Today I was inspired by Amy Lenord’s post on her new movement #Teach2Teach helping pre-service language teachers. I barely feel qualified to offer advice as this is only my third year teaching, but at the same time my first year is not a distant memory, but still hits very close to home when I think about the struggles I encountered. One of my most popular posts so far is10 Things I Learned My 1st 2 Year Teaching and even though I may have learned these pearls of wisdom, it does not mean I have not repeated some of my previous mistakes. Also, I had a blog comment this week from Katie Rakas, a first year teacher in a small town who teaches Spanish I-IV, asking for advice on managing teaching all levels at once. These two inspirations bring me to my first Teach2Teach post, about my advice thriving as a world language department of one.
In the sometimes lonely world of world language teaching being a department of one is a common occurrence for first year teachers, especially in rural parts of the country. Even if you are lucky enough to be a part of a world language team, you may be the only teacher of your language. This can be terrifying at first, where straight out of school you would love for someone to just hand you your curriculum on a platter, with assignments, assessments, and projects just laid out for you, dummy proof, where you can just show up and implement this refined, polished and perfect plan. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news but if you are a department of one, this will never happen. (And even if you are lucky enough to fall into a wonderfully set department and curriculum, you Need to add your personality and own spin to make your classes your own.)
Plan Whole Units
Managing all four levels of Spanish at once is HARD and requires a lot of planning, preperation, and organization. Here is my post on my Lesson Planning Process and the calendar I make to share with students. I know it is hard, but it has made a huge difference for me to pick a level and make a rough plan for the whole quarter or unit. I used to plan week, by week and was missing the big picture. This way you can plan with the end assessment in mind, and teach material that relates to that overarching goal. This does not mean you have to have every detail of every class ironed out a month in advance, but it will give you a guide to know where you are going.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
There is no shame in not creating your own materials. Beg, borrow and steal resources from amazing and generous bloggers like Kara Jacobs and all those I follow on bloglovin. Participate in #langchat on Thursdays at 8pm CST, follow these teachers, and pick their brains when you need inspiration. They are not unreachable as I once thought, but actually genuinely kind teachers who will go to great lengths to help you out when you are struggling or in need. I do not share many materials here, because 75% of what I do was created by someone else. If you use TPRS novels, get your school to buy the teacher’s guides, and you will save your self hours of planning, and will have as close to that perfectly laid out plan as you can get. Or if you have a little bit of money, you can always check out Teachers Pay Teachers.
I know some people are high and mightily against it, but it is OK to use a textbook as a guide! As a first year teacher I used the unit ideas presented in the book as a starting point. Do I think you should use the vocab lists and explicitly teach the grammar listed? No, but a Spanish 1 unit about “describing myself”, or “what I like to do” is always a good idea. Take that basic unit, and find resources, authentic materials and activities online to make it your own. Do not think you need to completely start from scratch.
It is OK to teach similar material across all levels.
As a teacher of many levels you need to find ways to Simplify your life. One of these ways is to have shared materials across levels. For me this means that my Para Empezar bell ringers are often the same for all classes. For música miércoles, all levels do the same song each week. You can then just modify your questions and discussion to match each level. This year I have started to have mini holiday units to end or start a quarter with all classes learning about the same thing.
For example the week we came back from Christmas break was the start of a new semester. All my classes did a little mini holiday unit based around this unit from Martina. Level 1 went very slow and there was more scaffolding on my part, while levels 3&4 went beyond the materials doing more exploration of 3 Kings Day with the articles and videos on Veinte Mundos. I planned this unit before break so I could enjoy my holidays not worrying what I was doing upon my return, while this week gave me time to finalize the new units each class will be starting this week.
Ask For Help
Most of all if you need help planning as a department of one, PLEASE ASK. I would be more than willing to share what I have or guide you to those who have shared with me. You are not alone and the #langchat & #teach2teach family is here to help!
If you are a new or pre-service teacher, what other advice or assistance would you like?