Make space for the positive

IMG_20160807_124643It was the first week in August. We were on holiday, strolling happily around a gorgeous lake in the south of Moravia when my husband suddenly asked: When exactly do you start work this year?  I remember my inward reaction; I was shocked surprised that he felt like talking about school (he’s an educator too) in such a beautiful, carefree moment. I couldn’t understand the fact that school had come to his mind at all. I think I even panicked a little. I answered hurriedly and then my gaze fell on the lovely water surface, the wild ducks and all the lush greenery again. Work. Something so distant. A different life. Another dimension….

The thought that my husband’s question had made me feel so frustrated was even more disturbing that the feeling itself. This is the way mind likes torturing us. It creates negative feelings, which it then wants to push away, but it actually does more harm than good doing so.

Fast forward to the present moment. I start work in two days. I think it was about a week ago – when it cooled down a little and I started bumping into my students here and there – that I could again feel the pleasant tickling that I feel each year around this time. I hadn’t done anything in particular to bring this emotion about. It just came to me; the way it had been coming for years. And I was really happy because at one point I feared that I had lost some of my enthusiasm and love for teaching. But apparently, I’m back on the saddle. So, I guess, everything comes at the right time and when the time comes, it’s good to make space for the positive.

I’m well aware of the fact that many of our students feel the same way, possibly even worse. I wonder whether they get back on the saddle as quickly as we teachers do or whether the period of frustration goes on a little longer. I suspect the latter is true.🙂 Anyway, I think I’ll definitely show a little more compassion for their initial lack of enthusiasm this year.

Do you sometimes have similar feelings during the summer holidays?  How do you deal with them?

 

 

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Students used to be smarter?

IMG_20160807_193944I know that some teachers have ready-made tests and like to use them over and over again. It unquestionably has several advantages – it saves the teacher’s time and it is a reliable tool for comparison, i.e. for measuring how a current group of students differs from the previous years’ groups in terms of knowledge and skills. Or is it reliable?

I remember a colleague I used to work with who was rather exasperated by the fact that students’ knowledge and skills deteriorate from year to year so he couldn’t recycle his tests anymore. In fact, he was rather stubborn and he did recycle his tests for some time until he found out it was a waste of time and energy. His temporary inflexibility resulted in bitter disappointment on his part, as well as the students’ part. He was exasperated, as I said, while his students were frustrated by bad grades. He came up with good excuses, though; he said he’d been teaching the same stuff in the same way for many years so it must be the students’ fault – not his. He concluded: students simply used to be smarter.

I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea to recycle ready-made tests this way and I’m not even sure whether students used to be smarter. Surely, they were different. Everything was different. So, logically, the tests must be different.

I recently read an article which shared a very interesting survey. Some experts compared today’s students with their parents’ generation in terms of skills and knowledge (today’s students got the same questions as their predecessors in 1996). And ‘the parents’ lost the game. To cut it short (and simplify it), the survey showed that today’s kids had done better in maths, Czech, and science. The biggest improvement was, quite understandably, in English as a foreign language. The thing is that in the past, we used to be a communist country with a little possibility of travelling. Generally, there were few technologies, such as the internet, and few reading/listening materials, which would have helped us work on our English outside of the regular English lessons. The teaching methods at school were somewhat prehistoric anyway.

So, I believe that while recycling tests can be useful under certain circumstances, doing it just to prove that knowledge is something static and unchangeable, even from the cross-generation point of view, is not exactly beneficial.

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Blog challenge: The type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from

20160817_185050One of the most interesting definitions of a good teacher I’ve recently heard was made by Josette LeBlanc on Maria Theologidou’s blog. In an interview, Maria asks Josette what was the moment she realized teaching was her call. Josette concludes her answer saying this:

… since my graduation [from the SIT Graduate Institute], I’ve been working on becoming the type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from.

This sentence immediately stood out for me. Although I can only guess what Josette means by her words, to me, “the type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from” sounds like a perfect definition of what makes a good teacher because, after all, one always wants the best for themselves.

So, one of the easiest ways of finding out how to do our job well, or at least in good conscience, we teachers can start by asking ourselves what type of teacher we would appreciate learning from. The reader may object that we probably do it subconsciously to some extent all the time. Also, each and every one of us has different expectations and these expectations keep changing over time so what we think at a given moment is never a universal truth. But I believe it’s a good start, a useful springboard for our future professional development and most importantly, it’s good for our students’ well-being.

So now I’m going to stop babbling and I’ll get to the point – to actually answering the question. To be able to do this, I’ll have to imagine myself sitting in the classroom as a student. I’ll have to go through a list of subjects I had at school, not just English as a foreign language, which, unlike maths, for example, I learned fairly easily and quickly. I’ll probably have to picture all the teachers I remember and pick the qualities which I appreciated at that time (or which I eventually realized were positives).

So, here goes.

