Calling all K-12 language teachers (a.k.a. one of the hardest teaching jobs out there): Please share your stories!

Prior to coming to my current job in higher ed and language learning technology, I taught in a grade school. Grades 7-12 to be exact. The wonder years. (I now realize how wonderful they are, and how awesome my colleagues were then, now that I have kids of my own in that age bracket). To each ofmy colleagues in higher ed who complains about how hard s/he works, to you I say you ain’t seen nuttin’ ’til you have worked for a year (or in my case eight years ) as a grade school teacher. We used to joke that teachers had summers off because they needed until around July to begin to feel the blood coarsing through their veins after the academic year was over. Sadly, this was not all that far from the truth…

time on task

Where I worked, a teacher’s job was divided into fifths: 4 of those fifths corresponded to your teaching load, and that other fifth was your service to the school. That service could take many forms… being the yearbook advisor, coaching 9th grade girls soccer team, community service project leader/driver…or as was my case: creator, developer, maintainer and faculty trainer for the digital language learning center.

Quite often the scenario for creating a language center goes something like this: A school –in the form of an administrator or a funder– decides it wants to create a language learning center (often because the rival school or district has something in place already). Someone is volunteered (!) to do the research on what the options might be. A timeline is created, usually involving major miracles, divine intervention and the creation of a 30 hour workday. (Most common scenario: you have 6 months) Faculty member dedicates summer to the task. The center is built. A request is made for additional staffing to support the new center, but the creator/developer makes it all look too easy, resulting in this task being tacked on to someone’s work-pie chart as a fifth.

But now that you have a center, you have to use it…and use it well. The pressure is on! Someone has to keep on top of the new tools and tricks and …and…and… Funding is tight or non existent for conferences. Also, in order to attend a conference you either have to either:

–get a substitute teacher for your class –at the school’s expense– if the conference is when school is in session

OR

–you have to give up life-sustaining vacation and/or weekend time to attend.

When I was a beginning my career as a teacher-technologist in that world, I can remember staying up very very late at night exploring tools while the house was quiet and when my correcting and planning was done. Anyone remember CU-CMe from Cornell University? (Apparently Radvision bought the tool…let’s hope the original developers made gazillions on that sale.) I would explore CU-CMe for hours, and eventually found a language teacher in Japan with whom our Japanese class eventually “chatted” online. And thus it began…. 🙂

This was waaaay before we had things like blogs, wikis, skype and websites that encouraged collaboration… To get information on language learning technology back then (the Dark Ages, yes I know) you had to belong to a group (and often pay for that privilege) or you had to go to meetings. It wasn’t easy.

Three years ago had this hair-brained idea and created LLU as a way to share information, to follow up on ideas presented but not fully explored at conferences, to create meaningful conversations about interesting ideas, and to form a community of practice and group of willing practitioners through a common, shared virtual space (yer lookin at it). Right now we tend to focus on higher ed language learning, but you know what? The perils and the concerns we face at this level are really no different than what I faced in grades 7-12. Honestly? It’s the same issues…just with bigger bodies. In fact, I often think about how my teaching and how my students learning would have been enriched had I these the community of learners and teachers that frequent LLU when I was teaching so long ago….

If you are a K-12 language teacher… please leave a comment and tell us about yourself. What are your concerns? Is my depiction of the grade school language teaching with technology experience accurate.. or am I totally full of hot air? Let us know your thoughts.

Plus…How can this site be more helpful to you? Please let us know. We welcome your participation!

Barbara has been working for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for about 15 years. In addition to teaching Spanish she runs a somewhat unconventional language center. Prior to this adventure in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and watch the Red Sox. Preferably not all at once, although that could be interesting. To see her online portfolio please click here!

4 Comments

  1. Heather Souter · March 27, 2008 Reply

    Taanshi! Hello!

    I am a former interpreter, translator and language instructor who lived and worked in Japan for 13 years. I presently am involved in endangered language documentation and the creation of web-based pedagogical materials. I am a Michif (Métis) from Manitoba and am working on my own heritage language, Michif.

    You have a great blog and I have enjoyed reading this on this site. Although I am not a school teacher, I am very interested in the technology that teachers are using and developing for language learning. I am hoping to learn about best practices in language teaching/learning involving technoloby and also about practical approaches on limited budgets. (The later being extremely important as there is very little money easily accessible to community-based language revitalization initiatives. Believe me I have done the research and tried! However, if anyone happens to have any ideas, I would be happy to hear them.)

    Well, that is all for now! Eekushi.

  2. Barbara · March 30, 2008 Reply

    Heather:

    Thank you for writing and for your lovely compliments.

    Best practices is something many people are interested in knowing about, but they can also vary based upon the age of the students, the language, the task, the intended outcome.

    Still, it would be great to get people together to talk about it. Any suggestions on how you would narrow the topic down a bit in order to get the conversation started?

    –B

  3. Allison Weiss · April 3, 2008 Reply

    This is my first year and the job and I’m that lucky FTE that does nothing but assist teachers to use technology in their language classrooms. It is both exhilarating and exhausting, especially since I find that teachers really do not have the bandwidth to try very many new things in the course of a school year, given all the usual constraints of time, scheduling, and energy.

    So what I have found is most helpful for the teachers is essentially creating model lesson plans and taking them through the process as if they were my own students. I only have one meeting with them per months, basically six chances per year, to make an impression.

    I haven’t read as much of your site as I would like to, but if you could catalog some of those “home-run” lesson plans (widely-applicable and easily adapted to different languages and ages), that would be a gift from the heavens.

    Here’s one that I created this year that seems to be working well: Spanish Class Idol

    Thanks again for your site. It’s the best thing out there for language labs that I’ve found.

  4. Barbara · April 4, 2008 Reply

    This is a great idea Allison and I thank you for visiting the site, saying such kind things, and positing a need we might be able to address. We have a wiki off of this site (type /wiki after our url). While I would love it to be open to all, the spambots keep making that impossible. So what I will do is create a username and password for you and let you get started. As others come along and want to add stuff we can do the same for you.

    And if indeed there is a place elsewhere on the web that has this kind of content, we can easily link to it without feeling the need to complete or usurp it. After all…that is the beauty of the “many pieces loosely joined” concept of information creation and sharing (which also is an underlying philosophy of this site)

    Sound like an interesting plan?

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