My First Post Probably Shouldn’t Be 1,400 Words Long

I’ve literally started at least four teaching blogs over the years, and I always abandon them. Mostly, it’s because there’s just not enough time in the day, but it’s partially because if I’m being honest with myself, I wasn’t sure that I was meant to be a teacher until this year.

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A spring nest seemed like a great metaphor for where I am in my career at the moment.

Yep, in the eighth year of teaching, I finally figured out that I actually like teaching and want to continue teaching for at least 10 more years (…and then do a PhD or become an instructional coach or both). That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed teaching and found joy in it in many moments, but I also fantasized a little too often about getting a “normal” job (which we all do when we are stressed, but it shouldn’t be how you feel most of the time).

I think the change in my perspective is due to two things. First, I’ve been facing my weaknesses and challenges head on, which has caused me to be very honest about where I am and where I’m headed (and why it’s not a big deal that I’m not there yet!). Being able to see so many colleagues at conferences and on Twitter being honest about their flaws and celebrating their successes is transformational. Interacting with Francophones in many settings through the Alliance Française has reinvigorated my passion for refining my language skills and bringing authentic experiences to my students. Second, I’ve had some very supportive colleagues over the past four years including my AMAZING husband who is in his second year of teaching, but the last two years have been especially uplifting. My current work environment isn’t perfect, but the administration is incredibly supportive on all levels and sees failure (especially failure based on attempts to improve) as a powerful tool. They also try their hardest to find funding for conferences, resources, and professional development when they can, which is no small feat and terribly rare in today’s climate. My teammates are like family. We are all in different places on our proficiency journey with different strengths and different weaknesses, but we all help each other and lean on each other. It’s like living #langchat every single day!

Being honest with myself, I doubt this blog will be regularly maintained or even checked, but I feel the need to process in writing, so why not put my missteps and victories out for someone else to learn from?

While I’ve had this blog retry rolling around in my head for a few weeks, biting the bullet precipitated from working through the TELL self-evaluation checklists. It’s my spring break, and except for attending OFLA at the beginning, I’ve completely avoided doing work. Now, yes, that should be the goal, but I’m already so far behind from a few months of health problems, and I really needed to catch up during break! I don’t think there is any way I can catch up at this point because of doing nothing, but daggonnit, I NEEDED to do nothing. So, if I’m barreling on, I’m going to try to do it well, or at least somewhat well until I can revamp at summer break.

So, for today’s baby step, here’s my TELL epiphany.

P9: I identify and select appropriate resources that allow my students to access, evaluate, and use authentic materials.

My immediate response was M (I do this most of the time). After all, I’m heading towards IPAs more and more, both for assessment and for practice. I seek out tons of authentic resources and feel frustrated when I can’t find something that fits well. I waste TONS of time trying to find things, and I’m exhausted because it never works in a balanced way.

FITS WELL.

With what?

With my curriculum, duh. But wait… I’m in a proficiency-based department. I’m not tied to a textbook, and I’m the only French teacher, so while I collaborate with my Spanish colleagues, I get final say in everything I do. Where did my curriculum come from?

Uh, from my brain and experience, duh. I looked at what lots of people are doing – proficiency-based people, yo – as well as what I know from pacing and what works well. I tried some new things this year to see how they worked because I’m the only person who has my kids so I can fix things later if I don’t do them well. I cut, rearranged, and “updated to proficiency” in every unit, in the only ways I knew how and what I thought would make a happy medium between content, embedded and deep culture, grammar, and proficiency.

So, how successful are my students? Pretty successful, but definitely not great. They aren’t afraid of any kind of written input and can usually pull the gist out easily as well as get some major details early on, they can understand me well, and they are willing to try to understand other audio sources; most of them can speak at least a little, and some can say a lot in either interpersonal or presentational modes, and nearly all of them at all levels can write pages, although they are riddled with errors and issues despite being somewhat comprehensible to people used to language learners. They take risks and create, sometimes even because they want to, but not consistently. I can see the proficiency “stuff” working but my kids are inconsistent because I’m inconsistent and uneven in my planning and resource use. That’s not to say that I don’t plan (mostly) everything with my whole heart and soul and ATTEMPT to make it work… I frankly just don’t know what actually works, both for me and for my students.

I’m not a TPRS teacher. I absolutely LOATHE telling stories and asking stories and traditional circling. I have had successes and failures with TPRS novels, but not enough to want to use them. I love applying the TPRS models to things like authentic resources and discussing questions about life and laughing about a meme à la Carol Gaab. I like to think of myself as a mostly CI teacher, or on the CI teacher journey, who occasionally reinforces grammar points and genuinely wants great things for my kids, but putting it all together? It’s hard. And I’m not someone who can pick up a curriculum and use it. I insist on making life hard on myself and tailoring things to what works for me, which usually results in a total rewrite. Which I do all the time. Pretty much every year, actually. And sometimes mid-year as a course correction. Sigh.

So when I hit this descriptor, P9, I literally wrote this:

“I’ve been trying to find resources to fit existing units ‘updated to proficiency’ which has been frustrating for me and is not working.”

Yeah.

Something Martina Bex posted recently (I can’t remember if it was her post, or something she shared from another teacher, but it was on Facebook from her Comprehensible Classroom page) has haunted me for a few weeks. Why study a novel as just a novel? Why not find all these weird little tie-ins to introduce other content areas and culture and vocab in a very very very high interest format? Why can’t you, in the middle of a novel chapter, study about sharks for a few days because they are mentioned and it’s a different way to recycle vocab while experiencing other themes/contexts?

How in the world do you fit this in???

OR, why should you HAVE TO TRY TO fit it in? Wouldn’t it just be better to make everything like this? WOULDN’T THE KIDS LEARN SO MUCH MORE – every single one of them?

I’m fortunate enough to enjoy reading pedagogical materials and I’m working through the IPA book and one of the KEYS books from ACTFL right now, and I’m also fortunate to be attending LILL this summer as part of cohort #2, so I’m sure that will considerably help me clarify all of the questions I have constantly swirling in my brain. For now, I’m going to try some things for the end of the year and let go of some of the things I had planned (except AP, of course…) to make our last 7 weeks together enjoyable, and I’m making a list of what I can do as I’m going through these checklists so that I’ll remember what’s important this summer.

It’s almost summer break. We can do this. I can do this.

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