Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Toward the Future in 2014

2013 was a very exciting year for me, both personally and professionally. I spent one month training and working with prospective teachers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I started a new job as the Academic Manager at a language school. I continued to develop my skills as an ESL professional, and I began to consider all of the exciting directions in which my career could go. It was not, however, a great year for Lover is a Better Teacher.

My last post was written and posted 2 months ago. To be honest, since taking on my new job I have been challenged in a way I have not been in a long time. Every day I come to work, and I remain active and engaged for 8-10 hours. By the time I commute home and take care of basic necessities like feeding myself, I am pooped. There has not been a lot of free time for friends, leisure, or blogging.

And then there’s something else...something that has definitely kept me off this blog and that I have been hesitant to share with this community.  Here it is. Since starting this new job about three months ago, I have not been teaching. My job as an Academic Manager revolves around education, ESL, teaching and learning to the very core; but my day-to-day position is no longer in the classroom. While I am lucky to be in a position where I can gain upper-level skills and experience, and have a hand in the “bigger picture” of the ESL education setting, it is definitely not the same as it has been for the last three years. When I started this blog I was in the classroom actively teaching for about 30 hours a week. There was tons of material, and a daily playground on which to practice, develop, and reflect on the experience of teaching. In fact, the whole premise of this blog was to create a space in which I could reflect on my experiences with the classroom, learn from the experience of others, and develop my skills as a teacher as a results. Now I find myself in a different position and a different setting, wondering if the “old model” for this blog still fits, and fearing that it does not.

I have been really sad about this. I started this blog as a new ESL teacher, excited about sharing my experiences learning and developing skills as a teacher and as a learner. I still have the same passion for this field, and a deep desire to write about it and share my experience with others, but find myself questioning if I have anything good to share, or if I no longer fit in a community of ESL teacher/bloggers.
I wanted to write because its the last day of 2013, because I am so grateful for the challenges and opportunities which the last year has given me, and because I am looking forward to future and trying to be thoughtful about where to go with this blog. I want to continue to write, yet am not sure about whether I need to change my focus and write about ESL from a business/administration angle, or from a teacher training angle, both of which are more closely matched with my day-to-day experience. Or do I keep the blog as what it once was, and write only when I get to steal days in the classroom as a sub for my teachers? I don’t know. But I wanted to get honest about what has been going on in my world. I also want to thank anyone and everyone who reads this, for taking a part, past, present, or future, in sharing this journey with me.

I look forward to seeing what the next year brings for me, for Love is a Better Teacher, and for all of you. Happy 2014, everyone!

Friday, November 1, 2013

"Do's" and "Don’ts" of the ELT Job Search

do network
All of those ELT professionals you have been meeting? At conferences, workshops, school visits, social media? Yeah, don’t throw those cards away. Don’t lose track of them. Each of these people could present a new job opportunity, or several, and even those who don’t have probably heard of something in the field. Keep an ear out, introduce yourself, look around, and ask those in your network to do the same.

dont leave a bird in the hand
You may be ready to move on to the next thing right away. Perhaps you are seeking bigger and better opportunities, or maybe you are just sick of where you are now.  DON’T QUIT YOUR JOB UNTIL YOU HAVE ANOTHER ONE LINED UP. As an academic admin, I have seen hundreds and hundreds of resumes cross my desk, most of whom belong to teachers who have experience but have taken an (at times unintentionally) long break from teaching.  To navigate your job search from a position of power, hold on to your current job until you have some idea of what is out there and what options are available to you.  Having a little income during the job search process will also ensure that you are able to look thoughtfully and choose the right job for you, rather than  slowly going broke before snatching up the first opportunity which offers you a paycheck.

do cast a wide net
When I began my job search, I had an idea of exactly what  thought I was looking for. I typed the same job title into search fields, emails, and websites. One month down the line and my search ended with a job offer for a position which was not what I thought  I should have been  looking for (hint: it was better!).  Don’t limit yourself by keeping a narrowly-defined idea in your mind of what your job will be. Leave yourself room to find something bigger and better.

