Tuesday, June 12, 2018


I probably should not admit this, but last week I was a big, fat, quitter pants.

I quit Spanish.

During Christmas break, I decided this was going to be the year that I really did get better at Spanish.
And so I signed up for a class.
And I've been going every Tuesday. 

It's not cheap.
It costs about $30 a session. 
Even with a teacher discount.

And it requires a time commitment.
There is homework.
Lots of vocabulary and verb conjugations to memorize.
And there are tests every couple of months.
I spend at least three or four hours a week,
and sometimes more,
preparing for class.

But most of the time, I really like the class.
I like that there are only five or six people in each class,
so we really do get a lot of time to practice.
I like that most of the people are at about the same level as I am.
I like the teacher.

But the last couple of weeks have been really, really hard.
We had a test.
And despite the fact that I had studied
and studied
and studied,
I didn't do very well.

And then a new session started and two new people joined.
They are sisters. And they are very nice.
But they are way, way, way better than the rest of us.
And it kind of tilts the dynamics of the class.
Not to mention that I always seem to get paired with one of them for partner work.
And it's embarrassing because their Spanish is so much better than mine
and I make so, so, so many mistakes.

Last Tuesday was the ultimateawful.
I had been traveling, and had a 21 hour day on Monday.
I had a leadership class all day Tuesday,
followed by a doctor's appointment I was really dreading.
And I was so tired
I probably should not even have gone to class,
except I knew if I missed a session,
I would never catch up.
And so I went.
And it was awful.

We started with a warmup using a verb conjugation that I use all the time at work.
It's one of my fall backs when I can't figure out how to say something.
I use it all the time.
Probably ten or twenty times every day.
Except that on that warmup,
I just could.
how to do it.
Maybe that should have been a sign.

Then we went on to a different activity.
It was a partner worksheet.
And it was one of those activities that all of us
who are teachers
have experienced at one time or another.
You know, the kind where teaching kids how to do the worksheet,
or how to fold or cut the paper,
instead of the skill or concept you actually intended to teach
becomes the lesson.
The Spanish teacher finally gave up and had us put the worksheet away.
But not before I had said,
"I think I'm too stupid for this.
Can I just listen to everyone else?"

And then we went onto a domino game
that didn't quite work either.
And I just kept feeling stupider and stupider.
And older and older.
(Did I mention that I could easily be the mother
of every other student in the class?
And also of the teacher?)

Finally, mercifully,
class was over.
And I should have just gone home
and gone to bed.
But I didn't.
Instead I went home
and emailed the teacher
that I was through.
I wasn't going to come anymore.
She emailed right back that she was heartbroken
and hoped I'd reconsider.
I wasn't planning to.
I was through.

The next morning when I woke up
I knew I had probably done something stupid.
But I was also a little relieved
because Spanish is really hard.
I went to the second day of my leadership training
and told my team,
almost all fluent Spanish speakers,
that I had quit.
They were aghast.
But you really wanted to learn Spanish.
You are getting a lot better.
What about growth mindset?
I didn't care.
I was done.
Spanish is too hard.

Two days later I emailed the teacher
and asked if I could come back.
Of course I could.
And so I have studied a lot this week.
Done my homework.
Spent extra time with my vocabulary cards
and on the Duolingo website.
Spanish is hard work.
And I wanted to make sure I am ready.

But this experience as a learner has also made me think a lot about myself as a teacher.
Does the content always have to be rigorous for learning to occur?
What is the role of success in learning?
What am I doing to make sure every single kid in my class
feels smart,
and ready to try again,
every single day?
In what ways am I making the learning harder than it has to be?
Are there days when kids should simply be allowed to opt out and listen?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions,
but I do know that my experiences as a learner
will definitely impact me this fall as a teacher.

And I will probably start by telling the story
of when their teacher was a big fat quitter pants.

I want my students to know
that I understand
that learning is hard work.


Jean said...

How about a couple of months in Spain or Mexico learning the lingo while relaxing?
I love your writing.

Ramona said...

Oh, Carol, such a reflective piece! As one of those kids who loved school, the first time I experienced failure as a student was when I was studying Cantonese, right after I graduated from college and before heading to Hong Kong for my 18 months of missionary service. That experience helps me remember that learning is not always easy for everyone. The best part of this post are the questions you ask. I love what you learned while wearing your big fat quitter pants!

Elisabeth Ellington said...

These reflective questions at the end are amazing! Your post got me thinking about how often as an adult I either quit learning something that I find really hard or I just don't start in the first place. I learn new things all the time, but always within my comfort zone and rarely pushing myself to stay committed if it's truly hard. I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of struggle in learning and where that sweet spot is where the struggle feels productive and when it switches to being too hard, not fun, wanting to quit, losing motivation. I don't know what the answers are, but there is a lot to think about!

elsie said...

Those quitter pants didn't stay on very long. Learning is hard and sometimes it's hard to remember the struggle. Hang in there, you will conquer this!

Molly Hogan said...

This is a great reflective post. We do learn a lot by pushing ourselves into new situations. I really admire your determination to take Spanish. When I switched to teaching fourth grade from first, I realized that I'm not a big fan of learning curves. This will be a great experience to share with your students!

Trina said...

Oh, there is so much in this post that is important to think about. Thank you for sharing such important insights. I really admire how vulnerable you were to share this story. As a teacher and adult, I have also found that learning can be really hard and frustrating...trying something so hard then not feeling successful can feel so horrible.

Your writing is lovely

Michelle said...

So many lessons learned ... You had a couple hard, rough, long days. I'm glad to hear that you jumped back into the hard of learning. Bravo!

Irene Latham said...

You're not stupid. Learning something new is hard! And we are so HARD ON OURSELVES. I love how you are using this experience to make you a more empathetic teacher. Awesome! Thinking of you this Father's Day weekend... thank you for sharing how we have this loss in common.

Mary Lee said...

Powerful. I'm glad you got rid of the quitter pants in the end...but I would love you just the same if you had let it all go.

You are such an inspiration!