Dina Marsala, OFLA Editor of Electronic Media
French Teacher, Avon Lake City Schools
The definition of fear: an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen. We have all felt this emotion at some point in our lives. Some of us let it consume our thoughts while others enjoy the rush it brings. There are some fears that are founded and those that are only in our minds. Most people try not to put themselves in situations that would induce fear, except during Halloween. I chose to put myself in one of those situations this summer. It ended up being one of the best things I have ever done for my teaching career.
This summer I was fortunate to attend the iFLT Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. The conference is four days of like-minded teachers coming together to collaborate and learn. The energy that you feel around these other teachers is like nothing else you will ever experience…except of course at an OFLA Conference! After having attended the conference last year in Cincinnati, I decided that it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone. I applied to be an apprentice in one of the language labs. I know what you are thinking, “Why are you going to bare your teaching soul to the world?!?!” Trust me, I had those thoughts as well. I let fear take over all the way until I walked into the door that first morning!
The language labs at iFLT are spectacular to behold. You have students and adults who are there to learn as much as they can about your language in 4 days. The language labs are taught by master acquisition driven instruction teachers and will sometimes include an apprentice teacher who is working on their skills. The conference participants are able to spend time in each of the language labs to observe current acquisition driven instruction (ADI) strategies. This was a wonderful spot to see how things are truly done in a classroom setting. When the opportunity presented itself, I applied to be an apprentice teacher in the French Adult Language Lab with Paul Kirschling. Paul is a master teacher who really knows how to “teach to the eyes.¨ If you ever get the chance to see him in action you will notice how he makes the class feel comfortable and welcomed.
Never in a million years did I think that I would be accepted…but I was! Then, the fear set in. I worried about how I was going to look in front of all of those other teachers. Was I doing it RIGHT??? What were people going to say about me?!?! Finally the day arrived and I walked into the classroom ready to go. I swallowed my fear of not being “perfect” and got to work. After all this was the perfect coaching experience!
At first I tried to do everything just like Paul. Quickly I learned that we are two very different people. He is very calm in the classroom and puts the students at ease with his presence, whereas I am very animated and my classroom is full of energy. (I’m known to be heard down the halls!) By observing Paul, I was able to reassure myself that I am on the right track. I was able to see a master teacher run the activities the same way that I do them in my classroom. It was very validating. I found that I LOVE helping others learn. I enjoyed having the observers in the back of the classroom and answering questions afterwards. It felt good to give back.
I learned a lot from my experience in the iFLT language lab about my teaching and about myself. I learned that there is no one way to do an activity…you must make it fit YOUR classroom and teaching style. I learned that I have more work to do and strategies to perfect. I also learned that I am on the right track. I am putting strategies in place in my classroom to insure the success of my students. The language lab taught me a lot about myself and I wouldn’t change that experience for the world. I would like to challenge you to take a step and let someone coach your teaching. We all tend to close our doors and worry about what our own language abilities may be, but I want us to open our classrooms to visitors and to each other. There is so much to be learned when you have a colleague observe you and coach you the proper way. We can’t all be Carol Gaab, Sr. Wooly or La Maestra Loca. We must stay true to ourselves and know that we are what our students need. Be the best version of you and take a bite out of your fear!