“In language classes teachers are doing the pedagogy and they’re doing it in another language on behalf of another language that they maybe had to learn. That’s like walking and chewing gum and juggling and singing and playing piano all at the same time.”
Meredith White may be speaking with me in this conversation about world language educators, but her wisdom and exhortations are for all of us.
Don’t keep piling on that which does not add quality, and in the meantime wearing ourselves out. Add a “To don’t” list to your life, not just a To Do list.
Remember that “priority” used to only appear in the singular form; it’s the very etymology of the word to require that there is one aspect of our lives that is on the top, not an oxymoronic series of most important things.
Take a moment to note and appreciate the work that others are doing on our behalf. Be especially aware of how much effort that work takes when it is being done in a new or additional language.
Technology as a good tool for our work should be defined by the actual help it provides. We do well to take a moment in the excitement of new technologies to assess whether it allows both success and balance in our lives, and apply it when it does, and retain previous forms when it does not. (See “To Don’t, above.)
Above all, as you listen to this conversation, see why language brings joy to the life of adults and children both. Feel the energy and compassion. Know one more time, this time from Meredith White, that language opens hearts, minds, opportunities, and hope for all.
Enjoy the podcast.
Guest’s Biography and Resource Link
Meredith White is an Instructional Technology Coach and Spanish Teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools, Georgia. She was the 2019 Peachtree Ridge High School Teacher of the Year and the 2020 Georgia World Language Teacher of the Year. She writes, shares resources, and houses professional development at http://meredithwhite.info.
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Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!
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Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others.
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0:00:04.0 Norah Jones: This podcast with my guest, Meredith White, will give you a flavor of why it is that people hire her all the time for her world language workshops, trainings, and insights. She has skill, knowledge, compassion, she has a lot of expertise, and she has a tremendous amount of energy. I like the way Meredith brings about an insight into how to make sure that people can live quality lives while being in the educational field. And these insights that you’ll hear today also play into the lives of folks in industries well beyond world language education. Meredith White is an instructional technology coach and Spanish teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools, Georgia. She was the 2019 Peachtree Ridge High School Teacher of the Year and the 2020 Georgia World Language Teacher of the Year. She has a professional website, meredithwhite.info, where educators can find resources and essays and take a look at the professional development opportunities that she provides. I’ve enjoyed knowing Meredith White over the years because wherever she shows up, energy and enlightenment come with her and she brings that to bear in helping people to be able to give themselves permission to be exactly who they need to be in their lives, in the classroom, in their jobs, and in the world. Enjoy this podcast with Meredith White.
Norah Jones: So Meredith and I have been talking about technology. And Meredith White, welcome to this podcast.
0:01:56.5 Meredith White: Thank you so much. Thanks for having Me.
0:01:58.4 Norah Jones: Oh, I’m delighted. You know, one of the things that I have mentioned in the introduction is that just being in your presence over these years, being a colleague watching the excitement that you bring has been astonishing, has been so energizing. And to watch what you have done for, well, new teachers and veteran teachers and the kinds of fun and imaginative things that you do during your workshops has always been inspiring for all of us. So, as I continue to ask you questions and we ponder together, I’d just like to say thank you for sharing your energy with the world like you do.
0:02:38.6 Meredith White: Thank you so much. That’s so kind of you.
0:02:41.1 Norah Jones: Yeah. We really appreciate you, Meredith. Now one of the things that I noticed and some of the information that you shared with me before we are doing this podcast, if I can put it’s interesting because of the typical for you, original way that you approach things. Okay. So I’m gonna go with your title, but I’m gonna take it apart into three words and then I wanna attack one of those things. Your official title is, along with being a Spanish teacher, is instructional technology coach.
0:03:17.3 Meredith White: Yes.
0:03:18.8 Norah Jones: And I’d like to start with the coach and I’d like to ask you, what are some of those things on the “to don’t” list that you talk about, people talk about to-do lists all the time. You started with a “to don’t” list as a coach. Talk about that.
0:03:44.1 Meredith White: Absolutely. Well, I think we put the pressure on ourselves to do everything right? Like it’s called a to-do list. And when, it’s sort of like the grocery store, we don’t buy everything we see that we might think we like we do as kids when we don’t know any better. You know, mom, can I get this? Mom, can I get this? Mom, can I get this? And, and we need an adult in our life to go, let’s maybe get a cereal with some nutritional content. You know, maybe not 17 boxes of fruit snacks. Like we need some people around us to help us make smart decisions when maybe we are not. And for me, I see any kind of like instructional coach or any colleague that you’re able to be vulnerable to and you’ve built trust with that’s able to go, Hey, let me know if you want any suggestions for X, Y, and Z.
0:04:32.3 Meredith White: Or maybe they wait for you to say, oh, I really need help with X and Y and they’re ready. Like a good teacher, like a good coach. Oh, I thought you might ask that. I made this for you, but I was just waiting ’til, you know, the moment presented itself or things like that. So I think as you said, encouraging, not just acknowledging a “to don’t” list, but encouraging people to add to their “to don’t” list and to stop hurting their own feelings, like our feeling, Other people, the world, things that happen to us are supposed to hurt our feelings. We are not supposed to hurt our own feelings, but we do it all the time. As teachers, we wanna make every lesson flashy. We want everything to be exciting. We never want them to be bored and we wanna just eggshell hold our students like the beautiful little people they are and just cradle them and shelter them from anything bad or boring or hurtful to ever happen.
