Overworked, or Underused?

If you’re like me, you often feel overworked and underpaid no matter how much you love your job. Bringing a perfect TPR- or TPRS-based lesson to class every single day is never an easy task, but there are some tricks to getting the most out of your effort – tricks that can also help you stay focused on your students’ needs and acquisition.

So, it’s time for a new lesson. I want a list of TPR commands, a dozen or so visuals, a few props, a list of sentences for reading practice, and maybe a song or snippet of realia. I’d really like it to all be correlated to an on-screen presentation so I can flow through the lesson without having to carry around a printed lesson plan, and above all, I want it to be funny, bizarre and attractive. Now, I have a fifty-minute planning period and three different preps, so that gives me a little over a quarter of an hour to make all this happen.

It’s not gonna happen.

A great TPR- or TPR-based lesson requires a lot of thought and planning, much more than the majority of us have during school hours. Of course, we’re not in this game to clock out when the last bell rings, but there’s a point where things start to get ridiculous. There’s a point where you have to go home and get enough rest to be able to teach the wonderful lessons that you’ve made.

What will happen to all those visuals that I painstakingly collected or drew after we’ve gone through them one time? Should I make a nice file for them and pull them out next year? Do I have time to make a file for them? Will I even remember that they exist a year later?

The real question is, was one time enough?

My lessons started getting a lot more effective, and less hectic, when I stopped asking myself questions about the logistics of getting them planned in time. It took me a while to realize that, yes, I may be overworked, but the reality is that I’m overworking myself. If that’s true, there’s a good chance that I’m overworking my students too.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: for every activity that you create, get at least two uses out of it. Those visuals aren’t just for speed recognition. They’re also prompts for circle-questioning, writing, listening practice and even a formative reading assessment. We could play half a dozen different games with them.

What about those reading-practice sentences? First, they can be an informal independent assessment. Then they’re a source for translation and pop-up grammar questions. Afterwards, they evolve into homework or independent classwork: draw each of the sentences, or rewrite each sentence making at least one goofy change to it. We could do an hour’s worth of activities with just ten sentences.

And the TPR commands themselves? They’re not only a list for whole-class, group and independent commands but also a source for role reversal, where students tell you or classmates what to do. They’re a handy review list, too.

It took me a while to realize that, yes, I may be overworked, but the reality is that I’m overworking myself.

In the end, what started as one session worth of material has now doubled in value. Am I really just killing time and slowing down my curriculum? No, I’m actually doing a better job of paying attention to just how much exposure my students need to new content. My students are making better progress, I feel much less overworked, and we’re all getting to enjoy the work that I’ve put into the lesson.

I’ve really enjoyed applying this philosophy to the whole week as well. I don’t plan Fridays; they plan themselves. It’s a time for us to catch up on news from France, do a little assessment, reorganize, and most importantly, bring out our favorite activity from the week for an encore or bring in a new game or other activity that students have been wanting all week. And now I have a buffer day built in to each week so things like weather days, standardized testing or fire drills have little impact on my plans.

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