It’s easy to think, especially as an elementary language teacher, that your class doesn’t matter. TL;DR: It does.
The culture at your school might be something like, “Specials/electives are the ‘real’ teachers’ break times and that’s the only reason to have them.” It is easy to fall into this kind of negative thought loop: homeroom teachers ask you to give up your planning time to take their classes (so that they can have a planning time); homeroom teachers cancel your classes; they pull students out of your class for “more important” work. Taken individually, these things aren’t really a problem every once in a while, but when you’re a teacher who teaches the whole school and there are 18 different homeroom groups from K-8, these things magnify and happen more than you want them to.
The cumulative effect of these things can make fore a teacher who feels alone and unsupported. I have, on more than one occasion, used the phrase, “I didn’t spend all this money for degrees and professional organization memberships to be a babysitter.” But that’s what it feels like. And it can be disconcerting, difficult, frustrating, heartbreaking.
Don’t let it get you down
But YOU MATTER. Your class is important for the development of each child you teach.
Do you know whom you matter to the most? The answer is simple and it’s the same for all of us: The students. You are here for them, not to make any other teachers happy or give a free period. You are there to make a difference in a student’s life every day, whether it’s to make them smile, to be a sympathetic ear, or to facilitate their acquisition of language, you are there to make a difference.
Did you ever wish your colleagues (yes, they are colleagues, not superiors) knew these things?
Open a dialogue
Let teachers, administrators, and parents know how important it is to know a foreign language. This can be through professional development or even just articles left out in the teachers lounge that explain to non-language-teachers the importance of knowing more than just English.
Advocate through your students
Make sure your students know why you’re there. Your class is important, but the relationships you build with them are more important. After you know they understand how much they matter to you, make sure they understand the significance of learning a foreign language. Teach this to them early, as early as possible. Develop relationships with parents–invite them to presentations, to activities, or just to observe class and show off what your students can do with the TL. As an elementary foreign language teacher, there are so many opportunities to show how well the students are developing their language skills.
Use the school’s campus to your advantage.
- Your kids can probably do some amazing things in the TL: Show it off to the whole school on a hallway bulletin Board.
- Re-enact “Las Posadas” before Christmas, complete with songs and traveling door to door.
- Dia de los Muertes – Have students make Papel Picado, create ofrendas around the school, make and distribute Pan de Muertos
- La Tomatina – Have a giant “tomato” fight with paper balls in the hallways between grades or classes
- Have students present announcements in TL
Make yourself a resource
If your program is like mine and a lot of other foreign language elementary programs, then you have known your kids across years and you have seen them grow up. You know them better than any homeroom teacher they’ll ever have. Let your colleagues know this and know that you can be a resource of knowledge of these students’ lives, behaviors, and personalities.
You matter and your work is important
These are only a few suggestions for things you can do. As I stated above, it can be easy to let the complications of being a “special area” or “elective” teacher cloud the joy that comes from teaching. But please, remember that you are an important member of your team and you matter. What you do is different from every other teacher and that is not a bad thing. Lean into it and teach students to the best of your ability.
At the end of the day, after all the politics and frustrations that arise from the grownup world of making a school run, it’s the students who will benefit from our classes. It is our responsibility to be the best we can be so that they can be the best they can be.
PS-This post has been in my queue for a few weeks. After writing it and adding to it and reflecting on it, I have realized that it’s more for me than anyone else, but I thought it important to share because you might be going through the same crisis of confidence. You are not alone in this, even if you are the only teacher of your subject at your school. YOU MATTER, WE MATTER.