0:05:22.2 Meredith White: And we just cannot. We just cannot. And so I tell a lot of teachers a lot of times, like, it’s okay to be boring. I just said it today to a colleague, it’s okay to be boring. It’s okay if they just do the darn workbook activity and move on, right? Like, you check it, they do it. Poof. I mean, it doesn’t have to be. Now when you have the hook, like Bethanie Drew out of North Carolina has this amazing soda tasting activity where she gets all these international sodas and then kids have like a, like a review sheet. And so they give it like stars, like two stars, five stars, and then they write why and she scaffolds it really beautifully. That’s your, that’s a great day. That’s a few times a year maybe. Like when you’re ready for it. That is a really exciting lesson.
0:06:07.9 Meredith White: We don’t have to do that three days a week and be up on the laptop until 10:00 PM you know, ignoring our families or just watching some TV or a movie or things that let us kind of unwind. But we do it all the time. So that’s a lot of times what my advice is, is like, not for nothing. I think you’re doing too much or I think you’re trying to, you know, the bar is really high for yourself and you just keep, you try to hit that bar every day. And I think ultimately the to don’t list is helpful and not hurting your own feelings is helpful. And remembering that sometimes done is good enough and sometimes good enough is better than great. I mean, it, you know, it’s, ours is a really hard job as teachers, as people in education. So to me, a good coach, be it sports, be it life, be it whatever, you know, meets you where you are and then gets you going from there. And I see the same is true for like instructional and technology and all of those kind of aspects as well.
0:07:08.2 Norah Jones: The other parts, the, the instructional and technology for, for just a moment, I’d like to go address that. You’re talking about not necessarily having to be all the time on, you also mentioned that there are things that you mentioned in your, in your writing to me, that there are also things that are being done by world language folks that other curricular areas don’t necessarily have to deal with that, if I can interpret this correctly, might put additional pressure on world language teachers in a way that other even educational areas may not understand. Can you talk to us about that please?
0:07:51.7 Meredith White: For sure. I think it’s what a lot of performance-based contents feel. So if it’s physical education, if it’s art, if it’s music, if it’s language, you’re expected to do the thing and you’re expected to look the part, whatever that means. And so as world language teachers, you know, if you’ve got a music teacher that says, I don’t, a choir teacher, right? That says I don’t really sing, I’m just, you know, you’re kind of going, wait, what? Like you don’t, you don’t really what like one more time or your, your, you know, band instructor or your band director, excuse me, doesn’t play any instruments. You’re kind of like, huh. Or let’s take it a step further, maybe plays an instrument. Because I had phenomenal band directors in high school, three of just the best people, most life-changing, impactful educators I’ve ever come in contact with.
0:08:44.6 Meredith White: And they all played multiple, multiple, multiple. I mean they just had talents, I mean there was no limit and they were constantly learning new ones. So as language teachers, what do people say? Oh you teach French, say something in French. Or they tell you how long they took a language and how little they remember. And we’re going, oh that’s nice, okay. You know, like we’re whatever. Because it’s performance based, you can either do it or you can’t. Same thing. Somebody says, I’m a runner, you know, and it’s like, oh okay, what’s your best time? Like we immediately kind of fact check and world language teachers just by our nature are many times, more outgoing a lot of times, right? Or at least we can fake it. If you’re more introverted, you’re still probably pretty outgoing with kids ’cause it’s a language we’ve had to be at some point interacting with other people.
0:09:33.8 Meredith White: We tend to be pretty creative I think. And we tend to be just the, you know, fun, high energy. Like as a group, we are just a fun bunch and we’re enjoyable to be around. And I don’t know that other contents always get that because chemistry is chemistry, it’s not gonna change. It has an answer, there’s a way of doing things, algebra, there’s an answer, there’s a way of doing things. But world language teachers as a group are, you know, the aforementioned characteristics. And it also comes down to what’s your language proficiency? Did you, if you’re a non-native speaker, have you traveled abroad? Did you study abroad? Did you have money for that? If you didn’t, it’s like a flow chart. Okay. If you didn’t, do you feel shame in that? I’ve had a lot of conversations in the last three weeks about, from colleagues who have been teaching 20, 25 years, have not, have never traveled abroad and teach languages that aren’t spoken, you know, aren’t in neighboring countries like not Spanish, or French, you know, they’re teaching German, they teach Mandarin and of course they’re communities they can interact with, but in terms of being abroad, they’ve never been abroad.
0:10:36.6 Meredith White: They feel very self-conscious about that. Or colleagues who didn’t go abroad or interact in a target language community until they were teaching that language never had the money. They feel some kind of way you know about that. They feel self-conscious. Then it’s like none of this is the teaching. All of this is like identity work. And then it’s your pronunciation, your accent, the words you used, what vocabulary you learned, who you learned from, what kind of register is it. Then there’s the pedagogy, just good teaching in general. And then also how to teach a language. Which second language acquisition theories do you subscribe to or have you studied? If none, what are you doing then? Or do you have a curriculum that’s been given to you? Do you have any freedom in that? I mean it’s like, oh my goodness. And when I work with other content teams, it has been my experience that they have things just totally, I mean not completely, obviously they have to do a lot of work and also a lot of the things that we decide on or that divide us are laid out for them.
0:11:37.8 Meredith White: And so I think that’s a difference that we don’t always acknowledge or work with, very effectively is just how hard it is to be a language teacher and make all of those decisions, have so much of your identity tied up in what you teach, why you teach it, and how you teach it. And then have conversations that are congenial and collegial and be on a team that you’re able to push other people and go, okay, I’m gonna change my quiz ’cause you put calcetines I prefer medias I teach my kids medias, but like, it’s fine and not have like, you know, a total nuclear war in the department over that. And we’ve all seen that happen, you know, like if you’re in enough world language departments, you’ve, you’ve worked with somebody who has not spoken to somebody else in years and it’s like, how does that happen?
