So you’re probably wondering why my title is “Not ‘Just’ the French Teacher”?
Well it really did all start as a joke, as some colleagues of mine were giving me a hard time about being ‘Just’ the French teacher in response to the notion that some people have, that French isn’t all that important. I guess they’re lucky I have pretty thick skin. It still remains funny because I know that my students (at least most of them I like to think) don’t see it that way any longer.
All joking aside, this encouraged me to reflect on my practices and roles in my classroom, the school and the community. That is when I decided, I’m not “just” the French teacher, as the label has a tendency to suggest. My role is so much bigger than that.
This year I applied for a grant from my board and graciously received 12 iPad minis for my classroom alone. I feel incredibly lucky, as I know that not many other teachers are fortunate to have this kind of technology available to their students all day, every day. With this privilege, also comes struggles and challenges. As with most technology, things can never run smoothly all the time. Wifi stops working, an app continues to crash, devices won’t connect to one another, not all students know how to use them. The list could go on, and on. I used to get so frustrated, but now instead accept these times as learning experiences.
Students need to see me trouble shooting, being flexible and solving problems on my toes. I guess this is what my hockey coach in university would have called ‘adversity’. She always reminded us that it was how you respond to these types of situations that matters most, and I would agree more so now, than ever. She was always about teaching us ‘life lessons’. We were there to play hockey and she was our coach, but she wanted to teach us more than just how to play the sport. She wanted to be a part of the bigger picture; the game of life.
When we started to run into technological ‘adversity’ in the classroom, I decided to start teaching the problem solving side of things. I often give them the example of how we were renovating our bathroom and I wanted the toilet installed. The plumber wasn’t available, and I didn’t want to wait! So I decided at that moment that I would figure it out myself. How hard could it really be? So, I went to my google friend, asked him `how to install a toilet`, watched a couple videos, read a couple articles. Bing bang boom, I marched back downstairs and installed the toilet. My students laugh at me when I tell them that, but it is so rewarding being able to accomplish something that I didn’t know how to do before, on my own.
When my students can’t figure out how to insert a picture in iMovie, or why the microphone isn’t working on MicPro, they used to bring the iPad to me and I would do it for them. But I am one person, and when problems began to reoccur I felt like I was creating unnecessary work for myself. It then dawned on me that instead I should be teaching them how to do it so next time they can do it themselves. Now, before I have them ask me a trouble shooting question, I want them to ask a peer first, then see if they can find the answer online. If they still don’t know at this point, I will teach them how as a class. I see it as a long term investment. I will teach these students for 4-5 years straight. If I take the time now with my younger students, they will be very successful at this by the time they reach grade 8. I also think of it as a life lesson; it’s important to be flexible and to be able to problem-solve in the real world.
Another value that I feel that I regard in high value is responsibility. I constantly urge my students to be concious of their learning. I encourage them to take responsibility everyday for their learning in class. When trying to learn a second language, it is easy to get distracted and to resort back to your first language. But I remind my students that if they choose to listen to the examples I provide or those of their peers, if they choose to take an active role during classroom discussions, if they choose to participate during partner and group activities, then they are taking ownership of their learning. I know it’s not going to come easy to everyone, but all I ask for is an honest effort. I want them to realize that they can’t learn something if they give up before the learning has even started.
Most of all, I want my students to see me as a person. I make connections with my students outside of the classroom, I ask them every week how their weekend was and wait to hear what it was that they did. I play ball hockey with them every recess. I am involved in coaching different sports. I am genuinely interested in their lives. I also want them to see what positive social interactions look like. I have a lot of fun at school. My colleagues and I joke around and play pranks on one another. It is a very positive place atmosphere. I think this is contagious. I mean how many grade 8 classes do you know where 75% of the class shows up on a snow day.
Another testament to this is my classroom on April Fools day. I was quite flattered actually that my students wanted to prank me. They stayed after school, for quite some time, to pull this off. It was amazing and solidified all of the reasons I love my job!
What are our students going to remember most in 15 or 20 years from now? I can tell you most of them are not going to remember the passé composé, they are not going to be able to talk about insects in French, in fact they likely won’t remember any specific math or history lessons either. But I guarantee that most of my students will remember the fun they had pranking Mme. They will remember me army crawling through the yarn just to get to my computer. They will remember the teachers coming to the door to take pictures of the fun. They will remember the relationships they built and the fun they had and I hope that one day that passion and joy for life will shine through whatever they choose to do with their lives.
I have to admit, that I didn’t always feel this confident about my position. A lot of this new found courage and confidence, I have to contribute to my great colleagues and leaders who encourage me to get involved, and who challenge me everyday to be better at what I do.
French is the subject I have the opportunity of teaching my students, but it is all of the life lessons along the way that define my role as a teacher.
It’s for these reasons, like I said before, I am not “just” the French teacher.