Dear parents, today I failed…

Would you ever say something like this to your students’ parents? Well, I recently did. Since I moved to Chattanooga TN, I have decided not to go back to full time teaching right away. Instead, I work for a wonderful TPRS novels publisher, coordinate a local Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI) group, and teach after school programs and private groups (K-3)  with the Chattanooga School of Language. These have allowed me to continue growing in my field, while still being able to care for my family. Teaching Elementary kids is new for me, and very intimidating and rewarding.

As a teacher, I always feel the pressure of being at my very best for my students. This can lead to relying on the same approaches not only because my experience and/or research tell me they are effective, but also because they feel comfortable. But when does professional growth happen? For me, it has always happened when I have put myself outside of my comfort zone, like when I went to my first TPRS training in Agen, France.

As a teacher, I also know that failing is part of the growing process. I advocate this for my students, and encourage them to take risks. But what about my failures? It was high time I walked the talk and started celebrating them. So here we go: 

“November 17, 2016

Hello,

This week, I tried something new with your children: instead of telling them a story, asking them to fill some of the details and acting it out, I gave them control of the story by asking “where are they?” “what are they doing?” “what is the problem?” and “what happens next?”. We used the characters Crusty and Elle we created last week. 

 As it turned out, I completely failed. Our story dragged on, and went nowhere. I asked them too much, too soon. Failing is part of the teaching (and growing) process and I have learned a valuable lesson. I now know exactly how much collaboration we can have in our stories, and how much control I can give them.

 Thank you for allowing me to experiment language acquisition strategies with your children, I can’t believe we only have 2 more classes!

 Cécile Lainé
French teacher”

Not only was this liberating but now parents know I am a professional who seeks to improve her craft for the benefit of her students. A parent actually responded saying “Thanks for all you are doing to encourage their love of learning!”
So, to my fellow teachers everywhere feeling exhausted from a long first semester and wondering if they are any successful, I celebrate YOU, I celebrate your failures, I celebrate your passion and advocacy for our students! 
 (Image credit: Juan Antonio Zamarripa (dabnotu), CC BY-SA 4.0)
12/03/16 Edit:
My colleague and friend Laura tweeted this and gave me permission to address her question on this blog. 
 laura_failure_question
Actually Laura, I think you are the one being brave for voicing this question! We both know that regular communication with parents is essential, whether we place phone calls, maintain a class blog, send emails, tweet, meet face-to-face, or any combination of these communication means. I am not suggesting we send an email like this at the beginning of the year, where we don’t know the parents and the parents don’t know us! Nor would I send an email like this on a regular basis.
So, Why did I send this email? I sent this particular email at that particular timing because I realized that having failed that day actually helped me understand exactly how much control of the stories I could give to this K-3 group. In that moment, I grew as a professional. Of course, I did not realize this until I had a chance to go past my disappointment and reflect. But it was a meaningful moment for me and for their children, and I wanted to share this with the parents.
In conclusion, I think it is important we show our community that we are growing alongside our students, and not just at Professional Development events. Being a professional does not mean we have all the answers, being a professional means we reflect on our successes and failures, and leverage them for the benefit of our students. Comes to think of it, maybe we need to help our community understand what “being accountable” actually means. 

4 comments

  1. This is my tenth year of teaching with TPRS and my third year of teaching elementary. When I taught middle and high school, I did more “traditional” TPRS. Now that I teach little ones, I think I have developed a hybrid between TPRS and story listening. I do picture stories with my students, so the story is pretty “set”. However, I ask them a lot of questions to flesh out the details of the story, and I allow them to give me silly answers, like “The grandmother is a million years old. She used to have a pet dinosaur!” I have found that my little ones need structure, so having a picture story where the plot is set beforehand is really helpful. However, inviting them to use their imaginations to add details to the story also keeps them engaged and gives them ownership of our classes. It is a fine balance and one I am still working to perfect. I appreciate your honesty!

  2. Hi Amy, thanks for confirming my findings with your experience! I started with picture stories (Robin and Batman story boards with very very light circling), then moved on to invisible characters and letting my students fill in a few more details in our stories. It was working super well but after reading ‘TPRS the Easy Way’, I thought it would be interesting to give them more control of the plot (as opposed to just “details”). This is where I learned that cognitively speaking, my group of students could come up with a relevant problem (wants ice cream but does not have money) but NOT solve the problem without our class turning into a hot mess and the story going absolutely nowhere. I pushed too far with this one. It can probably be done (?) but it was much too soon for this group! Thanks for your comment 🙂

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