0:12:23.3 Meredith White: But we know how that happens, you know? So we teach a subject that ironically can really unite people and is supposed to bridge connections, but we get caught up in our own stuff sometimes and we divide ourselves from that. And I just think that is typically the, just a super different experience from so many other subjects. And ultimately we’re the face of our program. You know, if we don’t take late work, as my department chair always says, if I don’t, if I don’t take late work and if I’m just a total monster, we don’t offer French anymore. Like I am my job and that’s it. And so there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of pressure there. So none of that even talked about like advocacy extracurriculars. Like we gotta take, we’re taking kids abroad, we’re doing this honor society, this club, and this trip and this, dah dah dah dah you know, all these different things just to retain kids and to show the value of what we do. And I don’t think anyone who isn’t in world language education understands that.
0:13:22.7 Norah Jones: Such amazing insights. In fact, because of all the extra, marketing we have to do the advocacy as you said, better than I just did. What is, it’s interesting because language is so much part of identity and we can talk about that in an abstract way, but you have just described something that in fact brings about the idea of the identity of the educator themselves is part of this, the nuclear fight over which word for sock we’re going to be using in Spanish.
0:14:01.6 Meredith White: Yeah. And it’s real.
0:14:01.6 Norah Jones: It is real. Do you, first of all start with what your background is that made language education part of your identity and your calling? And then let’s segue into what you see as far as what’s happening with world language educators and how they’re viewing this profession now. But let’s start with you and then we’ll, we’ll go to what’s some of the things that you see happening now and changes you see?
0:14:32.9 Meredith White: Well, I had, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I mean, I would, you know, I was always teaching, I’m fourth generation educator and I was always teaching my teddy bears and they were really attentive. It was a great class. Those stuff you had, Barbie Ken front row, you know, no distractions, no cell phones. And it was, that was just always what I knew to be right for me. School felt good. I felt good about myself at school. Not, it was all perfect, but I felt, you know, my biggest learning experiences of my life, of my formative years happened either in a classroom or on a field or on a court. I mean, it was some kind of school or school activity. And I was lucky to come in contact with phenomenal life-changing teachers and coaches. So it just always, I was like, I knew since I was little that I wanted to do that.
0:15:20.5 Meredith White: And it just made sense. I was like, oh, I’m gonna be a teacher. There was never like, maybe I’ll, no, the people that changed their major, whatever, it’s like the average is like four times or something. No, zero times like I was in, and when I met my Spanish teacher my sophomore year of high school, that was it. She just instantly changed the entire trajectory of my, my life. I mean that was, that was it, it was like day three. And I’m looking around going, this lady is cool. This lady speaks another language. She’s fun. Like she’s energetic. She just, I mean she’s, you know, she obviously knows her stuff. She’s looking to make this enjoyable for us. Like, this is the sweet spot, this is magic right here. I wanna come to this room every single day. And she never once, I mean she was always really encouraging. I could be vulnerable, I could speak the language, I could, I remember learning exclamations like in Spanish, like what blank right? Qué lástima, qué triste, qué terror.
0:16:19.4 Meredith White: And I remember running in and getting, I left my softball bag in her room after school. So I ran in and she was like Meredith, you know, qué pasa qué tal, and I was like, oh. And so I had obviously forgotten said bag and I said, and we had just learned that she had just pointed that out, just a quick discreet point, moved on with her life, probably thought nothing of it. And I went, ugh, Qué dia! And she was like, oh my God. Amazing. Like, she just laughed out loud. But she was always, that’s always what she did, you know, Dr. Maya Angelou says, when you, when you interact with your children, does your face show joy? Does your face show that they’re important to you? And whenever I spoke Spanish, she was overjoyed. It was like, come on, I can never get enough of that. And, never, never, it was never furrowed eyebrows.
0:17:05.4 Meredith White: It was, you know, eyebrows back smiling, laughing, like she just, it was the, she was full of delight whenever we would use the language. So she changed my life. I mean that was just it. And then ended up, moved to Georgia for college and because the University of Georgia has world language education as a major at bachelor’s, master’s specialist, and two different types of doctoral levels. So I thought that was pretty sweet. Yeah. And I was like, I think I’m gonna do that ’cause not only do they have the language piece, but they also have the education piece. So the major is world language education. You don’t have to kind of finagle, you know, some kind of certification and like a, you know, I’m a French major, but then I took the test or this that and the other. They they pack it all, they wrap it all up for you.
0:17:50.4 Meredith White: And so I was really, really fortunate to have like full support. And you know, what else is is interesting too, is what I see a lot of my students, not a lot, but enough, enough to be memorable of my student’s experience is my parents’ impression of language was always, and has always been very positive. And when we have students picking a language, I think that advocacy piece for one language over another or like how useful we think it’ll be as their parent, you know, whatever is more powerful than we realize. Because I grew up in a very homogenous small town in the middle of nowhere Midwest. And we always had some kind of travel play, middle class, like middle class, just very average. We always had some kind of trip on the horizon. We had some kind of trip to a museum on the horizon.
0:18:42.0 Meredith White: We had some kind of like food from somewhere else in the world that we were always having. You know, there was always reading and words and language and just rich text in my home. My parents were very intentional, very amazing parents. And so when I signed up for Spanish as a 15 year old, it was like, that’ll be wonderful. Well, okay, well how are, where are we gonna go to use this? I mean, you can, you know, we used in the community, there were a lot of people who I could talk to and, and do that kind of thing, but my parents never like Spanish, what are you gonna do with that? You know? Or the thing that we hear a lot of parents say at those like, curriculum night or open house or whatever, you know.
