The Mug of Happiness

If anything, I see my blog as a journal of positive things going on in my language program. It’s a personal reminder that a foreign language program — even one in a rural, low-income community with sparse cultural diversity — can be an extremely positive experience for students, teachers and the school community as a whole.

A few weeks back, some of my former students gave me a coffee mug. It was the kind that you can put your own design on, and they had written le café on it in script. The gift itself was a very sweet gesture, but that was just the beginning. Before I had the chance to use the mug, I came in one day to find that these students had filled the mug with little positive messages and affirmations. I was told to read one a day, and several weeks later, I’ve finally made my way to the bottom of the cup and have requested a refill. Maybe la tasse du bonheur is the beginning of a tradition that all my students can contribute to.

I’ve always enjoyed student feedback, even the criticisms. I’d rather have the opportunity to get truthful reactions to classroom management and activities before it’s too late to change them. But there’s always more room for students’ voices in school, and there’s always more room for positivity. The mug of happiness is perhaps a way to spark the search for it. Some of my students, I think, would be hard pressed to write down something positive about anything. The problem isn’t a lack of positives but rather a blinding surplus of negatives. What would happen if I encouraged these students to seek positivity? Does a simple tradition like this have the power to make the positives, few as they may be, outweigh the negatives?

As the eternal optimist, I’m always looking for new ways to make my class a memorable experience for my students. Most of them will never use French in real life or travel outside of the United States. I can admit that, but I can’t accept it as an excuse. I can’t stomach the idea that a student could walk away from my program as if they’d never been in it at all — uneducated, unchanged, unchallenged. I have a million tools in my arsenal to help avoid that possibility, and I think soon I’ll be adding a coffee mug to the list.

Lessons from the Weight Room

I remember my first trip to Paris. As I stepped off the plane and passed through security, one of the officers suddenly said to me, “Sit down quickly and put this book on your head! A mean boy has stolen a cat from a young blonde girl, and we need to ask you some questions.”

Obviously, that never happens. Why, then, do we spend so much time doing goofy actions and telling bizarre stories in class? Why can’t I just tell my students that a chair is une chaise and move on?Read More »