May 2, 2008

Why I teach

I became a teacher because well, at first because it was there. I had changed majors 8 times, and really, really wanted to graduate at some point. But, as I went through my coursework, I realized that there was another, bigger reason I was becoming a teacher. My childhood was very... rocky... and through it all, I can look back and see certain teachers who helped me make it through another year, find something I could value, something I could live for. I am a teacher because I hope to be able to touch one child’s life the way mine was once touched. It’s not so much about the subject I teach, Spanish, as it is about life.

My first year teaching was a chaotic one. I was *the* language department for the entire school in which a foreign language was a compulsory class for all students from kindergarten through 8th grade. I saw every student at least twice a week, eighth graders I saw four times a week. I had no textbooks, no books at all, no easy access to copiers, no classroom supplies. Everything I did I had to create on my own. And in that maelstrom I was expected to get the 8th graders through an entire year of high school Spanish I so that they could then enter Spanish II in the IB program that many of them were entering.

We did a lot of fun things that year. My first graders then are in my class now as seventh graders. They still remember some of the games we played, and activities we did. To teach food, we played pictionary on the board (once I got one of those!) We dressed up in costumes to learn clothing.

I went home every night exhausted beyond coping. At the end of the school year I considered submitting my resignation, but I’m kind of stubborn. So, instead, I told the board that they needed to hire another teacher if they wanted to keep me, or they could hire another teacher anyway. :)

Somehow, over the last few years, I realize, I have wandered farther and farther from what I believe so that I am closer and closer to what is typical. I was reading a friend’s blog the other day, he wrote about how it's all about the kids. TPRS is a relationship between the teacher and the students. If a teacher's heart isn't in this, then it won't work. (To paraphrase my understanding of it, at least.) And it came crashing down on me. I have been withdrawing from my students bit by bit, and here I am almost scared to reach out to them again. Not scared on a physical level, but on an emotional one, because it can be vulnerable out there.I have been struggling with health issues for a while now, and that's part of it. My school has been embroiled in chaos and political upheavals, and I am sick of it. I've been saying, "as long as I stay in my room, I don't let that bother me, I just teach." And that's true. Mostly. It's hard when I keep finding myself in a position to talk to the lawyer because parents or colleagues are unhappy with me. It's so much safer to just "teach". If that makes sense.
I also have two little kids, one of whom already appears to be challenging his preschool teacher because he is so bright. And I find myself wondering if maybe after all of this I’m not really cut out to be a teacher. Or, maybe I should be a teacher, but I should my own kids. There wouldn’t be any political chaos then. No district standardized in-common assessment to judge my teaching at the end of every year.

So here I am, trying to figure out who I am as a teacher all over again. I felt all those years ago, in college, like this was my life’s calling. But it has to be more than conjugating verbs. It really does have to be about the students. I’m trying to learn and practice TPRS because I think that in so many ways it is the answer to everything I believe. (And hey it can’t be all that bad - Krashen, one of my heroes endorses it!) In a TPRS classroom, everything revolves around the students. The teacher focuses on each child as an individual. The class does not go on until everybody understands, so nobody is left further and further behind in the dust. There is acting and pantomime and artwork and music to help students’ comprehension.

There are things I struggle with too. I don’t like translating into English. I like to use concrete objects and pictures to define the words, like my anatomically correct model of heart that we throw around the room. (And yes, that’s limiting because we’re stuck with concrete words and abstractions are difficult to acquire.) It’s vulnerable as a teacher to put yourself out there so blatantly to the students. It’s hard to take such a “random” teaching style/methodolgy and put it into a linear curriculum map. My students seem to rebel at the questions that go along with the stories. In fact, they are begging me for worksheets of verbs to conjugate! And every story I try, except one, fall flat.

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