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. 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 can be dreadful.
I’m experiencing a similar spot of overwhelming fatigue. Conferences, family pressures increasing from things like a 10 month old with a stuffy cold that is keeping 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 bring ourselves back to the students in front of us.
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 over at his site. My system is a 10% Dea, 75% proficiency and 15% final exam. 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 10 mins and complete a short log in which they demonstrate an interesting Latin sentence or portion of the text. 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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 in places I don’t expect with high school students. Many times I think I miss it because I’m so caught up in creating 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.