We Teach Anyway

In response to Angie’s question about my comment yesterday that CI can’t work in classes, I had written:

The fact is CI can’t work in classrooms as per Robert’s explanation but we are going to make it work anyway. It’s like the WWI fighters in the trenches knowing that they had a small chance of making it out of them alive, and fought anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

Here is a link that Sabrina sent this morning that connects to this idea that it really isn’t about the subject matter, it’s about the individual:

http://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion.html?qshb=1&utm_expid=166907-24&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ted.com%2Ftalks

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7 thoughts on “We Teach Anyway”

  1. Sometimes I think about how impossible it is to teach a language in a classroom and then I look on Schoolspring and the list is long of schools looking for Spanish teachers. Every school around here has Spanish teachers. Schools want Spanish teachers. It’s like this massive phenomenon that the school system believes this is worthwhile. Colleges require it, high schools require it. Thousands and thousands of students file into classrooms all over the country every day and on some level try to do this impossible thing. Is this an atrocity we’ve become accustomed to or is there something worthwhile happening out there? Both, I suppose. Ben, you sent me an email recently that said something about how at this point in your career you say to yourself, “I’m going to go over to Lincoln for a while and hang out.” That teaching has become fun. I felt such a rush inside, like that’s what I want to get to…where school is a place where we go to be together, to learn together, to enjoy being together. Because it’s fun. I felt that as a sub, when I wasn’t dying from the pressure and could calmly look around. There are actually a lot of people having fun in schools and enjoying one another. I want to be part of that, make that grow.

  2. Yes Angie and to find that release from school fear it takes courage to confront the mindset that it isn’t fun. This is a war between “is fun” and “isn’t fun”. We’re outnumbered badly. It took me 24 years the traditional way. My message over those years was simple: this is serious business and we are going to get for our school a 65% pass rate on the AP French Exam plus the top ten scores in SC on the National French Exam. I took it all so seriously. Then I served a ten year sentence of taking TPRS seriously, even writing a book about how it should be fun, but not owning it in my teaching. You see? The mind won for those 34 years. Now, since I am half time, around ten in the morning each day I think about going for a six hour bike ride with a four and a half hour break in the middle of it. When I get to school, I am met with the smiling and cheerful saint of TPRS, Annick Chen and an AP who gets the game as well. Many on my team still live with fear in their teaching even though many really get CI in their heads, which is not getting it at all. I strenuously state that those who cannot trust the CI process cannot master it. I can walk into Annick’s room any time I want and see her loving on those kids. If I need some fluffing up for a class I find an excuse to walk to the small office in the back of her classroom where I keep my bike just to get some of that light she constantly gives out every single day. Annick so gets that it is a game of being cheerful in spite of all of it. So yes thank you for remembering this is my mindset – school is a nice break during my bike ride. This knowledge trickled down from my mind to my heart over those 36 years. It’s not something that happens fast. It was a meditation – a practice, as jen has called it – on trust that it will all work if I but trust the process. Nothing happens fast, but trust happens slowest, in my opinion. This word trust is at the core of all that Bob Patrick does, or that is what I understand. We trust our hearts. We open up that space to the possibility that we may just be good teachers in spite of ourselves.

    Related: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_eRWVeVNRM

  3. I am about 5 weeks from finishing up my first year as a new CI teacher and it has been a great journey. It is a beautiful thing to hear my Chinese 1 kids telling their friends that Chinese class is fun and that partly explains why enrollment in Chinese has just increased from 63 this year to 100 next year. It is also because there is no workbook homework. The students tell their friends that there isn’t much homework in Chinese and I am getting some flack for not assigning much homework. But what I tell the other teachers is that it takes an a lot of time for the students to prepare for their reading and writing quizzes. They just don’t think of it as homework. They review their character writing and reread the stories we have done in class to make sure they understand. They don’t have to do much if anything to prepare for a listening quiz and, guess what, they all ace those because they are paying attention in class. The affective filter is down because they are having fun and they are learning. CI is a beautiful gift but hard to explain to other teachers who bristle at the idea that, if I am doing my job, they will know the material when the quiz hits, not because they had to learn it by doing homework.

    So last week the teacher preparing our awards ceremony came to me and said, “You have too many kids on the list for awards night. You are only supposed to have 3 or 4 from each class.” I protested that they all had earned their place on the list, earning the A grades and getting at least B+ on the mid year exam. My Advanced kids’ exam was as hard as anything I ever had in college. She was nice about it but said I had to take it to the principal. I did and he gave me the “okay.” I am one of the few teachers he hasn’t observed this year because he doesn’t think he needs to.

