Teaching is like…

Brad Patterson felt the ELT Blogosphere was a bit quiet these days and decided to shake things up a bit by proposing a new blog challenge:

What is you teaching metaphor?

The challenge is very simple: share your “Teaching is like…” metaphor. As many things in life, despite its simplicity, the responses can be very thought-provoking and revealing – not to mention entertaining. We all seem to think for the answer to that question in our personal interests – other than ELT. Brad compares teaching to surfing and some of the people who left comments to his post say teaching is like reading a good novel, Latin dance, catching fireflies and jogging.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t choose just one thing to make the analogy, so I thought Brad wouldn’t mind me having 2 metaphors. Especially because each relates to different aspects I see in teaching. So here is my contribution to the challenge (which – shockingly – are two of my favorite things) – teaching aspect of the analogy in italics, between parenthesis:

I have a thing for red shoes… (by miss karen on Flickr – CC )

Teaching is like buying new shoes. As soon as we buy them, we are all exciting and we can’t wait to start wearing them. (In the beginning of a new term we are all excited about our new groups and students, we want to get back on, start teaching again.) But the first time(s) you wear a new pair of shoes they may be tight in certain spots, they may hurt your feet and you might end up the day thinking: “What the heck was I thinking?”. (Starting to teach a new group of students many times means getting a group you don’t immediately hit it off with, they may bring difficulties and the excitement of a new semester soon fades and is replaced by routine and lots of work. And you are soon thinking: “What the heck was I thinking?”)

However, with time, as you wear that sparkling new pair of shoes they start loosening up, adjusting to your feet. And they become comfortable. (As the term rolls on you begin to know your students, they start to know you and your teaching style. Adjustments are made, you learn how to prepare and deliver lessons that work with each group. And things are not as bad anymore. It might even be fun!) Ok… there are those that you still need to put a little band-aid on that one spot that keeps hurting and you sigh with relief when you take them off. (Eventually there may be those students / groups that never get to the “comfortable” level, and that make us do our job but look forward to the end of the term.)

Pilates

I strongly recommend pilates as a way of keeping fit

Teaching is like doing pilates. It may seem easy to someone looking from the outside – gracious, slow movements. (Many people seem to think teaching, and may I say in particular teaching a language, is a very easy thing to do. You just present the structures and correct the students. Right?) But once you are the one on those straps, bars and huge balls, surrounded by springs and bands you see your first impression was not accurate. It is hard to keep the movement slow – it takes twice the strength of doing weights in an automatic way. (Once you’re in the classroom you realise there are many ways to “present” the language; that it’s not enough to just correct when the students make a mistake. You’re surrounded by different students, different needs, new techniques and tools to be used, long hours… It is hard to do everything and see learning take place.)

Some exercises and movements in pilates can be quite challenging. Coordinating different – sometimes quite complex – movements to be done at the same time by different parts of the body while also concentrating on your breathing can seem impossible. (Sometimes as teachers we feel overwhelmed by all we have to do in order to effectively doing our jobs. And many times we feel we can’t make it. Sometimes we feel there is no way we can teach a group of 15-20 people from different backgrounds, different levels, different interests. How can we tend to everything and everyone at once?) But once you start developing your muscles and they develop a memory – yes, muscles have memory! – and the movements become effortless, natural. You become motivated by your progress, you start to see the benefits of the exercises and they become worth it. (Once you become a more experienced teacher, things and procedures take less time and work. You start to see the results of your work: a student that gets a job or a scholarship, another one that travels abroad and can effectively communicate and get around… And you see the value of what you do.)

So, teaching for me is like buying new shoes and doing pilates. What is your metaphor?

Here’s The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

Which fact about my life goes where? (photo by xtrarant on Flickr- CC license)

 

One of my last posts here was my contribution to Dave Dodgson’s PLN Challenge, where we had to tell 5 things about our lives – 2 of them being lies. We should then invite the PLN to guess which things were the truth, which were the lies. If you haven’t seen my post on it, you can check it here.

I have been overwhelmed with work – hence my absence from Twitter and blogging – but I thought I had to “let the cat out of the bag”.

#1 – Taking up a Touch Typing Course – LIE!!!

It is true that I’ve always envied people who can touch type… I can type fairly fast, but I still have to look at the keys as I do it. I have tried a few websites (such as Touch Typing ) that help you improve your typing – and hopefully teach you how to touch type. But I have to admit to never being resilient enough to get through any of them.

