EFL 2.0 Teacher Talk

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The Blues, New Orleans, TESOL

bluesI’m just on my way home from a great conference in New Orleans. Refreshed by many conversations with fellow teachers (but have lost my voice!). The small talk and conversations were even more important than any of the presentations I attended or gave. Really and truly, a conference is about all the little things and thoughts you share with others working in different and diverse environments. It all adds up and contributes to our teaching knowledge and will definitely transfer back to the classroom.

I took the time despite being so tired – to take in the blues. Spent two nights listening to Bryan Lee and his amazing Powdered Blues Band. Rejuvenating, especially how music, the blues in particular, are so full of insights into language and its use/worth/power. Telling a story, repetition, rhyme, emotion, identity… too much for this short post from the airport. I will comment more in another post.

Just want to say thank you to anyone I met and shared conversations with!

If you are interested in a great website your students or you can use in your class – try The Blues Maker. It is super simple and you can make a great song in a few minutes. Teacher’s might also find this Louis Armstrong power point useful 9thinking about it since I’m in the Louis Armstrong airport as I write this) or get the video on EFL Classroom 2.0.

Stepping back to jump forward

Mike_Powell_1991_World_Champs_w430Yesterday’s ELTchat about teacher burnout got me thinking about a post I’ve had upstairs in the attic for quite a while.

Burnout is something every teacher will continually confront – even those of us with the best of jobs. Entropy is a law that applies to teaching as well as physics. Nor, is there a sure fire, one size fits all solution. Some teachers will have to just push through it. Others need to change things up a little. Some, change things up a lot and maybe head off in new directions. Some teachers will even get motivated by digging deeper and pushing hard (yes, it is true!). Some teachers will just need to step back and take a break.

That’s what I am doing this year. It is hard without my own classroom (though I’m teaching online). I miss the contact, miss the involvement. Miss my nice big office and the starbucks 20m away! Still, I needed it and needed a new challenge. This year, really trying to do different things, start up and be independent. I work from home, have my new office finally set up. Doing some consulting for a few companies (most notably EnglishCentral) that I believe in (and I’ll only support companies with vision and that have the teacher’s interest in mind). Will be starting my own School of TEFL. I’m near my family that I love and am now officially back from self imposed TESOL exile.

This is how I’ve always dealt with teacher burnout – by stepping back. As the French put it, “reculez pour mieux sauter”. Stepping back so to jump further forward.

It is a principle we all have to learn to obey. When to push, when to step back. As an athlete, my job wasn’t only training well – it was also perfecting the art of doing nothing. Only with rest, does growth come. I am also thinking now about long jumpers – how they step back, rock back and forth as they look down the runway before leaping so far far ahead….

My stepping back involves getting in touch with my self. Teaching takes so much selflessness and pulls you so much away from yourself – you need this, all teachers need this. For me, stepping back towards myself involves renewing old habits. Like reading and poetry. Like running. Like making materials for teachers.

I returned to my old karaoke making today – inspired by a song I love and used to spend hours running the streets to. U2 – running to stand still. Perfect for your students and also you – many of you who might be “running to stand still”.

If you liked this – you probably will enjoy “The unbearable lightness of being an EFL teacher.”

Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

Picture puzzle maker

This picture puzzle maker is really simple! Just go to the webpage, upload a photo and then choose how small you want the pieces to be. (I recommend choosing the largest size, that is difficult enough).

I think this might be useful for “jigsaw” type activities with text. Get the text as a picture (take a pic with your camera). I’ve posted up an example below. It might also be fun to do this with pictures of students. A hat tip to member Ruth Ferris – I got this site off her Teacher Tools page.

You can also do the same thing in a powerpoint! Go to our resources and find the puzzle makers HERE and HERE. Photo2Text is also a cool tool. Example here.

provided by flash-gear.com

The #1 … (way to choose students)

Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1.

Mickey Mouse built a house

Choosing students, whether individuals or groups – is something every teacher has to do. And you have to be fair about it. There is nothing that will kill a class quicker than a teacher being seen as “unfair”.

So what’s the best way?  Rock, Scissors, Paper is a standard.  Drawing lots / straws. Einie, Meenie, Minie, MoeSpinners. Dice. random number generators. Random name generators. Lots more.

However, I think beyond a doubt, these all lack one thing – deferral. The teacher still can be blamed. I go with “Mickey Mouse built a house” precisely because it seems to the students that another student has chosen them NOT the teacher.

