Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell, 2012

What a year. Personally, professionally, mentally, emotionally. I have experienced great joy, loss, laughter, love, and above all, great change this year.

Some highlights: I began my first full-time (and paid) teaching job, I started a blog, started tweeting, learned about the importance of and subsequently developed a PLN, wrote a thesis, and finished graduate school with my MATESOL. Truly a huge year.

Following graduation I have taken a few weeks vacation away from social media and teaching which has provided me with a great deal of peace, clarity, and ample time to think and reflect on what I do, why I do it, and where I will go from here. That is a post for another day (tommorrow, perhaps! New Years resolution?), but I can say with certainty that this past year has been one of the greatest and most exciting I have ever experienced.

I feel so much gratitude for friends, family, loved ones, and supporters, near and far, for giving me the strength, love, and support, for believing in me times when I did not believe in myself, and for giving me the push I needed to go for what I never thought was possible. I am truly blessed, and truly grateful for this year, for the life, love, laughter, and learning that I have been lucky enough to enjoy.

I can only imagine what this next year has in store, but I can't wait to find out.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Present

With less than a week until I turn in a final draft of my masters thesis, stress and anxiety seem to have moved in, unpacked their bags, and made themselves very comfortable in my life. Control issues, wannabe-perfectionism, and a sincere desire for validation are all at play during these final hours in which I am truly driving myself crazy. Not quite nut-house crazy, but definitely sleep-deprived, stressed-out, hanging-by-a-thread crazy. It is nearly impossible to keep it together and show up like a normal person in the classroom, in my personal relationships, and in life.
During a phone conversation with a dear friend last night, I described strange moments of calm and confidence which I have experienced sporadically between periods of insanity and anxiety. I described my day at school as follows:

“Yesterday afternoon, I sat down in the library and I was on a roll! I was getting things done but not stressing about how much more I had to do...I was working hard but not giving myself a hard time about needing to work harder...But at some point later in the day I started thinking about how much time and effort I have put into this project and how badly I wanted to end on a strong note and how I needed to really push harder to make this happen...and I started to feel so stressed and anxious that by the end of the day I was in a depressed rut that I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of. How can I go from a place of peace and acceptance to a place of total fear so quickly?

She immediately answered me matter-of-factly, “Well, you said it right there, you started thinking.” So simple, and so true. The moment in which I stopped doing and started thinking, I let the fear in. I let it in and I let it stay and I believed the things that it told me, and pretty soon I was lost in stress and anxiety. The key to that purely peaceful period of time which had preceded it was just that: I wasn’t thinking, I was just doing. I wasn’t lost in worry about the past or fear about the future, I was simply in the moment, doing the task in front of me. One thing at a time. As soon as I took myself out of that moment, I lost the feelings of peace and acceptance that come with being in the present.

I like to think that I have gone on enough retreats, read enough books, and one enough daily practice to remember that living in the present moment is the solution to nearly all of my problems today. I guess I needed to get in some pain yesterday to be reminded of why I try to live my life this way. Because without it I am truly lost. So, for today, I am taking a deep breath, turning my thoughts off, and just doing what I can in this present moment, because when you think about it (or not), that is really all we have.

“The past is history, the future is a mystery, and today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Authentic Language on Election Day

Yesterday was an important day for the United States (and the world). The presidential election, a once-in-every-four-years historic event, was taking place, and you had to be living under a rock not to hear, see, or be touched in some way by the opinions, advertisements, propaganda, and chatter going on around it.

     Though my students are often blissfully unaware, or painfully indifferent, about many US traditions, customs, practices, and events, this one was definitely on their radar. Even though it was the first day of a new session, and there were grammar books to be delved into and curriculum objectives to be achieved, I decided to take the day off and address what was going on “out there in the world,” hoping to give my students an opportunity to practice English in a context that was truly useful, interesting, and relevant to them.

     Despite my attempts to leave my own politics out of the classroom, my students sensed my political leanings, and were quick to assume that if I felt this way, most Americans did too. (Remember: I am teaching ESL in Berkeley, California, liberal epicenter of America, and constantly am reminding my students that Berkeley is in no way representative of the greater American population). I wanted to present an accurate picture of the political landscape, the candidates, the process of electing a president, and, most importantly, the issues to students in order to allow them to come to their own informed decision about what might happen that evening.

