Food for Thought

Food for Thought: Acknowledging our weaknesses in teaching

Image source: Bagavill.com

We all have our strengths when it comes to the classroom. You receive students from other teachers and realize that there must have been a heavy writing emphasis when you see the students’ beautifully written paragraphs. Perhaps those students speak very well but are lacking in their written sentence structure. My weakest link? Listening. Except I did not realize this for too many years because I was not inheriting students from other teachers.

French teachers: Yes, I’m talking to you.

This post is intended for every (World Language) teacher, but yes, French teachers tend to be “on an island,” as I have so often referred to myself, typically the only French teacher in the department. I would not trade it for the world. The autonomy is liberating and I develop a deeper relationship with my students because I have them for minimum two years and potentially up to four. The pitfall of this scenario is that when you do not have outside perspectives to acknowledge student and teacher progress based on the content, you cannot see what you lack. I did not truly address my weakness in the classroom until I was faced with preparing my students for Le Grand Concours, the National French Content, when I moved to a new school.

The audio played and the panicked looks appeared faster on the students’ faces than you can say “Bonjour.” The results were no better. I realize that students tend to freeze at the sound of authentic audio because 1) it tends to be spoken more quickly, and 2) they are not accustomed to hearing French outside of their teacher’s voice. I thought discussion would prove that they had heard more than they thought, that they just had to pull out key words and we could piece it together as a class.

Nope.

At this point, I felt like a complete failure of a teacher. Yes, my students were skilled writers, but were they going to walk the streets of France with a pen and paper at all times? Certainly not. Something had to change.

In the last four years, I have incorporated at least one formal listening exercise each week, confronting the reality that listening to my French and overhearing other students in French was not nearly enough. I also start every class, regardless of level, with 1 jour, 1 question, short enjoyable videos (less than two minutes) that address questions of almost any topic. I did not think that these short videos would make much of an impact on their listening skills, but I have been presently surprised. They are engaging and most students look forward to them at the beginning of class, missing them when I’m out with a substitute. (They are now a regular part of sub plans.)

Over time, my intentional plan started to make small chips in the boulder that was blocking the road toward better listening skills. While I had not realized it at the time, I was implementing my now favorite 1% rule – that several small changes would make a difference.

My call to you in this post? Stop and acknowledge your weakest link. While classroom management is important, look at the skills you want students to acquire when leaving your classroom. When I confronted my lack of listening reinforcement, it also forced me to address creating a more balanced skills-based class. Are your tests framed for ease of grading or a true reflection of the students’ knowledge? Thursdays are now intended for speaking assessments based on student-created questions. Writing is constant but does not overshadow other skills. Students read a weekly story on Flipgrid from a short stories packet I created in addition to regular short cultural passages from the textbook.

Do not feel like a failure, as I did. Be realistic with yourself and truly confront what needs to change in your classroom. Take steps to improve then embrace your wins. The truth of the matter is sometimes we do not practice what we preach. Teachers want their students to grow but what are we doing to improve our teaching? Constant self-reflection and taking action upon those lacks will help you grow and not remain stagnant. Little changes lead to huge accomplishments. So, I ask you…

What is your 1% change you need to implement?