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Bill is a recent graduate with a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction who worked with rural Western school districts in promoting foreign language education and developing standards. Bill has taught Spanish at the high school and college level for a total of 13 years. He has had coursework in Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Spain. Bill works for greater diversity among language educators, and has researched the attitudes of students toward a possible career in language teaching. Bill is now teaching a foreign language practicum course in South Carolina, and shares his reflections on the challenges and rewards of teaching new teachers.

January | February/March | April | May

December | November | Oct./Sep.

May 2008

Setting sail and arriving at your destination

Dear Diary,
What a great year this has turned out to be! Sure, there have been moments that resembled a rollercoaster ride professionally, but overall, the year went incredibly well. Each year I set specific professional goals for my teaching, research, and scholarship. I write them down and post them on my wall in my office. Every so often, I take a few moments to review my goals and check my progress toward meeting those objectives. I encourage my students to do the same. As Fitzhugh Dodson said, "Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination."

In fact, the first day of each class I teach, and even when I taught high school Spanish, I would give the students a short survey to see why they took my class, what they were hoping to achieve, and even what grade they hoped to earn. Additionally, I asked for parents’ names, contact information, and the students’ email addresses. (Many times, the registrar’s office didn’t have accurate information.) Interestingly, as the students filled out the survey, they would ask me, "Do you really want to know why I’m in here?" and "What do you mean by what I’m hoping to achieve in your class? As you can see, I was trying to get to the heart of the matter, why are the students taking my elective class? They don’t have to be here. I was trying to figure out their motivation for taking Spanish instead of German or French and to see what they are hoping to learn in my class.

Interestingly, I would read responses such as "My parents told me that Spanish is important so here I am", "My parents won’t let me get my learner’s permit [driving] unless I begin Spanish this year", and even "I like this Mexican girl and I’m hoping to impress her by learning some Spanish." Knowing this information really made it easier for me to understand their motivation for learning the language. I feel that many times we as foreign language teachers assume that the students are as excited about language learning as we are. Unfortunately, in many cases, the students are in our classes for reasons we may not be aware of.

Once, I knew why were going to be in class together for the next nine months, I could help them set language learning goals. Then, when the goals were set, I’d get a copy of each student’s goal sheet, and begin to tailor my instruction. I would look for specific ways to that I contextualize instruction that would fit their goals. For example, when discussing the differences in usage of the familiar and formal "you" (Usted vs Tú), I would take time to point out (without indicating which student I addressing) that when meeting a prospective girlfriend’s parents, it is important to show respect my using the Usted form. Additionally, when students were learning new vocabulary in thematic webs, I would ask if they would like any other vocabulary words they would like to add to their learning. Many times, students would request more vocabulary that appeared to address their specific interests.

As class progressed, I would take time to review my students’ goals and talk to them about their progress. Some students had lost focus of their goals temporarily or said that they wanted to modify their goals. Many commented that having specific goals helped them move forward each day. As a teacher-educator now, I think goal setting is a piece of teaching that teachers need to keep in the forefront of their practice. Do you have your students set goals? If so, how often do you check on their progress toward meeting those goals? Answer these questions.

For me, I look at my goal sheet that I created in August several times throughout the year. This year, as I reviewed my goals last week and juxtaposed them against the outcome, I saw that several of our student teachers showed definite signs of excellence. They have taken theory and moved it into their pedagogy. The students approaching their student teaching assignments have done well in their coursework and observations in classroom. As for me, my research went well and several journals have published my findings. By in large, I would say I have had a successful year professionally (Personally too. I’m about to become a father for the first time!). How about you, have you had a successful year? What makes it so successful or even unsuccessful? Drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

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April 2008

The disparity between an F and a Zero

Dear Diary,
It’s Spring Break next week and it’s the time of the semester when I take more time than normal perusing students’ grades to verify progress in my courses. Usually, I look at each class’s grades and write emails frequently to students to keep them apprised of their progress by mentioning things such as missing assignments, absences, and strategies to approach upcoming assignments/readings.

