Mr. Parello Sensei

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 22 2013

Teaching Foreign Language: A Good Cure for Cynicism

This month I’ve gotten the rare chance to spend Sunday evenings without planning or preparation.  After finishing my second long term substituting assignment at my school in March, I become a collaboration teacher and day to day sub wherever I’m needed.  On collaboration days (Tuesday and Thursday) I teach World Languages and Culture to students whose teachers are attending weekly meetings. (On the clock grade level planning time is ample at my school).  On Monday, Wednesday, or Friday I either sub at my school or venture out to other schools in the Chula Vista school district. Collaboration days are delightful- and basically a rehash of the role I played with Japanese students in Kobe when I taught there. Whereas in Kobe my job was to teach English and Japanese culture to Japanese students, in Chula Vista I now teach Japanese and Japanese culture to students here.  I’ve come full circle.

Although I’ve occasionally bemoaned not having a full time position this year, teaching my language and culture unit really is a fantastic opportunity for me.  While the other teachers are now in the final days of frantically prepping students for the CST tests, I’ve gotten to take a break from the stress just as it reaches its peak and focus on light subjects that the students enjoy.  This isn’t an opportunity that I expect to have again very often in my teaching career, so I’m going to savor it right now.  Besides, I got plenty of chances to experience testing stress with the rest of the school’s teachers this year; from September to December I was administering bi-weekly skills tests to the 6th grade class I was covering.

As a sub in LA in 2008 and 2009, I often taught students French during moments of unplanned time.  One constant that I have observed in every elementary classroom that I have been in- no matter how rough or chaotic- is that the students love learning foreign languages.  In Japan the love of English had been thoroughly beaten out of the students by junior high, when it became a mandatory subject, but in my elementary schools the students went wild over it.  With the Japanese classes that I teach now in Chula Vista it’s the same, and probably the best reminder there is that nearly every child loves to learn more about the world and be exposed to other ways of communicating and thinking.  That’s an easy thing to forget when you’re teaching full time and drilling students on standards that they’re going to be tested on.  A number of students have developed a thick shell of disinterest towards academic subjects by even the early elementary grades.  Being able to see the levels of excitement they feel towards learning a foreign language is a good reminder for when I’m feeling jaded that most still love to use their minds and think.

So now, I can turn my thoughts to pondering how I’m going to unlock that love of intellectual activity in future students once I have my own classroom again.  Unfortunately, that’s not quite as easy of a task!  When teaching a foreign language in a stress-free environment, basically any question that I ask will have three fourths of the class eagerly trying to respond.  I have no doubt that if I connected my class to a grade that there would be a lot more frustration and work-avoidance.  But the basic love of learning is there, and that’s what I can remind myself in future years when times get more difficult.

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