16 May 2018

The Truth Is...Why I'm not at the protests

The truth is my protest unit failed. When I couldn't get my seniors to read or write anything else, I had hoped controversial topics would hook them, make them question things, make them stand up and make a change--or at the very least think about texts in a way that would allow them to succeed on the NC Final Exam.

Really, I was hoping they were going to tell me what you should do when you think something should change, get fired up about something and figure out what I should do when I'm dissatisfied with the world around me. The truth is, I don't feel like I have really any say in education beyond my classroom (and a smattering of classrooms headed by people who stayed awake for my presentations.)  I don't feel like I have a lot of say in my government or even my school. I feel I would be a supremely unelectable candidate if I ran for office, and that my opinions are less than blips to anyone who is electable (other than a few select homies: Vote for Kristine Keefe-Hassan!)

What I got, though, was mostly a bunch of "raise awareness" with billboards and social media campaigns that I knew they were never going to ponder again after the class.

Today I'll find out if it at least prepared them for the exam.

Not only did I not get my answer, but here I sit wearing red all by myself in an empty classroom grading and blogging. Enough of my colleagues called out to go protest in Raleigh that we got an optional teacher workday. And here I am, doing more teacher stuff.

The truth is I needed the teacher work day. Aside from dotting i's and crossing t's for Senior English before graduation tomorrow, I have three sets of portfolios that have to get in the gradebook by next week, and I just haven't been able to make myself look at them.

The truth is I'm lazy and I kind of hate driving or even riding across the state, especially on short notice. Despite my organizational shortcomings (or because of them?) changing plans is one of the worst forms of torture I can imagine. We were going to have awards today, and I actually harbor a little bit of resentment about having to move it.

The truth is I also haven't felt like getting in front of the room and teaching teaching for a week or two already. I could use a break.

The other truth is that I'm also reliving the failed satire unit from this year. As shocked as I was that several young women argued against feminism--unironically--here I sit, unironically echoing their thoughts about women outside of the U.S. having it worse: "I make above the average teacher pay, my district just passed bonds to attend to almost all of the upkeep needs for our schools, and I don't even use a textbook. Really, we could have it much worse." I think of Darcy Pippins looking like a rockstar in Oklahmoa like they think of women ripping off their burkas in Iran.

The truth is it took me almost 15 years, a master's degree, and national boards to be "average." The truth is the Master's Degree made me the teacher I am--2016 FLANC Teacher of the Year, in fact--but there's no compensation for my friends who got theirs after I did.

The truth is I didn't even change my registration in time to vote for bonds to fix my children's school.

The truth is that I have internalized anti-feminism as much as my senior girls, recognizing the unhealthiness of the martyr complex I've developed, but giving into it to get grades done to make my bosses happy instead of going out and trying to make a change.

The truth is that teaching is the only way I ever felt I could change anything. Teaching was going to be a backup job to feed more artistic and hermity habits, until Mr. Bancroft said in junior English, "Really, what do you think? I don't know!" That's why I outsourced my desire for change to my seniors. Because I don't know what I need to do to make things better, but I am certain somewhere in them, they do. And if I can just get to that, then it will mean more than my slacktivist T-shirt or even witty signs ever could.

The truth is that one of my most brilliant seniors spent the silent time after she finished her test yesterday doodling--I kid you not--"An education based on standardized testing is sub-par at best." Seriously, little font flourishes and everything. I suppose it might have been an accusation of how I'd handled the year, forcing Romantic poetry that even I hated on them. But I chose to probe.

I asked her what "par" is, how understanding should be measured, whether anything really needs to be measured. She took the time to write out some ideas, but mostly she indicated that teachers should be able to make their own curriculum. I asked if she was going to the teacher protest in Raleigh today.

Her reply?

"Honestly, probably. It's important and needs to change."

The truth is, maybe the protest unit didn't fail.

15 May 2018

GUEST POST: Empathy in the Language Classroom

If you spend your days reading teaching blogs and connecting with other teachers on Twitter, I’m sure you can relate to my total and utter Spanish student nerdiness. I would spend hours on my bed practicing conjugations and memorizing vocabulary, but when I think back to school, I’m sad to say that I can’t really remember a single lesson. Sort of a depressing realization for someone who spends hours upon hours lesson planning, amiiiright?

What I do remember, however, are the experiences that were either absurd, creative, emotionally-charged, or built around community. I remember the time my very first Spanish teacher in the sixth grade taught us reflexive verbs using a toothbrush the size of a yardstick, the time my AP Spanish teacher let us work together to make piñatas from scratch, and I will never forget the first day of college Spanish when my professor sauntered in singing Bésame Mucho at the top of her lungs. (P.S. she and I are presenting together on empowering student voice at the AATSP centennial in Salamanca this June - someone pinch me!)



You won’t forget these images when contemplating whether an action is done onto oneself!

But guess what?


Let’s start with the big question: 

Why empathy and how do we build it? 

Check out the EdPuzzle I made for ACTFL below:

(If you haven’t tried EdPuzzle yet, I highly recommend it. You can even upload videos of your own students and have them reflect! Look back at the beginning of the year and notice how much you’ve developed. Talk about fostering growth mindset!)

Instilling empathy, or asking students to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, is one of the most valuable skills we can give our students. The foreign language classroom provides the perfect outlet to do so. We’ve spent a lot of time this year building habits around empathy.

1. Daily Gratitude Journals throughout November


2. Using activities to understand different perspectives


3. Inviting students to reflect on their own behaviors or thought reel in their heads 

4. Empowering students to STAND UP and be agents of change

Our final unit is focused on differently-abled people. The reason I created it several years ago is because it was perfect for the subjunctive. Although we did not get to the subjunctive with this particular cohort, we decided it is still a beautiful way to end the year.

To begin, I asked my boys (yes, I teach all boys and they LOVE our empathy lessons) to come up with their personal 10 commandments, using tú commands, for being a good person.

Next, we watched this newsclip about a class of 5th graders who gave up their recess to learn sign language so they could communicate with their classmate. I know what you’re thinking - this isn’t in the target language but I made the choice to use this resource in English and then MovieTalk it en español.


Students went into groups and filled out a simple 5 W’s organizer due to time restraints, but ideally I would have used my current events organizer.

For homework, they were asked to reply honestly if they’d give up their free time to learn sign language.

The boys responded with honesty:

Some with vulnerability, expressing their probable discomfort:

And some demonstrated empathy, the ability to feel with others:

This was a great jumping off point for the unit which we will continue with the cortometraje El Regalo, a PSA showing what children with autism experience in 90 seconds, and lastly, with the beautiful Movie Short called Cuerdas.

So even though it’s the end of the year and I really wish I had covered everything I wanted to, (irrational teacher thoughts- how will my students ever survive Ninth Grade without the subjunctive? ¡Qué horror!), I feel the closure all teachers want knowing that I helped my students to feel proud of who they are, what they’ve done, and knowing they leave with an understanding of what they can do to make the world better. Afterall, at the end of the day we just want our students to be good human beings.


Special thanks to Laura Sexton for asking me to write a guest blog. Big time shout out to my incredible Spanish department that energizes me every day! I must acknowledge Camilla Iturralde who has co-developed a four-part unit that scaffolds the building blocks to empathy and continues to create beautiful, SEL inspired units with me. You may have caught our session about it ACTFL, but if not, feel free to reach out for resources! For now, follow my work on Twitter @sspielb and please feel free to email me (samara.spielberg@gmail.com) for further information.