What’s the number one problem in world language teaching?
I’d be super interested to hear your answer. After careful thought, here’s mine:
Teacher Training Programs
I have the great privilege of communicating with a lot of world language teachers, which is a huge change from where I was just ten years ago, where I’m not sure I could have named another language teacher outside my school. I love teachers, and I love hearing about their passions, struggles, problems, ideas, and solutions. I love hearing the excitement of young (and middle! and old!) teachers ready to take on the world and change it together with their students.
But you know what I get tired of hearing about? I get tired of hearing about how much they want to change. Don’t get me wrong – I love identifying areas I need to improve and finding a workable approach to accomplish that change, and I love helping teachers do the same. No, the reason I tire of this problem is that it’s always accompanied with how overwhelmed teachers are and a short journey into the causes reveals such a disappointing source. I wish I could say it’s just because some of us are perfectionists who always feel like we need to be better and we need to just be satisfied with who we are. But most of the time, that’s just not true. The fact is that many of these teachers need to change and they know it and it simply overwhelms them. The truth is, they are going to have to find a baby-step approach to change and determine to be content with it or they’re going to keep being overwhelmed and burn out. But the truth also is, the change needs to happen. And many times the glaring truth is, it’s not their fault.
I thought my own undergraduate training was an anomaly until I started mentoring new teachers. I started introducing them to sound principles in language teaching – effective planning, student engagement, comprehensible input, using the target language in the classroom, and so on. And they were amazed. They were excited. They were overwhelmed. Why? Because they hadn’t heard or seen it before.
Me neither. I’ll try to dance through some confession time here. I had a very… interesting undergraduate experience. How shall I describe my school: um, private. Inexpensive due to underwriting by a lucrative K-12 curriculum business. Isolationist. Fundamentalist on the far, far right. Secretive. Oppressive, controlling? Yeah, a lot of us would describe it that way. Free speech, or much freedom at all for that matter, was not exactly celebrated there (I know, my friend was in charge of using a Sharpie to censor the cover of Fitness magazine). Okay, enough about that. But on many counts, the education wasn’t bad. The nursing and criminal justice programs were top-notch (and, unlike my program, accredited). The school turns out a lot of high-quality elementary teachers in high demand in many private faith-based schools. But in the Spanish education program, which in my senior year graduated four teachers, and which does not seem to exist as a major anymore, I will say ACTFL wouldn’t have been impressed. We had two professors in the department, one energetic Spaniard and an elegant Puerto Rican, and I adored them both. I kept in contact with them for years after college. But I’m not sure they knew what ACTFL was, or Krashen, Lightbown, Spada, Doughty, Long, Curtain, any of the researchers who later shaped my graduate school experience. I can’t even tell you I refined my Spanish ability much while I was there – really, it was the two summers I spent in South Texas that I credit for my conversational Spanish ability now. I suppose I can sum up my experience by saying that I learned how to make a fantastic 3-D bulletin board, write on a whiteboard in amazing cursive in a straight line, put layovers on a full-color overhead transparency, chalk visual aids, and handle myself professionally in a classroom. What I did not learn was how to teach comprehensibly in Spanish, get kids using the language communicatively, or motivate students to want to know more about Spanish and the cultures of the Spanish-speaking peoples.
Fast forward, after three years of teaching I went back to graduate school, where I learned about all these researchers and the principles their research spawned, but I was in a heavily theoretical program that was designed to produce researchers, not effective language teachers – they sort of pawned me off on the TESOL people because of my applied interest (I don’t mean that negatively- I loved my graduate experience and owe a whole lot to “THE USC“). But when I graduated and resumed teaching, it really was a few important conference workshops that finally showed me how I could use sound Second Language Acquisition principles to foster real proficiency in my students. And since then I’ve met so many teachers with similar stories, almost regardless of where they went to school – well, except for the business with the Sharpie.
So what am I getting at?
To briefly explain #Teach2Teach, Amy Lenord has partnered with a professor at North Carolina State University on a mission to answer the burning questions in the minds of preservice teachers. Through social media, they (and whoever wants to partner with them) are on a worthwhile journey to help preservice teachers learn more of the right stuff before they wear that mortarboard. Change will never be so easy for them as now, when they’re just forming their philosophies and exploring methods, so let’s help them out, shall we?
The first question from these preservice teachers at NCSU is from Garrett:
How do all these teachers balance the workload between teaching and planning? Now that I am getting ready to perform all this work, I am beginning to wonder how anyone manages it at all.
It’s a question that still plagues us ten, twenty years in to the journey, does it not? For Garrett and anyone else with this question making you wonder if you’ll make it in this profession, I simply want to offer a series of blog posts I did in 2013 on burnout. If my email, blog comments, and Twitter feed are any indication, the planning and grading aspects of communicative, proficiency-based language teaching are the top sources of the feeling that we just can’t handle our workload. So here are the links and outlines of those posts:
- Put your sanity first.
- Abandon perfectionism.
- Let time and experience work their wonders.
- Develop a strong personal learning community.
- Map out your activities.
- Organize your bookmarks.
- Stop grading everything.
- Stop looking when you’ve found something that will work.
- Stop over-planning so much.
I hope this helps you and Garrett contemplate our great profession without being overwhelmed. What can you add to this discussion? Blog or tweet your comments using the term #Teach2Teach.