2015 Resolutions #2: Act like we’re on the same team
Here’s another trend I’d like us all to resolve to change this year (the first was to stop beating ourselves up thinking our students’ learning is entirely up to us).
If you don’t participate in a listserv (which is like being on an email list with a bunch of other teachers) or a Twitter chat (WHY NOT?!?!) then you probably won’t know what I’m talking about, but whoa, this past year some online (and at-conference) teacher communities really showed me that our pride and prejudice is sometimes getting in the way of acting like we believe this important principle:
We are on the same team.
Do you want kids to own their learning and have fun doing it?
Do you want students to succeed in life?
Do you want students to actually be able to accomplish something in the language you teach?
Are you committed to find and use the methods and materials that fit your personality and your class and accomplish these goals?
Welcome to the club.
Really. It’s a very inclusive club. (Now, I know not all of us are on the same team, and sometimes disagreements sharpen our own teaching- I have a post drafted about how, though I will always be grateful for Stephen Krashen’s research on what factors really contribute to language acquisition, and I was a huge fan of his for a long time, my opinion right now is that he has almost completely lost touch with the classroom teacher.) But for the most part, we’re teachers, we’ve got great goals, we’re committed to improvement, and we’re committed to our profession.
So why aren’t we acting like it? Or perhaps a better question is, how can we act like it?
Use labels that mean something
A very smart friend recently asked me, “Why do we always feel like we have to label ourselves? Why can’t we just talk like we all want the same thing?” The question resonates with me as I think about the time a TPRS presenter told me I couldn’t say I use TPRS unless I ascribe to all of its tenets. That’s the point I determined to label my teaching with words that tell people more meaningfully what I do: I’m a storytelling teacher. I’m dedicated to comprehensible input. I like to incorporate technology in ways that train students to use it responsibly for life. I think classroom management is a heart issue and a self-control training issue. Let’s talk to each other about what we do in the classroom without having to resort to labels that are getting fuzzier by the year.
Believe in teachers
I recently told my friend Thomas Sauer how much it impacted me one evening on #langchat when someone (it very well could have been me) tweeted something that could cast a negative light on a teacher who engaged in a particular practice. Thomas rephrased it in a way that removed the negative light from the teacher and he ended the tweet with #Ibelieveinteachers. In the new paradigm a lot of us are now saying how much we believe in students, but sometimes our determination that the way we’re doing it is the only way that will produce proficiency doesn’t sound much like, “We believe in teachers.” None of us is perfect. But so many of us are working very hard for the very best for our students, and just because you’re not doing it the way I would doesn’t mean your way isn’t going to work. Speaking of which…
Resist sounding like a pet method is the only right way
Back when I taught using very little target-language input, lots of translation, lots of textbook, lots of verb tenses, and so on, I didn’t see a lot of proficiency development in my students. But I did in some of them. Some of those students sat in that class, ended up with measurable proficiency in Spanish, and thought I was the greatest teacher ever (with what I know now, that really makes me laugh). We know that there are general principles that work well in language teaching, like speaking more target language in class, making sure it’s comprehensible–you know what a lot of them are. And we should strive to find what works for the majority of our students. But nothing works for everyone, and almost anything works for someone. Let’s tone down the message that AIM, TPRS, PBL, inquiry-based whatever, TBI, all the alphabet soup of modern language teaching, is the magic pill and if you don’t use it, you’re dooming your students to failure.
Teachers, I believe in you! What principles are working for your students? This year, anyway – we all know next year’s class will be another story, right?