Mickey Mouse

Here’s how it goes and what I mean.

1. Teach the chant.

2. Point to students / groups as you chant. When the question ends, “that” student/group must say a number.

3. The teacher then counts that number.  That student/group is chosen.

This works because no matter what number the student chooses, the teacher can direct the choosing. I’ve gotten so good, I can manipulate the count so I can almost chose any student I want – without the students thinking it was me doing the choosing. If a student says for example, “8” – hoping to chose someone in particular – just go the opposite way! Or any other way!

** note, if a student says an unusually large number – just count by 10s, 100s, 1,000s…

Here’s Devon from Super Simple Songs, demonstrating Rock, Scissors, Paper and how to teach this…

Stories for Teachers

It’s 2011 and I want to start telling some more stories! I’m a firm believer that the best teachers are those that tell stories in order to teach. (and research suggests this and also essential for great presentations).  I’ve collected my stories HERE on EFL Classroom 2.0 and hope some teachers will take a visit.

So to start off strong – I’m going to tell an old Arabic story. I thought of it today – during a conversation I was having with a former student. I can’t remember for sure where I first read it or heard it, but it might be from Thesiger’s Arabian Sands or perhaps Laurence’s first and overlooked book – A Tree for Poverty. In both cases – highly recommended literature! (I also have to take time to make a list this year of my fav. travel books – what you find online is dismal and uninformed – ah pop culture!, thinking the DaVinci code is a classic!).

This story speaks to teachers in many ways. To me, it suggests that as a teacher we are told many things but often it is best when the door closes – to do it your own way. Good teaching is always about authenticity and listening to your own voice, despite the calls of others (admin, society, teacher trainers, parents even!).

Long ago there was a hard working father. His teenage son complained that nobody looked up to him and he asked how he could get others to like him, respect him. The father replied, “Never listen to anyone else but your own heart, they don’t know what’s best at all!”.

The boy scoffed at his father’s words so his father suggested they go into town.

They took their donkey with them into town. As they walked along side the donkey, the boy overheard some old women laughing, saying, “Look at that horrible man. He let’s his son walk while the donkey does nothing.” The boy felt ashamed and suggested to his father that he ride. The father said, “Okay”.

As they went down the road, some men pointed at them and angrily said, “Young man, how can you ride on that donkey? Get off and let your old father ride. Shame on you!”.

So the boy jumped off and told his father to get on the donkey. The father started riding the donkey into town.

Further down the road, the boy heard some young women whispering and pointing, saying, “What a horrible father, look how he treats his son, letting him walk in the hot sun while he rides on the donkey!”.

The boy was ashamed and suggested they both ride on the donkey for the remainder of the journey. However, a little further down the road, a man ran out and started scolding them. He said, “What lazy men you are, both riding on that poor creature. Don’t you have any consideration for your animal?”.

The father and son jumped off the donkey. The father saying, “You see?”, “You must do what you think is best and not what others would like you to do!”.

The 5 Enemies

Now back in Canada – I’m getting some time to just sit with a book and ponder. Mostly because it has now been one week of wicked weather – snow blinding and the banks are so high, you don’t know where the yard ends and the house begins.

One benefit to this has been revisiting my “children”, my books. Today, I picked up Thomas Merton’s “The Way of Chuang Tze” and thought about the tao while I loosened my bowels in a nice warm washroom. His famous story of the 5 enemies.

I’ll quote it verbatim – it is so insightful. (and has some application to my previous blog post about – “bad teachers”. But at the end, I’ll apply the 5 enemies to education/teaching. As a way of showing the ways we have the wool pulled over our eyes and off our backs as we are fleeced so innocently.

The 5 Enemies (I believe the copy right has lapsed, so I’m safe :) )

With wood from a hundred year old tree

they make sacrificial vessels

covered with green and yellow designs.

The wood that was cut away

Lies unused in the ditch.

If we compare the sacrificial vessels with the wood in the ditch

we find them to differ in appearance:

One is more beautiful than the other.

Yet, they are equal in this: both have lost their original nature (my italics).

So if you compare the robber and the respectable citizen

you find that one is, indeed, more respectable than the other:

Yet they agree in this: they have both lost

the original simplicity of man.

How did they lose it? Here are the 5 ways.

Love of colors bewilders the eye and it fails to see right.

