*I had fun because we did NO WORKSHEETS!
*I had fun because I riffed off whatever was happening.
*I had fun because for once I did not worry that I was not really “doing CI” since at the moment it is impossible to get a “din” going. Don’t ask about the completely wacky study hall system in this school (study hall kids “in the back of the room” while we teach. ugh.)
*I had fun because for a few minutes (miracle!) I finally reeled in two of the most challenging students *twice* this week!
* I had fun because I made (heh…invited…) my grumpy advisory kids to cut out stars and draw Christmas Darth Vader to decorate our door. And they actually did it.

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9 thoughts on “Report from the Field – 1 – Jen Schongalla”

  1. It’s always great to hear how things are going for you, Jen, whether it’s to vent frustrations or to celebrate. Glad to hear you had some fun this week!
    And I agree, that’s a bizarre way to handle study hall.

  2. It kind of amazes me that acquisition happens even with lots of English blurting going on, but it does. My classes have lots of English blurting and lots of Spanish acquisition. While I figure out how to maximize the latter and minimize the former, I’m going to try to enjoy the process as you suggest, Jen. And I applaud your willingness to jump ship if necessary.

  3. “I had fun yesterday. Real live honest to goodness fun in the way I remember being joyful in the classroom. Maybe I had fun because I am about to leave. I don’t know exactly.”
    This really warms my heart and makes me think.
    How many of our CI challenges come from a rightful fear of administrative judgement?
    You, Jen, became totally free to be the glowing ball of free-flowing joy and love that you are, when you decided that you were leaving. This means that the actual stress and fear isn’t really coming from the kids and their behavior. I would guess that this is coming from a fear of how someone else is going to judge you based on the behavior of these students.
    A pig-head administrator will cover his/her own classroom composition errors by blaming you for your lack of management skills. An angry grammar bully will blame you for your students not living up to their expectations. When we take those voices out of the equation, WE ALL BECOME A MILLION TIMES BETTER AND HAPPIER.
    The Jen that what was having fun with her kids, that is the real Jen. The “Debbie Downer” was created by the crappy situation around you. Whatever you decide to do will be the right decision. You are a total rockstar!

    1. Preach, John!
      Jen, I’m humbled by your willingness to open your heart to us. Thank you! It all really makes me think… in a good way.

    2. John your assessment of the real jen vs. Debbie Downer is so good. I appreciate every word. It supports the striking and hidden idea in education that, as you said:
      …many of our CI challenges [might] come from a rightful fear of administrative judgement….
      This statement, in my own view, is a fact. When I look back over the years, I know it is true.
      How can we be judged by people who don’t know? Who set that up? The fact is that in CI the process is unconscious and cannot be measured. Imagine a normal size house with a basement the size of three hundred football fields. The admins make us go down there and take inventory. Then report back on what is down there and if we don’t [give the tests, etc.] we are considered bad teachers. OK a little side rant there. But thanks for saying that to jen, John. You have the authority to say that. Many of us have. Those who haven’t been where jen is couldn’t even imagine it. Your words comfort all of us. We need that now. We need that now.

  4. I think we all tend to focus on the negative (especially when there is a lot of it coming our way), but even when things are going ok, or better than we think.
    Today I too had a moment of freedom with one of my classes, and I think the reason was this: I had a written assignment that students had to produce at the end of class. They knew that they were accountable for all the fun stuff we were doing in the TL, and it wasn’t just time to space out. Just having that carrot/stick at the end of class allows you to bracket your fun time with administrative legitimacy. Having some small assessment or piece of tangible evidence at the end of class every day will open up the rest of your class while giving you, them, and admin assurance that they are actually “learning something.”

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