Happy New Year, Musicuentos readers and language teachers everywhere!
It’s that time of year we all like to step back and think about areas we can change or improve in the year ahead. I’ve been enjoying the #oneword posts I’ve seen (especially Laura’s one on less) from teachers choosing a word to guide their 2015. To be honest with you, I have a weight of difficult or simply consuming decisions and tasks facing me this year, and they are making me feel far too scattered to be able to select a “focus word,” so you will probably not see a Musicuentos #oneword. But usually I take this time to blog a few suggestions, based on my own experience, my own resolutions, or trends I’ve seen. This year I offer you three in a series.
This first one is based on a sad trend I’ve watched for some time.
Exciting changes in the industry
I love exploring how to be a progressive educator. I love thinking about and reading about and writing about what it might mean to be training up the 21st century students who are experiencing a world that’s changing at the speed of thought.
This past year I’ve loved watching great new and veteran teachers take a leap into sharing their journey via new teaching blogs. (Watch for resolution post #3 on my blog recommendations for 2015.) But as I read books and Twitter feeds and watch video talks that encourage me to approach learning more creatively to raise up language speakers with real skills and the innovators this century will demand, I’m afraid that we’ve bought into some dangerous myths. My frustration started with this a couple of years ago when I was mentoring a new Spanish teacher at my school and she had this one class (I know, you have it too) that refused to engage or respect her regardless of anything she did, and when the students talked to me, they used every excuse under the sun about how she was or wasn’t teaching in order to explain this, but for sure it wasn’t their fault. I’m appalled at all sorts of ways our society tries to remove personal responsibility for someone’s actions (and blame you for it). And this past year or so I’ve been watching dedicated, creative teachers on Twitter, in blogs, and in my own email inbox beat themselves up because of these lies that beat us down and try to keep us there.
It’s a myth: Perfect environment = results guaranteed
Disclaimer: Don’t misunderstand me, the following are all important principles that will contribute to student success in your classroom. But I want to be a voice encouraging you not to take it farther than intended when someone tweets “If you provide comprehensible input, students will acquire language.” I want to be the voice in your ear when the book tells you, “This wildly successful innovator attributes all his success to X teacher [who worked 70 hours a week for no extra pay].” I want you to hear me when your principal tells you, “You just need to have better classroom management skills.”
We cannot use enough comprehensible input to guarantee language acquisition.
Truth: High levels of comprehensible input facilitate language acquisition, but sometimes your students are too angry at a parent to listen to you.
We cannot be creative enough to guarantee student engagement.
Truth: Only the most motivated students get anything out of boring lecture classes that are the stuff of all the classic school horror stories and the butt of many jokes, but sometimes your students are simply too lazy to put in the work that creativity requires.
We cannot plan enough to prevent class mishaps.
Truth: I had an inspiring college professor who used to say, “If you don’t have a plan, the students will.” And it’s true that over-planning a class period will help ensure you and the students are engaged in meaningful learning for more of the time you have. But sometimes the fire alarm will sound, the wireless will go down, the computer will crash, the pencils will break, the class clown will crack a stupid joke, or someone will have drawn some toilet humor on the wall. Or it may be something as simple as a task you thought would be very effective doesn’t go over well with your student population, and you couldn’t have anticipated it. That is okay.
Yes, we should plan well.
Yes, we should speak as much comprehensible TL as possible in class.
Yes, we should craft realistic, effective assessment tools.
Yes, we should give students more outlets for creative, self-directed learning.
But the next time you’re tempted to break down in tears, throw something at the wall, eat a pint of ice cream, or whatever your frustration tempts you to do, come read this post, take a deep breath, and hear me tell you,
In the end, your students are 100% responsible for their own behavior – and for their own learning.
(Thanks Thomas Sauer for your suggested edits!)