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With the first six weeks under my belt, I took stock of where each class stood regarding community. The vibe was good… no, the vibe was GREAT! I was enjoying my students, and my students were enjoying our time together. I even heard the occasional, “I just love this class” as kids filed out of my room. And then, one day, something magical happened.   

Nine weeks into the school year, a large group of students was late for a reason I don’t recall. This allowed me to chat with the handful of students who were present. They had just come from an hour with the students in their homeroom. Typically, homeroom consists of a brief time each morning with students in grades 9-12 to take attendance, make morning announcements, etc. From time to time, however, we have larger chunks of time for the group to be together. 

That morning I was chatting with a junior and a few freshmen when I asked them what they had done during homeroom. Liana, a junior in my French II class, said, “I played a really awkward game with a group of people whose names I didn’t know until today.” Campbell, a darling freshman, chimed in with a similar reaction.

WHAT?! These two had spent almost 9 weeks of school with a group of 10-12 students and still didn’t know everyone’s name?! I was shocked… and then I was curious. With a knot in my stomach and a bit of hesitation, I asked, “What about in my class? Do you know who everyone is in my class?” And this was my magical moment! Both very quickly & confidently said, “Oh yeah! I know everyone well in this class.” I pushed. What do you mean by that? Liana went on to share that she knew more about each of her classmates in French II better than her classmates in any of her other classes. SUCCESS!!!  

And then, it came time for the dreaded student evaluations at the end of the first trimester. After only 12 weeks of school, which amounts to a whopping 44 hours of contact time with my students, we are required to request student feedback on a Google Form. This is not optional, and teachers have no control over the questions. And did I mention that the feedback goes directly to our division director instead of me? Well, it does! The lowest ranking for each question was a 1, while the highest was a 5. 

My evaluations are typically strong and contain nice comments. However, teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has been exhausting, and I was not emotionally prepared to deal with sometimes common teenage negativity. But the rating and the comments in this year’s evaluations were different.   

Out of 298 rankings, here are my results:

4 – 3’s

30 – 4’s

264 – 5’s

Those numbers were incredible and encouraging to say the least, but the real reward came in the form of student comments where they justified their ratings.

Without making any changes to their grammar, spelling or wording, I invite you to read a bit of what my students said about me after a mere 44 hours of time on task when community building was my focus.

The class is super fun and I enjoy learning. Mrs. T-J is very approachable and is very nice and kind not only about the class but other things.

I love the enthusiasm Mrs. T-J gives and just the fact that she encourages us to go above and beyond.

Mrs. TJ is a great teacher and has really good teaching methods. I wish all teachers were like her. She makes French easy and fun to learn.

We use so many methods for learning that it helps each class be different.

Mrs. TJ is really good at knowing where we all are and when we are struggling.

I find this class very engaging. I think that Mrs. TJ is a very passionate teacher that really wants to see her students succeed.

I am always engaged during class because she gives us brain breaks. I can tell that she loves to teach and she is amazing at it!

Literally everything she does is amazing. I love the way that she teaches and she is such a different teacher that my expectations will never be met again because she is like one of a kind. I love the way she teaches and I cannot say anything bad about her or her teaching.

I can tell Ms. TJ loves to teach. I feel so comfortable around her and she makes the class environment so supportive. French has been so much fun this year because I am used to people just talking on and on about grammar, but she makes it a unique experience. We play lots of fun games that help me retain and absorb information much better than someone just talking to me. She also emphasizes and repeats certain things we need to know in order to ensure that we learn.

very engaging class she won't let you be out of the loop

sometimes i get unengaged but Mrs. TJ helps me get back on focus

And there are so many more! I couldn’t believe what high school students were saying about me! It filled my heart with joy and encouraged me more than ever. I knew then and there that my six-week turned twelve-week community-building experiment would continue to be my focus for the rest of the year.

What we do as teachers matters and is more important today than ever. By taking the time to build community, I learned that I didn’t sacrifice anything. I didn’t sacrifice all those behaviors that I believe are so important to support language acquisition because they seemed to develop naturally on their own!.  

No more dual-tasking for this teacher!! My little experiment helped foster what I have always cherished the most about being a French teacher: hanging out with my students and speaking the language I love dearly. Who could ask for anything more?

Donna Tatum-Johns

My passion is twofold: training teachers using comprehensible-input methods and strategies as well as teaching French using these same techniques. CI helps language classes come alive and allows students to enjoy acquiring a second language more naturally.

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