As I looked over students’ individual grades, I noted that a few are stellar, some are hovering around the 80% mark, and a few are very low, mainly due to the number of missing assignments that are easily recognized because of the zero (0) in the assignment cell. Interestingly, the zeros are almost always associated with class attendance. Last semester I took the time to correlate students’ final grades in terms of percentages and the number of class periods the students attended. There was an almost perfect correlation. I took that data and showed it to my students the first day of class this semester in an effort to get them thinking about their final grades at the beginning of the semester instead of the last week, the time normally associated with,

Well, sir, you know that I….(excuse) and then there was that time when (another excuse). So, could you give me a break and round the grade up. I promise to get that essay to you tomorrow and you could even deduct some points since it’s late. Please, this would really help me.

Do you know what I’m talking about? How many times has that happened to you? If I had a dollar for each time I’ve heard that from students! Well anyway, as I look over my grade book and write emails to students, I mention their current grade and offer encouragement, study strategies, ideas to help them with upcoming assignments, etc. During the first class meeting, I show students the difference between a zero and an F by using my laptop computer, an LCD projector, and Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet program. I demonstrate an example of two students, Alex and Zack by entering fictitious grades for actual assignments my students will complete during the semester. (I choose two names that no one in my class has in order to not offend anyone) Alex is the model student, turns in all work and gets 80s and 90s on his assignments, quizzes, exams, and projects. On the other hand, Zack doesn’t turn in his work and begins to accumulate zeros instead of any points. As I enter grades for both students, my students immediately notice how the final grade changes as each assignment grade is entered. After about seven grades are entered for both students, I say that Zach has now decided to start to turn in work that is about equal to the quality that Alex has been turning in. I keep adding grades and again, my students notice how Zach’s grade begins to increase, but the zeros are playing a serious role in the poor grade. By the time I finish, they see that even perfect grades 100 points out of 100 points still rescue Zach much; his grade is still below the failing line of 60% See the Excel spreadsheet.

Here is the Power of Zero. Then, I recreate the same scenario by showing what happens when both Alex and Zack turn in work at the beginning and then Zach decides to stop turning in work. Interestingly, as if by magic, my students notice how quickly a passing grade average can erode. Usually, this leads to a good discussion, the difference between some points and no points. I stress that an "F" or even a "D" can indicate that the student received some points. Maybe not enough to be considered passing, but there are a certain number of points, not a zero, and those points help when it comes to grade improvement. Throughout the discussion, I continue to emphasize how important it is for students to turn in work consistently.

Well, as I was looking over the grades, I noticed that one of my student’s grades was really low. I saw her twice in class this semester and her absences have been accumulating like snow in the Midwest. After the third week of the semester, I sent her emails to see if she was okay and offered additional time outside of my office hours to meet with her to get her caught up. I hadn’t heard a word from her and during class, I asked where she was and no one knew. A few thought she might have dropped the class but I knew that she hadn’t because I verified my class rosters and her name remained on the official roll. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for students to drop classes and not notify the instructors. Well, a few weeks later I received an email from the Office of Student Life, the entity charged with authenticating student absences. If the Office approves the absence (medical, family emergency, etc) then instructors must excuse the absence. The email explained that my student is still enrolled in the class and has a valid excuse for all of the absences, and that I must excuse the absences and work with this student to make up all work. The email concluded informing me that she would contact me to make arrangements to meet.

I would imagine most teachers have had instances when students are absent for a few days due to some sort of an illness or other circumstance. However, this student has missed six weeks of class. The amount of course work in this Foundations of Second Language Acquisition class is impressive. Students usually take a reduced class load the semester they take this class because it is time consuming. But, it is also really interesting, thought provoking, and asks them to challenge theory and put theory into practice. It’s one of those classes where students enter with rudimentary understanding of how people learn languages and the leave asking questions about where they can find more information because they realize how little they know about teaching and learning a second language.

