08 January 2016

GUEST POST: For Pete's Sake Cut Yourself Some Slack!

Each week in January I'll be featuring insights on the blog from some ladies with great ideas from my PLN.

This week, Stephanie Schenck helps answer the question, "
How do you tame your inner critic?"

Stephanie Schenck is Spanish teacher at Clover High School, SC and PhD student in Literacy, Language, and Culture at Clemson University. She is also an NBCT and reluctant technology embracer as well as an occasional #LangChat participant --when not drowning in grad work. 

Also, she's probably the reason I survived grad school.

It is a hot topic on Twitter, and has a real impact on real people’s feelings:

You Aren’t Doing Enough. 

You might feel guilty because you didn’t hit 90% target language. You might second-guess the activity that you painstakingly set up. You might feel uneasy that your lesson may not be ACTFL approved. 

This, my friends, is what happens when teacher guilt gets to you.

I have seen a lot of this type of discussion on Twitter and heard in presentations at professional conferences. It is so easy to get swept up in the dialogue and be passionate about the almighty Best Practices, used At All Times, by All Good Teachers. 

I get it. I really do. I, too, am passionate about getting my students to learn as much as they can in the best ways I can teach them. I, too, love the idea of best practices. To put my money where my mouth is, I am actually working on PhD on this very subject. (Go tigers!) Best practices are not the enemy. It is the pressure we put on ourselves to adhere to them every minute of every day. Or worse, the pressure from our colleagues.

But you know what? High school students rarely get out of intermediate levels of communication on the ACTFL scale (Rifkin, 2005). Yes, it is true that a communicative classroom with lots of input and feedback and authentic resources will help set these students up for success if they choose to travel, use the target language outside of class, or take more language courses in college. 

But still. There is a ceiling there. And we all need to just chill out.

I’m gonna tell you a little secret. Some days, my students might do some *gasp* worksheet packets, play some vocab bingo, or maybe even do a craft and some coloring. Because there are days when I NEED A BREAK. Maybe I am up to my eyeballs in grading. Maybe I have tons of parent emails that I need to respond to. Maybe, I have a sore throat and just plain don’t want to talk a lot that day. And you know what? I do not feel bad about it.

I know that if I really wanted to, I could tweak my activities to make them more “worthwhile.” I get it. I really do. But if I am too tired to care that the kids did a worksheet packet, am I really going to care if I can MAKE IT COMMUNICATIVE? No. No, I’m not. But a burned out teacher who doesn’t care anymore isn’t going to ever want to make anything communicative. I don’t want to become that burned out teacher. 

I guess the thing is that I know and understand the difference between a great lesson and a poor lesson. But sometimes I just need to breathe and let it be a poor lesson anyway.

In college, I had an amazing methodologies professor named Dr. Morrison. She taught me all about how to make pretty much anything communicative. We learned how to best do a vocabulary lesson or scaffold a writing assignment. She was, and still is, one of my favorite people. Yet even she said that sometimes, we would feel too exhausted to go on. It was ok to give a worksheet on those days and we needed to give ourselves some grace. 

I’m gonna let that sink in a minute. A college methodologies professor is telling you to give yourself some grace.

I sometimes feel like I am the defender of the Good Enough teachers of the world. I don’t always hit 90% TL. I don’t always set up ACTFL approved activities. I regularly have classroom discussions in English about culture to be sure that all students can participate and understand what I believe are worthwhile topics, perhaps even valuing content over language (see what I did there?). 

But I do ENOUGH good things to make my class worthwhile. And I, little by little, gather new ideas from colleagues and conferences, and I slowly chip away at being a Good Teacher All Of The Time. 

But for now? I am Good Enough.

If you're not feeling Good Enough--or even if you are--you can connect with @SraStephanie on Twitter and TeachersPayTeachers.

Stay tuned for more guest posts this month from our online PLN!



  1. So true! Striving for best practices and not always reaching them is not equal to failure as a teacher. It is the not trying that needs to be addressed with teachers, to find out what is holding them back. But it certainly shouldn't be fear of failure. We all have to cut ourselves some slack on the perfection front :)

  2. Thanks for sharing!! I needed this today! :)

  3. I need to hear this at this time of year! I mean can you say Banangrams in Spanish? Some days...some days....I am not as generous with myself as I am with colleagues when I say to them-yes, sometimes there are days like that-it's ok. I need to follow my own counsel:) Thank you!