      So we delved into the literature. We read biographies, news stories, and reports on the candidates and their stance on difference campaign issues. To most students, these texts may as well have been written in gibberish; the dense political vocabulary was too much for many of them. In order to make the content comprehensible to students in the classroom, and others in the school, we broke the reading down, issue by issue, targeting essential vocabulary and getting rid of non-essential fillers. What we ended up with were single-sentence summaries of the candidate’s general stance on what student’s decided were the most important issues: healthcare, budget/deficit/taxes, immigration, energy/environment, same-sex marriage, and foreign policy. 

     For example, in order to understand the candidate’s general positions on budget/deficit/taxes, students wrote:
           1. Romney wants to cut taxes.
2. Obama wants to spend more money on the economy.

Simplistic, yes. Generalizations, yes. However, by breaking down each issue into simple sentences, and organizing these into a visual representation of each candidate and their positions, students gained a general understanding of the differences between candidates, and thus a better understanding of why people voted in different ways (not simply based on residency in a liberal city).

      At the end of the day students had created a poster showing off their work and new understanding of the candidates and the issues. I caught some of them bringing peers into the classroom over lunch to show off their work, and explaining the meaning of their summaries.

      I ended the day with the smile on my face, feeling like I had given students an opportunity to practice authentic English which was truly engaging, and will actually be useful to them. Homework was to watch the election, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

Happy election day, everyone!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Willing to Learn

Over the past few years, I have come to see and believe, time and time again, that willingness is one, if not the most, important quality that one can have. Willingness to take action, willingness to be accountable, and willingness to take risks are essential in any full and meaningful life. In many different areas of my life I have seen firsthand that the willingness to learn and to grow are of paramount importance for any human being, and doubly important for any teacher.

I started thinking about willingness last week in a MATESOL class, when a fellow student gave a materials analysis presentation on CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning). The assignment asked presenters to consider a particular material used in language learning classrooms in order to evaluate its usefulness in certain settings, advantages and disadvantages of its use, and possibilities for adaptation in other contexts. The presentation moved away from this guideline and their topic of CALL into a more general discussion of the usefulness of technology in the classroom, and one of the presenters struggled (actually, didn’t even attempt) to contain her bias against the use of technology in the classroom. Her feelings seemed to be that since it is difficult to learn how to use new technology, we shouldn’t use it in the classroom because we can’t be sure of its effectiveness. At one point
she said, “I don’t have the time or the patience to try and learn this.”

Now, I have a bias of my own when it comes to the use of technology in education, and was obviously having a hard time relating to this woman and her presentation. However, if I remove my own personal feelings about her opinion in the technology debate, that final statement looms in my mind. Regardless of personal opinion, at the end of the day she was unwilling to try and learn something new, and I believe that this is a dangerous place for any teacher to be.

Our job as educators is to encourage and inspire students to learn and to grow. If we ourselves are unwilling to do this, then what message are we sending to our students? How can they trust in their own learning process if we do not model this for them? I find it hard to imagine that any teacher who is unwilling to learn will be effective in cultivating this willingness in his or her students. In order to continue to grow as educators, we must be willing to learn; for at the moment we cease to learn, we cease to grow.

In meditating on the importance of being willing to learn, I have come up with three main reasons why this willingness is indispensable to human beings, and teachers in particular:

1. Being willing to learn allows us to empathize and connect with students
Learning in itself is a skill, a process, an undertaking. If we expect our students to take on the challenge of learning, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same? Being willing to learn gives us as educators an opportunity to remember what it is like to feel humbled, intimidated, and challenged by the task of learning something new; this experience helps us to empathize with what our students are going through daily in our classrooms.
Additionally, by demonstrating to students that we, as teachers, are still learners just like them helps to build confidence and put students at ease by removing that separation between teacher and student as”distributor” and “recipient” of knowledge. My students love to hear stories about my academic escapades in my MATESOL classes; my experience as a student creates a common ground in which my students are able to relate, connect, and build trust with me.

2. Being willing to learn allows us to observe, reflect on, and improve ourselves and our work
One of my favorite things about this experience of starting to blog, tweet, and connect with other educators around the world is the learning opportunity it has afforded me. Every day I am learning new ideas, methods, and approaches which inspire me to reflect on my own teaching and make changes in order to grow in effectiveness. My thinking and my teaching have been elevated to another level since I have made this process of learning, reflection, and growth a part of my life.

