Thursday, February 19, 2015

#Teach2Teach - Most troublesome experience

I'm a little late to the game but this in response to the #Teach2Teach movement started by Amy Lenord. In-service teachers answer questions posed by pre-service teachers. You can check out more at the website here or follow the #Teach2Teach hashtag on Twitter.

Q3 "What has been your most troublesome experience with teaching and how did you handle it?"

I've had lots of troublesome moments in my career.

- While teaching English in France a student told me to suck his you know what. When I complained to his regular English teacher her response was "Well, at least he was speaking English." Really??? Nothing like being sexually harassed by a 14 year old.

-While teaching English in Japan a teacher with control issues thought I was stressing out her first graders by making them repeat after me in complete sentences. She complained about me to the principal who then asked that I teach "words only - no sentences."

- While teaching on a cart I had classroom teachers who thought nothing of having loud conversations in the room while I was teaching, and then later informed me that while their kids love Spanish this was their room and their plan period so they'll talk to who they want when they want. You have to develop a thick skin when you teach on a cart.

- Several parents argued that their children should not have to learn Spanish. Without consulting me my principal allowed one student to go to music or gym rather than my class. (To be fair, I probably would have given into this particular parent too.)

But one troubling moment that stands out came in my first year when I realized that no one knew what I was doing in Spanish class. And what's more no one cared. No one cared. A hard pill to swallow for someone like me who is passionate about what I do and appreciates recognition for my hard work.

I got down in the dumps for awhile until I realized its potential. I have complete and utter freedom.  I can do whatever I want. I have the freedom to be creative and try new methods. If my kiddos get excited about a video (like they did with Adios monstruo) I'm not a slave to a state curriculum and can extend a unit past what I had planned because my students want to explore a certain topic more. And slowly, through engaging my students, through connecting with parents at Family Nights like Culture Fair and Hispanic Heritage Night, through sending my administrators "look what we're doing in Spanish class" emails, I am advocating for World Languages at my school.

I look at the classroom teachers at my school freaking out over KPREP and MAP data. They have weekly meetings with the principal and student achievement conferences. My job is at the mercy of grant money and my own self-advocacy. Theirs are at the mercy of test scores.  Do I sometimes resent that I have to advocate in ways a reading specialist or math teacher will never have to? Definitely, but it's reality. And I would rather worry about student engagement and proficiency (and yes, grant money) than test prep and scores.

Besides, what I have is pretty great. I have a room this year. My principal bought me a super fancy cart and the Calico Spanish curriculum I asked for last year. I got the split schedule I want so I see my kiddos twice in the rotation rather than just once. My principal told me she hasn't had a single email this year or last complaining about kids having to take Spanish. At my mid-year conference this year I told my vice-principal that "Now that I have a room, I'm going to start bothering you for more time." And she didn't complain or brush me off. She just asked what that might look like. That, folks, is progress.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#Teach2Teach - How to manage it all

I'm a little late to the game but this in response to the #Teach2Teach movement started by Amy Lenord. In-service teachers answer questions posed by pre-service teachers. You can check out more at the website here or follow the #Teach2Teach hashtag on Twitter.

Q1 “How do all these teachers balance the workload between teaching and planning?  Now that I am getting ready to perform all this work, I am beginning to wonder how anyone manages it at all.”

The trick to managing it all is to not manage it all. I'm in my third year of teaching and each year I put something on my radar of one to two things I want to get better at. Does that mean that I wish I had a monthly newsletter to keep families up to date on what we're studying, complete with resources to be used outside of class? Sure - that sounds great, but it's not on my focus list right now so it's a goal for someday in the future.  Is my classroom management in the TL better? Yes, because that's on the list.

Pick a few things that will make a difference to you and your students and focus on those. When you get good and comfortable with those few things, pick a few more. A veteran teacher told me once that, "this is a marathon, not a sprint." You can't be good at everything all at once so don't bother. You'll only get down on yourself.

The other thing is to have realistic expectations. It will not be easy. Your feet are going to ache. You might find yourself going to bed at 7. You almost certainly will be sick constantly until April. When I first got hired a teacher friend of mine congratulated me and said, "Congratulations! You're going to be great. And miserable. You won't have a life this year but it will get better. And you're going to be awesome."  My second year she said I would still be tired and miserable but it would be slightly better. And by year 3 or 4 I would find my feet. So far she's been right. I'm in year three and things have been better each year. (Sometimes I pinch myself because this year has been amazing so far.)

Tips from a FLES teacher on time management & organization

1. Multiple grades learning the same thing=less planning. As your program grows each grade will naturally be at a different place but at the beginning save yourself some time and teach the same topic with some variation to make up for age level. 5th graders don't always enjoy the same activities as kindergartners. Then again sometimes they do!