— think of how teachers use the latest gadgets. Think of the trash heaps of over priced technology. The dazzle of the next technique. Think of how we as teachers forget the core message and objectives and instead reach for the glittter and show. Think of how so much schooling is about keeping up appearances and grades and not focusing on the important stuff of character and right livelihood.

Love of harmonies bewitches the ear and it loses its true hearing.

— Do we listen to our students, to their needs? Do we get overwhelmed by the messages of those above, so sweet they are to our ear. No child left behind, student’s first, teach every child, progress, differentiation, standardization. Don’t we march to the pied pipers tune? Do we try to do too much and thus, end up doing very little? Are we deaf from all the pronouncements of a “crisis in education”. Why can’t we listen to that child inside us?

Love of perfumes fills the head with dizziness

— How often do we make decisions for our career and job and not our students. How often are we filled with authority and power when we know this is a moat that keeps student’s out of the castle of learning? How often do we “play” the part of a teacher, loving ourselves for ourselves while the whole rat race marches towards Gomorrah?

Love of flavors ruins the taste.

— It is so easy to just keep doing what you are good at, isn’t it? So comfortable. But what about the taste of the classroom – hasn’t it gone stale? Why aren’t we listening and refusing that flavor?

We love it when our class is working fine, each day finished on time and all is well. But what of the flavor?

Desires unsettle the heart until the original nature runs amok.

— When was the last time you laughed and played with your students. Rolled on the carpet with them? What has become of our initial spirit that was there that first week as a teacher? How has our desire got in the way – when will we as a teacher, let go? Let go and just learn instead of prepare to learn.

These five are the enemy of true life.

Yet, these are what “men of discernment” claim to live for.

They are not what I live for:

If this is life, then pigeons in a cage

have found happiness!

Chuang Tze

Age and ELTing

courtesy SteenDoessing

courtesy SteenDoessing

Let me start by asking this – do you love your teaching job?

Let me now ask, can you imagine teaching until you die?

I can. I really can. I don’t know what the future holds but right here, right now, I can imagine being old and teaching, loving teaching.

Now let me ask – do you think you’d be allowed to? Teach that is – when you’re say 68 years young or 72/73? Probably not and I think that unfortunate. And it happens to a helluvalot of teachers, day in and year out.

This post is to bring this issue into the light of day. Please tell me what you think by commenting….

I am raising this issue because this year, I’ve got contacted quite a few times by teachers who love teaching, with a lot of experience but who can’t get a job doing what they love. Why? They are “too old”.

And I’m at a loss as to what I can advise.

I tell them that they can find a job, if they truly love teaching. Just hang in there, I say. Some school will want them. Too often then not, that isn’t true. Too often then not, they have to go further afield, further out on the fringes of the ELT world. And I think that is wrong.

Now I know governments have to operate by rules. I know private schools prefer blonde and bouncy. Now I know that teaching is a demanding job. I know all this – what I don’t know is why someone in good health, with a vast amount of experience, can’t find a job teaching? Why the bias, why don’t we stop this and raise our voices in our staff rooms, lunch rooms and board rooms?

And it is even just as bad getting elderly people into our classrooms when they are NOT even teachers! As a public school teacher, I advocated bringing the elderly in our community, into our school’s classrooms. I got nowhere! It was an insurance issue. Parents would complain, yadda yadda yadda…. Our class had to be satisfied trekking to the old age home once a week. God forbid they’d show up in our classroom – though many could have worked me under the table!

What I’m asking is — why the societal and institutional bias against the elderly teaching our children, either formally for pay or informally, for the love of it?

What are your thoughts and experiences?

To those teachers I’ve emailed about this – keep looking. It’s worth it.

Top “Education” related posts of 2010

best_2010_50._SS50_V195655205_Last week I posted up my “Top Teacher Training related posts of 2010″ – titled, “On the shoulders of Regular Joe Teachers”. Today, I’d like to share my “Top Education related posts of 2010″.

I’m incredibly proud of the level of resources and thought, I put into my blog this year. Over 250 quality posts. It truly is my own Phd (as David Truss often states about his own blog). Enjoy these posts and next will be my “Top language related posts”.

Don’t forget to download the “#1 in ELT ebook” – share, offer, click and discover. A true ebook full of serendipity!