dont burn bridges
Making the decision to leave my job was a difficult one, and going in to turn in my resignation was even more difficult. By the time I had made that decision I had already moved on in my mind. However, I needed to tie up the loose ends at my old position, and doing this in a thoughtful and considerate way was really important. You may be moving on, but you want to leave a positive lasting impression on the place you are leaving. Who knows? They may be writing your next recommendation, offering you another job down the line, or just proving to be a useful contact in the field. Don’t burn that bridge behind you.

do be honest
We are all familiar with the art of the “humble-brag,” the process of speaking of our accomplishments in the field in an extra-flattering light, especially during the job search. While it is important to be able to speak about ourselves openly and confidently, it is even more important to be honest. A job won because of false advertising is not the job for you. Be honest, about both your accomplishments and your shortcomings, and you will increase your chances of finding yourself in the job environment which is perfect for you, not a false version of yourself.

don’t be limited by fear

Making the decision to look for another position and ultimately leaving my job and beginning someplace brand new was terrifying, I’m not going to lie. I was comfortable at the old place, and the idea of starting something new and unfamiliar was scary. By facing that fear and going out into unfamiliar territory, I found something better than I could ever have imagined. It is totally natural to have fear, but don’t let your fear keep you from discovering the next amazing thing that life may have in store for you.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The 180-degree teacher's challenge (Part 2)

This session provided me with an opportunity to meet a challenge head-on, as well as  to practice acceptance, willingness, and being in the present moment. The results were mixed on a student-by-student basis: some passed, some failed, some moved to a more appropriate level; however, all taught me a little something about hot to tackle a challenge of this size in the language learning classroom. From this experience I took away five important actions to take when faced with a struggling class.

1. Assess
Though I am not typically a huge fan of traditional assessments, when faced with a class of consistently failing students I was forced to accept the need for some form of assessment in order to evaluate what the heck was going  on with this group of students. Assuring the students that this evaluation was only for my purposes (not for a grade), and that it was essential for me to know their true skills and abilities, ensured that I was provided with honest and thorough information about exactly what they knew, and much of what they did not know. It was a crucial first step to take before moving forward with this group.

2. Brainstorm
With a failing class (a class that has been failed?) it is important to try something new. Obviously what had been done in the past with this group did not work. I took this opportunity to brainstorm as many ideas as I could muster of topics/activities/plans of attack which I believed may inspire and engage these students, and which just might help them achieve and pass on to the next level. My ideas ranged from the practical to the crazy, and included writing personal statements  for university applications (working on tasks which they considered valuable and relevant), grading students based on spelling correctness (reframing my expectations and upping the stakes),  and bringing mad libs into the classroom (working with parts of speech while entertaining students). Some ideas I used, others I did not. Ultimately the brainstorm proved to be the most helpful, because it allowed me to open my mind and think outside of the box. In order to get different results we need to take different action, and this is what I hoped to accomplish by brainstorming.

3. Communicate
In the IEP world,  it is unfortunately not all that uncommon for students to fall into the “failing pipeline” and be lost. Be it attendance issues, study habits, or poor performance on heavily-weighted assessments, it happens. Sad but true. I think that so often we fall short as teachers by assuming that students know what we expect, know how to do the job, know what the consequences will be if they dont. And that is just not true. In my attempts to turn this class around, I made a commitment to take personal responsibility for communicating openly and honestly with these students about exactly what they needed to do and why.  I also made a request for students to communicate with me about what they were struggling with, what they needed more of, and what they were going to do in order to be successful. I believe that this was  one of, if not the most, effective approach with  these students. It was clear how much they appreciated being spoken to openly and honestly, because they reciprocated in the same manner. As a result, the classroom became a comfortable common space in which goals and objectives and actions were clear to all involved.

4. Be accountable
After communicating openly and honestly with students about needed to be done, I had to hold up my end of the bargain. If I was asking them to give 100%, I needed to match that (at least!). In this class, being accountable meant providing students with all of the help and support they needed to be successful. It meant providing them with all the information they needed to be effective, it meant being there when I said I would be available to them. I made a promise to students at the beginning of the session, telling them that we were on a team and that I would do whatever I could to help them be successful. Continuing to be accountable showed my students that I was going to follow through, and (hopefully) inspired them to do the same.

