I have been reflecting on the journeys of other teachers. After realizing that I am only in my second year of teaching I have observed something. I am really blessed! Professionally and personally. I have a great wife and family. I could talk about the personal stuff forever, but here I am going to talk about how I am professionally blessed.
My first year of teaching was also my first year of tprs. Man, was it hard! I was dealing with so much and people kept telling me I was doing great, but inside I felt like a mess –which is normal! I knew that at the time, but it really was hard to believe and I felt like a failure many times. Anne Matava told me during my first semester of my first year teaching that I just needed to get though the year and realize that it will never be remotely as hard as it is your first year. I held on to that like a life preserver and it got me through –along with a lot of praying and the support of my wife as well as friends. The good news is that I didn’t give up and I am still getting on the horse every day. I am starting in a very small way to reap the benefits.
I started my second year of teaching ready for the pain of teaching only to find that I was magically stronger and it was so much easier. Part of it was that the students knew me, but also I had grown from observing other tprs teachers and from slugging it out every day.
It seems strange to confess, but I actually don’t even remember what the old way feels like. I don’t remember what it feels like to use activities and textbooks. I expect teaching to have minimal preparation, the periods to go fast, and a majority of the students to willingly and enjoy acquiring the target language. These are only a small number of things that I have come to expect with teaching. I almost feel like I am spoiled. I don’t feel like a “real” teacher that is burned out and hates their job. Who is weighed down by tons of grading or worse, students who really do not care about what we do. That’s awesome!
In reality, however, I am a real teacher because my students are acquiring the language and they seem to enjoy it –especially as my skills become more refined and I learn how to relate to them. It makes me feel blessed that I found this way of teaching and I can enjoy my family as well as do stuff that I want to do. I thank God for that!
Every time I read Krashen or watch an excerpt of a seminar he has given, I just get so excited about the posibilities of reading and its impact on language acquisition. I keep asking, “How can we get interesting meaningful reading to our students?” Well, I don’t have all the answers or even the money, but it makes me get excited about intermediate instruction and what can be done. I don’t think that we fully realize what we have here. That if we move forward with a lot of these ideas, students will begin to acquire a language and actually like it! It seems like a dream, but it is within reach. I don’t care that most of the United States or even the world is stuck on other methods that don’t really work. I will do my thing in Holdrege and be happy about it. It certainly does feed my idealistic side and make me excited about what I do! We all need the fire to be lit every now and then to remind us of where we need to go with acquisition.
I am sure we all have students who have a little bit of attitude. Sometimes this is hard to deal with, especially when the teacher is trying so hard. I feel that many times it best to not give attention to the attitude or rather to respond with empathy, but I have been experimenting with another way as well.
When students give me attitude, I give it back. I just mirror exactly what they do and they see what they look like. When they see what they look like, they almost always lighten up and realize that they are being a bit disrespectful. Again, probably not a best practice idea, but it seems to work with some students without giving them a lecture or yelling at them.
I have gotten used to the fact that I teach Freshman. This can be a wonderfully exciting task and at the same time very frustrating. Just like everything else, they come in all shapes and sizes, but most importantly they come with different personalities. I have experienced that it is during this time that you can really see the differences.
Well, one particular type of freshman comes across as being very immature and they really like to joke around a lot. At first glance a teacher may see this as a problem, since the clever little guys are always keeping the teacher on their toes. I finally figured out, after having them for 3 months, that when they get this way they really just want to play. They love playing! But more importantly they want somebody to play with them. It is important to keep your professional distance, but I found that I am way more successful with them if I play with them at their level. Sometimes, I am better at being more annoying than they are, and all of a sudden it’s not as cool to be annoying because the teacher does it better. It may seem strange, but it helps to curb their behavior.
None of this may be right and it probably doesn’t align with any research or best practice teaching. But as far as figuring out my freshman, it seems to be a key into their complex little minds. You see, they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Will I get offended by that or will I just learn to play with them? A good thought to meditate on.
Today I have a period that is called STEP group. It is basically a homeroom where we do career planning and help them with the next “step.” Today, they were quiet as a mouse and I realized something. We beat it into their head that they need to be quiet. By junior year they are so quiet that we can’t get them to talk at all. How interesting and tragic that they don’t know the difference between times when they can’t talk and times that it is appropriate. They just default to not talking at all. What have we done as a public educational institution? I am glad that I am part of the solution rather than the problem.
Here is a document that Joe Neilson made on some basic ideas of tprs.
I have been using a lot of Joe Neilson’s program lately and it has really made my classes take off. One thing that it has enhanced is the PQA in my class. Basically, there is a time where I am “playing” with the vocabulary. This could be any number of activities: TPR, PQA, little spin off stories from the PQA, gestures, chants, pictures, etc.
The PQA has been going great, but sometimes it is hard to gesture, TPR, or PQA certain words like sweat. I mean, in some classes, the word sweat could be a huge success and in other classes it is really awkward. An idea that occured to me is that if we have a picture of a pop culture person sweating and we talk about it, that makes it more meaningful than talking about the students sweating. In other words, I am more likely to have success with a picture than by talking about a student because the students are at an age where they don’t like to talk about how they sweat and if I do, the interest may drop. On the other hand, We can take these vocabulary items that may be hard to talk about and get reps through photos of pop culture.