1. Teachers. Who needs them?
2. Chopping Wood (as a teaching metaphor)
3. Teaching is ….
4. Let me list the ways I’m subversive
5. The competitive side of schooling.
6. Fire All English Teachers!
7. Educational Philosophy: A dialog between Plato, Dewey and Marx.
8. The Unbearable Lightness of being a teacher.
9. Using Technology the Right Way.
10. The Buying of Knowledge.

Do Teachers Kill Creativity?

Do teachers kill creativity? What is the harm that a “teacher” does, just by being a teacher? Do we indeed stunt student achievement, growth and “thought” by our mere presence as a model and person to look up to and copy/become?

Like Ken Robinson’s story in “Do School’s Kill Creativity”, where the little girl is drawing God and the teacher says, “You can’t draw god!” — are we limiting our students by teaching our students? Where does culture start and control begin?

I remember when I was a kid. It was nice to observe adults but I much preferred doing it myself, learning by myself. Teachers were actual barriers on the road to learning. So many detours I had to take, to think for myself! To find the quick way, the effective way to the nuggets of gold and understanding.

Watch the video below comparing chimpanzees and children. Thought provoking.

I’m more and more calling for a world of self directed learning. Technology is prying open that door, that possibility. I think that maybe we do have it wrong. Teachers – who needs them?

(** note, this video suggests that humans are the only animals that “teach”. I just watched a BBC Earth video where they showed a clip of a mother teaching her baby chimp to use the proper stick to fish for termites. So this notion of our uniqueness is false. Surprisingly, the baby chimp kept pushing away the mother’s “stick” , kept pushing away the teacher. Maybe that’s why Jesus’ famous phrase, so hotly debated (Luke 14:26 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”))

Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

Part 2 here.

Edublog Awards – My thoughts.

everyone's a winnerI’m a competitive person so this post is REALLY hard for me. I’m the kind of guy who will compete to see who can stand on one leg the longest. I’m hyper competitive and work hard because I love doing so but also because of this “competitive streak”.

So it has been a hard and painful road to realize that blogging and more generally “education” shouldn’t be competitive. It already is so very competitive and we shouldn’t make it more. That’s why, concerning this year’s Edublog awards - I’m saying EVERYONE’S A WINNER BABY!

This feeling has been growing. See this previous post and my creation of the Random ELT Blog generator because I really didn’t want nor see the need to rank others, leave others out. Same in our classrooms. When we make thinking, intelligence, study, learning into a competition – we leave a lot of winners out the equation. We really do.

This in no way, is meant to frown upon others participating (and if I’m nominated, no problem, I’m honored). It is just that I want to refrain from these “competitions”, in the spirit of my own professional development and understanding (ongoing). It’s been a long road for this competitive titan to realize how harmful competition is in our educational system and I want to stick to my guns/beliefs as they stand.


If you enjoyed this post – you might enjoy “The Competitive Side of Schooling”

Get this song in karaoke for teaching and play with the karaoke player. Thousands more karaokes on EFL Classroom 2.0.

Teaching as a Rube Goldberg machine….

Rube-GoldbergTeaching effects eternity. It really does.

Our lives effect eternity but not near as perfectly and precisely, not near as powerfully nor presciently as teaching.

I’ve been thinking lately about my own effect – how I stumbled along and began EFL Classroom about 6 years ago just posting up a few resources and thoughts on a free website I built - the BATCAVE. And since then, like a Rube Goldberg machine (try this example too and maybe get students describing ), one thing led to another. One thing had an effect that nobody could really predict but somehow through all those effects, one BIG EFFECT did happen. A thread ran through all the  pushes, pulls and dispersion of energies.

It’s amazing how in our classrooms, just like EFL Classroom – this same thing occurs. And you never know what you do or what you say – how it will effect eternity and keep that thread threading……

As students, we also have been effected by teachers. I remember a cold autumn evening, like tonight, many years ago. Just a few months into being 16. Hitchiking home to the farm after X-country practice. Hitch hiking home under a dim street light along a highway that led into black. Out of nowhere came a runner, my French teacher Lionel Desjardins. He stopped and asked me what was up. He could have just waved and kept running but he stopped. We talked or rather, he talked and I nodded.  I won’t reveal our conversation, it remains private but just that he cared, made a difference. He set things in motion, in a way that led to this, to that and to where I am……

We are so blessed as teachers, to weave such fabric. Almost godlike, we touch the future and keep alight something which we are still searching a name for….