5. Meet the students where they are
A couple of days into the session, it became clear that many of the students had continued to fail because they were in the wrong class. They had continued to be passed from level to level, and yet their skills were not in line with the objectives for their current level.  While a part of me felt obligated to achieve the goals and objectives for the class, another part of me felt a great deal of compassion for the students, and wanted to reevaluate what I was teaching in order to align more closely with their true level. I felt torn. Ultimately I made the difficult decision to throw the objectives out the window and teach to the students, not to the book. Did this go against what I was assigned to do? Yes. Was I breaking protocol? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely. The students had no chance at succeeding as long as they were being taught material which they were not prepared to learn. So we went back to basics, working on building a strong foundation upon which greater knowledge could develop. But we needed to start somewhere, and meeting the students where they were in that moment (not where I wanted/expected them to be) made all the difference.

While I don’t believe that this is by any means a complete list, taking some simple actions really made a huge difference with this group. I still have mixed feelings about the class. Did I do the right thing? Could I have done more? Would a different teacher/approach/method/material/technique have been more effective? I may never know. But I can rest easy knowing that I did my best in the moment. I have another unique experience to tuck into my teacher’s tool belt, and at the end of the day, thats all I can ask for.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The 180-degree teacher’s challenge

My first week back at work I was presented with a series of significant challenges. We are in the midst of some big changes around the center, from new and interim staff members to  a long history of problematic patterns and issues which are finally being dealt with. I don’t feel the need to go into specifics, but suffice it to say that as a teacher and a member of the curriculum team I have been taking a central and difficult role in tackling these challenges head-on. I am overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted, and worried. However I am also being presented with countless opportunities to suit up and show up, give 100% of my time, effort and abilities and truly feel at the end of the day like I have made a significant contribution. It feels good, in a sick and twisted kind of way...

The most recent of the challenges which has been thrown my way is a class of failing (failed) students, all of whom are repeating a Level 5 Reading and Writing class for the first or second time. They have all had issues with attendance, poor performance on evaluations, and personal issues with previous teachers. For most of them, this is their last shot. If they fail, they are out.  This particular group started the session with another teacher, but due to personality differences (complaints) we were forced to make a change in order to keep the students at our school. So we decided to pull a switcheroo. In the middle of the first week of classes I was asked to take over this class from the other teacher, with the vote-of-confidence that they believed I would be better equipped to handle (wrangle) this class and hopefully achieve what has been impossible so far, seeing them pass onto the next level.

What an order! I was again nervous, overwhelmed, sad to be leaving my other class, and a little doubtful as to whether I was the right person to take on this challenge. But there was no one else, and so today I walked into the classroom and began. I appealed to the part of the students that I  knew wanted to improve. I spoke to them honestly and openly. And I tried to come to terms with the fact that I was being trusted with a group of students and the task of helping them turn it all around in just four weeks.

So here I sit, nervous and excited by the most intensive of all Intensive English Program tasks I have ever been tasked with. I want to truly embrace this challenge and see what I can make of it, inside and outside of the classroom. I will be using this as an opportunity to enhance my reflective practice with daily journaling, as well as pulling out every trick in my book to help  these students achieve the ideal in terms of academics, behavior, evaluations, etc.., and in the end, seeing if I can get these guys to pass.  I am going to be documenting as I go, affectionately naming this undertaking “The 180 degree teacher’s challenge,” because thats what it is.  I look forward to engaging myself and my students and measuring  to what extent I am able to effect real and meaningful change in the classroom.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Inspiration, or Lack Thereof

For the past two weeks I have been toying with the idea of a blog post about inspiration. I wrote, I deleted, I decided not to write, then I wrote again. This will be my third attempt at vocalizing and simplifying the nagging thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.

Let me start by just putting it all out there, for lack of a more discreet or indirect way or putting it: I have been feeling uninspired at work. There is a part of me that has an immediate and strong reaction against saying these words out loud (“You are a teacher! You get paid to do what you love! Do you know how rare that is?” or “Do you know how lucky you are to have a full-time teaching job that pays the bills?” or “You worked long and hard to get here! Why aren’t you happy with what you have?”). Like, I shouldn’t be saying this because the universe may hear me and snatch away everything I have. Which it very well may...but I will take my chances for the sake of honesty and open-mindedness.

