From traditional to TCI: Beginning a comprehensible journey

This whole internet as professional development thing is new to me, but I sure wish I knew about it when I started. When I started teaching at my current school, I had a fresh MAT in foreign language education, no experience outside of my internship (at a high school, I currently work at a K-8 Catholic school), a textbook from 1987 (seriously), a wish, a prayer, and several boxes of things from my methods professor’s 40 years as a teacher and administrator.

The principal, when he hired me, told me, “this is your room. Have a great time. Let me know if you have any questions.”

Any questions?!?!?

I was filled with questions, the most significant of which was, “what am I supposed to teach?” The teacher I was replacing, I’d find out later, left under bad circumstances and didn’t leave anything of her program–not any notes, not any curriculum materials, not any order of instruction. I came into a k-8 teaching position cold. I taught the standard things that are in the beginning of a textbook: greetings and goodbyes (“we learned that a long time ago”–6th graders), colors (“that’s the only thing our last teacher ever taught us–just colors and worksheets to practice the color words”–8th graders), present tense verbs (“we saw this last year and the year before and the year before that”–7th graders).

They had a comment for everything. Maybe it was just because I was new and naive, maybe they really did know that stuff; either way, it was a tough year filled with panic attacks, stress, and the strong desire to quit.

Luckily, I didn’t quit. Or to put it another way: Luckily, I never found another position that would hire me.

In retrospect, it was tough, one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my (short, at this point) teaching career, but it was worth it. I learned everything that I didn’t learn in my education masters program. Most importantly, I learned how to develop a curriculum. It took until the beginning of last year, three years in, for me to develop any idea of what’s appropriate for kids at the wide range of ages that I teach (no in-depth writing for kindergarten; no coloring sheets for 8th grade; that sort of thing).

Then, last summer, I attended a TPRS workshop. Now, just as it has begun to get comfortable, I have decided to change everything about my approach to teaching and my philosophy of teaching. I have had an epiphany about my purpose is as a teacher.

Before, if students could pass grammar tests, I considered them successful. I had a hard time squaring that with what I learned in grad school about proficiency, comprehensible input, Can-Do Statements, i+1 with what I was able to do in the classroom. I knew what all those things were, but I had no idea what to do with them or how to approach them. Until July 2014, I didn’t have the tools to even begin thinking of those things. Teaching grammar was easy (for me). Grammar was comfortable. Unlike most 9-14 year olds, I really like grammar. It was fun for me. (The content, not the getting frustrated or mad at students who were goofing off because they didn’t have the same enthusiasm that I do about verb endings and gender agreement)

It’s the story of so many language teachers: I did what I had always known and it didn’t work. Then I had the aha moment.

Since that aha moment, I have been experimenting with TPRS and comprehensible input in the classroom and I find that it fits my personality so much better than book work. I can be as silly as I want, as long as I am focused on making my input comprehensible. The kids are responding better than they ever have and they are enjoying themselves more than I have ever seen in my classroom. Oh, and they are speaking and writing better now, after 5 weeks, than they had in the previous 4 years!

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