Reflective Teaching Day 9: My Secret Success

I’m doing pretty well so far! The prompt for day nine is:

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about.

This is a hard one for me for several reasons: 1) I’ve only been teaching for a few years, and I definitely feel that the best parts of my career are ahead of me, which makes it hard for me to say today what the “biggest” accomplishment is, and 2) whenever I am successful, I tend to be vocal about it.

I count many successes in my first few years teaching, but most of them come in the last few months. I’ve mentioned it before, but it really is where my career is focused right now, so I guess it makes sense for me to make it again. After 3 years of teaching to the textbook, focusing on grammar and verb forms, and grading miserable finals when I knew my students were able to do so much more than they were showing me, I was ready for a change. Over the course of the summer, I created my own curricula for all four levels of Spanish and prepared for a miracle.

What did I get?

I got a whole lot of backlash.

Not from my students in Spanish I; they didn’t know any better. Not from Spanish III; they only care about getting an honors diploma, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means putting up with a big change like the one I made. Not from Spanish IV, we had previewed some of my changes last semester, and I had pretty much convinced them that what I was doing was for the best.

But Spanish II…my students in Spanish II dropped like flies. They were frustrated that I wasn’t speaking English and I wasn’t letting them speak English. They were used to the old way, and even if they didn’t necessarily like their test scores or feel like they could do all that much with Spanish, they were happy doing grammar worksheets and taking notes and learning Spanish the same way they learned math. And they were not happy with the changes I made. The second day, three people dropped. The next few days were a domino effect. Good students, who I still think had no business dropping, got their parents to agree to let them take something else. I told myself “Well, if they don’t want to do the work, then I don’t need them.” But then their equally talented friends got to talking and said “Well, if Abby can’t do it, I can’t either.” I quickly went from 35 students in Spanish II to 19. That’s where I am now, three weeks in.

I’m so proud of my 19 remaining students for sticking with it. Many days, it’s still hard for them. A lot of the time they’re not exactly excited about what we’re doing, the way my Spanish I and III students have been. But they’re sticking with it, and I’m so glad.

So where’s my success in losing almost half of my numbers in Spanish II? I didn’t give up. I talked to parents, principals, students, and other teachers, and defended my position. No one asked me to change what I was doing (thank goodness!), but I felt the pressure. But I kept on speaking only Spanish during class, and making my students stretch their abilities as well. And even though it’s still not easy, it’s getting better, and I know that my remaining, dedicated students will succeed (just like I told the students and the parents of students who ended up dropping, but who didn’t believe me). 

And this is one success I haven’t talked about with anyone. Mostly because, looking back over the last few weeks, I realize that there are many, many things I could have done differently to help encourage my students that they could succeed. Partially, I was stuck due to state laws and district policies. But ultimately, those students had to make their own decisions, just as I had to work very hard to avoid becoming so discouraged that I gave up. I won, and as much as I hate to say it, those students lost. Hopefully they come to their senses next year.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Beth Leidolf says:

    You are correct amiga, I teach Sp. 2 as well so I can totally identify with “this class is so much harder” atmosphere in the room. Sounds like you are left with dedicated ones that will grow so much this year!

    1. srastilson says:

      That’s my hope! So far we’re doing well, but today’s the first test, so we’ll find out!

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