Every one who teaches and most laypeople understand that all classes and classrooms are different. The kids make the class and classes may differ radically. Enthusiasm levels, participation rates, and overall learning are heavily affected by individual student placements. Who are the leaders? If the leaders want to learn, students will learn more than they will learn in classes where the leaders have mostly come to school to socialize. Good classroom management can lessen this leadership effect, but the effect remains a force to be reckoned with.
The Spanish 2 teacher was much more laid-back than the Spanish 1 teacher. Most of these students did not intend to go on, but simply wanted to get in two years for college applications and graduation requirements. I sometimes went off the script in that class. I checked in with the five out of twenty-nine students who planned a third year of Spanish before any significant deviations, since they were the students who cared and who needed to be prepared for the upcoming year.
Spanish 1 was its own story. The Spanish 1 teacher in the afternoon was much more flexible and humorous than the Spanish 1 teacher in the morning. I look back and I honestly don’t like the person who taught that morning Spanish 1 class. In response to the negativity of students, I became progressively more negative. By the end, that class felt like nothing more than an unpleasant chore and if you asked me whether I’d like to teach that class or clean out the poop from the chicken coop, I think I’d have taken the chicken coop. They whined from the start. They disrupted the class for fun. The students who knew some Spanish already from middle school talked at random and whenever they felt like it. If I sent them out on referrals, nothing much happened, so nothing much changed. They sneered at suggestions and powerpoints. “Flashcards!” They sneered. The idea was so old school. But given twenty words to learn over the week-end, they moaned and groaned, and told me that was too many words. How could they possibly do it? After awhile, I placed the funny parts of the Powerpoints at the beginning and end, skipping them in the morning since I hated the attempts to put down my efforts at levity. “That’s not funny.” said one. “Is that supposed to be funny?” asked another sarcastically. After awhile, nothing was supposed to be funny which solved my problem. We avoided YouTube unless it was clearly a reviewed short piece on Spanish, since I anticipated possible trouble if the video was anything but on-target. Many of them would have liked more entertaining content, but I fully expected student complaints to parents and/or administrators if I did not stick exactly to the curriculum. I could hear the voices in my head if their grades were not to their liking: “She just wastes time. She never taught me that.” So we never “wasted” time, even if some of that wasted time might have been useful. There’s a lot to learn about Spanish on the internet and exposing students to the fun content on the net opens up the possibility that they may look for themselves for Spanish learning opportunities. But they saw little of that content because the negativity of the class squelched my own creativity.