3. Being willing to learn reminds us that we do not know everything.
After teaching the same lesson multiple times, it can be all too easy to fall into a routine, assuming that I know how things should be done and just going through the motions to complete them as I have done before. However, one of the things I love most about teaching is that you never know exactly what will happen in a classroom. Being willing to learn and remaining adaptable as a result helps me to stay humble and remember that there is always room to grow.

So, just for today, rather than trying to be a better teacher, I am going to try to be a better learner. I think that, in doing so, I will help myself and my students to remain open-minded, willing, and teachable, and our classroom will be a better place for all to learn as a result. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Professional Development (or lack thereof)

Last week I wrote: “I think I get more out of 5 minutes on Twitter than an hour in a staff meeting.” It is sad but true, and the responses that I received from others in my PLN indicated that I am not alone. It is an unfortunate truth for many connected educators: as we are becoming more connected, more informed, and more effective, many institutions remain rigidly resistant to change, and a result old and inefficient practices are repeated over and over again.

The inspiration for this tweet came in the form of our monthly staff meeting, an hour+ long affair involving:

1. Discussion of issues which did not concern most of the staffers present2. Review of items and information which can easily be found in materials online and on Dropbox3. Check-ins, in which few spoke their mind and most unanimously declared that they were “fine” and things were going “well”

Needless to say, the meeting was pretty much a waste of time for most of the people who attended, and I left that day asking myself why, in a world of such easy access to new information, new practices, and new ways of sharing, do some people, groups, and institutions continue to merely “go through the motions,” even when doing so is so clearly ineffective?

I guess the easy answer is that change is hard, change is uncomfortable, and for those reasons it is largely avoided. However I have to look at my own life and experience and ask myself when doing the same old thing ever got me positive results (answer: it didn’t). There is a saying that the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Which leaves me wondering why a boring staff meeting would produce anything other than still-bored staffers.

Since I am a firm believer in the idea that if you focus on the problem, the problem enlarges, but if you focus on the solution, the solution enlarges, I am collecting ideas from my brain, my PLN, and the wealth of information out there in the universe, as to how we can make professional development effective, useful, and practical at the local level. That is to say, not only a collection of ideas which sound great out in the Twitterverse, but those which can be applied here and now, despite an institutional setting which limits the ease of change and applicability of new ideas. (Feel free to chime in in the comment section and let me know what I am missing, I’m sure there is a lot!)

1. Ask for input (Ask staffers and teachers what they want and need in terms of professional development, and take steps to offer it! Then continue to ask and follow-up to determine effectiveness).

2. Keep participants engaged (In the same way we focus on student engagement, administration should be concerned with offering professional development which keeps teachers and staff engaged. If the content is useful, they are more likely to be engaged).

3. Change things up a little (This could be anything from the location, format, or agenda of a staff meeting to including different forms of media and sharing).

4. OK, Change things up a lot (Out with the old, in with the new. Reevaluate what needs to be shared and why, and include new content and material instead of irrelevant and repetitive information).

5. Make use of resources (There is so much out there, we are truly doing ourselves and our staff a disservice conducting meetings with printouts that follow a traditional and repetitive format. Bring technology into the discussion to arm teachers and staff with tools which will truly advance them in their field).

This is just the beginning of what I’m sure is a massive list of things which should be done to maximize professional development opportunities. The tip of the iceberg, if you will. What are some ways in which you believe professional development should be advanced and applied in your schools?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Applying Constructive Criticism Constructively, Part 2

The main criticism that I received on my teaching evaluation (last seen here) came from an observation that my presence in the classroom was too informal, or not commanding enough. The corporate evaluator and my director both suggested that I take a stronger approach to classroom management, creating a more structured environment in my classroom before giving students full communicative freedom. The evaluations suggested that doing this would increase my authority and set students up for greater learning opportunities.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this feedback. On one hand, I understand that as a new teacher it will take time and practice in order to establish a commanding presence in the classroom. I don’t overestimate my skills or abilities in this area, I have a lot to learn. On the other hand, I have been told by many students that my approachable and open attitude make them feel comfortable in my classroom, and that is one of the things I value most in my skill set as a teacher. I don’t believe that a strictly authoritative presence is a requirement for commanding respect and producing results.

