I tell you what, I’ll not be terribly sad to see 2016 go. It’s been a tough one.
How would I label this year? It’s been-
- The Year of Confused– about my teacher and professional identity.
- The Year of Bridges Burned– when I stopped being an island I discovered this:
When people discover I get it wrong, on rare occasions they decide helping me figure out the fix isn’t as easy as burning the bridge. This year, wow. A lot.
(Have you felt my blog silence? Burning bridges makes you hesitant to build more.)
- The Year of America Torn– any given half ripping the other half to shreds on television, stage, social media, and any platform available.
- The Year of Working Mom Despair– working at home and homeschooling and trying to have a life with 3 kids under 8 is tough, y’all. I’d use worse words than tough but that’s not my normal.
Mostly, I think this year is the Death of Perfectionism. Well, I can only hope. In many areas I’ve continually failed to meet my standards for myself.
For a perfectionist, realizing that the path to peace inside means a whole lot more grace and a whole lot less why can’t I get this right is a path roughly trod.
For better or worse, I’m a mostly make-it-from-scratch, storytelling teacher. But this school year, particularly with my early learners (ages 7-12), I’ve crashed and burned over and over. And over. I only teach on Fridays right now, and as Thursday evening approaches and I have to put together a lesson plan for those little guys, I can feel my spirit deflating. I put it off. I Pinterest. I Facebook (and I don’t even Facebook). I news.google.com. I check the weather app seven times. Many a Thursday night I’ve crashed at 2 A.M. finally breathing a sigh of relief that I kind of sort of know what story and activities I might do the next day.
And then they fail. I fail.
I’ve wondered this year: is this the teacher version of writer’s block?
Is there anything usable in the ashes of my creativity?
I don’t normally write blog posts in December but I’ve had this one drafted for a while and I just had to share with you as you end your semester and contemplate a new one that I’ve discovered a vitally important strategy in the midst of my creative ashes.
An #authres can be the whole thing
Let’s go back to a day when I just couldn’t. I had no stories, no crazy characters or beginnings or details or endings to go with my targets in our semester-long, project-based unit I’m a Food Ambassador!:
I can ask and answer a question about how much something costs.
I can say whether something is cheap or expensive.
It’s not like I can just go find someone else’s story. I have specific targets leading up to my students’ semester-final project, creating content for a website informing tourists of great food options in our city. I get it, some of you may agree with the teachers I know who would tell me,
Stop stressing. It’s language acquisition. Just do random.
I don’t do random. And having a blow-off day? I was totally for that when I saw my kids five days a week. Now I see them a whopping 16 times per semester. Watching Monsters Inc. in Spanish subtracts a significant percentage of the learning time I have with them.
And so, in my stressful search for something creative to do with the content, something to engage them in comprehensible input before I asked them to actually show whether they could do the Can-Do statement, I stumbled upon this video of a guy wandering through the northern part of Bogotá, Colombia, trying to eat on only 10,000 pesos.
And there, I had it.
It wasn’t my story, but it was a story. Yes, the audio is mostly incomprehensible, but that’s the point: I wasn’t relying on it to be the comprehensible input. I was relying on it to be the creativity I didn’t have. Once I had the idea, I could run with it and make it comprehensible. And it was so easily transferable into our world: What’s a similarly low amount to expect someone to eat on for three meals in our city? Where would we go? What would we buy? Is it cheap or expensive?
It was one of the best sequences of engaging comprehensible input in the whole semester.
We did it again, looking at a lunch infographic and using a Spanish-language Venn diagram to identify what was in their lunch, what was in ours, what was in both, followed by building our own lunch complete with opinions.
Every time this semester I took an interesting authentic resource and made it the creativity I didn’t have, made it the comprehensible input, made it the bridge to the output, made it the assessment, made it the Can Do, it felt so much more successful to me, and to the kids I think, than when I was trying to go it on my own on too little sleep and a deflated spirit from failing yet again to come up with the world’s best story related to being a food ambassador.
If you’re sitting in the ashes of your creativity this month, or this semester, or this class period, I hope this one simple strategy helps. Do a quick search for an authentic resource on your topic. If it doesn’t click right away, move on quick as lightning- even if the 17th resource you find is the right one, if you gave up on the wrong ones in less than a minute, you just spent less than 15 minutes finding it! And if none of this sounds familiar to you at all, file it away somewhere in case someday you’re in this wasteland with me.
And maybe a year from now I’ll have better names for 2017 and The Return of the Storyteller will be one of them.