Recover from burn out, stress, and demoralization

My first three years of teaching were “crying years.” I would break out in uncontrollable sobbing while packing up at 7pm after 13 hours of work. 13 hours a day and I still did not feel prepared for my classes… nor did I understand why or how to change what I was doing. I kept thinking that I needed to find something more interesting, a song maybe… something my kids would love.

Why did I feel like I had to make so much work for myself to have a simple conversation in Spanish with students? Did I not trust that talking to students without planning every step would lead to their acquisition of Spanish? Did I really feel so out of control in front of a group of adolescents that I believed they wouldn’t listen if their hands were not occupied every moment of class?

Teacher forums are full of suggestions by well-meaning educators that transform simple, powerful activities into prep-intensive but watered-down activities.

Movie Talk is an example of this. This is a low-prep activity that does not require planning beyond finding a video clip to discuss. Despite the simplicity of Movie Talk, I often hear teachers referring to “the readings,” numbered screenshots to put in chronological order and sentence strips to attach to photos to demonstrate comprehension. The teachers are making too much work for themselves! This overabundance of prep work complicates a teacher’s life, adds to stress, and takes away precious time from family and friends.

Worse yet, just because the students are up and active does not mean that they are acquiring language better than if they were sitting and listening.

At a regional convention I once witnessed a celebrated teacher burn half of her presentation time fiddling with manipulatives during her live teaching demonstration. We all have bad days, and my heart honestly went out to her. But I began to have a sneaking suspicion that this wasn’t simply a bad day. The idea of the lesson wasn’t so bad until you watched not only the class time squandered to organize the manipulatives, but also realized the amount of time dedicated to printing out and cutting out the tiny pieces of paper before class.

You might be asking yourself: “is he seriously going after manipulatives?!” Well, if there is an easier, lower-prep way to run a class then the answer is yes.

It is much more effective and efficient to focus on simple activities with a maximum amount of conversation created in the moment with your students.

Flashy gimmick activities do not replace the skills of simply remaining comprehensible in a class.

The key to being a teacher that comes to class each day refreshed and who enjoys being with students is to:

  • (1) learn how to remain comprehensible in the moment,
  • (2) develop a repertoire of activities that are low to no-prep conversations such as those found in the CI Master Class,
  • (3) follow each activity with a quick Write & Discuss, and
  • (4) end every class with a brief exit quiz to verify that students engaged and understood the class conversations of the day.

If you do that, you can go home at the last bell and leave everything behind.