2. If you're on a cart, pack it for the next day before you leave each afternoon. Then check it again before you head out in the morning. Does this guarantee you won't forget something vital? Absolutely not, so have a few games on hand that you can play with no prep.

3. Write the schedule for the class somewhere where you and the students can see it. This is so they know what to expect even while you're 90%+ TL, you remember what comes next, and if you've taught a particular lesson already the students can tell you, "WE DID THAT LAST TIME!"

4. Writing down what you did with each class at the end of the day is absolutely necessary. Because no matter how hard you try assemblies, band practice, field trips, and things like Career Day will always get one class off track from the rest. I look back each morning at what we did the last time I had each class for the day and write the next lesson in the sequence on a post-it note and I reference it throughout the day.

5. If you have time plan your year over the summer. I find resources, write unit plans, and develop a calendar of when I'll be teaching what to whom over the summer months when I have lots of time and am relaxed. That doesn't mean I don't change my mind or find new resources or ideas throughout the year but it's much less pressing and only because I want to since I already have stuff planned. (I was hired a week before school started my first year so this is not always possible.)

6. Pick a day and take over the copy machine. I try to do this during primary planning because they use a different copier than me or after school. I like to have all of my copies ready for the week if possible. (And to make friends with colleagues, make sure to let them jump in front of you and your 700 copies for their 30 copy job.)

7. Take advantage of the fact that you might be teaching 24 different classes. Use each lesson to continue to refine it. I've had several lessons completely bomb this year, usually in 3rd grade because they've had less schedule interruptions. By the time I taught it to 4th grade, I had it perfected.

8. Don't be afraid to go slow, VERY VERY slow. I have been working on colors with kindergarten since the beginning of the year and they still can't tell the difference between black and white. Elementary age kids are great because they WANT to watch the same video, hear the same story, play the same game WAY more times than you think possible. And the fact is they need that repetition for language acquisition.  Find ways to play the same game but with different language. Use the same story but do something different with it or add on to it.

9. Make classroom management and your organization system priorities from the beginning. You will probably have to experiment and see what works best for you and your students but things fall into place so much better when you are organized and your students know your routines and expectations.

10. Find other FLES teachers through #earlylang on Twitter. Check out the community Carolina is building through her Fun for Early and Elementary Spanish Teachers page on Facebook. Join NNELL. Organize swap shops to share ideas with other teachers in your district/city/state.

Teaching is not easy but it can be fun and fulfilling. I met Helena Curtain at a conference my first year of teaching when I was overwhelmed and discouraged. Classroom management in English, let alone in the TL, was proving difficult. I had little sympathy from other corners but she told me something along the lines of, "Just do what you can. And forgive yourself. Each day is a new chance to start again." I treasured those words and I try to remember them when students are wild or we don't get to 90% TL or a lesson bombs. Each day is a new chance to start again.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Free Resources - Introductions, Days of the Week, & Likes/Dislikes

We've been working on introductions, days of the week, and likes/dislikes in my classes. I'm always on the prowl for activities and resources that will help my students get meaningful practice. Here are some free resources from Teachers Pay Teachers. Check out these ladies' paid products while you're there.

A very cool Days of the Week wheel from Lita Lita. I can't wait to use this with my kiddos. 

Bingo for likes/dislikes - great speaking practice for kids from Mundo de Pepita

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Me gusta el chocolate

We are learning to "express our likes and dislikes" (KY WL Standards 3.NM.PS.2) in the first grade. First we started with the traditional song "Chocolate."  They LOVE this song. In fact, just a glimpse of the song page last year made them beg me to sing it so they were super excited that we were finally singing "Chocolate."  Before watching the video in each class we would practice with a partner saying "Me gusta el chocolate" or "No me gusta el chocolate." Then I would hold up pictures of different foods and they would again tell their partner.

After several classes practicing, we finally got to try some chocolate. I showed them a video (unfortunately not in Spanish) of how to prepare champurrado and then we passed around a molinillo and said "bate, bate chocolate."  I showed them the molinillo before the video and they got very excited when they saw it in the video.

Finally, we had some hot chocolate and cookies. I didn't make full out champurrado but I did use Ibarra chocolate and added cinnamon and chili powder. After students tried their chocolate they wrote their name on a post it note and we made a class graph (tying it to what they are studying in math right now!) One of my students, who is pretty low and often acts out, enjoyed his chocolate so much that not only did he write his name on his post-it he also wrote ME GUSTA in big letters.  I was so proud of him that I had to take a picture and show his classroom teacher.

Since this lesson, this students and others have have told me "¡Me gusta el chocolate!" in the hallway now. I hope they realize this was a one time event. ;-D How do you teach likes and dislikes? Share in the comments below!