This guest post by Robert Patrick, Ph.D. addresses issues that are common to CI/TPRS beginners in general and singleton Latin teachers in specific. Dr. Patrick has been teaching for 27 years and has been using CI approaches for 15 years.
By now you may have been in school for 2-3 weeks or even 2 months. If you are the singleton Latin teacher (that would be most Latin teachers) who has decided to take on CI/TPRS and/or an Untextbook approach in your program, you might be feeling everything from nagging fatigue to panic induced by extreme exhaustion. How many more weeks until Thanksgiving break?
This business of how to go CI/TPRS and Untextbook while being a singleton teacher can be an almost instant crazy maker. The common story of such teachers (there are many of us) includes wishing for the textbook, going back to the textbook, going back to grammar-translation, depression, and leaving the profession. And those are just the things I’ve experienced and heard about from those who are in contact with me.
At this writing, I’ve heard from three teachers just this week from different parts of the country who fit this description in one way or another, and I’ve been averaging that number of contacts for several weeks now. From my perspective, abandoning the profession, if you truly love teaching and feel “called” to teaching, is not the answer. Abandoning CI/TPRS for grammar-translation is not the answer if you want all of your students to make progress and if you want your program to grow. Continuing what you are doing is not the answer because the toll on you is destructive, and fatigued, exhausted, panic-stricken teachers don’t help themselves or their students. So, what to do?
Here’s what I have to offer that may give you a better way for yourself and your students. Each of these principal ideas/practices may well be parts of things that you mix and match to create what will work for you. They may also give you ideas for something else that works that I have not considered. Then, please share!
1. Collaboration. The "easiest" thing for you to do is to find another Latin teacher (or four) who have flexibility in their programs (to use CI/TPRS and to Untextbook) and begin sharing files. If there are 4 of you, each becomes responsible for writing lesson plans, activities and assessments for just ONE level of Latin. Do this in google docs and share with each other. Then, while you are each teaching 4 or 5 levels of Latin each day, you are only preparing materials for one and EACH is receiving those same kinds of materials from the others. This may require a few phone or google hangout sessions to work it out, and it’s a little heavy on the set up, but once you set up this kind of collaboration, you will never go back to “going it alone.” You will wonder why in the digital world you never did this before. What will you lose if you do this? You will lose an hour or two of prep time every day. You will lose awake hours and replace them for sleep hours. And there’s this. You will have to give up some ego control that may be attached to the martyr that you have naturally become as a singleton teacher. I mean this, and it’s worth taking seriously. We get some mileage out of the sympathy some people pay us when they see how hard we work, and we attach a certain amount of pride to be “the only Latin teacher.” Let it go. Find some willing collaborators. I promise you, you will be much more proud of what you can do together than what you think you are doing alone.
2. Work Smarter. Not to imply that you work dumb, but working smarter for singleton teachers in particular is not intuitive for most of us and goes against what most of us think we should be doing. Quick examples of working smarter:
A. Teach the same content at every level that you teach but appropriate to their development and proficiency levels. Think of an Ovidian story from the Metamorphoses. You can teach that same story at every level with everything from short cartoon “like” snippets for elementary or lower middle school and LOTS of drawing (which students do, not you) all the way to the original or near original version with Latin 4/5 students. You create variations of simplicity and complexity in between. That way, you really are only prepping one content, but in multiple levels. Combine this approach with collaboration and each of you is prepping a different Ovidian story for multiple units across all the levels you teach. And, while doing this, use the same activities each day. If you are asking a story, ask it in all levels. If you are doing a movie talk, do it in all levels. If you are doing a dictatio, do it in all levels--but in all of these, at the level that is appropriate for their proficiency.
B. Never grade anything by yourself. (Okay, almost never). Get a classroom set of red pens and have students always grade their own work with your pens while you pace around the room discussing answers and corrections. This is NOT students grading their neighbor's paper. They grade their own paper. Of course you are going to go over them, very quickly, but this works, cheating is almost non-existent. They get immediate feedback which we all know is essential, and what would take you hours takes a few minutes. I've been doing it for years now, and I NEVER take papers home. (Okay, almost never, but that’s far different from you who are taking papers home every day).
C. Have a collection of "breather" activities that you can do anytime you are feeling overwhelmed. Like Publius Publicanus (aka Pancho Comancho), or Dictatio, or Same Story or Pictionary. A "breather" activity requires very little of the teacher but continues to supply some time of CI to students. You can look up these activities in this blog, in the Latin Best Practices CI Resources blog, in Keith Toda’s blog, or in almost any CI blog around.
3. Compromise. Despite the suggestions above, maybe you have just taken on too much, too quickly. You may need to go back to the textbook. You can do CI/TPRS with a textbook. I did it for years. I never dared leave the textbook until I had some collaborators in place, and I began working smarter with the ideas above while using a textbook. Many who are being successful with CI/TPRS are easing themselves into it by going Untextbook with their Level 1 while they continue to teach with the textbook in upper levels. The point of compromise takes me back to some original issues: do you love teaching? Do you want all of your students to make progress and grow your program? If your answers really are “yes” then you must do whatever you have to do to take care of yourself. CI/TPRS is completely centered in your ability to deliver understandable messages in Latin. If you are worn out, exhausted and depressed, you will not be able to do that well, if at all. So, decide what changes you are going to make for your good and then the good of your students.
If this article raises questions for you, don’t hesitate to ask. There is a growing community of CI/TPRS Latin teachers and teachers of other languages. Our experiences are very common and similar to yours. Making curiosity one of your leading traits will help and relieve you. Ask questions. Ask for help. Ask to use other people’s materials. Ask for collaborators. And when you need to, ask for a day off!
An Invitation -- Pomegranate Beginnings will be hosting a Q and A session on Facebook live next week. Tuesday evening (4 October 2016), from 8:00-8:30 pm, we’ll be live on Facebook to answer questions about CI, Untextbooking, and collaboration! Join us and join the discussion.