Report from the Field #1 – Beth Sims

Beth Sims (Alabama) sent a poignant report that I think represents the thinking of a lot of new people. It’s lengthy but worth the read in my opinion because it comes from a practicing professional of 19 years and from the heart:
Dear Ben,
I have to tell you again HOW MUCH I appreciate your email contact and phone conversation! Since the summer workshop when I became entirely convinced that focusing on comprehensible input was THE way to go, I have been quietly freaking out inside while reading everything I can get my hands on.
Usually that strategy has served me well in the past.  Previously, I have been able to pull from a variety of sources what I think are the BEST parts, to begin building something of my own that I can at least anticipate will work for me.  But, I think in this instance that tactic totally backfired!  
As I was doing that, I was exposed to quite a few CI/TPRS strategies, activities, and systems.  But, I was starting to feel so overwhelmed about how to actually DO this!  That feeling was becoming so strong that I almost reached a stand-still before I even got started!  I felt a rising fear that I would just mess this whole thing up, and thereby lose my new-found hope that I could actually reach my kids the way I yearn to.  
I think that confusion might have come, partly, from one “leader” in the field suggesting I do things one way, and yet another offering a different approach — and all of it was under the same “methodology umbrella”.  To their credit, most of the time, they were quick to point out that their way wasn’t necessarily THE way, but rather how THEY make it work best. 
But, all that did was make me feel more and more unsure of what the “right” way might be for ME.  While I do realize that I can’t really know until I do it, I can’t even start without at least a better-than-fuzzy idea about what I THINK that might look like.  The problem was, once I made one tentative decision, the next thing I read had me doubting, rehashing, and spinning my wheels with even more questions! 
So, after our phone conversation, I glanced through the table of contents of A Natural Approach to the Year simply because you took the time to reach out personally and make that suggestion. Well, it is a LOT simpler.  It also helped that you offered it with insights that made sense when you shared them with me. 
Then, I read something in the “Let us Be Your Guides” section of the book that resonated with me on so many levels: “We want to help you relax into proficiency-based instruction.  We want to work alongside you all year, as your coaches through this handy desk reference.  We know that this represents, for many, a leap of faith.  But we also know that this work, when pared down to its essence, requires clear thinking, a mind uncluttered by ‘what ifs’, and a heart ready to connect with our students day after day.  That is why we ask you to give us a year of your time and why we ask you to give up mixing in new stuff from elsewhere.”
It’s like the questions that had been wrenching my gut for the last two weeks were all addressed in a single sentence of an overall comforting paragraph!  With every turn (or scroll) of the page I feel more confident that I CAN do this and that it can be good!
I was struggling with how, exactly, I was going to count repetitions, how to manage “circling” with the process of figuring out “structures” to focus on, with connecting the best activities to content, with just figuring out any content! I just wasn’t finding a path that was making coherent sense to me, which I then could communicate a semblance of to my students!
When I read your description about how you felt when you just, for lack of a better term, “shot the breeze” with your students in the target language, about how that (also for lack of a better term) fed your soul, and your kids’… THAT is the kind of class where I have experienced the same thing!  That seemingly “off task” class that left me feeling invigorated by my kids’ language use, that filled me with satisfaction and joy, and that ignited some intangible “something” behind the eyes of my students, THAT is the kind of class that made me want to show back up and do it again and again!  
I have read about 50 pages of A Natural Approach to the Year and I find a peace settling on me.  With every turn of the page I’m “feeling” more and more of what you say!  Not that I’m not still a little (or lot!) anxious, but I feel like I have a plan that resonates with ME.  
What I’m reading in your book makes SENSE to me based on my own classroom experiences of 19 years! I just wasn’t finding the same “fit” in the things I’ve been pouring over the last few weeks as I have begun to find in your book.  If I can’t understand WHY I’m doing something or, perhaps more importantly (at least pragmatically), HOW I’ll go about accomplishing it, then it really doesn’t matter what the “experts” say is “correct,” anyway.  If I can’t connect to it, it won’t bring lasting, fundamental change, no matter how correct it happens to be!  It will only be a brief diversion before I return to the more comfortable methods I’m using now, even if I’m NOT getting the results I would like to see. 
If I can make this work, then it’ll be like I’m finally able to truly merge two of the things I love most about teaching – connecting with my students AND leading them to the wonderfully enriching experience of communicating in another language!  Until now, these both have seemed like two separate hemispheres of my teaching.  Yes, they met, but only briefly in my actual classroom instruction — and then it was back to “the serious business” of what I “had to cover”.   
But, teaching language THROUGH that connection?  Well, that’ll kinda’ feel like going back in time to when I set up my dollies and played school in my bedroom — way before I knew anything at all about pacing guides or standards.  All I knew for sure is that it gave me joy and felt important, imbued with purpose — and, oh…I also knew my dollies loved it, too!



5 thoughts on “Report from the Field #1 – Beth Sims”

  1. I had a similar experience from Ben and the work. I devoured his books so I went over them again and again, and still do – even though I’m not teaching right now! And he is always so encouraging and supportive. I think you are going to LOVE your year, Beth.

  2. HELP! I have been teaching for 25 years (using the old method). I retired at the end of the year and felt very sad and upset about this decision. About one week ago I got offered a position in another state. The teachers that are there use TPRS. I have been reading everything that I can find on line. I really want to do this but I know that I have to take a deep breath and relax before I can even think about how I am going to proceed.

  3. I would ask what levels you will be expected to teach. If they want you to take kids already trained in TPRS it won’t work. They need to give you all level 1s and compete support while you slowly transition over the course of the year from doing CI during the last five to ten min. of class and slowly moving to where you are doing it the whole class in spring.
    I don’t do well with TPRS. It’s too confusing and too tied to curricular demands. It might be a real leap to try to fit into a situation like that. My problems w TPRS are listed here:
    So I prefer the new kind of CI found in the Natural Approach books.
    I would say go for it if it weren’t in another city. That really complicates it.

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