Maybe I am just stuck in a rut...maybe I have a particularly difficult group of students this session...maybe I have been at the same place for too long and what used to feel exciting now just feels kind of blah...maybe it is all of these things or none of them, I’m not sure. I think not knowing may be the worst part, because my instinct tells me to figure out the problem, solve it, and move on, and this situation might require more than a quick fix. I am, however, trying to use this general feeling of something-isn’t-right as an opportunity to take a look at what I want, where I am, and where I’m going.

I think there is a reason the idea of inspiration has been coming up so often for me, because it truly is at the core of my personal and spiritual life, and yet I so often forget the role that it can and should play in my work life. Many of us, especially in the US, are told the lie from a young age that work is supposed to be difficult, it’s not supposed to be fun or engaging, it is something to just get through in exchange for a paycheck. I obviously did not buy into that, as I have chosen a profession which rewards me very little money for lots of hard work, but one that gives me joy and a sense of purpose. I want to feel inspired when I work, and I want to feel that my work has the potential to inspire others. I really believe that what I do for a living is just one way I can make a contribution to this world and the people in it, and I hope that my contribution will be a meaningful one.

Now that I feel like I have come close to identifying the problem underlying this general feeling of discontent melancholy, what am I going to do about it. To be honest, I am not sure. I think the first step will be to give some real thought to what my ideal work life would look like. It may not be possible and it may not exist, but having an ideal to move closer toward can give me a reference point to know if I am moving in the right direction. The next logical step would be to take some action. I can worry and discuss and write about the issues all day but if I don’t put myself out there nothing is going to happen. There also exists the possibility that I could put myself out there and still nothing will happen, but I will never know if I don’t try. I will be attempting to walk that fine line between self-determination and having faith in the universe that things will work out the way they are supposed to work out.

In the meantime, I have learned a little something about myself. I have discovered that, like it or not, I am the kind of person who needs to feel that spark, who needs to know the why behind what I am doing, and who needs to feel it in my heart to know that I am truly on the right path. I want to feel inspired! I feel that I am getting pretty close to that, and feel grateful and delighted to have made it this far in finding something I am passionate about. I have faith that the details will work themselves out, and am feeling freshly inspired to take action towards making those dreams a reality.

Lastly, I would like to put out a call for feedback to you, my PLN:
Do you feel inspired at work?
What do you do to maintain inspiration in your working life?
Have you ever contemplated making a change because inspiration was lacking?
How did you go about making a decision?
What did you do?

Monday, May 20, 2013

"It is better to know how to learn than to know"

Have you ever had that sneaking suspicion that, at one time, many years ago, you were provided with everything you needed to know about life, but have somehow been slowly forgetting and losing sight of these things along the way? I do, and I am pretty sure that I learned most of those important life lessons from Dr. Seuss. My personal favorite as a teacher is one that escaped me as a child: “It is better to know how to learn than to know.”

I could not have said it better myself, nor will I try to. I have tried time and time again to introduce, explain, and instill this sentiment in the consciousness of my students, and have thus far failed to truly convince them. And yet with with this statement, the much-beloved author of classics like Green Eggs and Ham and Whorton Hears a Who speaks to the heart and soul of the teaching profession.

I think its really important, and here’s why. At some point in their upbringing, students are engrained with the idea that they go to school to be filled up with knowledge, like pouring some measurable content into an empty vessel. We reinforce this expectation with a variety of formal assessments, which we prepare students for by cramming them full of useless information which they will regurgitate later and promptly forget. Students are taught through this process that knowing the right answer is the end game. When they arrive in the real world and are expected to think and problem solve and use content that was not delivered to them in a cookie-cutter format, many are lost. They feel unprepared, and why shouldn’t they?

I love the idea of a teacher as a facilitator, rather than a delivery person. My job is to facilitate learning, not to fill the students up with knowledge. I would much rather a student leave my class knowing how to discover and arrive at an answer on their own than to leave knowing the answer alone. That is what I hope for my students, and that is what I try to provide them with. I want to teach them how to learn, and boy do some of them need it! Years and years of the kind of instruction described above provides me with students who come into my class aghast at the idea of doing some critical thinking, of answering the question “why” and practicing guesswork long before they arrive at the “right answer” with which to fill in the blank. Slowly but surely I chip away at the deep-seated thoughts and behaviors which are single-mindedly directed toward the acquisition of knowledge, rather than the process of learning. One encounter at a time, I try to show my students how much they already know by simply practicing that process: always reminding them that how we learn is just as important as what we learn.