    Now comes a new problem. You work hard, you see your kids making great progress; kids are happy, parents are happy, principal is happy, I am happy. But Spanish just lost a Spanish 1 class for next year and too many kids who should have gone on to Advanced Spanish have opted for Chinese 1 in junior or senior year. The retiring French teacher congratulated me with disdain in her voice for the fact that Chinese was the only foreign language class listed in the school paper in an article titled, “Five Classes You Should Take Before You Graduate.” It came from a survey of seniors. I am fortunate that I work in a department of colleagues who get along pretty well but I also fear that a lack of understanding of the method has led them to whisper that Chinese class is “easy” and that is why students are taking it. So I told my seniors that they need to email me with info on where they place in college Chinese classes because I am pretty sure these Advanced kids are going to test out of two years of college Chinese. They actually love reading and are fearless about tackling whatever gets thrown at them.

    Sorry for the long message but it is reflection time. I am still not that good at CI and look forward to the day when I am more experienced but the method is full proof and I won’t go back no matter how many jealous poison arrows fly my way. Thanks everybody for helping to make success possible for my kids.

  4. As I read this wonderful report from the field (I will publish it as such so it can be under that category as an article), thinking about those whispering teachers, an image popped into my mind.

    You are standing overlooking an ocean. You are gazing at the wonderful things out there. Between you and the ocean is an area that is busy with activity. It is a dump. There are huge machines working busily to cover all the garbage in the land fill, so that your view can be unobstructed.

    The retiring teacher and all her colleagues, representatives of a bygone era (may God bless their well-intentioned hearts), are all there in front of you in the dump. You can just make them out, standing next to what you can see are endless stacks of textbooks, which, like the teachers, are waiting to be covered up by the machines.

    You continue to look at the ocean. You know that you are not responsible for what happened and you know that you need not concern yourself with looking at the dump. It is being filled in, that’s all. You stop looking at the activity in the dump, preferring instead to just get ready for year #2 by gazing at the ocean. You are happy, for you have worked hard this year and you are now fully embracing what you have done, stopping for a moment to appreciate yourself as a teacher.

    For you to have gone from 63 to 100 kids and to have had your Chinese class been recommended as one of the five most important classes to take in your school says it all. That you accomplished that in one year when it takes most new CI teachers a lot longer than that is a statement about you not just as a teacher but as a person. As in, you are authentic.

    So also is the ocean before you – your pedagogy – authentic. It deserves to be admired without ugly land fills there ruining the view. It is the Ocean of Language, after all. Some of us older members of this PLC, who taught for years in a way that can only be called false, are now standing with you watching the grammar books and grammar teachers being covered. There is still dust on us. We have camaraderie that is authentic because our work is authentic. We stand together embracing the new.

    By the way, there is a book Sabrina recommended to me called, La Grammaire Est Une Chanson Douce by Erik Orsenna. In English, Grammar is a Sweet, Gentle Song. It ties into what you have done, which is significant. It is a treatise on the use of words. I will leave it at that. It is a treasure, a book like Le Petit Prince.

    What you have done Tamula is significant. You have, in one year, brought in some light to your school and to all the people around you. Even those whispering sense that you are for real, though they would not admit that, because they are not aware of it consciously, yet they admire and respect what you are doing on some level.

  5. Thank you for your beautiful words, Ben, and for your support. They brought tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine what it was like for you pioneers of CI who didn’t have a great PLC and support network to rely on when you first started out.

  6. Wow…I can’t imagine attempting to do this without the PLC and all the info on here. Big respect for the pioneers. I’ve been emailing back and forth with a French teacher in my district who saw the opening for my position online and is trying to get out of her school. She visited me Friday after school and I spent about 20 minutes of our time talking up TPRS/CI (but not nearly as much time as I wanted to…I had to restrain myself). I did my best to walk her through the story process using notes from my Story-Writer and Recorder notebook. I felt like I was trying to teach someone how to swim who had never seen water, but I was full of compassion b/c I was in her shoes full of frustration only 3 short months ago. I passed her a copy of Bryce Hedstrom’s “Understanding TPRS” because I had it handy on my desk. I should have given her Krashen’s book off my desk too (or instead), but I wasn’t thinking.

    I just sent this colleague an email to thank her for visiting and sent her a link to Ben’s website while I was at it. I highly recommended the PLC to her.

    While I was at it, I sent an email to my district WL supervisor with a link to Ben’s site and talked up the PLC to her as well. I asked her to let me know what she thought of the site. I’m trying to get as many colleagues as I can to check out the website and hopefully be intrigued enough to join the PLC and convert to TCI. Some people might not understand at first, but it would be selfish to hoard the wealth.

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