I think that there is a need for balance, that a good teacher should have both of these characteristics: an ability to create structure, manage a class, and command respect, but an also an ability to encourage students to feel comfortable and at ease, open up, and enjoy being in the classroom. Since my evaluation seemed to indicate that I lack balance in this area, possessing perhaps too much of one characteristic and not enough of the other, I am setting a goal to identify and apply more structured approaches to lessons and classroom management.

What are some of the ways in which you create a structured lesson, maintain authority, or manage a classroom? Please share!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Love is a Better Teacher!

On Friday me and my blog celebrated our two-month anniversary. This has been a huge learning process for me on so many different levels. A few of the reasons I am grateful for this process:

1. Trying something new and putting myself out there in ways I never have before.

2. Taking responsibility for the work I do as a teacher by putting it down on paper (sort of) and sharing it with others.

3. Engaging myself in a community of teachers and educators from whom I learn new things and gain inspiration every day.

4. Having enough humility to ask for help, make changes, and improve.

5. Raising my consciousness of what I do and why.

And lastly, using this blog as a platform for continued growth. This is only the beginning, and I am so excited for what the future holds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Twitter, I Love You

Last semester, I had a great teacher for a research methods class. On top of being a total whiz when it came to academic research, he is also an avid user of social media, and regularly brought technology into the classroom in the form of videos, blogs, twitter, and other resources.

At the time I was completely overwhelmed with worry over completing the research for my field project (oh wait, I still am!) but I was able to hear one message loud and clear: the importance of using these outlets to connect, to get involved, to grow and develop in our field, whatever that may be.

So I joined Twitter and I started a blog, and the rest is history. In the past couple of months I have connected with more teachers, students, and educators around the world than I knew existed, and as a result I have been exposed to the ideas, experience, and inspiration these people are sharing 24/7. Not only that, I have begun to write about my own ideas, experience, and inspiration, and have been able to share and receive feedback in return.

Seriously, how cool is that? I have only just dipped my toes in the pool but am already so fired up about this new approach to connecting and learning and teaching and growing that I don't see myself letting up anytime soon. So, in gratitude, I present a list of the reasons I love Twitter.

1. Ask and you shall receive
From the quick and direct to the deep and philosophical, it seems no question goes unanwered on Twitter.

2. No pressure!
It can be intimidating to see and read some of the incredible material people are coming up with and sharing, at times I feel like an inexperienced child lurking in the corner watching the experienced veterans do their thing center stage. And there's nothing wrong with that! There is no pressure to post, because even just hanging out on Twitter following different people, chats, and threads is incredibly educational and useful. However, it is equally important to...

3. Build that Confidence
As a new teacher I may feel that I have limited experience and knowledge to offer. However, by continuing to write, share, and put myself out there I have developed some of those skills and gained a little bit of confidence in sharing what I know as well as what I am still learning.

4. The Kindness of Strangers
All I have ever received on Twitter is support, encouragement, and extremely helpful feedback. When taking a chance, doing something that doesn't come naturally, and putting oneself out there, that kindness is invaluable, and I am so grateful for it.

5. There is just so much good stuff
Every day I find and RT articles, videos, and other resources which teach me something new not only every day, but many many times every day. I read them, I share them, and I try them out in the classroom. Twitter is like a bottomless pit of great information (and I mean that in the best possible way).

6. Free Mentorship
I follow those who are out there actively doing what I want to do. I read what they write, I follow what they post, and I learn from them. Simple as that.

7. The Laughs
Because come on, who doesn't like a little break from a long day of work to read strangers' #momquotes.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. To any new teachers, or any new anything, I cannot recommend this platform enough. And to those who have paved the way for me, I cannot thank you enough.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Applying Constructive Criticism Constructively

Remember those classroom observations I was stressing over a month ago? Turns out that, as with most things in life, the fear was worse than the event itself. In fact, after observations finished, things went back to business as usual and I completely forgot the fear and anxiety that seemed so huge at the time.

That is, until now. All of our teachers were called in for one-on-one meetings regarding observations and evaluations (from students, the center director, and a corporate observer). Most were overwhelmingly positive. One was not...guess which one I can't get off my mind?

Which leads me to my question: Why is it that we only listen to the toughest critics? How can we keep from taking feedback personally, rather taking a productive approach and applying constructive criticism constructively?

