Friday, May 6, 2016

The Perils of Comparing and Despairing

I love reading about other CI/TPRS teachers' successes and ideas on blogs and on Twitter, because on most occasions, it both encourages and motivates me to become a better CI/TPRS teacher, plus I want to celebrate their successes. Like I said, that happens on most occasions. However, there are times where instead I look at their sucesses and at what they are achieveing in their classrooms and think to myself, "Wow, compared to this person, I really suck as a CI/TPRS teacher" or "How come when I tried the same thing, it failed miserably? I must be the problem." The good ol' "compare and despair" syndrome.

I am sure that you have done this before too. Comparing and despairing does so much harm for us as CI/TPRS teachers:
  1. It sets our focus on other's achievements, instead of on our own victories. There are so many things to celebrate in our classroom achievements as a CI/TPRS teacher (even a successful round of circling!) that we lose sight of when we focus on others. 
  2. It makes us think that CI/TPRS is something which can be learned overnight. When we compare and despair, we ask ourselves, "Why am I not achieving like this person?" Maybe it is because that teacher is further along in his/her CI/TPRS experience than you. As teachers, we all know that it takes years for a novice to develop into an actual teacher, so why do think differently about CI/TPRS? In most cases, switching over to CI/TPRS means abandoning and switching one's whole worldview of language acquisition. All of this takes time. Thinking that CI/TPRS is a skill which can be easily learned in a workshop sets up an unrealistic expectation, so when we do not achieve like others, we become discouraged. 
  3. It steals our joy as CI/TPRS teachers. 
  4. It causes us to lose sight of our own individual talents and abilities. Every teacher has his/her own unique personality which others do not possess. Whenever I am in front of my classroom, I have to remind myself that I am the one in the classrom and not "X person." There are lots of CI/TPRS activities which I have tried in good faith which have worked perfectly, because it is me in front of the classroom, and there are lots of CI/TPRS activities which I have tried in good faith which have absolutely bombed, because it is me in front of the classroom. That does not mean that the CI/TPRS activity itself or I am the problem; it just means that probably the activity and I are not a good fit...for now or maybe ever.
  5. It sets up an unncessary competition which never existed in the first place. 
To combat all of this: Celebrate your past victories, and move forward. Continue to progress in your knowledge of CI/TPRS. My personal advice: Be the best CI/TPRS teacher which you can be at this point in your CI/TPRS journey, and take joy in it; that is all which your students really want. 


  1. Amen, Keith. You'be gotten to the core of something very important and very powerful that applies to me in a big way. I hope this sinks into me deeply as I look forward to helping other teachers find their way into TPRS!

  2. So true--both the myriad pitfalls of "compare & despair" and your advice to avoid it all. Number 6 is something to take to heart! Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  3. omg, yes, amen, amen. I have been comparing and berating myself...why haven't I led my students to such successes....yikes. Thank you so much for these valuable and encouraging reminders!

  4. I would add that each individual brain of each of our students is different from any other. Each one acquires at a distinct rate and certainly not in a clear, linear path. It is easy to get caught up in old paradigms about how language is acquired and "mastered"--especially when many of us have our students for only one school year and feel pressured by departments, administrators, districts and our own competitive brains and hearts. Thank you for reminding us about this and to not get too caught up in comparing apples to oranges.

  5. I have been thinking about this and you are so right. I think it's also important to remember that what we see online from other teachers' blogs, tweets, etc. is their "highlight reel." We're much more likely to share our successes than our failures, and our revelations rather than our disappointments.

  6. Just last night, I was feeling exhausted and deflated. I texted my friend who asked me if I was alright. "I feel like I haven't done a very good job this year," I confessed to her. She reminded me that I have had 10 preps this year and that to say I have been spread a little thin is a major understatement. Not to mention that this has been my first year using TPRS. So, thank you for this very poignant reminder!