I don’t know what it is but I do know we are a Rube Goldberg machine that gets us there as we butterfly along. Let’s keep touching eternity and keeping the world on its axis. My hats off to all those teachers that daily make this miraculous thing happen.

To end or rather abandon this post – here are 2 of my fav. Rube Goldberg videos.

Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

The #1 …..(authentic material in ELT)

Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1. Get the full eBook

The Local Newspaper

I’m a big believer in the need and importance of both using authentic materials and current events in our classrooms.  Of all the authentic materials available, I really think the local newspaper an incredible resource at our fingertips (though, strictly speaking, a native speaker is really the #1 authentic material!). Even if in a foreign context, the internet allows you to download English newspapers for use in the classroom. See my blog post here about using “The Metro”‘s pdfs.
The newspaper combines so much that could be used, here’s a list off the top of my head to get some sparks flying in your syllabus development.
1.  Scanning for the main idea. The teacher asks a question and the students scan the newspaper to be the first to get the answer.
2.  Headline matching. Cut out headlines and articles. Glue on one page and photocopy. Students have to read and match correctly.
3.  The weather map. Put the prompt – “what’s the weather like in ….” on the board. Students ask/answer using the map with their group/pair.You can do the same with the stock exchange, foreign exchange, sports scores and other parts of the paper.
4.  The advice column. Students read the question/letter and give their own advice. Later, read what Ann Landers or the advice columnist suggested.
5.  Comics. Read the comics. Cut out and whiteout. Students then write their own content into the bubbles.
6.  Debate. Read an editorial together on a “hot” issue. Divide the class into two and they form arguments and then debate their side.
7.  5ws.  Students read an article and have to answer the 5Ws and present for the class. A great way to introduce journalism and short article writing.
8.  Horoscopes. Students read each others horoscopes. Did they come true?
9.  The Classifieds.  A biggee. Can be used in a multitude of ways. One way I’ve used them is to list items you want to buy. Students search for them and report back to you.  Another way is to give them a budget and have them find an apartment that is appropriate.

Teachers – who needs them?

encouragementI just came home from the movies.  In the film I saw (The Kids Are Alright), one character when asked why he dropped out of school says, “I just thought it was a big waste of money for something I could learn myself, from a book.”

This was something I had realized early, sitting in the town library one “PD” or professional development day, years ago in grade 8. I was flipping through a National Geographic and chanced upon an article about Jane Goodall. I was stoked, we had been talking about chimpanzees in class!  I started reading and wondered why we’d learnt none of this in class! OMG! And then it dawned on me – I could learn from a book. School was for sports and girls but really ineffective when it came to learning.

As the years went on, I realized more. That actually I had been wrong. Not that school wasn’t a more effective way “to learn”. No. I understood that a book really wasn’t as perfect a tool of learning. For the cerebral and imaginative – a book was great. But for show and tell, for constructive learning, participation, modeling – it was a dud. You couldn’t learn how to build anything from Popular Mechanics, you’d only learn how to talk about it, write about it and comment on it. Books weren’t a replacement for teachers or schooling. There was still a need for teachers and people in the learning equation.

Now, (and isn’t it ironic, me a 20 year in, teacher), I’m not so sure. I think we don’t need teachers. Nor schools. Now before you go further, take a deep breath and allow me to explain, explain how I’ve become such a heretic. I’ll keep it short, I promise.

After hearing the line the film, it dawned on me that it should be updated to, “I just thought it was a big waste of money for something I could learn online”.  The internet has allowed us, the amateur, to prosper. We can teach each other but more importantly we can show, demonstrate and learn not only in a “reading” way but also in a “real” way. Teachers are everywhere online – they are the mailmen, the musicians, on video, on screencasts. They are you and me.

Even more important is the notion of authority. School has survived because of authority. In a way, it is kind of like a prison sentence. You have little say over it, you MUST and there is so little opportunity for rehabilitation or reform. It is a process that you have to undertake in order to be part of society. You are punished if you don’t. It is mass social programming, dollar driven, even more so today. So school and education continues with only polite postering about reform and change. It is self perpetuating. No wonder that the calls for radical reform of education of the 60’s are still so relevant, loud and true.

I’m a student of the enlightenment and believe that learning is liberating and beneficial to all humanity. Illuminating, labitur lux, it lets the light in. It benefits us all and all the splendors around us come from ideas and education. However, everything has its time and place. Schools too, designed as mass market assembly lines,  disseminating discrete, memorizable bits of public knowledge are long useless and defunct. If mankind is to develop, we must go from the public realm and into the private – from the liberation of the mass to the liberation of the self.