A reader reminded me that at the end of the day, its not about me, its about the students. Now the challenge is to let go of my bruised ego and get to work. I need to look at this feedback as a gift, just another opportunity for practice and improvement.

For an upcoming post I'm going to come up with some ideas as to how best to address the feedback I received, ask for suggestions and hopefully come away from this experience a better (and definitely more humble) teacher!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Academic Anxiety: Writing a Masters Thesis

Two weeks into my final semester of graduate school, I am filled with anxiety as the due date for my masters thesis looms. In our research seminar we write and bring our material to the group for feedback, and this week the primary task was locking down a title. Who knew that a sentence fragment could cause so much stress?!? I find myself staring at a computer screen, the cursor blinking at the top of a blank page, overcome with dread and a sense of pressure that increases day by day.

What will I write? How much will this piece affect my career after graduation? What if I decide to go in a different direction, and my thesis no longer fits my needs? What if what I create is completely useless? What if it is genious and I can't live up to it in the real world? Worse, what if I fail?

I feel so much pressure surrounding the MATESOL thesis, having worked so hard for so long to get to this point, and full of fear as to what the future holds.

I know that I am my own toughest critic, and that most (if not all) of this pressure is self-imposed, but I can't help caring desperately about the quality and success of my work.

Am I alone? Does anyone else experience this crippling anxiety when it comes to academic research and dissertation? How do you get through it? Please share!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hitting the "reset" button

I must confess: I have been doing a LOT of complaining about my job lately. It is an easy rut to fall into, but it is also a very dangerous place to be. Here’s the background: it is the final month of summer, enrollment is low, and as a result I have been spending most of my working hours doing academic admin rather than teaching. It’s a bummer, and as a result I am finding it very easy to drift into boredom and self-pity these days. So I am making a conscious decision to snap out of it: NOW! One thing that always helps when I feel the need to push the reset button on my day is making a gratitude list. Here it is, a list of the reasons I am grateful for my job and the opportunities that it provides.

1. Students!
Even though I am not teaching as much as I’d like to be, all the work I do ultimately leads back to creating a better learning experience for our students, and that is always the #1 most important goal as well as the greatest pay-off.

2. Developing my own skills
Whether it is teaching, lesson planning, curriculum development, or some seemingly boring and useless administrative task, I am building my skill set and making myself a more valuable employee and human being.

3. My own education
This job has allowed me to continue with my own education; as a result I am only a semester away from earning my MATESOL!

4. Getting organized
Spending this time working on the admin side of a school, I have gained a huge appreciation for organization, standardization and systems. Things run so much more smoothly when everything is in its place; not only am I getting to practice doing this myself, but I have also gained a huge appreciation for our regular admin staff and the importance of the work that they do.

5. A paycheck
Lets be honest, I don’t think anyone goes into the ESL field for the incredible financial opportunities, and I am no exception. I do this because I love it, plain and simple, However, a girls gotta eat, and at the end of the day this job gives me an opportunity to suit up and show up, be a worker among workers, and pay the bills. What more could I ask for?

There are countless other reasons for which I am grateful for my job and the work that I do, but I am going to keep it short and sweet, so that I can get back to work! What do you think? What have I missed? What are the things that make you feel grateful for your job?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Grammar Rut

As a self-proclaimed grammar geek this is hard for me to say: I love grammar but I hate teaching it. In teaching my current grammar course, I am required by my school’s curriculum to cover certain chapters over a limited length of time, which leaves little time for deviation from the assigned text. Sometimes it feels like every class is the same: review the previous day’s material and homework, introduce new grammar rules, apply the new grammar rules, practice the grammar in a variety of activities. I get bored! And if I am bored, how could my students not be bored? I understand the usefulness of each of these aspects of a grammar class, but over time it begins to feel so stale and predictable. I am stuck in a grammar rut, how do I get out of it?

I am brainstorming ideas about how to make a typical grammar class more engaging. How to cover the essential grammar points and practice them to maximize comprehension and retention, yet minimize boredom and predictability? Here are a few of the things I have come up with:

1. Begin each lesson with a just-for-fun activity
This activity does not have to be related to the grammar point du jour, but is simply in place to lift the spirits of the students before diving into linking verbs or comparatives. If they are engaged in the beginning of class it will be easier to keep them engaged as the lesson goes on.

