The Struggle of Teaching Level 1

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Disclaimer: I’m going to share a very vulnerable confession, which as a teacher is extremely dangerous because it puts me in a perceived “weak” position.  Although I confess that I struggle teaching Spanish 1, I choose to view it as a strength because it helps me evaluate what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and what I can do to improve.  For any other educator out there, I would encourage you to do the same.

During my first few years of teaching, my mentor teacher created my schedule so that I taught only Spanish 2.  Being that I was fresh out of college, I appreciated that she wanted to help me hone my teaching skills and classroom management.  As I became more comfortable teaching Spanish 2 and the proficiency targets and descriptors, Spanish 1 was added to my plate.  I was so excited.  The growth in Spanish 1 is magical.  They literally start with nothing and you get to see their growth.  As an educator this is very empowering.  It is also very empowering for the students to think about their metacognition.  For the past few years, I have drawn some conclusions about Spanish 1.  Somedays, I feel like I am the most effective teacher in the universe and others, I feel like an epic failure.  It is hard to pinpoint exactly why my classes are or are not successful, but these are my humble observations thus far:

  • The Student: Spanish 1 students are unique.  Some want to be there to learn.  Some are there because their parents are forcing them into a language because it is their one regret from their teenage years.  Some are forced into the class by the counselor, mostly because there is no other appropriate place for them.  Some have already decided that they are linguaphiles and want to add yet another language to their repertoire.  All the varied learning styles and IEPs is exhausting.  I find that I spend way more energy on my Spanish 1s than I do my other classes.  Why?  I have my lessons planned out to an exact T, because otherwise the slightest distraction takes them far, far away from our learning objective for the day.
  • The Curriculum: Perhaps, some of the reason why I feel so exhausted and that a tornado has gone through my room is because of the curriculum.  Are they challenged enough?  Is their behavior a direct correlation to the lack of rigor in the curriculum?  Do we “dumb it down” for the Spanish 1 students because we are afraid we’ll scare them away?  This is why thematic units are so important, as is connect the content to prior knowledge of the students.  Spending 6 weeks on numbers is completely inappropriate.  Change the task to make it more authentic, but still incorporate the numbers.  To test this theory I bought this program from Priscilla Russel, Eugenia Porello and Paris Granville from Language Shaping Solutions called Mitos del mundo azteca.  I collected data and anecdotal observations about how well my students performed and how they could recount the entire legend of El sol y la luna.  It was a challenge, in addition to words in Spanish, it contains Nahuatl words. Like most language teachers I knew that in theory, thematic units were good for students, but in actual practice the evidence was glaring.  Sometimes, we pay lip-service to strategies and pedagogical practices without actually using them in our own classrooms and this was my “Ah-ha!” moment as an educator.  Since this revelation, I have strived to write thematically themed units with my colleagues.  We still struggle to incorporate this pedagogy in all of the Spanish 1 curriculum, and I find that my students are more complacent and/or misbehave more in the lessons that aren’t linked to thematic units.
  • The Teacher:  Maybe it’s me? Perhaps, I become too impatient with them when they aren’t able to infer meaning with as much ease as my upper level students.  Perhaps, I need to be better about the behaviorism part of class; teaching them commands in the target language and how the general flow of the classroom works.  I feel as though I repeat it a lot, but I could always improve this.  I think I do a good job outlining the expectations, but perhaps I need to be even more explicit.  Also, I become discouraged and maybe my inner perfectionist gets too loud.

Whatever the factors may be, I do know that my students are learning and they are able to express it in their own individual ways.  For now, I am happy with that and I will continue to soul search and work on being a better me.  Do you have any solutions to teaching level 1 successfully?

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anjan58/4894219427/

Jaime Basham is a high school Spanish teacher who enthusiastically incorporates humor and authentic realia in her classes.…

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The Struggle of Teaching Level 1

by Jaime Basham time to read: 3 min
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