Seeing With New Eyes

As a language teacher who sees the students in class every day, I find that it is so easy to take for granted the everyday language that students know and are able to use. My students are able to say a lot of things about themselves, they are able to ask this information about others, and they are able to understand a lot of topics that they aren’t ready to talk about yet. And on a regular day, I would say to myself, “well of course they do, but they can’t do XYZ.” I tend to focus on what they can’t do rather than what they can. This is a theme that I find myself coming back to again and again in my reflections on teaching:

Sometimes, it takes a different perspective to see just how significant the students’ progress really is.

Yesterday, I had my 6th graders and I was asking a story, specifically we were talking about the details of the main character of the story, and another teacher walked in to take some pictures for the yearbook. She was snapping away, the kids and I were mugging for the camera and having fun while we were asking and answering questions about the student actor who was playing the main character, and at one point, I looked at the other teacher and she had a sort of bewildered look on her face. I looked at her as if to say, “What’s wrong?” and she said, “I have no idea what you guys are saying.” The kids kinda laughed and she took a few more pictures and left to go take pictures in other rooms.

After the students left and I was thinking about it, I realized something about what she said. The kids who have been in class were able to be right there with me, all 27 of them. They were all participating and suggesting answers for the questions I was asking (name, age, where the character lives, and all the other stuff we talk about to set up the story). The other teacher was able to see the kids in that one moment, responding to the Spanish I was speaking; she got a snapshot of where the students are in their proficiency journey. I don’t really get that perspective. I am with them in class every day that we’re together and since their progress is incremental, it’s hard to see the big picture. Just think of how much students change between school years: They leave 7th grade as tiny little kids and enter 8th 4 inches taller with voices that are deeper than mine!

This teacher’s comment on her snapshot of my class stuck with me all day and lying in bed, thinking about it, I had an epiphany (I know, I have a lot of those). Before I get to the epiphany, though, I have to mention that lately I have been disappointed by my work in the classroom. I have not felt like I am at my best in the last few weeks. With the lead-up to spring break and all of the parties and activities the kids have been having all over the school, I have felt a little bit lost in shuffle. I felt like I was making no progress. I know that it’s a slow process, even in the best of circumstances, but it seemed like the students’ progress had stopped completely. Then, the teacher came in to take photos yesterday and it put things into perspective. The epiphany is that since I have been way too close to the students’ instruction, I haven’t taken a broader view of the kinds of gains they are making in comprehension and proficiency. I have the rubrics and the assessments, but those are abstract and academic, they don’t have the same impact as having someone who has not been in my classroom seeing and commenting on the students’ use of Spanish.

The lesson I have learned is this: If you’re in a teaching slump, get a different perspective on your teaching. Invite colleagues or parents or friends or administrators to come into your class and see what you’re doing. Get an outsider’s opinion on what you’re doing and on how the kids are doing. Share the positive things they say with your students. I plan to share this information with my students because they are up close to it, too. Sometimes, the perspective is too close for them to see what they can really do.

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