A really bad year

Well, a whole year later I’m going to try to write again.  It was a difficult year. Understatement.  More than a year. My son died in the fall of 2011.

That’s really all.  If you’ve lost a child you know.  If you haven’t, you can’t know.  The bleeding has stopped.  I’ve learned to keep going with part of me missing, but it’s so hard.  I cry.  A lot.  No one knows, because I don’t want to set off my mom, my husband or my other children.  We tried to buy a memorial over Christmas.  I couldn’t.  My boy is gone.

The other things that didn’t go so well, all the new and pointless requirements, the oversize classes, the kids that are hard to love…well, they’re that much harder to take.  So I push through.  Slogging through grading.  Slogging through classes.  Pretending all the time.  Hoping that the pleasant tone and smile I paste on will somehow percolate inside.  They do sometimes.  More frequently now.

Will this ever go away?  No.  I know that.  I can’t get my boy back.  But I know it’s getting better.  I have faith it will get better.  Besides, there’s no choice.  I have to keep slogging on.  “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  Well, this is my fit.  Thanks for reading.

Shoes–the key to teaching

At the new teacher workshop at our foreign language convention, I had a great time presenting ‘Circling With Pictures’ to some first-year and pre-service teachers.  They were worried about classroom management, motivating the kids, making errors in speaking their second languages…all things I still worry about after 35 years. 

I looked around during the presentations and noticed…shoes.  There I was in my sensible supportive loafers.  My co-presenter of the same age–sensible, supportive Mary Janes.  My much younger colleagues with 4-10 years of experience, the same: comfortable, supportive shoes. Some with a higher cute quotient than others, but all low-heeled, all day shoes.  The new teachers were wearing cute shoes.  Cute ballerina flats (no support).  Adorable kitten heels.  Even some sexy heels. 

I still own cute shoes.  I have some wonderful shiny red high heels.  Guy Lomardo shoes, my mom calls them.  I take them out of the box and admire them.   But I get up every morning and put on my sensible,  black comfort shoes and teach all day.  I wanted to tell the new teachers that I’d taught all day, drove to the conference and was still standing, presenting to them and working the conference, standing around a tall table laughing and talking with my friends after the session until 11 PM.  Probably because of the shoes.

So, my new, young teacher friends–buy comfotable shoes.  You will have much better management if you can stand and walk around all day.  You will be able to deal with the nonsense without screaming or using sarcasm if your feet don’t hurt.  You will survive the days when you take them to the computer lab and the server is down if you can walk briskly there and back without your legs aching.  Trust me.  You’ll be a better teacher if you give up the beautiful shoes. Sigh.

Undergrad again

I’m working on getting a certification to teach English as a Second Language.  Sort of by choice.  Sort of by default.  Ten years ago German disappeared, eaten by budget cuts.  So I moved to French only.  Now French is threatened.  The grapevine has it that, as our district moves to be one of the few all International Baccalaureate districts, the MYP (middle years program) will require every student learn a second language.  (There is dancing among the world language teachers.)  Budget considerations, however, seem to indicate that there will be only one second language–Spanish.  French teachers circle the wagons and start contacting parents.  Oh yes, Chinese, assuming we continue to get grant money…

Anyway, on to my point.  I’m teaching full time and taking three grad classes to finish up my certification.  I need to continue to be employed full time because I like having a house, clothes, a car and food.  Seems silly to quit eating at my age, but asking for an Incomplete in at least one of them seems a good bet now.  Still not to my point.  Getting there.

In the first meeting of one of the classes, we did the getting to know you thing.  Why are you in this class, what are you going to teach.  My turn.  I’ve been teaching French and German at the middle school for a long time.  Instructor urges: Oh, come on, how long.  Okay.  I do the math.  Thirty-five years.  Astonishment from the young things around me.  “I wasn’t even born yet.” “What were education classes like in the olden times.”  “oh, grandma, tell us a story about the olden days.”  No, they didn’t say the last one.  I bet they thought it.

In any case, I’ve now made my first PowerPoint presentation and am struggling with putting together a portfolio. (Can I just take a test or write a paper, please?  We did that in the olden days.)

But hey, I’m still here, still teaching, and still trying to learn new things about teaching.  Let me know how it’s going for you in 35 years, young things! (I’ll probably still be teaching.  It’s a habit that’s hard to break.)

I should know better!

I know that TPRS is the best way to teach or learn language.  I know that going slowly and just talking with the kids will get the best results.  It’s not an “I think” or “I believe”.  I know.  Yet…as soon as I had my first absence and decided to give the kids some non-CI work, I back-slid.  The cultural worksheet on Paris led to the ‘Paris unit.’.  We TPRS’d it, but not 100%.  Not 100% is not good.  Then that led to the city unit and suddenly I’m teaching aller and contractions with à and I’m back to the being grammarhammer!  Then suddenly it’s time for grades.  We’re all messed up and confused.  Halfway through a chapter in Raconte-Moi Encore and halfway through the book unit on cities.  Okay, three days on a house project this week, three days on having fun following directions around the school next week, then I’ve got to go back to teaching them the way I know is right.

But I’m going to out something like 5 days in November, between the state conference and workshops my school is requiring me to do…and suddenly I’ll be lost and confused again.  I should know better!

Getting to know kids and motivation.

In the grad class on reading I took earlier this year, the first session was all about motivation. Reward systems came up.  Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.  All that good stuff.  However, both the articles we read and the class discussion led us to what TPRSers already knew: you can’t P enough.

That’s right.  They suggested getting to know your kids.  They suggested caring about your kids as people.  They suggested choosing texts to read based on student interest.

