I graduated my teacher training program at the end of 2016, and started looking for my first job as a world language teacher in the spring and summer of 2017. I was so excited - I thought I had done very well in my student teaching and was on my way to having an exhausting, but productive first year!
I got a call from a middle school in a Seattle suburb, and one awesome Skype interview later, I was a real teacher! Finally - all my years of experience in working with children were going to put me in a position to inspire and educate our youth! Bam!
Well, the nerves crept in. The position was a Spanish teaching position and I had majored in...German. And done a summer travel-study program in Germany. And been the president of the German Club. And lived in Germany for a year as an English Teaching Assistant. I had been to a Spanish-speaking country for a total of...six days. And though I had minored in Spanish in college...I was the German guy. Ok - I can do this! I am a creative, hard-working individual. There are MANY resources out there for Spanish teachers, more than for German, for sure! If I flop, it’ll really be my own fault!
The first day is a blur now, but I remember my first class coming and wondering, “will I be able to speak to them in Spanish the whole time slash at all?” (I did it, phew. What did I even talk about? I can’t recall.) The students went home and there I was, alone in a little room that was now dubbed “mine,” with little idea of what to do next. Okay...I’ll just follow what the textbook thinks comes next! And try to throw in some of those fun, interactive activities I learned about in my program! And browse Pinterest for MORE new ideas!
There are so many ideas out there. Blogs, Pinterest boards, well-meaning colleagues, negative colleagues, district coordinators, other teachers who don’t even teach language who took a language class one time twenty years ago, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, books, instructional video series, YouTube...there are just a million ways to do any one thing. Teach a language? Goodness gracious. Not to mention, if you shop on Teachers Pay Teachers, everyone else’s materials are BEAUTIFUL and look like they were hand-crafted in a giant, beautiful library by angels and the ghost of Socrates.
Before I started teaching, I thought to myself, “I’ll never show a movie in class as a stalling technique! I want to be up there, teaching, every day! No cop outs!” But the heads going down onto desks, the figuring out differentiation for six classes a day, the four preps, the days where I spent 12+ hours at the school looking for materials online, the wondering if it was fair or right for me to be a Spanish teacher when I felt I knew so relatively little….it all began to wear on me. The beginning of November seemed like the perfect time to drag out The Book of Life over a couple days...in all my classes. I thought to myself...is this it? Is this all there is?
A conference presenter turned me on to the CI Liftoff Facebook page, and through it, I started learning a lot about how teachers were delivering comprehensible input in their classrooms, every day! What? My level 1 students only know some weather phrases (sometimes...well, some of them), some greetings, the numbers (sometimes), me gusta phrases...how do these language magic witch people just make these kids understand day in, day out, without planning every single word? Devilry, I say!
So I read some more, watched YouTube videos of teachers working their classes like Vegas MCs, took tons of notes, thought aloud with wild enthusiasm (usually to myself), until one day I said, okay! This is it! LET’S DO THIS!
Again, I don’t know what exactly I even talked about the day I “decided to go CI,” but I knew there was a hunger there. I could not, would not stop. And, magically, I started learning things about my students that made me feel like I was connected to them, and actually knew their lives.
And it reminded me: though I had not lived in a Spanish-dominant country, I had learned my Spanish and practiced it in a country with a huge population of Spanish speakers. To me, learning Spanish represented building closer relationships with my Spanish-speaking neighbors, colleagues, strangers I ran into when they needed help, when I needed help. It was about speaking to the hearts of people in my community. And that connection was sparked again when I started to speak slowly and comprehensibly to my students, making their lives and interests into our curriculum. It felt like a loving tribute to all the times I or my conversation partner had made the attempt to connect in a tongue not our own, and we both smiled and understood, even if we didn’t say all the words right.
So I kept learning, I keep learning. And the more that I learn, the more that I see that it is not about building a huge repertoire of “activities” that expands every time I log onto Pinterest. It is really only about speaking slowly and using my body and voice so that students understand and can be understood. I look into my students’ eyes, and I feel connected, joyful.
I sense now that my career will not be an endless drudgery of activities and exercises, but an endless expansion of my ability to communicate and connect with other people. I will get better at literacy activities, I will get better at speaking comprehensibly, I will get better at classroom management specific to this discipline. But - how wonderful - doing this will mean meeting tons of really cool young people and learning about their unique, beautiful lives.
I thought about quitting for a while, but not anymore. Too many good stories to hear.
- Ben Fisher