The syllabus is clear: Late work will receive feedback but will NOT receive credit. Have you ever had a student who has been absent for a longer-than-normal period and then returns? How do you go about working with that student to not only get caught up on the missing work but also understand what they have missed? This case has troubled me for a while now because my experience in this area has been with students who have missed maybe a week of class, not almost half of the semester. Personally, usually a few one-on-one meetings before/after class or during the lunch hour normally sufficed when I was teaching high school. However, I have not heard a word from this student. If I don’t hear from her by the end of week, I’m planning to contact the Office of Student Life to notify them of the situation.

Let me know about your experiences with long-term student absences and how you handled the situation(s).

February / March 2008

Reader Response

Dear Diary,
It’s February and even better, a leap year, when the calendar is in alignment with the earth's motion around the sun. Perhaps the planet’s alignment explains the recent influx of readers’ emails requesting more information about past diary entries. Interestingly, my December diary entry has inspired readers to request my rubric for grading the midterm essays. Even though I cannot address each email I’ve received here, I have answered each inquiry in emails. One person emailed me saying,

I would like to have more information [about the rubric] so that I can see if it is possible to do this with my 8th Graders.

While I wasn’t clear about the assignment and subsequent essay, I feel that rubric should be created to evaluate the writing ability of her students. However, before I discuss how I made the rubric, let me share a few ideas about the assessment process in general.

Many times in my classes, my students want to assign a writing activity first without stating the purpose for the activity/assessment or even considering the assessment tool. In my classes, I teach the Backwards Design model (Wiggins & McTighe, 2001). Basically, the model iinvolves teachers planning for instruction and assessment in three (3) stages, each with a focused question:

Stage 1 What is worthy and requiring of understanding? Basically, Stage 1 deals with broad understandings that we may hope to achieve by the end of the sequence / unit, those understandings we hope to achieve through the learning sequence.

Stage 2 What is evidence of understanding? Here, teachers decide how students will demonstrate their understanding. Wiggins and McTighe describe "six facets of understanding" where students (1) can explain, (2) can interpret, (3) can apply, (4) have perspective, (5) can empathize, and (6) have self-knowledge. State two is the piece that makes Backward Design different from more traditional planning processes. Before planning learning experiences to develop understandings, here teachers are required to plan a range of assessments. While the emphasis is placed clearly on developing performance tasks, Wiggins and McTighe advocate a balanced use of assessment, including more traditional forms such as observation, quizzes, tests etc.

Stage 3 What learning experiences and teaching promote understanding, interest and excellence? In this final stage, teachers design the sequence of learning experiences that students will undertake to develop understanding.

As you can see, by using the Backwards Design model the teacher decides what is worth knowing and understanding first, then decides which assessment tool best fits (test, quiz, essay, etc). Next, the teacher constructs the assessment with the scoring guide and finally works towards planning instruction to reach the assessment goal(s). Thus, for the teacher who emailed me with this question, I strongly urge her to determine the purpose of the essay, determine what writing elements need to be focused on (grammar, syntax, etc), and then construct her rubric. I’d really enjoy seeing and sharing the rubric once she has it completed.

That mentioned, let me return to the rubric construction for my midterm essays. I set my overall learning objectives and decided to use an essay as my assessment tool. Next, I began to create my scoring guide and rubrics. Once finished with the scoring guide, I determined the criteria and the performance levels. Then, I assigned a numerical continuum from 10-0 for questions 1 and 2 since most people tend to think in percentages during assessment and it aligns nicely with the course grading scale. As you can see, the Style section totaled 10 points, again aligning with my 100-9-80-70 grade scale. Once completed with the rubric, I passed it to a colleague for peer-review, and edited the instrument.

At the time I gave the students the essay questions and the instructions, I also gave them the scoring guide and rubrics so they could see how their work would be graded. Some teachers have expressed concern about giving the rubric to the students before the assessment is turned in. They feel that by doing so, students can simply repeat the necessary information in which to earn an outstanding grade. In essence, they would not know the material. I disagree; by giving the students the scoring guide and rubrics at the time the assessment is assigned, students have a clear understanding of what is required of them. In my opinion, students learn more because they focus on the key points of my instruction (overarching understandings: Stage 1).