0:19:20.0 Meredith White: And it was just always really valued in my house. And then when I told my parents, I think I wanna be a Spanish teacher, they were like, shut up. That’s great. Like, this is so exciting. You’re gonna be so good. Well, we gotta, let’s do this and let’s do this. They were just always really encouraging and so was my Spanish teacher. I never felt, like it wouldn’t be a good fit or wouldn’t be great. And it’s interesting now looking back, like you mentioned, like what’s changing now and what’s, just our lives as world language teachers and how they’re different and, and it’s, there’s so much more now. My teacher was amazing, amazing, but we sure did work from like dime, you know what I mean? It was like activity A in Dime and she played the audio and it’s Capitulo uno, actividad dos, like all of those audio tapes where they have like the same narrator at the beginning, empezamos, you know, and then it’s like, and I mean I was on the edge of my chair, you know, like, what are they gonna say?
0:20:16.7 Meredith White: She made it fun. She made it a game, but she didn’t have to do, you know, all of the, like, it wasn’t, and she would not take offense of this. She and I are still dear friends to this day. We’re, we’re, not still, we merged, you know, our relationship obviously as adults merged into friendship. And she is just near and dear to my heart. She would not take offense to this, but like, it wasn’t like a super exciting, sexy class every day. You know, we did actividad B, you know, and then we did, you know, this, that and the other. And I think we put so much pressure on ourselves now. There’s just so much to know. And I love ACTFL. I love the mothership. They are, you know, I just undying love for them. And you know, some of the stuff for a new teacher, there’s standards, there’s can-do statements, there’s six core practices and then your state may be slightly different, but like, probably not.
0:21:09.2 Meredith White: And then you’ve got your school curriculum and then maybe you have a book. So maybe that is the “curriculum.” So now there’s this pressure to stick to the list, you know, or whatever your colleagues have given you or your new department chair who you don’t wanna make mad. So now you gotta make sure those kids know lechuga and tomate, and you know, all of these like very specific words and also balance all the things. And it’s 2023, like we did like one/two years of online school. So while you’re doing all that, it’d be great if you could also post every second of every lesson plan online and make sure you’ve embedded the slideshow and you’re emailing students and you’re, I mean our plate has never been fuller and as world language teachers, we haven’t even gotten to where also do that in like 90% target language.
0:22:00.6 Meredith White: And if it’s a language you learned as a second language, buena suerte. Because like this is gonna be a real ride. And it’s just a lot to balance that. I’m not saying historically teachers have not balanced all those things, but when we look at conferences, you know, my teacher would go to the state conference once a year, ’cause it was once a year, and then when ACTFL was nearby, she’d go to ACTFL and she didn’t, you know, you didn’t have to be in 17 different places doing all the things. If you wanted to be professionally involved, you went to the once a year conference, you saw everybody gave them a hug, you know, you got a couple new ideas and you, and you moved on. It just was a simpler, simpler time. And I think when we look in the last 20 years or so, things have just ratcheted up like in every aspect of teaching.
0:22:46.7 Meredith White: And for world language teachers, things are, for a content area that is always changing, which other people who aren’t world language don’t understand. Constantly changing, constantly. You know, there’s new musical artists, there’s new artists, there’s new fashion, there’s new, all these great authentic resources and people we can use. It’s moving even faster. It used to be like, hey kids, do you know Daddy Yankee, you know, when he first started and you know, they’d be kind of like, oh yeah, like who and maybe one kid knew or whatever. And now they’re all like, oh yeah, a song will come on, on a playlist. I didn’t even realize that my like stereo in class had like flipped to. And they all go, oh, Luis Fonsi, this was on his second album. And I’m like, how do you know Luis Fonsi? Like so globalized. Meanwhile, my teacher was just playing like Maná Tapes.
0:23:35.2 Meredith White: And I was like, this band is great. And I love, I love Maná. They’re coming Cinco de Mayo to Atlanta and I’m so excited. I already have tickets, so excited. But that’s it. Like our world was so small is what I, what I mean to say with all that, our world was so small and we could keep things simple and now people are just, I mean it’s like just paralyzed with options. And you might go to a conference and you’re like, oh, there’s technology and there’s games and there’s vocabulary and there’s an exhibitor that I thought was really cool, but like, I don’t make money decisions so I’m not gonna go in the exhibit hall and now maybe I’ll miss out on something that could have been really, really cool. But like, it’s just too much. It’s too much. And so I think a lot of times that’s kind of the position that we find ourselves in is like wading through the pool of everything that we have to like swim through and kind of stay afloat, but also like decide kind of what trash to like, you know, push to the side and what to hold onto.
0:24:35.5 Meredith White: And it’s just, it’s just exhausting. And I think if you don’t have a good mentor who says, don’t worry about that. Oh, don’t do that. Nah, don’t worry about that. Or again, do workbook page B, it’s fine and then save that for, you know, the hook to the unit or save that for whatever, just some good old fashioned, like calm it on down advice. It’s so easy just to feel like you’re doing a terrible job when you’re not. And I, I don’t think that pressure was there, like I said, 20 years ago and beyond.
0:25:07.7 Norah Jones: You know, you have just spoken here, going to the instructional coaching part of it about how to help people to cut through and with language being engaged with the whole human enterprise and, and also the whole world strikes me that the things that you have had to or chosen to focus on to help make sure people don’t flip their wigs completely can also be applied in other areas of people’s lives. Do you think that world language instruction can help to provide some insights into just how to deal with the crazy life out there in the world?
0:25:53.5 Meredith White: I think I find a lot of, like a lot of comparisons for me, for world language teachers come from just life. Like daily practices, you know, they’re, and I’ll, I’ll give you an example. There’s, let’s talk like using technology for organization. So you have Google Keep, you have Wakelet, you have, if you’re an iPhone user, I’m not sure what Android’s do, but like you have notes in your phone, you have, you can always send yourself a little email reminder. You’ve got she, whose name I will not say cause she’ll respond S-I-R-I if you’re an iPhone user or else she’s like, hello, even though I know she’s already listening, I’ve seen the targeted ads, but she starts really listening when I say her name. You’ve got the other one that’ll listen G-O-O-G-L-E. So you’ve got all these different things that can, you know, remind you and do all these things. And I tell a lot of people a lot of times they’ll say, well, I use Wakelet for this. And then I put this in my Google keep.
