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Warning: Objects That Look Small Far Away Are Decidedly Larger When Close Up

Today I decided to paddle (board) out to the lighthouse about a mile off the shore where I live. It seems like such a great distance to cover until I get underway. Fortunately, there was little wind and only two clamming boats in the immediate vicinity which allowed me to take my time and to think (pretty much why I get out on my board all the time anyway).

About a quarter of the way to my destination, I started thinking about the upcoming school year. Like the lighthouse which was becoming larger with every stroke of the paddle, the school year, too, will start to loom large. But instead of creating the traditional panic, I decided to let my mind wander while I was out on the water and consider what I want to do differently for the benefit of my students - and for me.

I do love the art of teaching. Beginning or Intermediate Spanish is just what happens to be what is listed on my students’ transcripts, but I would argue that I (all world language teachers, really) teach so much more than just language. But really what I love more than anything is hanging out with the students and allowing them to think and try and reason and try to reason and take risks and screw up and figure stuff out. And with the population of students that I am blessed to teach, those are the skills that they most need to hone. Yeah, language is a requirement (thank heavens or I wouldn’t have a job), and for most of my first-generation college students, language acquisition at the high school level was not a successful endeavor for them (otherwise they wouldn’t be taking my class). So I strive to make the content and the coursework as do-able as possible. After all, language IS acquired and most definitely will not be mastered in my class! But if I can impart some good life lessons along the way, it’s a win-win for everyone.

A few more strokes on the left and a few on the right and I was sidled up to the behemoth lighthouse. I never get too close. It’s a smaller lighthouse, to be sure, in my small area of the shoreline, and one that becomes monolithic when I paddle alongside. The whole thing scares me, though there really isn’t anything scary about it.

What causes the fear is the story I create in my head: that there’s someone in the lighthouse who is going to emerge and yell at me for being too close, that I will get knocked into the side of it and have to touch its seawatery and iron grossness, or worse yet, be sucked into some nonexistent vortex between the water and the lighthouse wall. Oh where I wish my imagination wouldn’t take me when I’m out by the lighthouse!

Just then I started thinking about how my students might view language as their own personal lighthouse. Some may fear being yelled at or corrected, others may fear having to touch its grossness, or worse, some students may create such a fearful story about the whole experience before they even start on the journey that they will be hard-pressed to lower those effective filters so that language can seep in.

THAT is my quest for my courses this fall: to get my students to realize that language is truly an evolutionary process, much like we are as humans. As such, I hope to extend grace to all of my students where I can - and save some for myself too.

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