Mark Twain said, “don’t let your schooling get in the way of your education.”  So true. But if you think about his words, you also can gather the notion that we shouldn’t throw away schooling. He doesn’t say that, nor I think believed it. School is great and necessary. I wouldn’t have given my best years to a classroom, if I hadn’t believed so. But we should take the teacher out of the school and make school a place of learning not teaching or being taught. Teachers should become mentors, motivators, encouragers, friends, councillors, anything but what they are at present. Students should get help,  not be told what nor how to learn. They can figure it out, evolution tells us so.

In the weeks to follow, I hope to elaborate on these few late night thoughts I’ve laid out. Lots about “Superman” and the snake oil salesmen in the education business. Lots more about self-learning and the possibilities of technology as a liberating force. Stay tuned.

I also highly recommend Andrew Finch’s “Teachers, Who Needs Them”. It’s a good read from a good man.

A couple quotes on the tip of my brain to end.

Learning is not a spectator sport.  ( why do we make it so with our schools?)

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.
— Thomas Carruthers

Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

Using free “subway” newspapers in our classes

Today, I’m in Vancouver and gorging on newspapers and English reading. One thing I read was the Metro newspaper and I got to thinking of times I’ve used it in my own teaching.

The Metro newspaper is a real newspaper, an authentic material (and read my comprehensive post on authentic materials in the EFL Classroom for more ideas) that teachers all over the world can use in their teaching. It is now available in a nice PDF version. Use the US. or Canadian versions for English.  Just open the issuu flash ebook and select “download pdf” . You can even select specific pages and not the whole paper (in most cases).   Here’s an example from today’s Toronto paper. metronewsexample
The Metro is a subway/transit magazine. As such, it is written in very simple English. Newspapers traditionally have been very hard to use in the English as a second language classroom. Too idiomatic, too filled with colloquialisms and local language and flavor. The Metro is different and very useable in our classrooms!
In my own teaching, I’d always bring in a stack for the classroom each day. Mostly because I really believe it our duty and not just the duty of a social science teacher – to involve our students in the world around us (see this presentation – The Top 10 Reasons to use Current Events in the Classroom as my argument). It is important to get students aware of the world outside their own social circle. My students always used these newspapers informally and now teachers all over the world can use the Metro in their own classrooms.
Here is today’s PDF version for Toronto as an example. (just click the issue and then the download icon at the top)  Lots of ways you might use it. Here are some:
1. D.E.A.R. – Drop Everything And Read sessions. Print and give articles/pages to student to read for 5 minutes of self sustained reading.
2. Read and Tell: Students read one article and then jigsaw into groups and share what they read.
3. 5 Ws. Students read an article and find the 5 Ws of it. Then share their reporting with the class.
4. As a daily start to the day/lesson. What’s the top story? Read together.
5. Horoscopes/ads/Advice/Recipes: use these as the basis of lessons in your class or activities.
So much more! Now, what was once only available to ESL teachers, is now available to EFL teachers – all due to the power of technology and all free!

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Teacher

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time – years actually. Finally, here in the airport with time to kill and waiting for my flight “home” to Canada, I have the time and motivation.

Teaching English as a “profession” and living in multiple foreign countries has so many advantages. We hear about them and read about them all the time. The cultural differences, sites of interest, the exotic local appeal, new experiences and stimulations. However, there is a dark side to this “adventure”, the dark side of being away from home and loved ones.

Career EFL teachers are in a constant state of divorce from their own family and friends. We feel guilty for being away as our parents get old (at least I do), for missing family gatherings, from being estranged from “our self”. We feel like a leaf adrift on a big lake. This is the downside of being a long distance teacher.

It isn’t talked about much but remains there behind the scenes as we go about our lives in foreign countries.

I’m leaving Korea today, in a few hours. Been here for 5 years and truly, all things being equal, I’d stay here the rest of my life, if not for my family. Lots of negatives to life in Korea but that’s par for any course. I had a great job, lots of freedom to develop as I wanted professionally, was / am well respected. Why not stay? Well, finally I had to do the right thing and “be home”. My parents are still healthy and well but I owe it to them to spend time in their later years, to be there. I’m not saying that is a call everyone need nor should make. But it is my own call. Still, my point remains. Us EFL itinerant teachers traveling the world have to deal with this kind of personal backdrop. The pay can never compensate for this.

