Alyssa Campbell, of Seed & Sew, spoke recently in the Summer SOMOS Fun Club episode on Classroom Management about self care. She talked about it in context of collaborative emotional processing. Because (this is my take away), you can't take care of your emotions or support other people in their emotions if you don't take care of yourself, and the root of our interactions in classrooms is emotional. This got me thinking a lot about self care and why I am such a nut about going to bed early on school nights. It also made me thing about my Lunchtime talk at iFLT 19, which touched on a similar theme.
Self CareWhat does self care have to do with language acquisition? Well, let me go back to some fundamentals that I believe.
There is only one thing that really matters when it comes to language acquisition. (And it is *not* assessment, despite what you may think after spending time on this blog!)
There is one thing that creates language in people's heads.
There are, of course, factors affecting how that language is created and how our classes function.
Let's go back to what the Coaching from the Heart model uses to frame teacher's work. There are two goals in an acquisition driven class:
1. The communication takes place using language that is understood by the students (comprehensible and comprehendED).
2. The class is an environment where students feel safe and want to take risks.
Comprehensible and ComprehendED LanguageTrainers talk a lot about how to be comprehensible. Sarah Breckley just made this incredible video with a lot of specific ideas on how to do it. If you go to a workshop or conference focused on input, you will find a lot of beginner sessions focused on how to speak so your students understand. (Maybe we need more).
|Some strategies for observation,
reflection, and reference by
Being comprehensible and comprehendED is not easy and it takes a lot of intentional focus, but there are skills that can be taught and practiced. Here is a great blog post from Martina about being comprehensible.
And of course, we can speak all day long and think that we are being comprehensible, but we also have to make sure that students understand what we say. We do this with constant formative assessment. For many, this is asking a ton of questions, looking in their eyes, doing comprehension checks, and more.
Then there is the work of making every student feel safe and willing to take language risks. For me, this is hard work. I have to create a community where students feel secure, one that is predictable as well as emotionally and physically safe.
And I teach middle school, which means I have to work really, really hard to keep them interested in what I have to say. (That is why TPRS is my go-to!) While there is not really any evidence that the input needs to be compelling for language acquisition to occur, there is a lot of evidence that middle school students better be interested in what is going on or the whole class will fall apart.
|Me, after a day of teaching
But it does get easier!
One thing that I observed when I first started teaching with TPRS and focusing on input was my own level of exhaustion shot up. A lot. I was drained- so fully that I felt empty at the end of the day. This exhaustion came from watching the kids, interacting with them, and monitoring every single pair of eyes (and body language) for a full hour (per class) all day, and making minute adjustments constantly to make sure each and every kiddo was comprehending and felt safe. It was exhausting. It still is. Every. Single. Day. (It does get easier, friends. It really does.)
This is what it sounds like in my head while I am teaching:
Amber looked sad when she came in today I wonder if she slept at her mom's or not. Better give her a smile and oh wait Jamil is starting to turn to Hamish so I am going to walk over to them right now before he even opens his mouth, but now Brian looks like he is going to fall asleep so I better check that he is following along and I wonder if Hailey is taking notes like we agreed or if she is writing a note about what happened at lunch and I don't think that everyone understands hacer SUP so I better comp check that and maybe I should put up that cute picture of Juniper on the paddleboard but I don't know where my phone is and I bet Joe wants to tell the whole class what he told me earlier so how can I give him a yes/no question that he can answer and understand?
AND AT THE SAME TIME (while pointing or gesturing to words that I am not sure they know) saying:
"Clase, ¿Qué hiciste durante el fin de semana? Yo pasé tiempo con mi perrita y mi esposo. Fuimos ..what does the mos mean?...we... Fuimos al lago Jordanelle para hacer SUP. What did we do? We SUPped. Hicimos SUP. A Juniper no le gusta hacer SUP pero le gusta pasar tiempo con nosotros. Does Juniper like to SUP? No. ¿Qué hicicte tú? ¿Quién fue a las montañas? Joe, ¿Fuiste a las montañas con tu familia?"(Class, what did you do during the weekend? I spent time with my little dog and my husband. We went...what does the mos at the end of the word mean...we...We went to Jordanelle Lake to SUP. What did we do? We SUPped. Juniper does not like to SUP but she likes to spend time with us. Does Juniper like to SUP? What did you do? Who went to the mountains? Joe, did you go to the mountains with your family?)
Yeah. That's HARD. All that empathy and being open to receiving what the students are broadcasting (emotionally) while at the same time trying to herd the middle school cats AND speak in another language and make sure they understand... It is hard.
That is why self-care is so important to me.I can't control what happens to those kids outside my classroom, outside of the few hours a week that they are in my class. I can't keep them safe, I can't feed them, and I can't make puberty any easier.
And the only way I can possibly have the energy to create the classroom environment that I want to have is to care for myself.
So, I choose (my) life.
I choose input over pointless assessments, over grading everything, over activities that do not help students acquire. (I do what I have to do to keep my job, don't get me wrong. I *do* assess and grade, I just do it in the easiest way possible.)
I choose to spend my time working on getting better at providing compelling input. (Because middle school.)
I choose students over curriculum. (Read more here about some big mindset shifts that I believe in, including this one.)
I choose my passions. I choose to engage in hard work that is important to dismantle systemic inequalities.
I choose to go outside and do something I am not very good at. (Painting plein aire.)
It feels great.
I choose my well-being.
I actively try to simplify my teaching life to what matters most for language acquisition: input and emotional safety (sometimes known as low affective filter). And love.
For me, this means choosing one curriculum and not letting my squirrel brain follow the next great idea down the blogosphere.
It means treating my time as if it was as precious as my money. (It is.)
It means prioritizing things that give me joy (writing, painting, mentoring other teachers, learning more about second language acquisition, teaching a graduate methods class, walking the dog) and help replenish my heart so that I can go in and give my full attention to my kids. It means advocating for myself and saying no and letting people (admins and friends and my husband) know when I need support.
Don't get me wrong-my husband wonders why I have a second job, and I don't always get to bed on time, and some days I don't get the workout or yoga session that I wanted, and other days I go in and snap at the kids or have no patience. I am human, and far from perfect. But I can honestly say that I am in control of my professional life, and I have a personal life too.
Here are some of my favorite resources about self-care. In particular, Angela Watson's work, especially her book Fewer things, Better, has inspired me. (The following links below take you to articles and podcasts by Angela.)
- Your classroom does not have to be Pinterest-worthy
- Stop feeling overwhelmed and overscheduled
- Which aspects of teaching can you let go of?
- When is it ok to say you have done enough for a student?
Erica Peplinsky and others (Megan Hayes, Justin Slocum Bailey) have all done some great work (blog posts, presentations) about self care as well.
So, as the year begins, how will you take care of yourself? What will you choose?