Thursday, December 12, 2019

Highlight Reel or Highlight Real?

Meredith White has written a similar blog post a few years ago - it is a great read!

A few years ago, a number of Latin teachers from all over the country and I were talking over dinner about observing other Latin teachers in the classroom. On the one hand, we all agreed how important and beneficial it was for us to see other teachers in action, to see what they were doing in their classrooms, and to learn from them. At the same time, I vividly recall one teacher saying, "I loved being able to observe __________, but what I really want to see is how he handles a disruptive class or students who do not want to be there. Or even better, I want to see what he does when a lesson just flat out bombs. That is what is going in my classroom. THAT is what I need to see."

There is so much truth in what that teacher said. As teachers, we want to show off and to display our best when observed. Whenever teachers come to observe me, I know that I want them to see my classes where I am at my best. I also know that I enjoy sharing classroom triumphs and academic strategies with which I have had success and where I saw both language acquisition and high student engagement occurring. On social media, there is a plethora of posts by teachers, detailing their student victories and what is working in their classes. However, what we need to realize is that as inspirational as these social media posts can be, these are just teacher highlight reels. Much like sports newscasts which only spotlight the highlights of a game, these snippets do not represent the bigger picture as a whole.

Highlight reels can be both encouraging and motivating, but they can also have the opposite effect if a person gets into a "compare and despair" mentality about one's ability as a teacher. What we need is more highlight reals. We need to be more honest about our daily struggles and about those times where we feel like we are falling short. I think that a major issue is that we wish to hit home runs every day in the classroom, when in reality, we are lucky if we get a single when at bat. My district world language coordinator always reminds us that teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and that our victories are not always immediate.

I hope that my blog posts do not make it appear that every day is a day of student language acquisition and of tremendous student classroom engagement in my classes. This year, I have been blessed to have five classes of students who for the most part enjoy both me and the class, and I have had very little discipline issues. However, I also realize that this is an anomaly, because over the past years, I have always had 1-2 classes where it has been a daily struggle with particular students. I employed classroom management strategies, tried to make connections with them, and loved them by faith but to no visible avail, and I feel like these students held both me and the class hostage. I even have written a blog post a few years ago about the times when I feel like a failure as a Latin teacher.

At the same time, I know that I am not alone and that I am not the only teacher whose actual highlight reals are a far cry from his sporadic highlight reels. In her blog post, I love how Meredith White says that too often we compare others' highlight reels to our own blooper reels and as a result, we harp on ourselves for being bad teachers.

I hope that we as teachers can feel more open and safe to share our highlight reals with each other and that these reals in turn can help encourage others , knowing that everyone still deals with struggles in teaching.

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