Some of my favorite ways to do this:

1. Asking “why?” (my favorite question to use in the ESL classroom)
2. Asking “how do you know?” (drawing their attention to the process they used to arrive at the answer)
3. Silence (not filling in the missing information for them, but waiting to allow them time to do it themselves)
4. Teaching the process by which they can arrive at the answer (ex. First, notice this....then, ask yourself this....)
5. Focusing on the journey, not the destination (I often grade homework and other assignments as simply complete or incomplete, and when I check assignments I ask them about how they did it, rather than pinpointing individual answers for accuracy)

This is often an uphill battle! Many of my students have these expectations: they want the right answer and they want it from me, as soon as possible. I try to model behavior which focuses on how to learn, rather than what to learn, as often as possible in my classroom. Even though it has taken students some time to recognize the value in this approach, I think it is totally worth it when I can reach a student and instill in them a confidence in their own skills and abilities, rather than a headful of compartmentalized knowledge.

And maybe I’ll print the quote and post it somewhere in the classroom, because even if the students don’t take my word for it, I know none of them would dare question the wisdom of the illustrious Dr. Seuss.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Walking through fear

Last weekend I presented at my very first conference. From the initial inspiration to the proposal to the acceptance to the preparation to the presentation itself, it felt like a really long process. To be honest, even though the results were overwhelmingly positive, and I am already looking into future opportunities to present again, the process itself was truly arduous, painstaking, and at times completely disheartening. It was a challenge, to say the least. But then again, what rewarding experience isn’t?

You already know what happened in the beginning....I prepared, edited, and submitted two proposals which could not have been more different. Both were interesting, challenging, and very near to my heart and my experience. And both were accepted! I ended up choosing which to present by listening to that little voice, my gut instinct, and preparing a presentation around a topic that I have been working with in one form or another for two years now: English Language Learning with Found Materials. The inspiration was born when I was teaching English in Tibet, the idea was honed during a graduate class in Research Methodology, and the project was created as my MA field project. I had a long history of working with this topic, and had developed an almost too-close personal connection and investment with it. When it came time to consider presenting at a conference, this project was a natural choice. Also during this time I had begun to tweet, blog, and take newfound responsibility for my own professional development. I wrote about and reflected on my own experience as a teacher, I connected with other teachers in person and online and took a sincere interest in their experience, and I took my day job to the next level with new roles and responsibilities in the classroom and outside of it, all with the goal of improving myself, my abilities, and what I bring into the classroom. The idea of presenting at a conference had been brought up in more than one of these setting, and doing it seemed to be a logical next step in my journey of professional development.

Needless to say there was a LOT riding on this conference for me. Most of which I had built up with my own expectations. I was stressed, I was nervous, I was on edge. I felt overcome with fear. Fear that the audience wouldn’t like me, fear that the audience wouldn’t think I was brilliant, fear that there would be no audience, fear that there would be no audience and everyone would find out that there was no audience and pity me, fear that the audience would be so bored they would fall asleep in their seats, fear that the audience would think it was so cute that someone so experienced as I thought I could present...

...you get the idea. Basically, I was insecure. I AM insecure. There, I said it. Now you know and I know and its out in the open and we can move on. I fear how others will perceive me because I don’t perceive my own self-worth accurately. I fear judgment because I judge myself. Hell, I just got to a point writing this post, where things have taken a turn toward the vulnerable and exposed, and am doubting whether or not to post it, because maybe it would be better to save face in front of relative strangers on the internet. Why do we do that? I am, in this moment, making the conscious decision to walk through my fear and take action despite it. I will do the same thing with this blog post that I did at the conference. I will acknowledge the presence of fear and take action. I will not back down.

And I wonder...if more people were honest about feeling fear, if more people told the truth and said “Yes, I was afraid. But I did it anyway,” then maybe people would be more likely to take these risks and do the things that terrify us but are really important for us to do. I wish someone had told me about how scared they were to present, how they doubted their own abilities, how they had a small thought in the back of their mind that maybe no one would show up to see them, but how, most importantly, they showed up and did it anyways I wish someone had shared that experience, so I would have known that it is possible. Instead, I went in, blind and alone (as we tend to do). And let me tell you, for the record, that I was afraid but I did it anyway.

