So You Want To Be A Foreign Language Teacher – Part trois

As you start the very first meeting with your new students (it’ll be different for students following you from a previous year), plan out how you will present the language. I’m going to assume a fairly communicative approach and assume you will have your students reading stories. My textbook is a lot of connected stories, a narrative of the life of a young Roman boy who grows to manhood. In my Spanish classes, I used to use readings from Mexican elementary school textbooks and the geography of various countries.

So, assuming you do something like this, you know you will be IDENTIFYING and DESCRIBING. You will want to associate specific places, objects, and actions with the characters in the stories. (TPRS-ers might want to comment on any way in which tprs might differ in the presentation). Therefore, you can start that first meeting with identifying yourself, describing yourself, talking about what you do, and associating yourself with certain places, objects and actions. Examples would be:
My name is………
I am a teacher.
I teach (TL).
I am a man, a grown-up.
I live in X.
I work in (your school)
I go to the football games at school.
I have the roll sheet.
I take roll (take roll)
I have a comuter.
I work on the computer.
This obviously lays the groundwork for developing similar points of interest about each student. This can be developed into personas that students can develop over time as well as an ability to talk about the characters in the stories or textbook.
Notice how the vocabulary develops, too.
Now, as you are doing all of this, breathe. I am serious. Maintaining what popular culture calls a zen-like state at this time is very important. Later on, as you have your class used to your routines, you can afford to go off on tangents and thinking outloud, etc. But initially, you need to be able to absorb everything your senses are bringing to you b/c you are getting to know your students (you might be new to that classroom, school, a cooperating teacher, etc. as well)
You must maintain a relaxed state. We all spend countless hours talking about diet and exercise, but it really comes into play in these situations. Have you noticed how exhausted you are those first few days of school? It’s almost like starting a new job. In a sense, that’s what you are doing b/c these students are new to you.
As to setting up routines like your gradebook, lesson plan, etc., I tend to let those go. That may just be me, but my own feeling about it is that setting up plans and categories and routines right away channels us into less flexibility. I have noticed over the years that classes can have very different personalities as a class; some classes you can start joking with and teasing right away, others sit there like deer caught in the headlights.
One thing to watch for if you use the TL the first day is students dropping the class b/c they think they are going to be tested over what you are saying and since they don’t speak the TL, they are sure they will fail. How they explain that to themselves has always been a mystery to me, but I almost lost one of my best students who went on to three years of Latin when he bolted that first day. I caught him in the hallway and said I’d noticed he’d dropped the class. Why? That was it, he said he didn’t understand Latin and figured the whole class would be in Latin and so since he didn’t understand Latin…… Wow. It happens.

Therefore, I encourage teachers who are not sure of themselves in this area to break into English (or the language of your school) after a while to relieve that anxiety. You might use the time to get students to tell what they hope to get out of the class, what other experiences with fl they have, to fill out info cards, to pass out textbooks and look it over, etc. But keep it relaxed that first meeting is my advice.

This is the way I do it. If you have a different way that works for you, by all means follow it. I am writing this after spending 15 years reading posts from teachers who just can’t understand why things don’t go the way they’d like them to in their fl classes. Over the years, I’ve got the impression that a lot of teachers believe they have to follow a particular way of doing things, even if they are not comfortable with it or it isn’t working for them. Grading is a good example and we can take up that can of worms next.

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