I have posted the scoring guide here with the accompanying rubrics. I favor using the two instruments in tandem because the scoring guide allows me to see that each topic is addressed and the rubrics allow me to score each response accordingly. I have seen other instructors use a holistic rubric to assess writing tasks but I prefer analytic rubrics since the criteria and performance levels for each can be written clearer for more accurate discrimination between levels.

A second email that I received and would like to respond to is a question from a Mexico City English teacher.

Bill, I am an English teacher from Mexico City and I would love to know your opinion about teaching reading comprehension integrating the other 3 skills. I work in a public high school and it seems I am the only English teacher who speaks English at all times with her students. My other colleagues say this is not right. That reading comprehension should be given in Spanish. I’ve spent hours looking for some theories that support my methodology but I haven’t succeeded. Could you please suggest what authors I should read? I’d really appreciate your help. Thanks a lot.

Personally, I feel that teaching in the target language, English in this case, 100% of the time is appropriate. We train our foreign language teachers to instruct in the target language (L2) 90-100% of the time. Theoretically, Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development offers support for such instruction. Reading comprehension can be taught effectively in the L2 if proper scaffolding is given by the teacher (pictures, photos, pre-reading exercises). Further, S. Krashen's theory of second language acquisition clearly places comprehensible input at the top of language learning. The students taught in the L2 most likely will mediate understanding in their native language for a time but will begin to mediate understanding in the L2 later. I feel that her students will learn English better being instructed in English.

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January 2008

Teacher Reflection

Dear Diary,
Time flies by when you’re having fun! This semester has been one of the best of my career as an educator. The students are dynamic, intelligent, and arrive at class prepared most of the time. Like most semesters, there are some students who have been a challenge for me this year. Nevertheless, the majority of the students are so inquisitive that they push me to go beyond my usual preparation for class. Do you have students like mine? Those who make you work a little harder because they want even more information that what the class normally offers.

Well, in an effort to examine what the students learned from having taken this accelerated class, I designed a reflection essay assignment to measure the students’ "take aways" that was due today. In this essay, students were to discuss not only what they have learned in this class but also what they have implemented or plan to implement in their own classrooms. Well, I’m pleasantly surprised to find out that besides acquiring some new pedagogical strategies, they have been examining their teaching practices. Keep in mind that some of my students are already working as teachers in area schools on provisional teaching certificates.

Margarita began the conversation by saying, "For me, this class helped me with test construction. How many times as teachers did we create an exams that were not very reliable?" Hilda jumped in immediately to add, "I absolutely agree. I didn’t take the time to see how the students answered the questions. I just looked to see if the answer was right or wrong." Tony, usually a quiet student who is not working as a teacher in schools, became irritated and said, "You are in schools working as teachers and don’t take the time to see if your tests aren’t reliable. Do you ever check to see if they are valid?" At this point, I just sat back and happily listened to them. The brought up some great topics to discuss and really expanded on what we had done in class. I could tell that they have been pondering their philosophies of teaching languages.

Once they had discussed their opinions on assessment, the conversation turned to pedagogy and specifically some of the different activities I had presented in class. They were talking about how their students reacted to the activities and methods to teach languages. For me, it was great to see firsthand that my time working with these students was beginning to pay dividends. Remember the first time you realized your efforts were making a difference?

As a high school Spanish teacher, I felt that I was making an impact on my students. Have you ever wondered about the impact you have as a foreign language teacher? I used to think about it frequently as I was leaving school at the end of the day. Now that I’m a teacher-educator, I really wonder how much impact I have on my students. This student-led discussion helped me see that my class has impacted these teachers and soon-to-be-teachers. Even more importantly, I can see that this class is impacting the students they are teaching or will impact the students they teach. Isn’t that why we are educators?

