Frustrating Start to the Year by Brett

I just looked back on my blog post after the first week of class last year. It was so euphoric!

This year has been ………… different.

This year has gotten off to a rough start. I’m teaching 4 sections of Spanish 1 and one section of Spanish 5. The Sp. 5 is going just fine. It’s the 4 sections of Spanish 1 that have been tough.

My first instinct as to why I’m unhappy with things is that I’m still using a ton of English in my level 1 classes, even at the beginning of October, to try and establish a positive, studious classroom culture. And it’s still not done. Many classes still fall short of my expectations for a quiet, studious, attentive environment.

This year’s students have presented so much more of a challenge to my classroom expectations and routines. It took me weeks to get everybody to bring a binder to class instead of a spiral bound notebook, something I demand so that they stay organized when I or other teachers pass them handouts or return graded work. I’ve had to go over the make-up work procedure and turn-in station like a hundred times, and still find myself repeating it because one of my class has like 10 kids failing because they haven’t turned in make-up work. We’ve done the bellringer at least 10 times now, and I still have to remind them in English how it should be done or they mess up. Literally every time they do an assignment, I have to say put your name and date on the top before doing anything else, and then when I walk around to look for compliance, a third of the class hasn’t done that basic step. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THESE KIDS!!!

Is it that I have 4 level 1 sections, the most I’ve had in years?

Is it that we got a Spanish teacher position cut, so my level 1 classes moved from 20-ish to 31, 31, 29, and 32?

Is it that classroom discipline for these students in previous years has been so missing that students don’t know how to be students? I mean, I walk around my school sometimes and see what other teachers allow: kids walking around the classroom to goof off with their friends, dancing, singing, and otherwise drawing attention to themselves, sleeping, talking with friends instead of doing their independent assignment. Why do teachers allow any of this to happen? It makes their lives so much harder, is less effective for the students and teachers, and these behaviors spill over to the rest of the school community. It’s not okay to let students decide to fail. It’s our job to make sure they don’t make that choice.

Is it that teaching has moved so far in the direction of students interacting with their Chromebooks instead of human beings that they don’t know how to respect each other in class by maintaining eye contact with the speaker and being attentive? Do other teachers just not care if students don’t pay attention?

Is it that CI is particularly demanding when it comes to instilling a classroom culture founded on respect, attention, and interest?

Is it that my CI practice in particular has lots of things to unpack at the beginning of the year: classroom rules, how to limit English, how to maintain eye contact, how to participate when you know very little of the target language, the rejoinder game, make-up work, etc…


The truth is, it’s probably all of those things.

The truth is, I probably could have done things better. I probably could have limited my explanation of procedural matters and spread it out more over time. That is to say just explained the bellringer procedure one day, and waited on explaining the binder requirement until the next, and then explained the rejoinder game the class after, and then the rejoinder point system the class after that…. Perhaps I could have paced class with more breaks. Or taken more time at the end of the period for reading strategies, which are more of a quiet activity.

However, the truth is, I know all of the investment in classroom culture in English is worth it, even if it has taken 4 weeks and one of my classes still needs to hear more in English about why they have to maintain eye contact with me, or why they can’t stuff all of their papers in the front flap of their 3 ring binder. Because the 40% or so that I’m speaking in English over the first 4 weeks of school will mean that I will be able to speak 90% of Spanish for all of the remaining classes of the year. That’s much, much more effective than fighting negative, inefficient student behaviors throughout the whole year.

It’s also a worthy investment of time and energy to make education more equitable. I’m not using all of this English and patience in explaining how class has to work for the high fliers. Of course not. They were down from Day 1. I’m doing it for the kids that so often get shunned in the level 1 language class because they can’t stay awake or organized or motivated. I’m spending this time in English and energy of patience so that the kids who are struggling–struggling to organize their class materials, struggling to remember to write their name on their papers in 9th or 10th grade because their previous teachers didn’t demand that, struggling to make up their missing work after 10 years of schooling, struggling to stay awake–won’t be absolutely lost come Thanksgiving. Those kids won’t fail Spanish 1 because I didn’t have the patience to teach the study skills and life skills they haven’t learned from other classes yet. It’s a good investment because I’m willing to work to close the achievement gap. It’s these kids who don’t get the advanced diploma because they couldn’t get past Spanish 1, or rather because their Spanish 1 teacher was willing to let them fail. Not me! I’m willing to slow the class down a bit and go home frustrated many afternoons in September so that everyone succeeds in June.

It’s worth it. And it’s worth it for a lot of reasons–Spanish and human. I care that the Americans who learn how to speak a foreign language aren’t just the typical high-flier students. I care that my classes are just as satisfying in February as they are in October. I care that the advanced diploma is accessible for kids who haven’t yet learned how to act in class. I also care about how young people should interact. I don’t think it’s acceptable for a student to not show the respect of paying attention to a classmate when they speak, even if I have to remind them over and over to rotate in their seat and look at who is talking. I care that a student learn to fall asleep at the right time, even if that means I have to call home and advise the parent about their child’s lack of proper sleep. I care that kids develop the restraint necessary to not chat with their friends during class.

Because if we don’t demand it from some students, they won’t learn to demand it from themselves.

Perhaps this first month has been so tough because I’ve been teaching a lot more than just Spanish 1. Let’s hope so, at least.



  1. Thank you! I needed to hear that reminder of why my students with IEPs, 504s, and other issues will succeed in my class. Because, like you, I care. Let’s do this!


  2. I have a question for you: Let’s say you know a student is having a hard time at home then comes in and admits they haven’t slept well because of whatever issues they are dealing with. Do you ever let that kid slide for a day? I tend to let a child put his/her head down when I know that they are dealing with things that are too much for them. Obviously it’s not an everyday thing or even a weekly thing, but sometimes a student needs to remember they are people too and have bad days, sick days, etc. What do you do then?


    • Hey Meahgan. I think that’s tough for me to call from my living room in Chesterfield. You know your kids. You know their needs. What you describe isn’t a systematic problem with your class’s behavior. It’s just one kid who might need some empathy now and then. If your issue was more widespread, like many kids putting their heads down in class, I would suggest looking for systematic change.

      That being said, it’s tricky to bend expectations here and there and avoid that behavior spreading to other students. As long as you can avoid that, I don’t think there’s a problem.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s