Language in Bloom

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Teaching with Strings Attached

There are strings attached.

My hands are tied. 

The image of rope and string automatically conjure up thoughts of restriction, constraint, and limitations. The opposite of freedom.

These thoughts come to mind a few days after having returned from a weekend training session with a diverse group of truly excellent language teachers. They were enthusiastic, open, bright, and passionate. Exactly the kind of person you hope to find at the head of your own classroom, and surely the kind of person you want at the helm of your child’s classroom and the classrooms of future generations. I was troubled, though, by some comments and questions, ones that reflected anxieties caused by a current teaching culture in which teachers are constantly evaluated based on arbitrary performance standards, and harshly punished for not meeting quotas or whatever other objective is assigned to their position.

I suppose I’m just very lucky that in all my years of teaching, I’ve not had that experience with any of the organizations I’ve taught in. Of course, there were requirements, and standards, but I never felt like my hands were tied, or that I was constantly being watched. I was trusted. I was, generally, free to teach as I pleased, which allowed me to try new approaches and do the work of finding my own personal teaching style. It made me more confident as a teacher, a learner, and an individual, because I didn’t have fear of trying new things.

When I think of Shakespeare’s beautiful sonnets, for example, I think of the creativity and beauty that comes from staying true to a specific form. I do think that there are times that having those constraints allow us to explore our creativity and come up with imaginative solutions to problems.

I wonder, though, just how many restrictions we can put on teachers, and at what point those expectations become distractors from the real purpose of their position: to educate, but also to inspire. The parts that I loved most about my own educational experiences were when I was allowed to explore and make connections on my own. And when I was allowed to fail on my own. I wonder how many possible life-changing learning experiences have been missed because there was a standardized test on the horizon, or because of another requirement that caused a teacher to have to focus on administrative duties instead of facilitating learning experiences.

Language teachers out there, have you ever wondered this? Have you experienced it for yourself? What ways have you brought out the educational Shakespeare in you to be as creative as possible within the restrictions required by the institution where you work?



Written by

Tammy Bjelland
Language lover, teacher & coach.

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