Friday, February 10, 2017

Follow up to raw feelings post

Okay, here's the promised followup. What am I doing wrong, and how can I fix it?

The problem here is, sadly, not actually the students. Well, it’s some of them. But most of them are perfectly capable of buckling down, listening, and learning. They’re even mostly willing. The problem is that I do not provide a strong enough structure to keep them on task. When I have all my activities ready to go and lined up and I time things, things go well. When I don’t, and I leave down-time in between getting Kahoot up on the projector or handing out copies or whatever… I lose them. Every day. Probably five or six times a class, I get them and then lose them because I’m not prepared.

Being prepared is extremely difficult for me for two reasons. One, my personality: I have ADD. That's not an excuse; it's a short, easy way of explaining what I’m like. I can barely stay on one track when talking to them if they’re trying to keep me on track, which they’re usually not. Routines & self-service for a lot of things like pencil-getting would help a good deal, but it’s hard for me to implement them and I’m constantly forgetting to actually use any routines I implement.

The bigger issue is that I'm untextbooked, so I am building my curriculum from scratch as I go. Without a textbook to rely on to provide readings and activities, it is functionally impossible for me to have all my activities ready to go for even Latin I, nevermind my Latin II/III classes. I could use what other teachers have made, but I always want to adapt them because I’m kind of a control freak, and then I end up rewriting them entirely because I hyperfocus on that instead of on preparing whatever I need for a given day’s lesson.

So, what do I need? What am I doing here besides telling you how hard my life is, waaah waaah, because I don’t focus well and teaching involves a lot of prep work? Here are some ideas I’m throwing around.

  • Retextbook/teach more traditionally. It would give me structure, vocab lists, and pre-made activities to take a lot of stress off of me. My options are CLC, Latin is Fun, and Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata. That's what I have copies of. All of them have way too much vocab to really teach use in a CI-oriented way without adapting the readings heavily… in which case see above on how my adapting process tends to turn out. It’s REALLY TEMPTING until I look at the readings and realize how discouraging they would be for my students.
  • Offer less variety and fewer choices. Pick a few activities and stick to them and always be prepared for them. Get in a rut, on purpose, until I have control again. Reintroduce new ones gradually. I get so much whining no matter what I do that maybe I should stop worrying about the brain craving novelty for a bit.
  • Use novellas as textbooks. I kind of wanted to do these FVR style instead, but they do offer some structure for me to work with. I could use the rest of the year in Latin I to read a few novellas and that would free me up to focus properly on Latin II/III a bit. There would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth because “ugh reading!” but welp.
  • Establish routines. I’ve got the Bellringer routine pretty well down, or rather I did when it was on paper. I just moved it to Google Classroom and it’d be working great if I actually always had them ready on time. It would help me to have timed sections of class that are maybe for speaking, reading, writing, listening, or some other arbitrary division. Or it could be by day of the week: introduce forms, do story, retells & re-reads, check comprehension & do culture. If combined with #2, this could work well.
  • Establish rigor. I really want my class to be low pressure, but maybe it’s too low pressure. Maybe they need to have homework (even if functionally they’re allowed to work on it in class). Maybe they need to have weekly vocabulary quizzes. The reason we don’t is less about them and more about my own inability to stay on track well enough to prepare them for a quiz every week.
  • Implement a graded behavior rubric. I probably won’t be doing this; it just isn’t likely to work for me. You can call it engagement or you can call it teaching them to take responsibility for their own effort in the class, but when it comes down to it, it's a behavior rubric that affects their grade, and it's subjective. Even if I could get past my personal misgivings, this wouldn’t work without my preparation being up to snuff as well, and I can’t take on the extra emotional or paperwork burden of grading it. Also, I’m not a very sweet, kind person (more sarcastic and cynical) and I think you need that for these sorts of plans to work.

So what will I do? I don’t know. Probably some of these things halfway and then forget what I’m doing and flip out again in a few weeks or days. But that’s what I’m thinking about, anyway. What do you think?


  1. I am so grateful to know there is someone else out there who has the same kind of dark thoughts I do. I felt like I was reading some of the exact thoughts I've had. I really appreciate that you've pinned it down to structure, because that's the conclusion I have been reaching lately, too. I've had the same or similar thoughts about daily behavior assessments, textbooks, and "rigor." I don't have answers yet either (I'm a 3rd year teacher and 1st year CI Latin) but it is so helpful to know someone else is out there. Seriously, thank you for being so brave. I hope next week brings some better days--there are a couple minutes more of daylight every day, literally.

  2. Thank you for being so forthcoming with your struggles. Teaching is so damn hard, and anyone who has not been in the classroom doesn't get it. I think you have just listed many potential solutions to your difficulties. Of course, putting them into practice is the hard part. One thing I try to remember is: even a crappy routine is better than no routine. When working with kids, innovation and imagination happen best within the confines of predictability. Kids are so conservative, when you really think about it. You change up one thing that you have been doing regularly, and they notice it, and it usually makes them uncomfortable. This was the genius of Mr. Rogers: the sweater and slippers, the songs that begin and end the episode. Kids need this, especially if they are not getting it at home. So let's try to stick to one routine, even if it is a crappy unimaginative one. That's my goal for this semester.

  3. Back again for this post, Ellie. My advice: think of yourself as NOT THE PROBLEM. There are, sad to say, many children in this world who are not capable of rising to the occasion. This is not "defeatist" - it's a fact. Acknowledging the limits of what we can do can bring some comfort. Thinking of teaching as "changing the world" is the problem. Teaching cannot be a band aid for the problems of our society (neglected kids, hungry kids, you name it, stem from our lack of attention to poverty, not bad teaching). Anyway, what I'm saying is: you're crushing it. If some teenagers don't see that, THAT's not on you!

  4. Thank you, thank you for talking about your own challenges with untextbooking and lack of preparation and structure, because I have been dealing with the exact same thing. I got so burnt out with it last year trying to make ALL the materials for class that I put it on the back burner for this year and haven't really come back to it yet. I still mean to-- but I haven't figured out how to do it well. I really want to do TPRS and CI that requires and encourages them to use Latin in the classroom, but I just don't know how to make it work yet without going absolutely insane (again) by trying to implement and develop it all, all at once. If you and other teachers are interested in collaborating on this kind of thing sometime in the future, sharing materials that we've made, etc. please let me know. It's nice to not go it alone! My email is