2. Using funny examples with the grammar points
If I can get the students to laugh or even just crack a smile during the class it makes my life that much easier. Examples used to illustrate grammar points do not have to be painfully simple and boring. Why not use an example with some humor? This will keep things light, and students are more likely to pay attention to the grammar if the sentence is interesting to them in some way.

3. Relating the grammar to personal examples
I try to do this in all classes, not just grammar. Students need to understand and feel that what they are learning is useful and important in some way, and the best way to achieve this is to show them how to use it in their lives.

4. Get the students to stand up
Doesn’t matter how. Invite them to write on the board. Put them into different groups. Have them stand as they share examples. Something as simple as standing for just a few seconds can help students wake up and bring them back into the present moment, keeping them engaged in the task at hand.

5. Make a game out of it
Students of any age love competition. You can enhance any regular practice activity with an element of competition, and all of a sudden students are awake and engaged in a way which they weren’t previously.

This is a work in progress, I am incorporating these elements into my grammar class every day and observing the change in the classroom environment as a result. I would love to hear some ideas from other educators about how they keep students active and engaged in grammar class. How do you make a grammar class effective yet meaningful?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Observer's Paradox

This week we are undergoing classroom observations. My boss and the corporate Director of Curriculum are performing random classroom observations all week. As a result, I am living in fear that my class will be dropped in on and my every move observed and dissected. So far, it has happened twice. Like a real-life example of Labov’s Observer’s Paradox, it feels as if a classroom under careful observation will never appear completely natural. I am nervous, the students are nervous; no matter how many times an observer says “Just pretend I’m not here!” it is nearly impossible to ignore that presence in the classroom.

As with most things, the fear of observation is worse than the actual observations. Each time my class has been observed I feel that it has been a relatively accurate representation of what a normal class is like. But that’s not good enough! I want it to be an accurate representation of the BEST CLASS THEY HAVE EVER SEEN!

As usual, my expectations set me up for disappointment. I have been lesson-planning my little heart out all week, but of course nothing ever goes exactly as planned. The observers never step in during the best activities, they always seem to show up exactly when a student has gotten completely lost, an activity has flopped, or a grammar point is particularly messy.

But hey, thats life, right? That’s the reality of teaching, and that’s why it’s a pretty accurate representation of a regular class. Things go wrong, activities go stale, students act out and sometimes it looks nothing like the original plan.

Of course, I would love it if they only saw me at my best, but anyone with a teaching background or knowledge knows exactly what its like to be up in front of a class just trying to make it work. Perfection is rarely achieved. And why would we want it to be? If I achieve perfection it will mean I have stopped learning, I have ceased to be teachable, and in my opinion thats the worst place a teacher can be.
So for today I am just going to do my best, ignore the “elephant in the room,” and accept any feedback that comes my way; it can only help me grow in skills and ability, and at the end of the day thats all I can hope for.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When (and when not) to leave personal experience at the door

Teaching is a job which requires enthusiasm, spirit, and personality. Showing up in the classroom with a good attitude and tons of energy is absolutely indispensable. Students feed off our energy, after all. It is my job to set the bar high when it comes to enthusiasm, encouraging students to match my energy while keeping the atmosphere positive and dynamic. This can be a challenge even on the most cheerful of days. When I am having a bad day, it is downright exhausting.

It is incredibly important to bring our own personality and character into the classroom. Students can relate more easily to a teacher who is human, who is relatable, and who is (hopefully!) likeable than to a teacher who is detached, withdrawn, or removed. I find that bringing my own personality, my own character, and my own experience into the classroom allows students to trust and connect with me; however, there is only a certain extent to which this is appropriate and helpful. On a good day, I can bring my life right into the classroom and share personal examples to aid and illustrate student learning. When life has got me feeling down, it is time to leave my personal experience at the door, put on a happy face, and do the best I can. For me, this is a real challenge: I don’t want to appear “fake” in front of my students, but professionalism and a desire to maintain a positive classroom atmosphere absolutely require this.

