Stuck and confused.
Those are the two words that describe how I feel as I contemplate what I want to change, do, and be in 2016. (No, I don’t have to have it figured out by January 1. There’s a lot of 2016 left.) I’m thankful for the online language teaching community for helping me find some clarity, including Laura’s reminder to find reason (if you’re needing more reasons, the Black Box videocasts are a good place to start) and Thomas’s clear plan for how I can be an EPIC teacher and in total practicality, Kara and Elena’s unit packet for the movie “Canela” and how that is helping me develop what I hope will be a better semester for my students.
And so, I encourage us together this year to consider a couple of possible resolutions: get unstuck and walk in freedom, and then, pay it forward.
On June 19, 1865, a group of soldiers showed up in Galveston, Texas, to deliver and enforce the news that the Union had won the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation had declared slaves free. This was almost two and half years after the Proclamation had actually declared them free. But the slaves there were not living in freedom. They had it, but only in theory. They couldn’t walk in it – and one reason was that they didn’t even know about it.
How can we feel a little less stuck in 2016?
Take it to your leaders.
I have to admit, as far as program content from goals to assessment go, I am completely and totally free. My students’ parents don’t even want number/letter grades for their kids, much less force me to give them. But most programs are not like that. I hear many teachers talk about struggling to follow the proficiency path within the expectations of their administration and/or program chair. But more often than not, I’ve found that we often assume those expectations are actual rules and that does not turn out to be so. Why not have a talk with your leaders in 2016 and find out how much you’re actually tied to whatever baseless practice you’re trying to break free from? Some questions:
- Will you let me turn in my attendance halfway through class so that I can take advantage of students’ high brain power at the beginning?
- Will you let me give a performance assessment as my final exam if I show you how I can translate my feedback into a number/letter grade?
- After my own research and professional development, will you let me sequence tasks and offer practice in a way I believe will offer my students better opportunity for growth if I can show you where similar topics are addressed in your textbook?
Stop trying to be anyone else.
There’s a reason God made you to be you. He wanted you and exactly one you in the world. If you try to be Laura Terrill, you are cheating the world of something it really needed: exactly one of her and exactly one of you. Don’t read my blog and think that I or anyone else wants you to be me. Don’t read other blogs and get tears in your eyes over all the acronyms you don’t even recognize much less are implementing. You are a good teacher, and you want to be a good teacher, and your students need you to keep walking on your journey with them – not mine.
Scale back the content.
I still believe the biggest mistake we make is teaching too much content. I don’t want to. And I still do. I plan too much and get frustrated when kids can’t do it all. I need a reality check to remind me that learners can do more for a longer time if I’ll stop bombarding them with so much content.
Skip a pointless activity.
Your students will celebrate. No one else has to know (wink, wink). I’m not asking you to throw your textbook out the window. I’m asking you to take that activity on page 152 that you know that you know is a waste of everyone’s time and simply skip it.
We’re walking free. Now what?
Here’s an achievable, meaningful resolution for every teacher: decide to contribute something to the field.
You could, for example, contribute to a collaborative project, such as this one where we’re sharing activities paired with authentic resources by topic and level. Or this one where we’re trying to show what we think about whether a textbook activity should be adapted or used as-is or tossed out. You could set yourself a calendar reminder to spend 15 minutes a week using a venue like one of these to share something that has worked well in your class. Or, you could create your own venue:
What about starting a blog? Don’t worry about who will or will not read it, how often you’ll write, or whether you’ll get criticized or retweeted and such. The biggest value in blogging is in the thought process you go through documenting your own steps forward – and backward. And let me know where you’re sharing so I can partake! Selfishly I’d ask you to use WordPress because they have the easiest plug-ins that will deliver your posts to my inbox (since I’m too scattered to remember to check so many blogs regularly). Or if not, I can easily add you to my Bloglovin’ feed (unless you’re using Weebly; I have not been able to add Weebly sites to Bloglovin’; boo on Weebly). I’ll mention a few blogs I enjoyed last year in a couple of days in my annual Blogs to Watch post. Will I see you on your own blog soon?