The type of teacher I’d appreciate learning from:

  1. Someone who’s fully present in the classroom all the time, carefully registering what’s happening around. I believe attentive presence results in fairness and prevents conflicts.
  2. Someone who’s consistent even when it’s painful.
  3. Someone who loves the subject s/he teaches and shows others how they can learn to love it. In other words, someone who can pass his/her passion/love on to students.
  4. Someone who’s compassionate but not too ‘soft’.
  5. Someone who’s realistic regarding expectations and learning outcomes, i.e. someone who demands high but at the same time enables everybody to succeed.
  6. Someone who works hard but is not a workaholic. Teachers who have no life may take things too seriously and they may end up frustrated and burned out.

Now, I invite you to do the same if you have a spare minute or two. What type of teacher would you like to become, i.e. what type of teacher would you appreciate learning from?🙂

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A perspective that might surprise you …

IMG_20160806_161753If you ask Czech students to talk about their own country, they won’t normally jump in excitement. One of the reasons is that students are convinced that it’s not important to talk/learn about the things (they think) they already know. Also, Czechs often see their native land as totally boring; they tend to show negative attitudes towards Czech culture, politics, and people and their lifestyle in general. However, I believe that being able to talk about one’s country unbiasedly is one of the essential skills a language learner should acquire because, after all, one usually uses English to talk about their country with foreigners (i.e. potential visitors, customers, investors, etc.). So, for one, it’s bad publicity if you defame your country (no matter what Oscar Wild declared about bad publicity). Also, and more importantly, when you only focus on the negative, you’ll inevitably end up out of ideas very soon (not good for a potential examinee, right?).

I should stress that this post was inspired by the following bit from another post:

A final podcast recommendation is a site that is not very active at the moment, but has great potential, Bomb English. This site is two (very well-educated) foreigners living in Korea. They are both fluent in Korean and Korean culture, but they are native speakers of English. They offer a perspective on Korea that might surprise you.

For some reason, when reading Mike’s post, specifically the red bit above, I suddenly remembered a YouTube channel called Geography Now, which my students love watching as an addition to the materials they are required to study when preparing for their final state exam in English.

On this channel, they cover lots of countries, but in the lessons, we usually focus on the English speaking ones. However, they recently included the Czech Republic too. As the Czech Republic is one of the final exam topics, we decided to check it out as well. And it was a huge success. I myself found this video much more engaging than the ones about all the foreign countries. Why?

Well, probably because I was on the lookout for the things/places/facts I

  1. already knew
  2. didn’t know (and was surprised by)
  3. had forgotten and remembered again
  4. could agree with
  5. wanted/had to disagree with.

But most importantly, I was curious about the way foreigners present the Czech Republic and particularly, and this is the funniest part, how the native English speakers pronounce all the difficult Czech names (spoiler: they did really well!).

This, obviously, inspired a lot of interesting discussions in class and opened new horizons for many students, myself included.

Well, there are always perspectives that may surprise you…

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When learning a little turns out to be a lot

20160521_141237After a short period of trying to be with myself in the present moment (a need which often results from the turmoil I experience at the end of the school year), I’ve finally decided to allow some of my persistent thoughts to materialize into a quick post .

Here’s one of them I’d like to elaborate on:

My 8-year-old son went to a holiday English camp last week. I had signed him in because 1) he likes English lessons at school and 2) he’s not into sports and stuff so sports camps were obviously out of the question.

During the week, he left home at 8 and I picked him up at 4. In the morning, they spent some time in the classroom learning English, but they also went on trips, went swimming, treasure hunting, and did all the summertime activities kids enjoy so much. Based on what he says he had a great time.

They had two instructors – a Czech teacher of English (my colleague, by the way) and a young lady from the UK, who had come to the Czech Republic for the holiday to do some work experience she needs for her future job (in education, I suppose).

The advertisement my colleague had put up obviously stated the names of both instructors. When I read it for the first time, I wondered whether the English-sounding name would be seen as a bonus by potential customers. In other words, I wondered whether it would make more parents want their kids to participate in the course (in case you are a bit puzzled now, I’m talking about the native speaker syndrome).

But then I decided to leave other people’s thoughts to themselves and I started to scrutinize my own mindsets.

My son is only 8 years old, so he had had a very limited exposure to English at school. So I didn’t think that in 5 days he would suddenly become a brilliant user of English. However, I supposed that the fact that he’d come across a native speaker of a different language would certainly have a very strong impact on the way he views the world. This was my train of thought, and I dare say most of my expectations eventually proved right:

  1. He will realize that there are people out there who don’t speak a word of Czech so speaking English (or any foreign language, for that matter) is pretty handy.
  2. He will realize that there are people out there who don’t speak a word of Czech and it’s cool to teach them some bits and bobs.
  3. He will realize that there are people out there who don’t speak the English he normally learns at school. In fact, they seem to speak some incomprehensible language which people stubbornly claim is English.
  4. He’ll see that the Czech teacher of English and the English teacher of English can cooperate very nicely and effectively. He will hear the two speak with each other naturally and he’ll be able to see that they help each other and that they learn from each other (words, rhymes, games, habits etc.).
  5. He’ll see that translation is helpful but there are also other ways of getting the message across. And I’m talking about real communication here because they will spend a lot of time outside the classroom.

