Our North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS) offered the possibility of an exchange between teachers of the same content. And my school, Carolina Day School in Asheville, supported this opportunity by allowing us to take a professional day when we ventured away from the nest.
I scanned the list and the first middle school French teacher my eyes picked out was in Charlotte. I contacted Debbie and she enthusiastically replied. And so our initial relationship commenced. Debbie and her husband, a middle school art teacher, spent the day at our school in January. It turned out that Debbie and I were about the same age and had invested many years in learning, loving and sharing French with students. We both came away enriched from her visit to me, exchanging ideas and mutually encouraged by the day spent together.
True confession, I always tend to be nervous when anyone comes to observe me teach. Why?:
- What if I don’t speak French as well as a French-speaking observer?
- What if the evaluator concludes that I’m not very competent?
But, these kinds of experiences keep me on my toes. And they usually turn out to be far more positive than I often fear.
This week Debbie returned the favor and hosted me. Here’s what I gleaned and received:
- Kids are kids: her 7th and 8th graders were just like mine in spontaneity and quirkiness and maturity (or lack of)
- I acquired some very specific project ideas like a way to do Valentine Day hearts that will appeal to my students, a fun local field trip or homework idea to identify how much French language is part and parcel of American life
- I saw how genuine my joy is for learning and teaching French. I’m not at all ready to ‘retire’ and move on to the next phase of my work life.
- Most importantly I was re-sold on the methodology I use called TPRS, Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.
Debbie is more constrained than I am by the curriculum assigned to her. So her lessons are grammar-focused. I am blessed because my administration gives me the freedom and flexibility to employ a conversational-based system of teaching French. As a result my 6th-8th graders can actually speak French with increasing confidence. And isn’t that the point of learning a language, to use it?
I recommend to all teachers of all content areas, to make the effort and participate in one of these teacher exchanges. Yes, there is a cost in creating sub plans, making arrangements for the family and a forfeiting of planning periods among other ‘burdens’, but the value outweighs the price.
All in all a valuable experience and in our case, the icing on the cake is that I think Debbie and I will continue our relationship after our 2 days spent together.