April 12, 2019
Jennifer Degenhardt

By now you have probably heard of “insert language acquisition theory here” and “insert teaching methodology here” and how each of them will revolutionize your teaching and maximize whatever it is you want/need to be maximizing, or at least make it easier for you.  Perhaps you’re silently panicking, wondering if you’ve been “doing it wrong” for the past “however many years”.

Me too.  I’m right there with you.

This variety of my own panic started 24 years into my teaching career.  Sure, I had been teaching – with success even – for more than half of my life and I was making it work.  Then, in wanting to see what was going on with world language teachers in other areas, I joined many groups and forums on social media, and was immediately sucked into an acronym vortex, the likes of which I had never experienced before.  It was, to be sure, a language all its own. Panic. Overwhelm. Freak out. Full stop. If I wasn’t using said methodology backed by the pedagogy of that theory, I must have been a fraud all those years, right? Wrong. (True story, by the way.  FOMO and the associated insecurity is real).

Upon counsel of a good friend, I began making a list of all of the individual successes I had until that point, thus shoving that overwhelm back in the box in which it belongs.  But, just when I was getting the feelings in check, I began a new job teaching at the college level and overwhelm and her pals were once again front and center: What would the curriculum dictate?  What did the students want (they WERE paying after all)? Would I be able to provide a course rigorous enough for college students and still be able to navigate the acronym alphabet soup? (What IS it about the mind that it is so smart and so irrational?!?!) And then I remembered a line – a mantra even – that I would repeat to myself often throughout my career: if I’m not having a good time, neither are the students.  Walking into that college classroom, I decided to stick with what I knew.

For me, this “good time” means laughing and joking and connecting with the students as people because that’s what works for me.  What works for you may be completely different. And you know what? That’s okay. Better than okay, even. It’s fantastic. There are some teachers who can engage students all day long with lectures and games, or any combination thereof.  There are others who have their students up and out of their seats most of the class period. Still other teachers have their students singing and dancing, providing even a different avenue for students to acquire language. (My gift to my students – and the rest of the world – is that I don’t sing and dance, thankyouverymuch.)  

Theories and methodologies, like most ideas, function at their most optimal on paper.  But teaching is so much more than that. It is dynamic and alive. It is a sociological petri dish that tosses that paper on which the theories and methodologies are written right into the trash (and you thought it was the simply the wadded ball of paper tossed from the back of the room by a student too lazy to get their* body to the recycle bin).  As much as teaching is a science dictated by ideas proffered by others, it is also an art created and molded by those executing said methodologies. In other words, the countless X factors in any class period given that humans are involved don’t always allow for perfect administration of the latest and the greatest from educational theorists.

The good news: you still know stuff.  Lots of stuff. And that “stuff” may come from a variety of sources.  You already have countless “shoulds” coming from administrators, curriculum, standards, etc., but you get to read your students and make decisions that work best for your classes.  You get to choose what works for you. And you should. That is a “should” you can embrace. Do what works for you and your students in general and on any given day. When you’re having your own good time, it will be others with the FOMO!

In no way is this blog post meant to be *the* set of words that will revolutionize your teaching.  Instead, it’s a reminder to take some of the pressure off yourself – you have enough already. 😉

*“Their,” while ungrammatical in English, is used deliberately here for inclusion purposes.  

Jennifer Degenhardt, B.A., M.Ed., taught middle and high school Spanish for 24 years and is currently teaching college-level students.  She also writes comprehensible novels for students of Spanish, highlighting cultural, social, economic and political themes.  You can find out more about her on her website, www.puenteslanguage.com, on FB on her own page or in the group, World Language Teaching Stories, as well as on Twitter as @JenniferDegenh1.

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