22 March 2017

The World Doesn't Need More Language Teachers

I said it before, and I'll say it again: I hope school subjects are abolished in my lifetime.

The archaic notion that understanding can be split into neat categories and segregate "math people" and "artist types" is doing no one any favors.

If you want to know something now, in the Information Age, you simply look it up between Pokestops. No library card or fees or rides to and from campus required. Good Will Hunting never had it so easy. But still we insist on playing this outdated game of Schooling.

Because it's what the colleges want. Because it's what we did. Because it's what we can understand.

Because we love it.

We relish the familiarity. We bask in our small bastion of certainty. We define ourselves by our subjects and excuse ourselves from not knowing others.

 We are wrong.

Time and time again, thought leaders tell us that we are preparing students for career fields we can't even imagine now. No amount of conjugation or comprehensible input is going to prepare our students for that. Not really. Not if we're honest about what it is our classes can offer beyond stringing different words together.

Sure, language can be a metaphor for all of the problems students can solve from scratch. It forces new perspectives into our expression and understanding. But unless we EXPLICITLY parlay that into real-world contexts with our students, we are LIARS.

This will get you a better job. This will get you a sticker on your diploma. This will get you into the college of your dreams.

So. And. What.

Those aren't young people's real needs  their driving forces. Yeah, some of us will jump through just about any hoop for a shiny sticker, but the stickers can't hold us together.


These are what Daniel Pink saw as the primary factors to motivation. I've seen it in my own life. I've seen it in every successful person with whom I've had the privilege to correspond. It's what makes me teach, what makes me blog. It's what makes my husband fix the phone system at the local police department AND what made him keep up his Duolingo streak for a month after he got home from his first trip to Mexico.

Don't get me wrong. Your students need you. Mine need me. But it's not because we're healing their monolingualism.

It's because we know the way.

We are adults. We have had problems we didn't know how to solve. And we have solved them, or at least survived them. And that is no mean feat.

Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell tells us the Babelfish is coming (does anyone else remember the Babelfish before Google Translate? No?). The language isn't what our students need most from us anymore--if ever they did.

They need to taste Mastery, perhaps of a language, perhaps of tools and strategies that allow them to go on mastering other things. 
They need to feel Autonomy, that they can pick a purpose, a goal, and actually have the confidence to go out and achieve it through carefully considered plans and reflection. 
They need a Purpose, any purpose--that doesn't get us fired. They need to be the change they wish to see in the world, to identify problems in their communities, immediate and abroad, and not despair.

My fellow teachers, linguists, experts in solving and surviving the problems that life throws our way: pass THIS on to your students. Use another language to do it so you can double their possibilities and horizons. But do not be a language teacher any longer than you have to.

Be the guide that shows the young people in your care how they can live life.

19 March 2017

#SCOLT17 I Won!

I will never be the SCOLT Teacher of the Year, but I have to admit, I found success at SCOLT. No, not in a Moonlight kind of way, but more in a Ralph Waldo Emerson way. After all, I have always loved his definition of success.

To laugh often and much

You guys, the dinosaur ATE his roommate while he was trying to sweep. I just...I cannot. I cannot not laugh.

To win the respect of intelligent people

These ladies. They are tops in my books, and to get to hang out with them just rekindles me every time.

and the affection of children;

They really have been pretty sweet this whole trip--and not only to get to the Magic Kingdom today.

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

This lady and all of my awesome #langchat tweeps keep me going in ways they'll never even know. I'm kind of pulling for her and Sr. Howard at ACTFL.

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

I thought of posting the LEGO rose my husband got me in LEGOland after the general session, but I think this group is actually the most beauty I found in one place on this trip. Just the joy and the compassion and the creativity that exude from these ladies...how cool to get to see it all together.

Emerson has a few more descriptors to scaffold success, factors that aren't necessarily evident in one weekend. I think as teachers we all can rest assured that we have succeeded in this respect:

I don't have a conference photo for this one, but there was a student I mentioned in my Teacher of the Year interview, the one who led me to my advice for new teachers that "It is never about you," who gave my SCOLT post on Facebook a like. I gave her my number years ago, and now she's in the home stretch of her junior year of college to become a social worker.

I mean, I didn't win ToY, but I think it's safe to say I've succeeded. I'd be willing to bet every teacher reading this has too.