A secondary teacher in our group moaned about how hard that would be with 150 some students.  No, you can’t get to know 150 some students in several days, but we know how to do it.  We know we can use the Circling with Pictures (Scott) or Circling with Balls (Ben–I love the original title) to start to get to know our kids.  We can learn their names.  We can stand in the door and notice them, per Love and Logic.  We can greet them and treat them like people.

It’s a trick, really.  If you remember their name and remember something else about them, even if it is only asking if their colds is better, they think you know them.

Last year I was doing a get-to-know-you activity with some continuing students (I wanted to say ‘old kids.’), and one of them complained, “But this is silly, you already know all about us.”  I must have fooled them pretty well.  I don’t know all about them, but I know a little bit about many of them.

In any case, if the kids perceive you care, they’ll be more likely to work for and with you.  If you can’t love the kids, get out of the teaching business.

Making Connections

I’ve been working on an ESL certification.  It’s really kind of nice, talking with people who know who Krashen is, who know that language is an oral/aural phenomenon, who understand that inaccurate speech and writing is a step towards proficiency.  I’m not busy defending what I do.  I’m sure the ESL people have known this forever, but my original teacher training, back in the disco years and before, taught me how to run various kinds of pattern drills and explain terminology, so it’s a true pleasure to have instructors who talk about lowering the affective filter and reading aloud.  I keep writing ‘duh’ on our handouts instead of being surprised and thinking, “That’s what Susan said.”  In the next few weeks, before school starts, I’m going to try to write some more posts about what connections I’ve been making.

Seeing myself

I have a student teacher now, and it’s scary, seeing my own difficulties with teaching and TPRS magnified.  I watch her try to keep the instruction in French, and watch her forget to make the meaning clear.  It’s beautiful French, but not comprehensible.  I watch her introduce too many vocabulary words at once and watch the barometers tune out.  I watch her riffing with the superstars, not checking comprehension with the rest of them.

Dang.  I do all those things.  But I also watch her improve instruction during the second section of the same class. I watch her complimenting kids for the good things they do. I watch her disciplining with a pleasant face.  I hope I do those things, too.

Music sources

At the Indiana Foreign Language Conference beginning teacher workshop, we were asked for some sources for music to use in class.  Besides the always wonderful You Tube for current artists, there are several providers of good ‘teaching songs’.   Please add on to this meager list!

Yaheeda –songs to teach French, some Spanish and English   Yaheeda.com

Todd Hawkins  –Singing the Basics   Spanish grammar songs

Etienne’s Edurock   Available at World of Reading.com

Sing, Laugh, Dance and Eat (Tacos, Quiche etc.) oldie but a goodie>

I’m sure I’ll think of more later.

Not letting them down

Last year I let one group of kids get to me so much that I let them down.  There were bullies, eye-rollers and several nice co-operative children, and I let them all down.  I didn’t stop the bullies, the eye-rollers, the bad attitudes.  I would try for a while and then let it go.  I’d call a parent or two, but never really decided that teaching them how to act was more important than teaching them French.

Well, this year the groups have been scrambled, the most obvious mean-girl moved, and I get a second chance.  The smallest rude look, rude comment got squashed.  There were several quiet discussions about being polite to everyone.  I’ve worked on personalizing, but it’s an uphill battle with some of the quiet kids from the difficult class.  “What do you want, Betty Sue?” Shrug. “Do you want an iTouch?” Shrug. “A sports car?” Shrug.  “A lot of money?” Shrug. “Chocolate?” Shrug. Sometimes a quiet “I guess.”  Arrgh.

But Friday we had a breakthrough.  With the difficult class I’d stopped playing wild games and defaulted to Bingo.  They sit quiet, listen to French, get candy, no chance for eye-rolling or making fun of someone for taking a chance.  No chance for anyone to be labelled a pencil-head or a kiss-up.  This year I gave them a choice, Bingo or Bonk.  They picked Bonk!  So the class of quiet girls who don’t ever want anything or express opinions or react sat in a circle and whacked each other’s desks with a rolled up newspaper.  They giggled.  They made mistakes and laughed at themselves.  The children without facial expressions smiled.  A month of being consistent, and don’t letting anyone be mean finally worked.

I’m never giving up on a group again.  I won’t let them down.

Penrod Art Fair

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the annual Penrod Society Art Fair at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  Because my husband had volunteered to man a booth for the Indianapolis Jazz Club, which entitled him to one free ticket and a parking pass, I bought a ticket and joined him.  It was the first time in many, many years I had gone their without children.  What a difference.

Since we had to be there early, I was able to stroll through the artists’ tents and talk with the artists a bit.  That was a real change for me.  Usually I try to be anonymous at any public gathering that is not my class.  Saturday I just enjoyed.  I strolled with my coffee, later with my beer.  I bought a hand-made jacket.  I stayed with my husband in the booth and talked to the people who came up.  I grabbed him away for a break and we had lunch, picnicking in the shade with the other 30,000 people.  When I got tired of walking, I found a shady spot in one of the beautiful gardens on the grounds of the Art Museum, and read for two hours.  It was so pleasant.

We’d tried to take the kids, but our oldest son is a person with epilepsy and a high-functionning autistic person, and so, with all three kids there, and especially with our oldest son, everywhere we went my husband and I would be on high alert.  No chatting with anyone–got to keep the oldest kid in sight all the time.  No shopping or buying–what’s he doing now?  Eating always was okay, but no two hours relaxing in a garden, no beer and no need for coffee.  High alert all the time.  I really don’t think I ever relaxed until these past few years when he was finally placed in a group home.  He really likes it there, and I get to relax.

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