Where did the spark go?

Lately I have been looking at my classes and comparing them to past years. Why are my students not as interested in class as I remember? Is it my fault? Is it the material?

This year we started using Martina Bex’s units for Spanish 2 and I absolutely love the flow of the units and students prefer learning structures much more than isolated vocabulary etc., but now that we are in second semester, there is something missing. In discussion with colleagues, I keep referring to it as “the spark”. The interest and excitement that I had from the students, but it seems that the spark is gone. Students seem more interested in discussing sports, friends, drama, etc.

The same thing seems to be happening in Spanish 4. We started out great and I felt that the students were really interested in class and what we were learning. Come mid-February, I think I have lost them too.

Being that I was frustrated, I called my brother in Florida who is also a teacher. He teaches math and often says that he speaks math when we talk about languages. I had the pleasure of working with him in a previous district and we even got to co-teach when I was teaching ESL so I value his opinion not as his sister, but also as a teacher. I asked him about keeping students focused during class as well as holding them accountable. I was frustrated that many of my students don’t do homework when it’s given, but if I don’t give them anything, they assume that they don’t have to study. He is never one to sugarcoat things so I knew by asking him, I wasn’t going to hear what I wanted to hear.

He said:

You have to stop thinking that students are going to do homework outside of class. It isn’t always a priority for them. The thing with working in an urban district is that you have to understand that about 15-20 % of students go on to college. You need to realize that those same students are most likely going to do the homework for your class.

Students have classes that will take priority over your class. Students only need a certain amount of electives and there are plenty to choose from, but they NEED English, they NEED math, they NEED science, and they NEED social studies. Ideally, your class takes 5th place.

I have always been an emotional person so after hearing this, I started to cry a bit. What a horrible feeling to hear that your class isn’t as important as some? I know that he wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, but it still wasn’t a great feeling. I started to think to myself, “Why am I teaching an elective? Does my class even matter? Do I just need to accept that my class is secondary to the core classes?

He continued with:

Your class is important. Don’t think it isn’t, but you have to change your thinking. If you have 52 minutes with them everyday, then you have to decide what essential topics or information you want to teach them in that amount of time. If it isn’t important to you, why are you wasting your time and theirs? Decide what it is you want them to know and make yourself and them accountable. If you don’t put value on something, neither will your students.

I have students in my classes that I know genuinely want to learn the language, but I also have a large portion of students who are there for the credit or were just placed in the class. The balancing act is hard. I can see what we COULD be doing and it’s heartbreaking when we just cannot get there. I know how much learning a language is worth it and I CANNOT imagine doing anything else other than being a Spanish teacher. I am not exactly sure the point of this blog, but I am hoping that I am not alone. Do other teachers feel this way? How do I get past this?