The mental challenge of this process was not totally unfamiliar to me. However, it did take me by surprise. I guess I felt that because I was presenting at a professional conference I was somehow beyond the totally normal insecurity and self-doubt that plague us as human beings. I don’t know why I expected this to come easily, because the good things which are worth working for rarely do. I am happy to report that I showed up and presented at the CATESOL 2013 Northern Regional Conference, despite the fear, despite the bumps in the road, despite any number of trivial reasons I felt qualified me to stay home that day. Having had the experience, I now feel confident that I can do it again. Not that it will be easy, but that I can do it. That kind of acceptance doesn’t come easily, and I am so grateful for it.  And if sharing my experience and getting honest about that whole fear thing helps someone else show up and do the best job they can despite the fear, then that's an even greater gift. So thanks.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My first conference proposal

Thanks to a little inspiration (okay, a lot of inspiration) from TESOL13, and a little help (okay, a lot of help) from my PLN, I successfuly drafted and submitted my very first proposal to present at a conferece. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty, a lot of feedback, and a lot of editing (some of which can be seen here), but at the end of the day I got it done, and hit submit. I felt satisfied with the work I had done and happy that I had come up with the courage to take the next step and put myself out there in an unfamiliar new area. That was enough for me. The cherry on top of the whole experience was the email I received today...

Dear Ava,
Congratulations! Your proposal "The Great Scavenger Hunt: English Language Learning with Found Materials" for the Northern Regional CATESOL Conference, “Celebrating Learning, Appreciating Teaching,” which will take place May 4 at the Loma Vista Adult Center in Concord, has been accepted. You will receive another e-mail with the time and room for your session as we set up the conference schedule. We will also be posting the program on the website as soon as it is available so you can also check there.

...my proposal was accepted! I am thrilled, I am excited, I am absolutely terrified that I now have to actually PRESENT this project which has been floating around in my head and on paper for so long. But I couldn't be happier. And I couldn't be more grateful to those who replied to my last post and gave me feedback on my proposal (Rachael Roberts, Mike Griffin, Jo Cummins, Barbara Tassa, Josette LeBlanc, among others). I couldn't have done it without you! Below you will find the "final draft" of my proposal which I submitted, and around which I will be building my presentation.

 For those who have followed me for a while, you may (or may not) know that this is an adaptation of my master's thesis, an ongoing project which has been at the center of my experience as a language teacher for a long time. I am thrilled to finally have an outlet to share it with a greater audience. I will, of course, be sharing more with you here as I prepare to present this at the CATESOL Northern Regional, but mostly I just want to say thanks and tell you how grateful I am for your support in this process and on this journey. I am so excited about taking this next step in my career and am so grateful for those who have shown me the way on this path.

The Great Scavenger Hunt: English Language Learning with Found Materials

Type of Session: Demonstration
Title of Presentation: The Great Scavenger Hunt: English Language Learning with Found Materials

Presentation Abstract (50 words max): How often do teachers find themselves stuck with insufficient or unsuitable materials? This session will demonstrate a communicative approach to activities using found materials; participants will walk away with the confidence to know they can arrive in a classroom and teach with whatever is readily available in the local environment.

Presentation Summary (200 words max): In the summer of 2011, the presenter arrived at a high school in rural Tibet, prepared with what she thought was an appropriate curriculum and collection of materials. What she found was completely different; not only were the students ill-prepared with poorly translated and outdated textbooks, but the classroom rarely had electricity, let alone wi-fi or online resources. Thus was the idea born to create a curriculum which teachers could bring into any classroom where traditional resources were lacking, especially in rural or isolated regions. The lessons were designed around the use of found or readily-available materials, items which could be obtained with ease in the natural and local environment. By applying the theory of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) to these classrooms with limited resources, the teacher made use of what could be found in the immediate surroundings; these pre-existing and familiar items became the vehicle for English language learning. In this session, the presenter will demonstrate a communicative approach to lesson plans and activities using found and readily-available materials. Participants will be able to explore and engage in these activities, walking away with the ability to discover and use found materials in their classrooms around the world.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Need Help from my PLN!