0:26:47.4 Meredith White: And then I ask, you know who, to remind me at certain times. That’s a lot of balls in the air. Like that’s a lot of things when you could just literally do what we’ve always done, which is maybe just, you know, grab a sheet of paper and you just keep, you know, a sticky in your pocket or you walk around. Like I’ve got, I’m a sucker for like a monogrammed, you know, notebook. So I’ve got like four of them waiting in the wings. When I’m done, they’re my emotional support notebooks. Okay? And I’m not, not giving them up, but like if you like cute stationary, get some cute stationary.
0:27:17.1 Meredith White: If you like fun pens, get some fun pens, whatever the thing is you’re gonna use to like organize or to keep things all in one place. It’s always, my advice is do that, do it all in one place. Don’t try to have separate places for all the things you know. And it’s the same, we do it same for clothing. You’re not like, I’m gonna put my pants in the pantry, I’m gonna put my shirts in the basement, I’m gonna put my socks and underwear in the garage. You’re like, no, they live in the closet. That’s where they go. That’s where, and then when your closet is kind of like messy, you see it in your routine, you’re like, oh my God, I just doled this morning. It took me forever. I never hung up the clothes. So they were like still wet and just sitting there and you know, or you left the clothes in the washer.
0:27:54.0 Meredith White: Now they’re moldy and gross. Like you gotta rewash them and do all the thing like we noticed when there’s like, you know, some kind of inefficient part of our routine or something that gets in our way. But as teachers, we don’t always do that. We think we have to do all the things and it’s like, okay, I’m gonna get ClassDojo so that I can monitor their behavior and I can can also check their work, but I have to put it in the grade book, but the grade book doesn’t talk to the LMS, so I gotta transfer. You know what, a lot of those things could be done just on a paper roster and you just print out the kids’ names and you just do, you know, do it like we used to do it where you walk up to the teacher, they said, hold on one second.
0:28:32.3 Meredith White: And they calculated your grade and they went, all right Norah, you’ve got, looks like right here, bu bu bu, 75. You know, and you’re like, thank you so much. Like, we don’t have to use everything we see and we don’t have to buy everything that somebody recommends on Teachers Pay Teachers or, you know, whatever it is. If your department or your school has, you know, a book that they use, maybe, you know, maybe it’s new, maybe it’s not, maybe it’s an older one that you don’t love or you don’t find as relevant or whatever. Or maybe it’s new and flashy and it’s exciting, great. Don’t then spend hours on Teachers Pay Teachers trying to find exactly the right resource that again has tomato, lettuce, ketchup, but not mustard, onions, eggplant, like the random vocabulary that we sometimes see thrown together, especially in novice units, you know, it gets like very broad, very fast.
0:29:25.9 Meredith White: So why, you know, if that’s given to you, do the one thing and do it really, really well. Inject your personality into that. Bring your creativity into that. Expand some of those activities and make them your own. Don’t try to like do all the things and then supplement, you know, with something if that’s gonna take up all your time. And I think that’s a lot of times what we do in life, you know, we suddenly are like, I gotta do this, I gotta do this, I gotta do this. And where we could ask for help or use something, especially if teachers, we, you know, we get home, we’re like, I need to do six loads of laundry, I’m gonna make dinner, I’m gonna do this. And then if you’re a parent, and if you’re kind of a default parent, so your schedule’s, you know, just like the school schedule, so you can run, pick up the kids now you can do this and do the errands.
0:30:11.9 Meredith White: It’s just a lot of pressure that in previous sort of eras, a lot of the systems we have societally aren’t designed to sustain. And I think we have a lot of people who are working professionals teaching. So just historically not also making a ton of money. And we know money isn’t the only incentive, but man, it’s a good one. I will be part of any experiment that’s like, let’s see if money really, you know, really works. I’m like, okay, great, I’m in. I’ll try it. I’ll take one for the team. But like, it certainly can provide some comforts. And just those little things that you can take off your plate. I think, I think world language teachers have more decisions to make and more reflections than other content areas. And I think that’s definitely, definitely something that mirrors life is we’re constantly like, how do we sound?
0:31:01.0 Meredith White: How are we presenting the target cultures? You know, there’s a lot of things that are gonna play into that as well. Whose stories are we telling? How are we telling them, who’s the authority? You know, who decides? And it’s just if you’re a native speaker or you, you know, you are sort of the provider of at least some culture. And if you’re not, like, I’m not, you know, now you’re kind of a sponge of many cultures, but you wanna make sure you’re ringing out that water appropriately and that it’s not, you know, changing as it gets in the sponge. It’s just, it’s a lot. And I think the same ways that we can make our lives simpler and prioritize, I think as we’re language teachers, we can do, we can do that same thing. And what’s super interesting is something I learned last year, the word priority has actually been a word for like 400 or 500 years.
0:31:51.2 Meredith White: Okay, whatever. But in the last 100 to 110 years, we made it plural. It was never plural. Nobody ever said, my priorities are. Not a thing. You know, you said my priority is, and in the last 100, 110 years we’ve been like, you know, actually maybe 120, it was like around turn of century, so early 20th century. And to now we’re like, well, my priorities are, and then we start listing these monumentally important things like my kids, my house, my spouse, you know, I mean, you’re going like, what? Like there’s humans on this list that are, that like your whole life is in those first three and you just can’t, like the etymology of the word just says that you can’t really prioritize more than one thing. So if you say, my priority is my family, period, that’s a full, done, that’s, end of statement point blank.
