Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
Maya Angelou’s call to be the best I can be hangs in my classroom by my desk. Over the years I admit not always heeding that advice. But as my purpose as an educator became clearer and I approached my work with greater intentionality, I could not ignore this calling to improve my own craft a little bit everyday for the students, community and country I serve.
For me this has meant intensely honing my own skills at delivering understandable, interesting and repetitive messages to my students. The fact that from one period to the next I am teaching different human beings means I need to be agile and responsive. Because the dynamic of one group will change from month to month I need to be perceptive and flexible.
I was taught to take notes after delivering a lesson and to reflect on what went well and what I should change next time. In my earlier years, that next time was synonymous with next year.
For a number of years now, communities of online peer learning networks have helped me in immeasurable ways. I’ve made changes in how I approach lesson planning, create and maintain the learning environment, establish and give grades (or not), and the list goes on. And I’ve felt compelled to make changes immediately. If it would make a difference in my students’ learning, why would I wait until next year? A truly reflective practitioner driven by a mission of providing a meaningful, relevant and effective language learning environment for all students wouldn’t wait until next year to make a change that might bring positive results.
Our school recently had to hire a French teacher in the middle of the school year. Wendy and I talked about re-norming a class with established rituals. We talked about ideas to make French understandable, interesting and repetitive. We talked about 90% TL. But mostly we talked about classroom management. It was during these conversations that I was reminded of the courage it takes to teach a class of middle school children. Wendy stated with confidence that she knew things would not be perfect, but that she was going to give it her all. Then she shared these words her grandmother had always said to her. They struck me. Seven little words that encapsulate the last 10 years of my career with incredible precision.
Begin As You Mean To Go On
So when you see great teaching happening, study it and imitate it like a young basketball player pretending to be Michael Jordan or a young artist making lines like Picasso. When you hear of programs that have increased their enrollment from less than 1% over four years to over 60%, find out what they’re doing and try it. When you read student writing that flows beautifully and communicates a student’s real ideas or you hear students expressing themselves in unrehearsed, spontaneous speech, ask about how this came to be. When you learn a trick that could help you optimize your classroom environment for language acquisition, give it a try. But not just one try. Give it a thousand tries.
And do it tomorrow, not next year. If we all dedicate ourselves to beginning tomorrow as we intend to go on, we will create a society that says, “my language classes were engaging, equitable and joyful. My second language lives inside me and I speak it every day!” That’s how we can really begin to turn our country into a nation of language learners – a #nationofadvocates.