Right now I am going through a really challenging time in my personal life. I don’t say this to fish for sympathy or wallow in self-pity, but simply to share my experience that, no matter what I am going through outside of the classroom, I always make it a priority to show up with a smile and work to cultivate a positive environment in which students can learn. That is especially difficult these days, but a great opportunity to practice showing up and doing my best regardless of what else is going on outside the classroom.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Suit Up and Show Up

When I wake up for work, I convince myself to get out of bed for the simple reason that if my students have the energy and motivation to show up each and every day, so should I. So that’s what I do. I suit up and show up, day after day, even (and especially) when I feel like just staying in bed, because I know that there are students waiting for me who truly want to learn something today. What great motivation is that!

I am a big believer in the idea that, as a teacher, it is not my job to transmit knowledge, but rather to facilitate learning. In doing so, I take full responsibility for creating and maintaining a learning environment, providing students with the skills and resources they need, and guiding them in practicing and applying these skills to the subject material. In each of these functions, I place great importance on the willingness of students. In fact, one of my favorite things to tell students is that I will match their willingness as far as it goes. If they do the homework I will be there to edit it. If they come to me with questions, I will be there to answer them. If they ask for extra help I will always do whatever it takes to provide it.

I think so often we underestimate the importance of just suiting up and showing up. I know that I can be incredibly hard on myself as a teacher, worrying that my lesson plan is not good enough or exciting enough or engaging enough. When I worry too much about being the perfect teacher, I forget that my main role is just to show up and support my students in their learning. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely simple. I find that if I remind myself of this in the morning, my day seems to go by much more smoothly. So just for today, I’m not going to worry about being the perfect teacher, I am just going to be of service to my students in any way I can be.

Friday, July 27, 2012

10 Ways to Recharge this Weekend

These days, I can honestly say that I love my job. I love what I do, and many days it doesn’t even feel like work. There are times when I find myself reading, writing, and preparing for work even in my down time just because I am interested in learning more, doing more, and becoming more effective.
It’s wonderful and refreshing to feel that way about work; however, I have learned in recent months the importance of putting my work aside from time to time in order to breathe, rest, and recharge. Weekends are a time when I sometimes have to force myself to turn off the “teacher mind,” unplug, and just do something different. I find that this actually helps me to be a more effective teacher in the long run, because I can begin each week with a fresh mind, spirit, and outlook, which students and coworkers alike definitely appreciate.
Here are some of my favorite ways to recharge:

1. Get outside
2. Read something for FUN
3. Take a bath
4. Enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, or a meal. Slowly.
5. Exercise
6. Take a nap
7. Clean up, get organized.
8. Spend time with loved ones
9. Do something creative
10. Take a moment or two to feel grateful

    It’s been a great week in the classroom. I plan to do most, if not all, of these things this weekend in order to rest, recharge, and refresh so that next week can be just as great.

Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Teaching a Multi-Level Class

This week we began a new session, and as a result of limited funds and classrooms, I am the lucky teacher of a “combined” class. A beginning level and an intermediate level have been combined into an ambiguous, level-less Speaking and Listening class, in which I attempt to effectively teach students at entirely different skill and language levels.

When originally presented with this challenge, I imagined a utopian classroom ideal in which the intermediate students would help the beginning students, thereby improving their own skills by teaching another; the beginning students would improve greatly by learning directly from their peer’s example. That was an unrealistic fantasy, I suppose, because what ends up happening is that half the classroom appears lost, while the other half appears bored. And in this case, lost students and bored students are one and the same: they are disengaged. A teacher’s nightmare. So, how to teach to a multi-level classroom? These are a few ideas I have come up with so far:

1. Always have a back-up plan
I am an avid lesson-planner, and I have found myself at a loss when my planned activities are far too easy for some and far too difficult for others. In these situations I have found it incredibly useful to plan pre- and post-activities. This way, I always have in mind one way in which to modify an activity for the lower level students, and another way to make the activity more challenging for the advances students.

2. Bounce questions and tasks from one student to another
This keeps the more advanced students engaged, because they never know when they will be called on, and also provides some relief for the lower-level students if they are struggling with a language item far beyond their level. Additionally, it seems to create a sense of camaraderie in the classroom and takes the pressure off individual students.

3. Keep the energy high
My number one rule, in any classroom. It is difficult for students to become bored if they are laughing. It is even more difficult for students to become bored if they are truly engaged in the subject matter. That means keeping things interesting, keeping things exciting, keeping the subject material relevant, and keeping my own energy at an all-time high.

These are just some of the ideas I have come up with in the last week of this new class. What are your go-to methods to teach to a multi-level class?