Dear PLN,

I need your help! I am inspired and fired-up after my recent experience at TESOL 2013, and am determined to do whatever I can to keep this fire alive! I am taking the next steps toward more conferences, greater participation, and continued professional development; I am going to attempt to present! To be honest, this is pretty scary for me! However, I feel that I have a thing or two to offer, and want to pursue the opportunity to share my experience with others! So, I am applying to present at two upcoming conferences, the CATESOL Northern Regional Conference and the CATESOL statewide conferences.

This is where you, my beloved PLN, can be of great help to me. I have never done this before, and while I am becoming more comfortable every day, this is an area in which I have no experience. I don't know what they are looking for in a proposal! I have two ideas which I am interested in pursuing, and since I can't decide between them at this point, I am going to go ahead, submit both, and hope for the best. Below you will find the titles and abstracts for my proposals. I am working on the presentation summaries now, and will update as soon as I finish. In the meantime (and time is of the essence, as proposal deadlines are rapidly approaching), I would love to hear a little feedback. Are these titles/abstracts interesting? Will they attract the attention and interest of conference attendees? Will they attract the attention and interest of the reading committee, for that matter? What can I do to enhance them in any way? Like I said, I am finding my way in the dark here, and would totally welcome and really appreciate any and all feedback. Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
Thanks, PLN! And as always, lots of love!

Title of Presentation: Social Media for English Language Teachers: Personalizing Professional Development

Presentation Abstract: How can we as teachers take personal responsibility for our professional development? This session will examine and demonstrate the use of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs as important tools for the ELT professional. Teachers will leave this session with an understanding of how and why to use social media to enhance skills and effectiveness in and outside the classroom.

Title of Presentation: English Language Learning with Found Materials

Presentation Abstract: How often do teachers find themselves in situations with insufficient, limited, or inappropriate materials to use in the classroom? This session will present lesson plans and activities to be used with found materials; participants will learn how to arrive in a classroom and teach using whatever is readily available in the local environment.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why I want to be best friends with the TESOL presenters

Last week I attended my very first convention, which just happened to be the TESOL International Convention & English Language Exp. Not too shabby for my first convention experience! To be honest, it kind of felt like being thrown in the deep end of the pool not knowing how to swim. But hey, it could be argued that that is the best (and fastest!) way to learn. I wish I had been more informed and prepared going into this experience, but after going through it I feel inspired, motivated, and generally fired up about continuing to live, learn, and grow as a language teacher and as a human being. I will definitely be posting at a later time about some of my favorite sessions, but for now I just wanted to check in and try to put my finger on why the conference experience was so incredible. For me, the best part was being in the company of so many like-minded and incredibly inspiring people. So for those who have not yet had the convention experience (probably quite few in the twitter/blogosphere, but oh well), I present to you the top three reasons why I want to be best friends with the TESOL presenters.

1. These people are at the forefront of the field
All too often I come into contact with language teachers who do what they do simply because that is how it has always been done. Forever and ever. Sure, it is easy taking the path most-traveled. But what about everything that is happening in the field right now? As I write this, there is a teacher out there trying something new and awesome that they have never done before. And in all likelihood, they will blog, tweet, and share about it later. And then they will present about it at a conference! Or someone else will! This is why I tweet, blog, and will continue to go to conferences, because I want to be right there with the people who are pushing the frontier of language teaching forward. It is an awesome and incredible place to be, and anyone who is in that boat is someone I want to listen to.

2. These are people who collaborate
The presenters who I saw at TESOL not only had great ideas themselves, but they were willing to share. I did not sit in one presentation in which someone presented a patented, copyrighted method that they made sure to name after themselves. Instead, I saw presenters who urged us to try their methods in our classrooms, who freely emailed powerpoints and handouts, who encouraged me to email them to let them know my feedback and experience trying out their approach. The people who go to conferences are open to and encourage sharing; the cultivation and exchange of ideas creates this beautiful atmosphere of collaboration which is sadly missing in many education settings. I found the same type of collaborative community at TESOL 2013 as I found when I first joined Twitter, and I think the free sharing of ideas that takes place in these environments is an experience that is not to be missed.

