New Year’s Reflection #4 – The Human Side

Over the past four days I have certainly reflected a lot and what I finally wrote down is what constantly goes through my head. I want to take this New Year’s Reflection #4 in a different direction. I am writing it as a reminder for myself to always keep in mind because I know that my love for Spanish, language teaching, curriculum maps, lessons, and learning connections could get in the way: the human side of teaching and the daily needs and struggles of my students. I am not talking about their needs with regard to differentiation and language learning but really who they are as individuals. To help me with this post, I will refer to my favorite source material: musicals. If you are not enamored in the same way as I am with musicals, do not fret, luckily for all, no one has to hear me try to belt a show-tune!

Last May I was traveling to NYC and I was very fortunate to score a very hard-to-come-by ticket to see “Dear Evan Hansen.” A month later this musical and its stars would win Tony Awards for their remarkable and genuine performances and portrayals of high school students and parents dealing with real issues. (In case you have not yet experienced Dear Evan Hansen’s amazing songs, check our Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Youtube Playlist.) The musical tells the story of Evan, a 17 year old senior with social anxiety, who gets tangled in a web of unfortunate (or fortunate) circumstances following a teen suicide in his school. One of the show’s anthems rings with the message “You will be found” and it leaves the audience in a mixed whirlwind of emotions at the end of act 1.

With tears in our eyes (and tears are not a common occurrence for me), I began talking with the people next to me. They said “Wow, what a show. Being parents this show is really hitting us.” I said, “Yeah. I am not a parent but I am a teacher and it is really hitting me too.” This couple was immediately empathic to my experience as a high school teacher and I was empathic to their roles as parents – we both play key roles in children’s lives. I told them that I was lucky to buy this newly released ticket the day before, and they looked at me and said, “you were meant to be here.” I took that message to heart and feel that I carry a bit of Evan with me every day. The struggles presented by all of the characters in the musical can be found in any school on any given day.

The beauty of musicals is through the magic of song, stories are told, shared, and experienced by an audience. Of course, movies and TV can do this but for me there is something about an actor pouring their emotions out on stage and when done well, demanding we empathize with them and understand their story.

Do we as teachers try to understand our students’ stories?

Do we realize that our young people do have stories and they have identities that are as complex as ours or even more so? There are insecurities, doubts, the incapacity to understand their changing selves, struggles, many life factors that our students cannot control, and also all of these wrapped up in each family member and friend in their lives.

As I start the new year, I want to remember all of this. I must remember that my 90 students are more than a grade or language proficiency level, their role in the school community or as membership on a team, or the behavior that they exhibit in my class. This of course does not excuse students from being respectful or holding them accountable to adhering to school rules or working to learn, but ultimately, I feel that the better I know a student and about their struggles, the better teacher I can strive to be.

I want to end with this song from the musical “13.” It is sung by another Evan and a group of pre-teens about turning the big 13. I think these lyrics from the song “13/Becoming a Man” paint a nice picture of what is going through the minds of kids this age. There is even a shout out to Spanish class – but I would have to guess she has a very demanding, legacy world language teacher.

Have any other musicals helped your perspective and provided a better way to see, feel, and think about someone else’s story?  Leave a reply and share it.  

 

Read the lyrics to “13/Becoming A Man” as a poem or my preference is to listen and watch this video with lyrics on Youtube

I’m Evan Goldman. I live at 224 West 92nd street,

In the heart of Manhattan.

And my life just went to hell.

Picture me just another cool kid in NYC,

Near the park and the MET.
Life is sweet, Yankees in the Bronx, Pretzels on the street,

Just how good can it get?
Who’d have guess dad would meet a stewardess?
Mom’s depressed and her lawyers are mean.
Now I’m stressed, life is a disaster
And I’m cracking from the strain,

Going totally insane
And I’m just about to turn
Thirteen!
Everything switches
Everything turns around
End up in stitches
Find a way underground
Can I get through it?
Life has changed over night
How do I do it?
Nothing is going right
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And I’m standing on the edge!

Twelve years old,

everything that used to be as good as gold

starts to crumble and crack
Pressure mounts, once it was a joke,

Now it really counts and there’s no going back
Life goes wrong

Boy: Suddenly they’re yelling cause your hair’s too long

Girl: Or your room isn’t clean

Kids: Roll along

Evan: Every conversation is another lost cause or

A list of my flaws
God, I’m going to turn thirteen!

Boy: I want a dirt bike
Girl: I want to kill my mom
Boy: I want a mustache!
Girl: I want a wonder bra
Girl: When do I get it?

Boy: All of the grown-up stuff’

Girl: How will I make it?

Boy: When am I old enough?

Kids: 
Why is the world feeling totally stranger?
Why are my friends acting totally weird?
Why do I feel like my life is in danger?
Why do I feel like my brain disappeared?

Girl: How can I get through a year of Spanish?

Boy: How can I not look dumb in track?

Boy: How can I gain 20 pounds by Friday?

Boy: How can I make my voice not crack?

Kids: I wanna fly, wanna run, wanna drive
Wanna get rich, wanna get drunk, wanna get out
Wanna get my braces off
Wanna get my nose pierced
Wanna grow my hair long
But all I keep hearing is

No, you’re not ready!
No, it’s not time yet!
No, it’s not right now!
Wait until you’re older!

Homework
Laundry
Dishes
Courses
Just settle down and hold your horses!

