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?

Why do we take it so personally?

Scene: While walking in the hallway of the school where I work and am approached by the mother of a former student of mine. He was my student for 3 semesters in a period of 3 years.

Mother: Cecilia! It’s great to run into you! I’ve been meaning to tell you something. My son took the TOEFL to apply for a university abroad and he got the score he needed. Thank you!

Me: That’s great! But it’s all his merit. He’s always been such a great student!

Does this ring a bell with you? (image by Daeveb - Flickr)

The scene I described above didn’t happen, not this one exactly. But similar scenes have happened to me more than I could possibly count. Situations where I learn about a student’s achievement thanks to his/her English skills. I’m not saying I am a great teacher – we all have been through these situations. that’s not the intention of the anecdote.

Well, recently I had the opposite experience – and not for the first time of course – I could clearly see that one of my groups is not doing as well as expected. As a whole. And that realization crushed me…

Why do we see our students’ failure as our fault, and on the other hand their success as something they’ve achieved all on their own rather than something we’ve helped them achieve? I ask myself that at the same time I do that…

Why do we take it so personally – and only on a negative side for us??

Well, I can only think and reflect about my own experience, my own practice. I truly believe myself to be a committed teacher. I work hard, I plan my classes. I assess each student individually, I give them personal feedback. I care about them. I make every effort to adapt my classes to the students’ needs, to their individualities. I spend countless hours researching, preparing, crafting, worrying… So why do I feel it’s my fault? Why do I feel a student’s failure to learn is a result of MY shortcomings??

Who is responsible for your students' learning: you or them? (image from #eltpics - students)

The worst thing is, the more I think and reflect about it, the more I contradict myself. When I consider the students’ progress and development in the language I feel they’re the ones who are responsible for their own learning because I see my role in the classroom the one of a facilitator. I am someone with more knowledge as far as English is concerned, who is there to help them, pointing them in the right direction, guiding them by the hand when needed, cheering them forward when their motivation runs low. I am there to find ways that associate things they like, things that are more effective in getting them to learn. That’s how I see it.

BUT…

When I think about students not learning as they are supposed to I see my role in the classroom differently. I am the teacher, I am the one who decides how to present things, how they should practice the language being taught to better learn it. Therefore, who else if there to blame if the way I choose to teach doesn’t work?

When it comes to your students’ learning – or lack of – who’s responsible?

Can anyone help me figure this out? Please? Pretty please?

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

How I Try to be a Beam – Goal 1 of the 30 Goals Challenge

I have been following Shelly Terrell’s 30 Goals Challenge with great interest. In a few words, Shelly proposes a set of short-term goals related to education. The goals aim at having us teachers reflect upon many aspects of our practice, of our lives in an attempt to help us develop and become even better teachers – and better people. You can read more about the 30 Goals Challenge (and maybe, who knows, join in?) on Shelly’s Teacher Boot Camp. As I said, I’ve been following it, but hadn’t gotten to actually joining in. I’ll probably not make it as timely as I should, but the way I see it (and with Shelly’s blessing, I hope!) better late than never.

 

So I’ll start posting about the goals, one by one, here. The first one is about being a beam – as in being part of a collective support system to other teachers or students. It’s about, along with other people, being a beam to something that promotes education.

 

Image by Will Cyr - Creative Commons (source: Flickr)

 
 
I actually had to think a little to find an answer to this one. Right after I watched the video in which Shelly explained the first challenge I immediately started thinking of things I, individually, do to support others (be them other teachers or students). But I could not think of one single thing I did as part of a group effort - and that was a key point in the challenge, it had to be someone you did as part of a group. How could that be possible? I am always getting involved in collaborative projects, joining efforts… So why couldn’t I think of anything to talk about for the first goal? it took me a while but I was able to think of some things. I think they didn’t come to mind sooner because I didn’t think of them as an effort I made – but rather as the group’s effort. Does that make any sense? It’s as if any initiative I am in as part of a group I categorize as not mine. Weird rationale? It probably is… And it brought a (maybe even stranger) question to my mind: Does this mean I don’t see myself as an important part of the group? Does this mean I don’t see myself as part of the group at all. I say maybe to the first question, no to the second. After thinking about it I came to the conclusion that on that initial moment I had only considered my individual efforts because they had been my ideas. And that if I just join a group effort I don’t really feel as it is mine to talk about. Did I make any more sense now? Is it just me or does anyone else feels like that? Does this mean I am an individualist? That I work better alone?
 
 
From the things I was able to identify I chose to talk about two things. One in my virtual life, and one in my physical one. The first is my being part of Blog4Edu, a project led by Shelly Terrell and Greta Sandler, both of whom I am proud to have in my PLN. The objective of the project is to provide all kinds of support to new educators who enter the blogging universe (as well as veterans). They have video tutorials, a support line a featured blog on the website and a comment crew – volunteers who are encouraged to visit the blogs listed and leave comments, an essential motivator for anyone who has a blog :-) I am very proud to be on the comment crew, despite acknowledging I haven’t really done as good as a job recently as I would like to.
 
The second thing, the one in my “physical” life – and in which I still am not actively involved but hope to be soon – is related to a new project the school I work in – ABA – is involved in. It is a TTC (Teacher Training Course) for English teachers from the public sector in Recife (my hometown). See, I am not sure about the situation of ELT in public schools around the world, but in Brazil it’s pretty bad. Teachers commonly have to deal with no structure (sometimes no desks or boards), no resources, very small wages and many times uninterested/barely literate students. It’s a completely different reality from mine. There will be 2 groups of 15 student-teachers each, having classes every Saturday during this year. The teachers in charge of these groups are two very committed, very qualified teachers – Johnny Presbitero and Scott Chiverton – who are eager to get started. Classes will begin nest week. the objective of the project is to help these teachers with their professional development through classes in English (which will be an opportunity for them to improve their language skills) about ELT methodology and practices. Hopefully the course will provide these teachers with knowledge and tools to make their jobs easier despite the difficulties they face everyday. So far I have only taken part in the interviews to determine the applying teachers’ linguistic levels. But I have talked to both teachers about my taking a more active role, including conducting a workshop on continuous online PD (PLNs, twitter, blogs, etc) which is accessible to everyone, and something I am very passionate about. I look forward to being part of this.
 
This is how I am trying to be a beam, to support education in my hometown and around the world. Pretentious? Maybe? But the internet has sure made geographic distances  irrelevant in some aspects. I hope I can do my best and be a solid beam in both projects.
(P.S. I know most people might find this silly, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence. After I had started this post I realized this is my 30th post – quite fit for my start in the 30 Goals Challenge I think ;-))