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…
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
–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!