Evan:
In the middle of this city
In the middle of this street
There’s a sound of something crumbling,
Rumbling underneath my feet

In the middle of the sidewalk
Outside p.s. 84,
I hear a roar
I can’t ignore

I hear Evan it’s not your fault
I hear Evan can’t you see
I hear Evan do you want to go with mom or stay with me?

I hear kiddo, I’m not angry
I hear buddy, you know best
And there’s the rumbling getting louder

But there’s one day in October
Where the pieces all will fit
When they have to be together
And pretend they didn’t quit

I’ve got one day in October
And I know it’s got to be
The perfect party

I’m becoming a man
I don’t know what a man really means
The rule book grows, but no one knows
What all the rules allow

I’m becoming a man
No one tells all the scared in-betweens
Just how we should be strong, be good
With so much pressure now

One day it gets better
One day it makes sense
One day I’ll stop talking in the friggin’ future tense
One day in October
It’ll all be great
And I can’t wait

Kids:
I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait
I can’t wait
Can’t wait for thirteen!

Kids:
Something is coming
Something is going up
Something is humming
Somebody’s growing up!
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And we’re just about to turn
Thirteen!

 

Lyrics modified from https://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/13/13becomingaman.htm

“I’m Ready” and Certainly in Great Company

To Blog, or Not to Blog?-that is the question. Yes, this has been my question for many years. I certainly did not join this train early in the blogosphere world but now “I’m ready” to join the great company of all of the world language bloggers from whom I have learned so much. This new professional goal is going to challenge me to allow myself the time to sit down and write.

I really love to reflect and for all that know me, you know I enjoy engaging in discussions about teaching, acquiring and learning languages, and searching for the best and better ways to help and reach students. For those of you who have leant a kind ear to my process (and rambling) in the past, thank you – and now everyone can experience it – just in written form.

I have been so fortunate to have amazing professional communities that have all helped me develop as a teacher. These communities and fellow educators have all provided support, wisdom, guidance, and new ideas that have helped me put together my “Mosaic of World Language Teaching.”

As I have thought about my process and my way – my way of life and teaching – I am (and have always been since I was a child) a collector. I have many collections and together these collections represent who I am, what I’ve seen, and where I’ve been. My “Mosaic of World Language Teaching” is no different. I have been teaching Spanish since I was in high school. During the summer of my Jr. year, I was hired by a family to re-teach Spanish I to their student who struggled all year. For a daily $6 stipend for six weeks, I quickly learned what it meant to be a language teacher in 1998. We translated, conjugated, and worked through vocabulary lists (all generated by me on my fancy Pentium computer). My goal was to help him learn enough to not sink in Spanish II (and he did) but at the time I really did not think about communication. I also tutored at my college alma mater, Miami University. Soon after that as a 21-year-old teacher, I was given a great opportunity to teach mid-year at a small, all-girl college prep school. My time at the Andrews School and now, Andrews Osborne Academy was a 12-year job or frankly, way of life, which provided me the space to grow and flourish as both a person and an educator.

I had so many growth opportunities in that environment that have all become a part of my “Mosaic:” teaching three iterations of AP Spanish Language and Culture, teaching five preps a day, developing courses around Spanish/Hispanic Film and Civilization, learning about social justice education, running diversity and anti-oppression workshops for students, traveling around the world with students, putting together International Days, and so many countless others.

Within all of these new opportunities, I was able to do two important things I feel were crucial to my overall sentiment as a fulfilled teacher. First, I was able to incorporate many of my own passions and interests into my daily world, and with regard to curriculum and teaching methods. Second, I was able to make changes and do what I needed to do in order to meet the needs of each group of students. Now I will say that at times my job was quite overwhelming and sometimes it was too much, but from it, I know I grew quickly, and I am the teacher I am today because of it. The whole experience (and the past three years in my public school) has provided the pieces of my mosaic and together these pieces have all defined “My Mosaic of World Language Teaching.”

I do not believe that there should be a one-size fits all approach to any educational program, method, or curricular sequence. I believe teachers should have a solid understanding of standards and their content, a yearly allotment of time and money for professional development, and a reflective mind-set that will challenge them to teach in ways that will meet the needs of all of their students.

As an educator, this is what I have done and it has led me to where I am today. Yes, I am a teacher who uses lots of Comprehensible Input and TPRS in my classes because it is what I found has allowed me to stay in the target language as much as possible and what has proven to help students communicate while showing long-term retention of Spanish. In 2006, I was sent to the Learning and the Brain Conference (https://www.learningandthebrain.com/) and although the conference was not about world language teaching, the concepts and brain-research jogged my memory about my prior knowledge of TPRS. In 2007, I took a leap of faith with TPRS and worked through great and some not-so-great lessons but in the end I was seeing results with ALL my students, many of whom in the past were not having success.

And even though I can be associated with many of the titles under my name, I feel most importantly I am a 21st Century World Language Teacher who works to help students acquire language and build student proficiency. I understand and like working with ACTFL’s five C’s and I enjoy the process of designing units with themes and essential questions. Plus as a collector, of ideas, realia, and resources, I know that my three filing cabinets worth of files, hundreds of books, and all of my TCI/TPR/TPRS trainings have all played a part in creating “My Mosaic of World Language Teaching” and more importantly my ART as a teacher.

As I begin my journey on this blog amongst such great company of other world language bloggers, I have a personal goal of one post per month. I hope you are able to take an idea from a post or possibly a resource I’ve shared and use it as a piece of your teaching mosaic or to inspire a new one. Thanks for spending a Sunday in the Park with Gary as bit by bit, I’m putting it together.