In various Facebook groups such as Teaching Latin for Acquisition, it seems we have approached the part of the school year when things start to get tough. It begins with a lesson or activity that just didn’t work out the way we want and students begin to test the Daily Expectation rules or they simply seem to misbehave out of nowhere. Compelling seems like it can only be found in the latest Netflix series or Marvel movie. And on top of all that, we are starting to arrive at school in the dark and for folks like me with kids at home it seems it is dark before we even have the chance to get outside after school. Some days seem dreadful.
I’m experiencing a similar spot of overwhelming fatigue. Conferences, increased family pressures like a 10 month old with a stuffy cold that keeps her from sleep and students who seem to have flipped a switch about school. The negativity running through their conversations can only be from Fama herself.
In the past, I took these moments to “pull up the bootstraps and settle in for the grind of teaching.” This year, I’m going to fight that feeling as much as I can. Teaching is a grind, but pulling up bootstraps involves herding cows or throwing old tires on a silage pile. We interact with students. It’s time to step back and listen. To adjust to the pressure and bring ourselves back to the students in front of us. I simply do not agree that learning and teaching is supposed to be “challenging.”
Hopefully I can follow the advice I’ve read many others encourage. If not, here are some items I will come back to in a month or 2 when I want to reflect on what happened during the 1st moment of the teaching grind this year.
- A grading system that no longer chases missing work. – One reason I’m more calm this year is that I switched to a proficiency grading system. Gratias to Magister P for sharing his proficiency rubrics as a baseline. His thoughts on grading are simple, yet on point. Take a look at his site. My system is a 10% Dea, 75% proficiency and 15% final exam. ***update*** DEA is no longer a score in the gradebook. It is simply my expectations and what will happen when those expectations are not met. Calls home, plans for restoration, principal involvement if necessary. *** Instead of adding up points to determine a grade, scores are used as evidence toward a student’s proficiency. If a student misses a day, I don’t have them make up that day’s work.
- As part of DEA expectations, students must read something in Latin for 5-10 mins and complete a short log in which they demonstrate an interesting Latin sentence or portion of the text. An example log is found on my Self Directed Reading page with a link shortly above the book levels. Yes, not all students have completed the reading log, but that is easy too demonstrate in the DEA category. Some students begrudgingly read something below their level, but they still receive repeated input when they do that. Best of all, I’m not stressing out about finding ways for students to make it up. Their proficiency grade is based on what evidence they have completed toward the goals on the proficiency rubric. *** update *** My district is moving to standards referenced grading with a system that will continue to use averages for final grades. Therefore I have abandoned the portfolio of evidence. Instead of a homework, quiz, test, project, DEA category filled gradebook, my gradebook is Understanding Latin, Interpersonal Proficiency, Production of Latin. These categories are not weighted. Larger assessments include multiple scores within those categories. From a constructive workload perspective, this is the best decision I’ve made in my teaching career as my conversations with students are about why I am forced to report a score for them of a certain grade or even an incomplete based on the evidence they have supplied me in class. Students must make up large assessments like quizzes, tests or prepared projects, but they always have advanced notice about these things and they are not frequent so it is not a big deal. Stop chasing the missing work. No, really, stop chasing the missing work. Students benefit more from today’s input than yesterday’s lack of school.
- I’m taking time to check in with students. My school runs a modified block which means we have 3, 8 period days and 2, 4 period block days in which I see half the students 1 day and the other half the next. Today, I started Latin 4 /AP simply by asking them how things are going in school overall. I always take what students tell me with a grain of salt, but I learned many of them have frustrations and a lot of those frustrations are real. Those frustrations block acquisition in my classroom.
- I’m going to monitor my own energy flow and include that in my planning. I had little planning brain power to start this week after my family was away traveling for a funeral. We have been reviewing Roman deities in Latin 2 and I knew I was spent finding, writing and creating new ways for them to review. I found some pictures referencing the deities we have been studying, handed them a chart to write a description of the gods and goddesses with familiar Latin words and phrases that they start to put into original sentences and I talked to them in Latin about the deities. It was simple, yet I could see things clicking in their minds. I figured it wouldn’t be compelling, but it turned out the opposite. Sometimes compelling is overruled by complexity. Today simplicity won for me.
- *** update *** I’m working toward developing a restorative mindset as a teacher. This year I read the book Better than Carrots or Sticks, which challenges much of the educational systems that we teach in, including my own. In my classroom, my goal is to bring as many students back into processing, acquiring and learning Latin. Strategies such as informal talking circles, careful responses to students who are frustrated and walking through students how to talk to one another when we disagree or are frustrated with one another has improved classroom environments immensely. Find my thoughts about restorative practices at a series of blog posts housed on the must read books page.
- Lastly, I’m done beating myself up about hitting the compelling sweet spot every time. Instead of trying to be more creative, I’m going to listen to my students. Compelling tends to come from places I don’t expect with high school students. Many times I think I miss it because I’m so caught up in the attempt of creating something that is compelling.
If you’ve hit that teaching grind, don’t fix it tonight. Go to bed early. Watch a tv show. Run. Bike. Do what you do to reconnect with yourself. Go to school tomorrow and listen to your students. Listen to your energy. Listen for compelling. When you find it, use it as long as you can for input. You are helping your students. They have been conditioned to play school a certain way that they might even rebel from you, but in the end the input will prevail, even if they or you won’t admit it.
Don’t just hang in there. Take care of yourself and focus on ways to draw out input. As I find myself becoming more comfortable with facilitating input toward acquisition I’m more and more convinced that language acquisition is built around relationships. Compelling is relational more than anything. Be present for your students and the rest will fall into place as you learn about yourself and this crazy thing called acquisition.