#2 – Teaching at a University – TRUE!!!

Despite what many people from the PLN thought (and said as much in their comments) about the timing not being right (I’ve been teaching English for 18 years – it just wouldn’t add up), it is true. Right after I got my BA in Graphic Design, there was a selection for teachers at the same university where I had studied (and the only one with a graphic design course at the time), because so many teachers were abroad getting their post-graduate studies done. I got the job (I have to admit that I believe what got me the job was the “class” I had to teach to the team of professors who were in the selection committee - I was fresh out of college, but had been teaching – English – for a few years, so I think it gave me an upperhand). I taught the history classes: art history (focusing on design), Design History, Typography History (1 and 2) and Science and Technology History. I had that job for 2 years, before I got fed up with politics and people pressuring me to teach in a more traditional way. Then I quit. but my love for art never changed :-)

But during those two years I still kept my job as an English teacher at a private language course. I only taught English on Saturdays. That is how I was able to do both things, and that’s what makes the timing work.

#3 – At my Wedding, the Groom Fainted – TRUE!!!

Yes, my (now ex) husband fainted, twice, during our wedding. It was a combination of nerves, heat – we got married in January, which is high summer here – not having eaten well during the day… He fainted twice. After the second time, I said I’d only go on if we were given chairs and they found fans to place right next to us. My requests were met and the ceremony went on… for another hour!!!! It was truly an unforgettable wedding, and an experience I have no desire to live again. Later that night he even asked me to tell him about the wedding – he had no recollection :-P

#4 – I am as Fluent in Spanish as I am in English – LIE!!!

I have formally studied both French and Spanish, but have not mastered any of them. Although I can get around on my Spanish – I got to the advanced level and the similarity between Portuguese and Spanish helps – I am (by far) not fluent on it. I won’t even comment about my French!

#5 – I Was a Successful Javelin Athlete – TRUE!!!

While I went to high school in the US, I had the chance of being more active and practicing many sports. When track season came, the school’s coach made me try all sports, since I had no idea if I was any good at anything. Surprisingly enough, I was really good at javelin throw. I won a few medals in competitions among schools – even a few big meetings! And if I have failed to remember what was my best mark, it’s only because it has been so long (20 years!!!). I guess I had a good arm ;-)

 

So, there you have it. The truth. And if I learned something with this challenge it is that I am a good liar (thankfully I don’t do it often enough to have realized that before!) and that my PLN has sooooo little faith in my physical abilities! ;-) Shame on you!!!

So Alfonso, you were the only one who caught my lies!!! Good one!

 

Challenges, PLN and Where They Have Taken Me

Image by Diarmuid Fogarty - found on #eltpics on Flickr - Close ups set

 

A lot of teachers don’t know what a PLN is… Many know what the letters stand for (Personal Learning Network – or Passionate Learning Network as Shelly Terrell says) but don’t see how it works, how they can learn, benefit from it. Inspired by Tyson Seburn’s challenge to the PLN to give a spin-off to the #FollowFriday tweets on twitter (If you’re an educator and haven’t joined twitter yet you may want to read this: “Why Twitter is a Teacher’s Best Tool“) I decided to share my story, how being on twitter, having a PLN and challenges my PLN propose have made me reassess my practices and change some of them, how they have helped me develop professionally and learn.

One of the first blogs I started reading once I discovered the world of Educator Blogs was Jason Renshaw’s (English Raven). If you haven’t read his posts I strongly suggest it. Jason is an Australian educator with fabulous ideas, incredibly sharing and always questioning things, rethinking practices, a never-ending quest for teaching more effectively. And it was also Jason and his blog who have introduced me to many things: tools, books, articles, blogs… and dogme. Yes, I know dogme has been around for a while, but I recently discovered I was completely out of the loop of what was happening on teaching and the ELT world.

See, Jason has a thing for challenges. And I have one for taking them up. I have to admit I find it hard to refuse a challenge. Challenges for me do exactly what they are supposed to: challenge me to do things differently, think out of the box, take risks, venture in new paths. They bring a breath of fresh air, motivate me. And the very first challenge I took was from Jason. An invitation to teachers to teach a different class and try teaching upside down and inside out. In a few words, the challenge was to go into class without a plan, teach it using your intuition and student emergent learning and then, after the class was over, sit down and write the plan. I took the dive. If you want to know how my class went, you can read it on my guest post on Ceri Jones’ blog (I didn’t have a blog at the time, this blog was actually in a way the result of my taking this first challenging and sharing my experience on Ceri’s blog) – The Day Nothing Became Everything.