To conclude, I thought that even if my son learned very little in terms of how we usually view the dichotomy of little/a lot, he would probably end up enriched with new, valuable experience.

 

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Cause and effect

whirlpool-266123_960_720Sometimes, life’s like a whirlpool. Everything’s confusing or tumultuous and under such circumstances, it’ is easy to be drawn into trouble. Once you put your foot in it, it’s difficult to get out; whatever you do is never quite right and if you decide to do nothing, it gets even worse. It’s simply too late for any action or inaction, no matter how much you want to improve the situation. All you can do is watch the mess, endure the suffering and learn from your painful experience.

But they say things happen for a reason. Scientists say that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Others believe that at each and every moment of our life, we experience the consequences of our past deeds and thoughts. So, the law of cause and effect will never let us rest on our laurels and it will always make us pay off all our debts.

Obviously, we’ve run up some of our debts quite inadvertently. Oftentimes, we don’t even know about them. And even though most of us live our lives doing the best we can, we’ve all had a few blind spots along the way.

rear-mirror-1119717_960_720One of those blind spots has recently been illuminated for me, so to speak. The other day, my eldest son told me about a girl he had met at a disco. She used to be a student of mine. He said that she was sending her regards to me. I was obviously pleased to hear it. But then my son added casually: “Well, and she also declared that you had never liked her”. I was shocked. It would have never occurred to me that this particular girl might feel this way. I searched through my mind. I remembered her very well. She was not the best student in the class, but she was quite good. Not a troublemaker or something. So I had no reason to dislike her. However, she felt I did …

I had a similar experience a few months later. I was at a graduation party my senior class had invited me to when a student came up to me and asked: “Mrs. Teacher, you never liked me, did you?” He said it in a lighthearted manner, with a broad smile on his face (and a glass of beer in his hand). Nevertheless, he did say it out loud.

I searched through my mind. The truth is that I had disciplined this boy quite a few times in the past – for using his mobile in the lesson (when it was forbidden), for not cooperating during speaking activities, for revising for other subjects during the class instead of focusing on English, etc. Also, I had given him a couple of Fs for failing to fulfill the requirements of the course.

Nevertheless, since then, I’ve had two more experiences resembling the scenarios above. When something happens once, it’s probably a coincidence. When it happens three or more times, one should start pondering ….. Why do students mix up strictness with a lack of affection? Do I openly favour some students? Do I frown too much on others? As I’m only human, I obviously do have a couple of teacher’s pets. Is it possible that some students are more sensitive than others? Even jealous, maybe?

Of course, it’s easier to show affection to a polite, hardworking student than to a complete rascal. Moreover, troublemakers don’t usually give a damn about what teachers think. Or at least it often appears so. But maybe I should try harder to let my students know that they are all equal to me – that I like them all the same – regardless of what they do. Boy, it’s not an easy mission. But they are only kids. They deserve to be loved and respected. No matter what….

 

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Picking the best apples

apple-661670_960_720It seems that people have finally got used to the fact that they are the masters of their own lives. They can choose the best fitness centers, the best hairstylists, the best insurance companies, or the best dentists. They can even choose the best schools to send their kids to. It feels so good to have a choice. It’s wonderful to live in a world of endless opportunities.

It seems, though, that too much choice is not always a good thing. When there is a wide range of something, making the right decision then becomes more difficult and time-consuming. It can even become stressful and frustrating.

Now, with so much choice available everywhere you look, people have inevitably started to believe that they can pick everything like apples at a fruit market. Do you find an apple asymmetrical? Too small? Too soft? No problem. Squeeze it hard and then just throw it back if you don’t like it. Never mind that you damaged it completely. Choose another one. It’s your privilege. You’re the customer.

Does your teacher happen to wear an old-fashioned jacket? You don’t like her hairstyle? Criticize her openly or ask for a new teacher. Does she speak too quietly? Too loudly? Is she not a native speaker? Is she not interesting enough? Do you prefer a male teacher? Does she dare to discipline your kid? Accuse her of being incompetent, boring, aggressive, you name it, and ask for a new one. There’s no need to see the teacher in action or talk to her (or the headmaster) – it’s too much work and your schedule is full anyway. Organize a petition instead. Create a web page and make fun of everybody. Or, perhaps, let your child do the work. Let him have fun. Then support him without further questions and second everything he says. You trust him unconditionally cause he is mature enough (already 15!) and we have the freedom of speech stuff, remember? Anyway, you are the customer and you have the right to pick the best apples and dispose of the asymmetrical ones. So, go ahead!

 

 

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