0:32:42.9 Meredith White: My priority is my family. So this year my goal will be to leave at my contract time or do less work at home or stay one night in my classroom late and that way I can be home. And Thursdays we do movie and pizza, you know, like whatever it is, everything else will fall in line after that. But we don’t get to define multiple things as huge priorities. And I think teaching is the same way. We’re like, I wanna get better at technology and I wanna create relationships with kids and I wanna go to more basketball games and I wanna, and I wanna, and I wanna, and it’s like, hmm, maybe maybe one of those and then next year pick a different one and you’ll just kind of keep adding while also pushing away other stuff or you get better at stuff and it’s easier to take on other stuff. But I think all of those are very reflective of of life. Of real life.
0:33:32.1 Norah Jones: It’s like when we ask a small child who’s your best friend and they name 10 people.
0:33:37.9 Meredith White: Yes, exactly. Exactly. And you’re like, okay, close.
0:33:42.2 Norah Jones: I don’t if that Works. Well, pulling together, Meredith, the idea of those three words, then there’s a lot of pieces together. You’re coaching people in their instruction and you’re taking a look at the technology. And it struck me while you were talking that so many times, and certainly I came at it with the attitude of how to use technology would be the coaching, but you’ve actually approached it in the, there’s a lot of technology. Let’s do, if I’m reflecting back to you accurately, let’s do some evaluation of what we choose, why we choose it, and how often we choose it. Have I kind of stated that back to you fairly accurately? And can you riff a little bit about how those three do go together in a way that, that is making a difference in people’s lives? And maybe you have a story that you can tell either your own story or someone else’s story that you’ve observed.
0:34:41.6 Meredith White: Well, I think that’s the thing is, is technology is supposed to work for us. We don’t work for it. So if it doesn’t serve us or it doesn’t serve our goal or our purpose, then I don’t know that we need it. You know, whatever it is. I mean, if we have, we’ve been through these eras, you know, if you had, like, if your parents said all this, you know, TV’s just a fad. My dad, who I always tell people started teaching when the earth was cooling. There was like Robert Kennedy was still alive. That’s when he started, like, started teaching a very long time ago. And he can remember his dad saying, ah, radio like, or tv, this is just a fad. He was like, dad, I, I don’t think it’s a fad, but this, this was in the early ’40s, right? Like, you know, they were, they were used to radio and then you remember chalkboards, chalkboards to whiteboards.
0:35:28.4 Meredith White: It was like, ugh, this will never last. I can remember my teachers going, no, like in high school going, these whiteboards, this is not, you know, this is not real. And so with any kind of innovation where we’ve seen pros and cons, there’s always like, ah, I don’t know. But at some point those are things like TV and, and you know, whiteboards are two things that have overcome and stuck around. And so not everything’s like that. But the things that we, I think ultimately as a society and as a profession and just as people decide that the pros outweigh the cons, you know, we keep around and I think, I think that’s what we have to do in our classroom too. I mean there are so many great websites you can use. There are so many great apps. And so now we’re getting into words that kind of mean the same thing.
0:36:14.1 Meredith White: You know, a website can be an application and vice versa, but maybe not. Is it a “phone app” or is it something you know else? Is it software? Is it hardware? Like we get all these things and again, I make the conference example. You know, my, you might go to session A, B, C, and D and one person did, you know, games for vocabulary and it’s on a website. And then somebody else said like, how to use your Google drive for how to, how to get your Google Drive organized. Great. Love it. And then you went to session C and maybe session C was like six ways to use Google Slides on a daily basis. Great. And you walk away going, wow, those are a lot of really great ideas, but none of those really had anything to do with each other.
0:36:56.3 Meredith White: One was technology for planning, one was technology for teaching and learning, and one was technology for practicing. I know we’re not supposed to use the p word in language practice, you know, but I did. Because by gosh, you know, like we all. Come on, I practiced all the time. I practiced conversations in my head I knew I was gonna have as a language learner and I still do that, right? We start anticipating, okay, these people are probably gonna ask me where I’m from. They’re asking me where I learned Spanish. I can remember practicing that in Spanish too. ’cause people would say, wow, you, you speak Spanish. Yes I do. I’m learning. You know, you start anticipating all of those and then you practice so that you’re ready, or as ready as one can be, right? But all of that to say those aren’t just like technology, you know, kind of an umbrella term as we use it.
0:37:44.5 Meredith White: It’s like, what is it for though? What does it do? And if I have a really robust learning management system, LMS as a district, a neighboring district has Canvas, and I’ve never worked with Canvas, but I’ve always heard glowing things. It can do it all. Like it’s your online planner. It can be used for assessment, it can be used for content publication, you know, whatever. So if you’re doing that, maybe you don’t need to do these other two things. Or if you use Microsoft Office and not Google Drive as a district, well then don’t go to the Google Drive session, go to the Microsoft office session, but realize that’s for organization, that’s for document creation, that’s for none of that’s like teaching and learning yet in terms of direct instruction.
