Why not now?

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I could wait another day to write this. It’s an incredibly beautiful day outside, a truly beautiful spring day in Montana. I could wait until I’ve read those essays, typed up that report, found those fantastic resources for my unit that have until now been evading my most clever googling. After I’ve accomplished all that -or not- I could effortlessly justify waiting until tomorrow or next weekend. There’s always going to be enough time next weekend, right?

But now is good. More than good.

The past few days were filled with great professional development. Scratch that. The past few days were filled with professional inspiration. One day was spent with our district’s fifteen middle and high school language teachers and Thomas Sauer. Not his first visit, hopefully not his last, and such a valuable opportunity to continue our conversation with him on our collective and individual paths to proficiency. Add to that an additional day and a half that he shared with our state organization, taking teachers from each end of this expansive state on their first steps of the path. Invaluable.

And so I’m taking the challenge (thank you, Thomas) to put down my own words as an opportunity to explore why I’ve been so reticent for so long to do.

Here goes: I haven’t felt like I was good enough yet.

Funny thing is, I don’t think that would have been as true during my first 15 years or so of teaching. I felt fairly confident at that time that I was on track, that I was doing all I could for my students and doing it the right way. And then some four years ago our department was encouraged and given permission by our administration to become “pockets of innovation”, to implement, if it existed, performance-based, proficiency oriented language instruction in our district. Boy, did it exist, but what a journey. But that’s for another blog post.

Four years down the road, I feel so much more empowered as a language educator. What I see my students doing with the language thrills me.

So why do I, the veteran teacher, feel less confident to share? Why does the simplicity of proficiency continue to seem so complex to me? Are my years of experience a part of my insecurity?

I observe the younger colleagues in my department, the “proficiency natives”, step into the classroom without having to translate their approaches to teaching from the well-worn, well-meant yet ineffective practices of the past into an approach that is so obviously superior. I envy their ability not to get lost in the translation of then and now and be native speakers in the language of proficiency. Proficiency is the only goal they’ve known as a teacher, and I’m jealous. I want that energy, that abundance of ideas, that youthful courage to try, succeed, maybe crash and burn sometimes but always have the ability, smiling, hopeful, to get back up and try it another way.

So I’ll start by identifying the single thing I have that they don’t, what I know to be the thing that’s holding me back most of all. It’s my challenge, not theirs, and one I need to face… the ability to fall back on the “old way” in those moments of panic and lack-of-planning. I can always pull a grammar lesson or a filler activity out of the air. And that becomes my crash and burn moment, the one that leaves me feeling discouraged and remorseful. I know better. I know that more careful planning can prevent it. It happens less often now than a year ago, less often this semester than last and realizing that helps me feel more hopeful. I guess I just didn’t think I’d still be learning how to teach so late in my career. I’m not proud of it, but sometimes I resent it. Veteran teachers are supposed to have the answers, have it figured out. But I feel like I have just as many questions, just as many things to figure out -if not more – than the youngest members of my department. Something’s up with the natural order here. It shouldn’t be this way.

But I’m so thankful that it is, thankful that I’m still learning and growing as an educator. And, when I finally get over myself, I’ll likely find that my perspectives and lessons learned are as valuable as anyone’s.

I may never feel like I’m good enough at all this.

I may always feel like I’m behind the “proficiency natives” in my department.

But for today, knowing that I’m doing all I know how to do at this time to give my students the opportunity of walking out of my classroom able do something with German they were unable to do when they walked in is enough. Doing my best. Not perfectly. But now, at least, willing to share that journey, even if I am the veteran teacher who’s still trying to figure it out.

The  sun is a little lower in the sky. It’s still a beautiful spring day. Now’s a good time for that report and those essays, but I think I’ll take a walk first.

Lisa Werner is both high school German teacher and Department Chair of an inspiring group of World Language…

Comments 4

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve felt the same–relearning how to teach, loving it but struggling sometimes with content and resources. I appreciate learning how others work through the process.

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