Near the end of the conversation, it became apparent that questions still remained. While they expressed that they had learned a lot in class, they wanted to learn more in certain areas such as models to teach reading, rubric construction for oral and written assignments, sources of external funding to help offset the costs of buying materials for their classrooms, and field trips to mention just a few. So, I turned on the computer and LCD projector and showed them how to use the online databases and the library to locate studies and reports. Together, we ran a few searches. Interestingly, all of the students were busy taking notes and asking great questions. You’ve got to love that! I was so proud of my students.

Over the course of a couple of hours together, they took time to examine their own teaching, what they’ve learned, and how their teaching impacts their students. There is a lot to be said about teacher reflectivity. John Dewey said years ago, "…quality educators and education cannot be derived from the imitation of techniques that have worked in the past, but rather teachers should be trained in analyzing and defining principles behind the techniques. Basically, he’s stating that the more a teacher reflects, the better the quality of teaching. I couldn’t agree more. Certain transition points, like the end of a term or the winter break, gives us the opportunity to reflect on our teaching. Tell me how you reflect on your instruction.

I love hearing from you. So, if you have any questions or would like to share, please send me an email to begin the conversation.

December 2007

Thanks for the test?!

Dear Diary,
The midterm period has come and now passed…finally. Traditionally, schools mark the midpoint of the semester with some sort of assessment, and we do the same. Remember in my previous diary entry, I talked about my students not coming to class prepared. Well, so far not much is changing; some still do not prepare for class and I find it frustrating to teach students that do not take the time to prepare for a successful class experience. Well, for the past few weeks we have been discussing strategies and models associated with teaching reading and listening. So as a midterm assessment, I gave the students a take home essay exam focusing on two questions: one dealt with reading and listening comprehension and the other with classroom management strategies.

In class, before giving the students the questions, I informed the students that they would have one week to complete the exam as well as all of the other requirements (paper length, APA format, resources to use and not to use, etc). I repeated several times that I would not accept any exams late. Can you guess what happened? Over the course of the week, a few students requested an additional two days to complete the assignment. Fair enough, many are working and trying to take our classes at night to get certified, so I contacted all the students and notified them of the extension. Many turned in their essays on the designated class day and almost everyone else emailed their essays two days later taking advantage of the extra time. Unfortunately, two did not turn in the midterm, even with the extension. People who are not teachers can’t begin to understand the angst this causes us.

Once I finished reading the essays (twice), I used the rubric I created for the assessment to assign a numerical grade for the exam. Most had followed my suggestions to the letter. I was so proud of my students. As one of the French students turned in her essay to me during class, she said, "I loved having to do this test. It really made me think about how to approach teaching reading." There’s something I don’t hear much as a teacher educator. When I read her paper, she had indeed learned a lot about listening and reading comprehension. Her comments and opinions were insightful. She lacked the ability to correctly cite sources but she answered the two questions brilliantly. She had gone beyond the textbooks and found other research about teaching reading in the foreign language classroom. I was proud of her for looking for other studies to address the questions.

After she made her comment, the only German teacher in the class spoke up and not only agreed with her, but also talked about how different his teaching is now that he has taken the methods course. "It feels like I’ve just stepped out of the cave for the first time." This 50+ year old man felt that his prior students would have definitely benefited from the knowledge he has now. John is one of many students who has lived in different countries and acquired a wealth of linguistic knowledge. Funny, as other students offered their positive feedback, I began to wonder if they were trying to improve their grades by telling me they liked my test (certainly a rarity in this world) or if they were sincere. Have you ever wondered about this? Students offer praise for some of the most interesting things. "I’m really glad you made me re-write that essay four times because it really turned out nicely." "Thanks for all the pop quizzes, they really keep me on my toes and make me study daily." Nevertheless, I knew that I would assess their work using the rubric as a guide and not their comments.