0:38:25.0 Meredith White: It’s just one aspect of it. So I think a lot of times we have so many options that that can be overwhelming. And again, to that I say, simplify or decide what not to do. What’s really cool about the position of Instructional Technology and Innovation coach is, it’s really pedagogy-based. So if somebody says, “I really want… ” It could be as simple as a clicker, “Oh, I got 36 in this class of chemistry sophomores. I feel like I’m always leashed to the computer and I can’t get the slides to cue.” “Listen, let’s get you a clicker that you can just be wherever in the room, like a presentation, and then also, let me show you how to embed YouTube timers into your Google Slides, that way you can just click, bada bing bada boom, five minutes done, you’re not running over to your timer, you’re not leashed to the computer, you are with students and you’re holding them accountable that way because of your proximity.” All of those good, just pedagogical pieces, because at the end of the day, a lot of good teaching is still good teaching, it just looks a little different now. And I made that comparison about my dad too, just mentioning him because that’s a long time, 60 years ago, that he started as a teacher and nearly, nearly 60 years ago, and he will still say things. I can remember complaining, this is so embarrassing. But I…
0:39:54.9 Meredith White: So we totally take on the characteristics of those around us sometimes, I think, and when we’re young and we’re vulnerable, and you’re 22, who do you look to? The veteran teachers around you. So I worked with this great group of veteran teachers my first year, and they had all been teaching a very long time, and I was really, I was really enamored with their experience and their perspective, and they were just so calm and efficient and just really chill all the time, and I thought I was frenzied, yeah. ‘Cause you’re still accepting that you’re the adult in the room, you’re 22 and you’re like, “Somebody call an adult.” And the kids are going, “You are the adult.” And you’re like, “No, I’m not. Yeah, I absolutely reject that.” And so I just really admire that from them. And they would constantly would complain. It was… They were a great group, but there was some negativity, but they’re gonna, they’re gonna gripe, whatever. They’ve earned, after 30-whatever years, they’ve earned the right to a gripe, I guess. But I ended up transferring some of that gripe to a conversation with my dad and I said, “Oh, can you believe it… ” ‘Cause I’m just now parroting what I’ve heard, ’cause I’ve processed it, I’ve liked that they found it annoying and I’m like, “Yeah, me too.”
0:41:02.9 Meredith White: Even though I don’t know anything. And so I’m telling my dad, “Yeah, and they’re, we have to post lesson plans.” We had to post our lesson plans outside of our door, there was a magneted or like a Velcro clipboard, and so you had to print them or write them out, whichever your choice, and then just put on the clipboard. And I was going, “Yeah, and we gotta post these every… Outside our door every day.” And he, kinda with a wry, knowing smile is like, “Hmm, mm-hmm.” Like mentally checking off like, “So you need to know what you’re gonna teach. Great. Yeah, not a bad thing.” And then I’m like, “Yeah. And then they’re expecting us, we have to update them. Like if we didn’t get to an activity on Tuesday, I have to add that activity to Wednesday, like, argh, can you believe it?” And I remember my complete embarrassment when my dad was like, “Yeah, that’s just probably what you should do.” Like, “This isn’t actually all that outrageous, and you have totally glommed on to the gripe. And that’s just like… ” I remember being like… Yeah, I can remember my cheeks getting hot, flushing and I was like, “Yeah, well… “
0:42:11.9 Meredith White: And I recovered and stammered something and then moved on, but I’ll never forget, I can picture it like it was yesterday, ’cause I was like, “Oh, I think he’s right.” But I… Oh, but it was so much easier to complain. And so I think when we look at things historically that are just plain, good teaching, you look at consistent behavior, it’s a lot like good parenting, or I shouldn’t say good, effective, like high-leverage habits that we know are just good. I didn’t ask my parents to go to so and so’s house in high school, ’cause I knew they’d say, “Absolutely not, no. I don’t like their parents. I don’t like that kid. And you’re not going over there.” That was it. I knew exactly what to expect, or I knew if I did X and Y, now I’m gonna get grounded or I’m gonna lose the car keys for a few weeks or whatever. And all those things happened. I knew exactly what to expect. So same with teaching. They know not to do X and Y because you’re going to react in such a way, or that’s just school policy and the thing. If this, then that. That’s it.
0:43:13.7 Meredith White: So a lot of those things haven’t changed over the years, and I fear sometimes with all the things that we have on our plates, all of the tools that we think are all of equal importance, and they’re of course not. If you buy a subscription to Go Formative or Formative and one to Quizlet, you must realize that those are two very different tools, those are for very different things. They’re both equally valuable, but not all tech is… Weigh the same. And the same goes with just some of those good kind of old-fashioned pedagogical things, whatever, practices, I guess, if you wanna say, or theories or just advice. Some things we’ve obviously learned, learned from and know better now, like don’t smile until Christmas. I do not subscribe to that. That’s so old-fashioned to me. I get it, I get the point, but I’m like, “No, smile before Christmas or those kids are gonna hate you.” You are gonna be on TikTok, they’re gonna have a whole Instagram page dedicated to your mean face. So a lot, so many things have changed, but so many things have not changed, and I think once we kind of get rid of some of the distractions and the noise, we realize that it can, teaching can still be exciting and joyful and meaningful, we just… There’s so much stuff in the way that is concerning.
0:44:33.5 Norah Jones: Stuff in the way. So when you look out at those that are listening that are in the profession, the language profession, and when you think about the listeners that are not directly in the language education field, but have a stake in young people coming out, young adults coming out with language skills, do the crystal ball for us, what are you going to encourage them with, what are you going to warn them about, what are you going to invite or exhort them to do?
0:45:16.8 Meredith White: I think… Oh, you know what’s nice? Is we’ve got so many tools now to show really how tangible and practical languages are. You have The Seal of Biliteracy, you have all these things that students can graduate with, or trips they can go on or clubs and honor societies that they can engage with in their communities, and honestly just the content. They can watch content from any target language culture at any point and go, “Oh, hey, mom, I understand this. Look at this.” And they’re like, “Wow, I guess French four is paying off.” And that’s kinda fun. I would say for those who are stakeholders, just really that encouraging piece, being really careful about the language you use around language, discounting certain things, like I get, “Chinese, why are you gonna take Chinese?” It doesn’t matter the language, it matters the level. We wanna get you to a functional, comprehensible level in whatever language you wanna do. Latin? Sure. Knock yourself out. Ted Zarrow tells a story about his kids always hearing like, “What are you gonna do? Talk to the Pope?” And then he had a student go and talk to the Pope. It’s my favorite story he tells of the kid yelling across the Vatican as the Pope was about to leave.