By the way, the post in which Jason proposed this challenge was my first #FFSpinoff.

What have I learned from that challenge? I learned I don’t need a lesson plan. I learned having the class based on student emergent learning can be a fantastic experience. I learned doing things differently can be fun and effective. I learned going to class without a plan in no way means I am going unprepared (thanks to Jim Schrivner’s reply comment to my account on Jason’s blog). It made me buy Teaching Unplugged and learn more about Dogme. Yes, I’ll be arrogant here and say I think it made me a better teacher. More confident for sure. Definitely more aware of using students’ immediate needs and interests in the class.

Other challenges came along (you can see some of them if you choose the tag challenges on this blog) and I learned from each and every one of them. Some were not related to classes and teaching, like Adam Simpson’s Ten People I Follow on Twitter and Why – it made me aware of some great people I didn’t know on twitter who I started following. Every one of the challenges I took has taught me something, about teaching, about people… So I’ll keep taking them.

Besides the challenges, my PLN has proven to me the amazing power of sharing. Sharing ideas, practices, activities, tools, websites, articles. It has introduced me to amazing educators, like-minded people – some of which have become dear friends. My PLN has been supportive in ways I could never imagine. So I make a point of trying to convince as many skeptics on the power of a PLN to join twitter and form one.

What about you? What have YOU learned from your PLN?

Vladmira, the Peaceful Ruler – A Guest post by Ania Musielak

My new guest author for the blog is a fantastic teacher I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person during the last IATEFL annual Conference in Brighton. I started interacting with Ania through Ken Wilson’s blog, when we were both guest bloggers around the same time (thank you Ken!!!). Our interaction only increased through twitter and the blogosphere, and I’ve learned much from her. She’s a very passionate teacher, with a knack for using drama in the classroom – something I’ve always been a bit skeptical about using and that I’ve been learning new ways to do it in an effective way.

We were talking about Brad Patterson’s PLN Blog Challenge and she said she wanted to take part in it, but she didn’t have a blog to post on. What??? just my luck, because it gave me a fabulous new guest blogger and the chance of knowing another teacher/friend I admire a little better – not to mention giving the rest of the PLN following this challenge the opportunity to know a bit more about our IATEFL roving reporter. Here’s Ania’s post:

The idea of ELT  INTERVIEWS is simple – you choose one member of your PLN and ask 5 standard questions so that we can learn something more about our favourite people on twitter:)

Vladka the Ruler

Vladka  comes from Michalovce, a beautiful little town by Zemplinska Sirava dam – the biggest dam in Slovakia. She is an English teacher and works in a State Language School in Kosice, where she teaches general business English to adults and teenagers. She has an MA in Teaching English Language and Literature and Ecology from Presov University in Slovakia and a certificate in Teaching Business English from English Language Centre in Brighton. Vladka is full of surprises and prepares a lot of extra activities and materials for her students. They never know what to expect:) She is also obsessed with colours and crayons (her favourite ones are “tickle me pink” and “spring green” ).  Her students are really lucky to have such an enthusiastic and devoted teacher and we can learn about Vladka’s teaching adventures thanks to her blog http://vladimiramichalkova.edublogs.org which she started last year in March.


I have known Vladka for some time – we met in Paris TESOL conference last year – and I have to say – her kindness and friendliness enchanted me. We had a lot of fun in Brighton at IATEFL so I decided to make her „the victim“ of my quick fire questions:)

First I wanted to learn something more about Vladka’s unusual name (Brad’s etymology bug got to me;)) and I came across some information that says her name means A Great, Peaceful Ruler“.  Wow, that is some powerful stuff:) So what did the Ruler herself had to say? Here are Vladimira’s answers:

1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?

Vladka hesitated a bit but finally decided on patient, creative and unpredictable because „they never know if I bring a ball, board game to the classroom or ask them to sing nursery rhymes”. (And bear in mind the fact that Vladka teaches adults:))

Well I would like to add something to that picture  – I asked some of our PLN members to describe Vladka (with one word only but some of us decided to use more – us teachers, always wanting to elaborate;)) And now a challenge for you – can you guess who said what?

2) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

This is what Vladka had to say:
„Well, I am not a very good cook and I don’t eat meat when I can choose so now there are broccoli, cheese – two kinds, cherry and apricot jam, apple juice, yoghurt (I don’t like yoghurt in fact) and nothing cooked because I am going to cook tonight after teaching.”


3) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?
Here the biggest surprise – Vladka would love to be an archeologist, zoologist or a mythologist.  Wow, that’s quite a range! I think I would have guessed a zoologist but the other two – never!

4) What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or what has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

Here Vladka wanted to concentrate on the most challenging thing when it comes to teaching:

“It certainly is motivation. If you motivate your students, inspire them, then it’s something amazing and it gets back to you.  I love it when I am on my way back home after the whole day of teaching (last lesson usually finish at 7:30pm) and I feel energized and encouraged. And then I sing in my car. But to be honest, I sometimes have problems with young children! I just don’t know what to do with them (so please, feel free to give me any advice on how to deal with them :P).”


To be honest I can’t imagine Vladimira having problems with teaching children – she’s so lively, approachable and always full of ideas! And besides – teaching adults is just like teaching (really big) kids:).

And finally the last question:

5) What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

And here again I learned something new and unexpected

“Hm, last book? I usually read two or three at the same time. I fell in love with Sookie Stackhouse novels and I love everything supernatural or ethereal. I also enjoyed Angelology and now I am reading Smart Swarm. And I am a huge movie fan! Last time I saw Woody Allen’s movie You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger…and I wish I had time to watch again Inception > fantastic movie! The movie I have seen too many times is probably The Matrix. I watched it with friends again and again during one night on astronomy course trip when the night sky was cloudy and we couldn’t watch the meteorites.  You can try to count how many times it’s possible to see this film in one night”.


I was curious so I asked Vladka how many times she actually saw it:  “Hmm, how many times? Together I must have seen the movie like 20 times, but on that night maybe 4-5 times?? The last time I just woke up in the middle LOL!”


I’m ashamed to admit but… I fell asleep in the cinema when watching The Matrix for the first and only time;) Well, the film was shown at night and I was really tired…Vladka I hope you can forgive me;)

 There’s one more thing that I learned about Vladka – she is VERY sporty, she loves Latin dances and swimming and  … she represented Slovakia in a lot of running competitions for about 5 years!

She used to run long distance – 1500 to 5 km. Now she still runs for pleasure.

Vladka, Weronika and me in Brighton – Slavic Power Girls ;)

Anna Musielak is a Polish teacher and teacher trainer holding a Ph.D. from Silesian University. She has worked at the military unit, at college, teaching British Literature and Culture and as methodology director in a private language school. She has also published articles on literature, culture and language teaching. At the moment she is working on workshops and teaching English to young learners and adults. She is interested in using drama, music and literature in ELT. You can find her on twitter and get to know (and learn more from her!): @AnnaMusielak

Getting to know a PLN star… an interview with Shelly Terrell

For those of you who don’t know, Brad Patterson (@brad5patterson) suggested a challenge to the PLN. If you haven’t heard of it yet, the premise is simple.  Ask a member of your PLN  5 standard questions, which you’ll see below, and from there, get to know them in ways that you might not otherwise have the chance to on twitter or other social media. As soon as he proposed I called “shotgun” on Shelly :-) Hope you enjoy it!

That's how you usually see Shelly - with her radiant, warm smile :-) and tweeting of course!

Shelly is one of the first people any educator who joins twitter should start following. She’s a passionate educator (and calls her PLN the Passionate Learning Network), keynote presenter, mobile learning enthusiast (There’s an app for anything!), web conferences organizer, webinar presenter, social media goddess and… the best friend one could have. She’s the most supporting person and a true dynamo. I don’t know where she finds energy to do everything she does, but I’m glad she does. I was fortunate enough to meet Shelly face to face last January in Yorkshire when we both took part in Berni Wall’s (@rliberni) fantastic Professional Development Week Workshop – it was friendship at first sight! We shared a room and would stay up til 6am talking… She’s been a true friend ever since, being there for me whever I needed and it was an immense pleasure to be able to interview her for this challenge!

The 5 Standard Questions:

If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?

Playful, caring, supportive

(Why am I not surprised… 3 adjectives that definitely fit Shell like a glove)
What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Lots of German beer, Coke 0, soy burgers, lactose free milk & in my cabinet chickpeas and blackbeans because this is pretty much what I eat everyday.
(As a coke o addict myself, I can vouch for her answer here… Simon Greenall (@simongreenall) could barely keep up with our drinking habit when he was our host in Oxford!