3. These are people who are not content with being just “good enough,” but strive to develop and improve themselves and the world around them
‘Nuff said.

I am still sorting through my notes, my handouts, the convention program, the powerpoints, the business cards, and my on-going emotional reaction to taking part in such an incredible experience! I am working on a presentation to bring some ideas from the conference to a Professional Development Day at my school, and in the process plan to share as much as I can here, with the readers and supporters who have always shared so freely with me. Thanks to everyone who presented and attended TESOL 2013, and many more thanks to those who were not there in person but never cease to cultivate the same inspiring, daring, creative, and collaborative learning environment in our world every day. I think you're all great, be my best friend?

Friday, March 15, 2013

One Really Cool Thing That Happened Today

         In my Level 8 Listening/Speaking class, we have been working out of a unit in the text called "Voluntary Simplicity." We started with pre-made listening activities about urban homesteading and vocabulary activities with words like secondhand and self-sufficient. Around that time I felt the need to depart from the book, thinking about so many other resources and ideas and topics and outlets we could explore within this theme. So I brought in an article from Zenhabits, we watched a documentary from PBS, students wrote their own "Simple Living Manifesto," and discussed their personal goals for simplifying their lives. And that's when things really started to take off. Students talked about feeling burdened by clutter, by commitments, by television and internet and all of the things that can feel so comfortable and are so easy to slip into yet do not fulfill us the way we expect them to. Students talked about always feeling like they had to buy new clothes and gadgets but never feeling satisfied or like it was enough. And, most importantly, students talked about reminding themselves what is really important in life, and how we can cut away all of the excess to make more time and space for those things that really matter. Today, a student came in and talked about how she wanted to simplify by focusing on her goals, and delivered some concrete ideas on how to create routines in her life to cultivate language, creativity, skills and awareness. It was wonderful to see someone go through the process, from identifying a feeling to idendifying a problem to coming up with creative and innovative ideas for the solution. By some stroke of serendipity, the rest of the class was absent today, so I got to speak with this one student one-on-one about how two integrate these goals in her life and make them a reality. What an incredible opportunity. This is the reason I fell in love with teaching in the first place; I cannot imagine anything better than being able to connect with another human being by helping them to discover what is truly important to them and build confidence as they take steps toward achieving these things in their life. Thats what I got to do today. How cool is that?

         But it didnt stop there. One of the goals my student shared with my was the cultivation of a daily writing practice. She wants to write a book someday, and realizes that if she is going to make this happen, she needs to make writing a daily pracice. I immediately brought up my own recent experience with attempting a daily writing routine (seen here and here); I love being able to teach a student not by telling them what I think or what I know, but of what my experience was. She really appreciated this, and since we had a little extra class time, we took a spontaneous trip to the computer lab, where I helped her log in and create an account with 750 words. And so here we are, sitting side by side, writing away. I cannot imagine a more peaceful or more purposeful classroom experience. Today could have gone wrong in so many ways: students didn't show up, I didn't have enough activities planned for such a small class, this student might not have been so open or willing to explore her own personal experience and goals in the classroom. But as it turns out, everything worked out just the way it was supposed to. I was given this wonderful gift of being able to connect with my student and share my experience around something that she was truly interested in. I cannot imagine a better way to be of service to my students. And, I hope, she was able to use this class as an outlet to explore what she wants out of life, out of this experience, and out of this language, and then take steps toward making those things a reality. I wish every class could be like this, and now that I think about it, why shouldn't every class be like this? Our goal is to be helpful, to inspire and encourage and engage students, and yet so often we approach this purpose in a totally backwards way, with texts and exercises that are anything but helpful, inspiring, and encouraging. Why don't we take a step back from those tired old approaches, and try something new, something a little more personal? After my experience with this class, adn this student, I am certainly inspired and emboldened to believe that this kind of connection and engagement is possible with any student, as long as we are willing to dig a little deeper, lose sight of the shore, and try something new. We never know what we might find, all I know is that what I found today was just beautiful.

PS. Thanks to Mike Griffin for the "Cool Things that Happened..." inspiration. To be honest, I liked the idea but didn't think that I had enough cool things going on to merit a post. Turns out, it doesn't really matter how many cool things  happened today, as long as we can find inspiration in at least one.