It took me nine days to get the exams graded because of all the other things I have to do. During that time a few had emailed me to see if I had their paper graded or not yet. The next class hour, I returned their exams and talked about some common elements, both positive and negative. I think the most common error was citing the sources so I gave another brief explanation about in text and reference page citations. During the conversation, students asked some fabulous questions that led directly into my lesson plan. We talked about how they would handle a frequent situation teachers deal with: what to do when a student does not turn in assignments on time. Do you penalize them a pre-decided number of percentage points? Or do you accept the assignments (or even take home tests) without penalty? And if you do accept them without penalty, how do you deal with the kids who turned in the assignment on time and receive a lower grade than the kid who turned in the assignment late who obviously had more time to do the assignment? Those who are currently teaching in schools quickly realized that they wouldn’t only be dealing with an upset student if the latter were to happen, they would be talking with the parents too.

Interestingly, the two people who did not turn in a midterm exam were not in class this day for our discussion. Yet a week after I had returned the midterm exams to my students, one of the two approached me about accepting her exam late. As I mentioned earlier, this stresses me out. How about you? How would you handle my current situation?

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November 2007

Dear Diary,

The past couple of weeks have been filled with excitement and wonderment. For me it has been very exciting to see my students bridging the new information about foreign language pedagogy to their existing knowledge. Many of my students are currently teaching in area schools with provisional certification, mainly due to the shortage of language educators in the state. Each class hour we are together, the opening minutes are devoted to positive comments and Aha moments. Today, always in a good mood and optimistic about the profession, Cesar talked about using some of the new ideas for teaching listening comprehension in his classroom. Others chimed in with other moments of what I would label "transference". A few students took specific suggestions about teaching languages and immediately put them into practice in the classroom. I was beyond elated at that moment. As a professor, I get even more excited about my job working with people who want to teach languages. The feeling is without peer and rather difficult to describe. I’m in the groove or what Csikszentmihalyi calls the Flow. What else can I say? I have made the correct vocational choice. I’m a teacher and proud of it!

Unfortunately, not all of the moments in class are so exhilarating and rewarding. As I stated in my previous diary entry, some of my students are second language learners and have experience working with students in schools. While they know what it is like to learn a second language, they tend to teach using the same strategies that were presented to them…some more than 20 years ago. Clearly, second language pedagogy has changed dramatically over the years and the current knowledge base is vast. From a simple search on the educational databases, teachers can begin to broaden their knowledge and increase their effectiveness in the classroom.

Unfortunately, my students who are working as teachers right now are reluctant to use the latest information to improve their instruction. They figure that they learned French, for example, in a particular fashion and that all students can learn just like they did. This is the point of wonderment for me. What they fail to realize is that not all students learn the exact same way. As a teacher educator, I become frustrated because there are so many more variables to consider such as gender differences, learning styles, and multiple intelligences.

As a method to improve instruction, student engagement, and classroom management, I have required two textbooks and there is one more that is recommended. The books are comprehensive and are the definitive texts in the profession. One is rather "heavy" with research-based findings and the other is "an easy read" with many great suggestions for all teachers. The recommended textbook is just a great supplement for the course and one every language teacher should have as a reference. Since the readings may require several readings to better comprehend the topics, I do not require students to investigate the current research in certain areas such as reading comprehension. We discuss the readings in class and many times only a few students participate in the discussions. As I try to involve all of the students in the conversation, I quickly realize that the ones talking are the ones who have read the material.

These limited class discussions also increase my level of frustration. Here I have a group of soon-to-be educators and another group of soon-to-be certified teachers on a provisional teaching certificate in the class. And the minority read the material so we can discuss it. It’s challenging to teach a new concept when they have not read the underlying information. Honestly, I would not have required my students to purchase the books if the texts did not have significantly needed information. I agree with the students, the books are expensive but they are worth the cost. These books can be used as references later. I become frustrated, annoyed, and even discouraged at times. It’s like trying to teach statistics when they do not have an understanding of addition and subtraction. At times I think some are looking for an easy to follow formula for teaching when there are so many matters to attend to at any given moment that a formula wouldn’t work. My experience tells me they will have to think on their feet and apply the strategies and principles they have learned rather than a one-size-fits-all formula.