If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?
I would be a beach bum with a seriously cute surfing pug, Rosco. Seriously, though, I would be running my nonprofit organization I started years ago that I had to give up. Artists, musicians, poets, and writers came together to teach homeless children, gang members, and troubled youth how to express themselves through art, writing, and/or music. We would raise money by throwing these incredible shows in this huge warehouse that had been renovated to serve as art studios. Then we would get together weekly to talk about how we would improve the community through creativity and art. These were some of the best moments of my life. Ethos achieved the SAMMinistries 2001 Volunteer Group of the Year Award for the creation of a music and arts program for homeless children.
Thanks to this challenge I learned about this part of Shell’s life… which only validates her commitment to education and the transforming power of it. I hope she can pick up her organization from where she left it and continue to spreading love, education and transformation soon… And as for Rosco, he’s the only dog who’s glared at me (when I lectured him about farting while his mom was holding him)… pretty amazing ;-)
What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?
The most difficult thing about the teaching profession is the politics that get in the way of supporting good teachers. My most difficult class was in Germany. I co-taught at an English camp for German speaking children. The class consisted of 20 children between the ages of six- to seven-years-old who spoke and understood very little English. On the first day, I received a less than warm welcome. The children ran around the classroom flying paper airplanes. They climbed the walls literally because there were bars on the wall to hang the floor mats! They ignored me, since I knew as much German as they knew English. The worst part of the week was that one little boy was treated as an outcast and the children were quite cruel to him. We experienced many behavior problems.
As an educator I can certainly relate to that… politicians know nothing about teaching and education, and only get in the way…
What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?
I am currently reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami.
The last movie I saw was with you for our Skype date. Remember we saw Just Go With It with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston?
I buy several copies of a book, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, so that I can give it to my friends. I have even read this book to an exboyfriend who hated reading. LOL! I have watched The Wedding Singer, Heathers, and Dirty Dancing way too many times. That’s really the reason I don’t sleep because I am too busy trying to make up the time I spent watching these movies. I actually spent an entire summer with friends watching Heathers once a day for the entire summer! Talk about die hard fans.
Yes… I remember! For our readers, a brief explanation…Shelly and I have movie Skype dates, where we start watching the same movie at the same time, and we skype while we do it, so we comment on the scenes and laugh a lot…. It’s a lot of fun! We had some bad movie choices, but the last one was a perfect chick-flick – just what we needed that night! As for Dirty Dancing… well, Ania Musielak also mentioned it on her interview to James Taylor, and I have to admit it seems its influence transcends cultural borders. I know most of the lines on that movie by heart and have the special edition DVD. Because “nobody puts baby in the corner!”
The Extra Questions:
From all the places you have visited, which did you like the most? Which is the most beautiful?
I have traveled to 16 countries and 100s of cities. I am the worst at choosing; therefore, I’ll name top 5 which are the beaches of Mexico, Barcelona, Alghero, and Austria. I really loved Brighton Beach too but it may be because I got to make memories with so many friends.

Lunch at the Brighton beach... Marisa Constantinides, Shelly, me and James Taylor... after fish 'n ' chips, of course!


If you worked in a circus, which would be your number?
The trapeze girl for sure although I’m deathly afraid of heights.
Whisky Tango Foxtrot???? Afraid of height trapeze girl??? that’s be something to see…

 What do you indulge in when you’re having a hard time?
Give me a beach. I’m pretty obsessive about being at a beach.
Yeah… any time you looked around in Brighton and couldn’t find Shelly, you just had to go down to the beach to find her… the force the beach and the ocean have over Shelly is unexplainable. (not: I don’t know whether I should mention this here, but Brazil has some amazing beaches… just saying ;-))
What’s your hidden talent? Something you do really well that no one from the PLN knows?

I invented a kiss. It’s a Fish Bubble kiss. Actually my 2 younger sisters and I invented this kiss we give on the back of people’s’ hands.
Ok… I am currently with a sign up sheet for people who want to find out about that kiss on the next tweetup… If you feel like getting  a Fish Bubble kiss, please send your name to me and I’ll send details on how to get it ;-)
After the questions, I thought it’s be nice to do a “ping-pong” with Shelly, where I’d give her prompts and she’d have to say the first thing that came to mind… We did this through Wetoku, so here’s the video:





Hope you join Brad’s challenge!!!! Choose a PLN member and let us know more about him/her!

For other posts on the Challenge read:

Don’t CC Ceci, send her a To  – by Brad Patterson

ELT Blog Challenge: An Interview with Anna Musielak – by James Taylor