0:46:29.4 Meredith White: And he was like, “There goes my chance.” And he yells like, whatever in Latin like, “Sir, come back, sir, please.” And he said the Pope turned around and was like, “You just spoke Latin in Latin.” And the kid goes, “I did.” And they were like, he goes, “Where did you learn that?” And so they’re just dialoguing in Latin, and that’s amazing, that’s hilarious, that’s great, that’s why we do what we do, but it’s also kinda stinky to say, “Who are they gonna talk to? The Pope?” Or to call Spanish anything derogatory, like a specific country, like, “Oh, we don’t speak blah, blah, blah here.” To turn a language into a slur or to make kids feel like they’re wasting their time, or it’s just oui oui baguette and Taco Tuesday. That’s all we do in language classes. It’s just really insulting to not realize that people are doing the pedagogy and they’re doing it in another language on behalf of another language that they maybe had to learn. That’s like walking and chewing gum and juggling and singing and playing piano all at the same time. And unfortunately, coming back to what I had said before, when we are high energy, when we’re excited about what we do and when we’re used to being vulnerable, ’cause that’s how language is, so we’re like, “Oh, ha-ha-ha.”
0:47:41.0 Meredith White: We laugh things off as language teachers and we just tend to be kinda like, I don’t know, the coolest, maybe I’m biased, but I think we’re the coolest in school, people tend to also see what we do as less serious and that’s on them, I don’t think it’s on us, it’s… What we do is not whimsical and silly, it’s important, and we’re opening doors for students and we’re showing ’em other perspectives and teaching them a lot, and also putting a lot of ourselves, like I said, vulnerably and all those kinda things, which is, which is a lot. I think when you zoom out a little bit, if we look down the line, I think we’ve got to really harness the power of some of these things that are just coming out right now, like ChatGPT, and all these different artificial intelligences, it’s really easy to go like, ” Ooh, this is so scary. They’re gonna use it for evil and not good.” And maybe, but they also are still using little cheat sheets of paper for evil and not good. I got, had a kid two weeks ago pulling a gum wrappers out of his sleeve with random vocabulary. Like poor kid, he did his best, but I was like, “You just have a string of nouns written on the back of a gum wrapper. Wrong unit, first of all, let’s just talk about this. This is a unit two assessment, those are unit one words. Which whatever, it is what it is, but you’re not… None of that will be on here.”
0:49:01.4 Meredith White: ‘Cause they were very, very theme-specific, and he was just one at a time trying to pull ’em out and look at, just grasping at straws, and I thought, “Well, that’s… There’s that.” But looking at… So if the problem is cheating or we’re afraid that the integrity is gonna be compromised or whatever, that’s not new, so let’s just take a big collective breath and look at how we can use some of these tools. And I think also, zooming out further, how can we engage our learners with their communities in the language. I’m in Gwinnett County, Georgia, which has upwards of 25 companies right now in this company, who, in this county, who have CEOs in Germany and France, either or, so you can’t tell me, “Why are you taking German? Why are you taking French?” They can literally go there tomorrow and go, “Hey, do you have any, do you have any internships? Do you have any this?” So as language teachers really looking outside of our classroom more than ever, ’cause kids are gonna know Luis Fonsi, the jig is up. We’ve gotta keep progressing too, and keep globalizing and not just keep language within our four walls kind of as a spectator sport, but also as a community, we’ve got to value it.
0:50:07.9 Meredith White: We’ve gotta be careful of how we talk about it, and I think we’ve also gotta try to engage our students in ways that we probably haven’t had to do, because everyone has a story of taking 400 years of Russian and I don’t remember a word or whatever. Don’t it always feel like that? It’s always a dramatic amount of time. I play… But we don’t do it with anything else, we don’t go, “I played tennis for 30 years. I couldn’t even pick out a racket.” We don’t say that, we’re not like, “I’ve eaten tons of vegetables, which one’s a carrot?” But languages, we’re like, “Ugh, three years, I don’t know a thing.” Well, yeah, no, duh. ‘Cause that was also 30 years ago. Why would you remember if you haven’t used it? So I just, I think really changing that narrative would be, would be powerful. And if we talked about languages like we talk about STEM and STEAM and all of that these days, it’s like, maybe we can turn this around. I think that’s our, I think that’s our challenge right now.
0:51:00.3 Norah Jones: Well, it certainly is, and I really appreciate your bringing that to our attention because that’s exactly the kind of notice for the global community that we need. Meredith, thank you so much for bringing these ideas and this energy that you always have to us today. It’s been a lot of fun to just listen to your enthusiasm, your energy, and the insights that you’ve brought about the way that everyone approaches the language and the language enterprise. And to give hope in that. Appreciate that.
0:51:35.6 Meredith White: Yeah, absolutely. You’re so welcome. Thank you for having me. I think it’s… I think our content is, like I said, just the best and so hopeful is what I always remain towards it. I think naturally as educators we’re optimists, but hope is a different, is a different piece there, and I think that’s, yeah, I think that’s important.
0:51:54.5 Norah Jones: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it. Good luck with everything, and we’ll continue to enjoy seeing each other at conferences. I know too.
0:52:02.8 Meredith White: Oh, absolutely. You’re not getting rid of me.
[laughter] 0:52:05.9 Norah Jones: So I hope you felt as energized and actually windblown as I did by this podcast. I ask you to go to my website to learn more about Meredith and to listen to and download this podcast, fluency.consulting. There too, as I say, you’ll be able to find Meredith’s website information and take a look at her professional development opportunities, resources and all of her colorful and exciting and energetic insights. So thanks for listening. And until next time.Become a Sponsor