Not Wasting the Years Away

As soon as I decided to be a teacher I told myself that I wanted to do it for real. I didn’t want to be like so many of the teachers that I had over the years that were just doing it for the paycheck. I knew that there had to be a way to help kids and at the same time enjoy my job.

I also wanted to be real. I felt that so many teachers just put on a facade, especially World Language teachers. After spending three years in high school Spanish I didn’t feel like I learned anything. As I talked with my classmates it seemed that they had not learned anything either. When I decided to do this, I wanted to be a teacher where the students learned something. They could actually use Spanish. I didn’t want it to be some subject that they just got through to get the requirement.

Below I posted something from Ben Slavic’s site on being a traditional teacher. He describes the type of traditional teacher that I vowed I would never become. It a good reminder for me. Something that I can look at from time to time in order to make sure that I am not on the path of the businessman.

We Become Businessmen

June 10th, 2008

In traditional teaching, as our incomes go up over the years, our job satisfaction goes down. Why is this?

Well, when we begin teaching, fresh from our training in primarily traditional methods in college (because college methods instructors, were we to be honest, are out of touch with what it takes to reach today’s youth), we are full of hope, but with very low salaries and very low job security.

The reason we don’t have any job security is because we first have to “prove ourselves” in the competitive marketplace that is our school and department. Once our superiors see that we can manage kids (but not necessarily teach them anything), we are accepted into the fold and we begin that slow climb up the salary scale that results, after the first twenty-five years or so, in a fairly lucrative salary, one that is hard to walk away from, especially if we have done nothing else during our professional lives.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, each year we move up the salary scale, we move down the job satisfaction scale, because we continue to use methods that do not genuinely engage the kids in learning languages. We very gradually become what Antoine de Saint-Exupéry calls in his book The Little PrinceThe Little Prince for more on that. “champignons”, or mushrooms. See the businessman chapter in

We become businessmen. We interact with our students not so much as students in the Greek sense, in which there is considerable evidence for “a classical link between education and play” (Chris Mercogliano). Chris explains in “Paths of Learning” (Issue #17, p. 12, 2004) that the ancient Greek words for education/culture – paideia, play – paidia, and children – paides, all have the same root.

Rather, our students become our meal tickets. They pay for our health insurance, as long as we can get our tired bodies (tired because professionally blocked) out of bed each day and go in to manhandle their minds, whoops, I mean manage their educations. We truly become businessmen when the interest we first had in teaching upon entering the profession just fades away completely until the only reason we go to work each day is for our salaries.

Of course, as that job satisfaction decreases, many of us just quit, leaving the students with increasing levels of unprepared teachers, a serious problem which is now beginning to show up nationally just as demand for our services is increasing at very rapid rates.

The saddest day of all comes when we wake up and look in the mirror and see that we don’t want to go to work, that we don’t have any passion about it, that we live for the summer. It hits us that each “exciting new way” of teaching foreign languages that showed up over the years has failed us and left us devoid of any real methodology that works for us.

For many of us, given the basic need of human beings to contribute in meaningful ways to society, our failed career (failed on the inside, not in the eyes of our colleagues, from whom we hide our true feelings) carries over into our personal lives, and, were it not for our increasing salary, we would certainly quit and run to another career, except that we can’t because we have slowly become the very same foreign language teacher that we had in high school.

“Oh Ben”, you say, “don’t be so negative! Surely we reach kids with traditional methods!” I respond, “Please be honest. Stop lying to yourself. Is reaching maybe ten percent of your students success? Do your retention levels of kids through high school show success? If someone gave you a truth serum, could you are actually say that you are reaching students in your classroom?”

The reason I know about that is that I did it for twenty-four years. I was looked upon as a good teacher, but I knew in my heart how many kids were actually taking anything real out of my classroom at the end of each school year. Can’t we all just quit lying about this fact and admit the truth, that our traditional methods of teaching kids just don’t reach kids?

I am afraid that the answer to that last question, for many of us, is no.  Like the businessman in The Little Prince, we say, “Nous sommes des professeurs sérieux!” Many of us can’t even see what we have become, which is not a good thing for our students, who know what we are to them – mushrooms.

Don’t become a mushroom. Investigate TPRS. Learn how to deliver comprehensible input in a fun and meaningful ways in stories. Learn how to inject a level of life into your teaching that you could have never anticipated. Actually want to go to work in the morning. Believe that foreign language teaching can be fun.

If you don’t believe it, visit the classroom of an experienced TPRS teacher. See the pronounced difference in what the kids and the teacher in that room are experiencing in their precious time together on this earth. Save our profession.

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