A day with Annabelle Allen, 2018 Louisiana Foreign language Teacher of the Year
Most people know Annabelle “la maestra loca” Allen for her incredible charisma, high-energy and, of course, her signature brain breaks. Today I spent the day with forty other lucky teachers and Annabelle at East Wake Academy in North Carolina. One thing that struck me as I followed her presentation is that Annabelle Allen is much more than brain breaks. I often hear people say that they could not reproduce Annabelle’s kind of high-energy performance in class, but sifting past what I cannot imitate left me with the characteristic of great teachers that I must be able to channel if I want to be effective: Annabelle is incredibly mindful of her students. It can be hard not to get swept up in the absolute hurricane that is her personality, but it would be a mistake to believe that her performance is on a stage untouched and unaware of her audience. How many times have I taught with a sort of tunnel vision, not truly taking the time to look deeply into the eyes of my students?!
Annabelle reminded me today of another hero of mine who has the uncanny ability to calmly, lovingly remember each student’s contribution to a class story and consistently honors that student by gently gesturing in her direction whenever that contribution is recalled in class. If you have ever sat in a class taught by Ben Slavic, you know how special you feel when he says your detail a day later during a retell, then pauses, gently raising his hand palm up in your direction, pausing still to make eye contact with you and for a second nods slightly with a grateful smile as if to say, “yes, blue, you saved our story with that wonderful idea of yours, of course our character is blue“. The difference between Ben’s slow, pondering approach and Annabelle’s frenetic energy could not be greater on a superficial level, yet they are undoubtedly related.
I have heard people suggest that when you observe another CI teacher you should take notes on how they made themselves comprehensible. It is a technique that helps the viewer maintain some distance so that, instead of being entranced by the lesson, the observer can actively observe the mechanics of a good CI teacher. If you have the chance to observe Annabelle, however, consider making a list of how she makes each student feel valued and loved. Some of her techniques, like the crayons of many different colors technique, she will openly articulate… while others are worth holding yourself slightly outside of the tornado of her lesson with the hope of getting a glimpse at how thoroughly she observes the students in her midst.