I wonder, how successful will some of my students be in the classroom? I wonder if their students will learn to love languages or take their required two years and never study it again. I wonder if my students will become professionally frustrated and eventually leave teaching. Mainly, I wonder how I can be more effective in my own classroom. How can I get them to read the material and engage their prior beliefs? I’m still looking for the answers to these questions in my reading and discussions with colleagues. Your suggestions are welcome.


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Sep./Oct. 2007

Dear Diary,

Wow, it’s the beginning of a new school year and I can’t believe how fast time flies. It seems like school just ended and wham, we’re back at it again. However, this semester things will become a little more hectic than usual since one of the lecturers resigned this summer and we are scrambling to cover his duties.

More than any other year, I’m more anxious about the school year and so are my students, for different reasons. Personally, I find myself awake late at night thrashing out the next day’s tasks making sure that I can keep all of the plates spinning. As a member of the junior faculty, I’m busy researching, writing for publication, working on university committees, and teaching classes. Weekly, I find myself running from committee meetings to college wide meetings to my office for yet even more meetings with students and colleagues. Then finally I head to class to teach, my passion, once my lessons are prepared.

As for my students, they are multitasking constantly. Some are working in area schools as teachers with provisional teaching certificates. The state has given them a few years to complete the certification process so they are working all day and then driving to campus immediately after school to attend classes. The others are enrolled in the traditional education program. Regardless of their current position, they all remain worried about spending so much time/money and exerting so much effort to become an educator while wondering if they’ll get a job teaching upon graduation.

During a break, Jorge walked up and said, "I just love this class. I really like all of my classes. But I’m afraid. Do you think we are going to get jobs when we are done here?" Before I could answer his question Laura added, "I agree. Do you know how much money it costs to get certified? It’s expensive to become a teacher and I really hope there’s a job out there with my name on it." As you can imagine, this ignited a feeding frenzy of anxiety and questions. Cesar, apparently concerned about his current situation remarked, "I’m working in a school all day and as soon as class ends, I’m in my car battling the traffic to get to campus, find a place to park, and run to make class on time. My supervisor constantly tells me that if I don’t get certified by the end of this year, he’ll have to fire me because my provisional certificate will expire."

My students make a valid point. College is expensive and time consuming. Further, it complicates life since some already have jobs and to keep those jobs, they must be certified, some sooner than others. Yet, what they didn’t understand was the severity of the current teacher shortage, especially for foreign language teachers. "Some states are offering prospective teachers signing bonuses. In fact, some even offer to pay for graduate degrees, depending on the teacher’s content area specialty", I told them. Lisa, one of the Spanish native speakers in our class working in a large suburban school, interjected enthusiastically, "Are you serious? School districts are offering signing bonuses and financing for master’s degrees?" Without hesitation, I said "yes."

As the discussion progressed about the current teacher shortage in the US, foreign students discussed the problem in other parts of the world. "Well, professor, I come from Venezuela and I can tell you for sure, there is a shortage of teachers there. The problem is that people there do not want to become teachers since the pay is so low you need to have at least two jobs to be able to live", remarked Carlos painfully. This news alarmed the traditional students. Most haven’t traveled internationally and don’t appear to understand teachers’ situations abroad.

My students’ concerns made me reflect upon my own circumstances when I was an undergraduate preservice educator. I, too, was a non-traditional student returning to academia. The time and costs associated with attending college again worried me because I knew I had to find a job once I was done [with my studies] or hopefully before I completed my student teaching. We share similar feelings and I have empathy for my students. I’m optimistic that my experience and knowledge about education and the job market can sooth some of their anxiety.

Interestingly, the class ended on a high note. We had been discussing activities to promote student listening comprehension and I left the classroom with the impression that my students heard me and understood the current state of education. There’s a shortage of teachers in the classroom and there are jobs out there now waiting for them. However, they have two semesters of classes and student teaching ahead of them before they can apply for certification and I’m happy to share this part of the journey toward certification with them.


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