You don’t read too many bloggers writing about this “thing” we all feel. This estrangement and displacement we feel. I’ve felt it and on this afternoon, pushed by the divided emotions of departure, declare it. It is a lot easier with technology, the internet, skype etc…. but still it doesn’t dent this iron strong feeling.

I guess that is life, bittersweet. There is sadness and happiness in all experiences. The sadness of leaving and the happiness of arriving. It is for us teachers to manage it all, the best we can. Let us struggle towards paradise, each in our own way, as “long distance teachers”.

photo courtesy Allan1952 on flickr.com

High Expectations

This post is really about two things. ONE – to thank Karenne whose post brief post about the video below got my brain flooded with a thousand volts. TWO – to briefly and strongly, suggest an important point about instructing and teaching.

First the video. (because who wants second hand news?).

Get a worksheet for this on EFL Classroom 2.0

I have a long history with the holocaust and especially Victor Frankl. I have bought the book and given to so many people – I really think I should start my own church! Man’s Search for Meaning (or the story of Logotherapy). But my post isn’t about my fixation with the holocaust or the lesson’s within, nor Victor Frankl and myself. This post is about setting up your classroom for success.

It is like Victor says – “crabbing” . Set the goals high. If you fall short, it will be much higher than where you ever could have gotten otherwise. Also, research shows that teachers who think their students are smart, will have smart students!

Let your students know your high expectations – in your own fashion and with your own style. It isn’t an act or a game or an order. It is your belief in your students, each and every one. We are all miraculous and a gift to existence. Make each one see that and you will be landing on many a far away runway.

And then, when you are not teaching, you can sit content and be happy that many are arriving at their destinations because they had the “afront” and the “idealism” to reach high, to fly high. The wisest words I ever heard were on some slochy Sunday sermon show – the evangelist saying, “if you fall, fall looking up – because if you can look up, you can get up. And if you can get up, you can do so much more….”. Reach high, or what’s a heaven for.

I’ll end my sermon with a sermon. Martin Luther King Jr. He says it differently but the message is the same. The Drum Major Speech.

Top 5 blog turn offs (for me)

Magritte-The_False_MirrorI usually stay FAR away from blogging about blogging. Not that I don’t find this kind of introspection, fun or revealing/engaging. Far from it. I just don’t feel comfortable doing it and if there is one BIG rule when it comes to blogging, it is, blog about what you are comfortable with.

There you go, I’ve started blogging about blogging. LOL.

I decided to share my own “hates” and what I find distasteful on some blogs because I’ve noticed there seems to be a lot of interest in these kind of blogging about blogging posts. Also, a little bit of venting will do any man  or woman some good. So in that vein, here it goes. The top 5 turn offs for me when first arriving on a blog. (and I’ve found my share through the Random ELT Blog Generator ).  Oh yeah, my apologizes in advance to the examples I’ve noted for each. Not that you aren’t probably good blokes and teachers – and I also might be wrong. But this is how I feel.

1.  Selling. Big, bold, buy this pitches that confront your sensibility and make you think you’d best start browsing Amazon. (and this goes too for those blogs selling Amazon stuff). HERE”S AN EXAMPLE.

2.  Selling the reader short. You know, those blog posts that just have a photo and say, “I just got back from the mall and wanted to let you know.” or they just have a link….  In case one, use twitter. In case two, use twitter. HERE”S AN EXAMPLE.

3.  Youtube videos galore.  Like, I want to know what YOU think, not what Youtube thinks. It’s a blog, not the cinema. Great, you know how to embed stuff, but again, what do YOU think? HERE”S AN EXAMPLE.

4.  Tiny print, black and white and no pictures! Especially with 3 columns.  Yes, I’m getting old and yes, I need (deserve)  a little color. If I wanted to read the newspaper, I’d of bought one.  HERE’S AN EXAMPLE.

5.  Lists. The Top “this” and The Best “that”.  Why do we need lists? Can’t we just follow your train of thought? What ever happened to WRITING, it’s a blog isn’t it, not the David Letterman show!  HERE”S AN EXAMPLE.

The #1 list ebook is coming!

The #1 series is something I’m proud of. I will continue to build it for sure. A great, quick reference to only the best items/advice available to English language teachers.

I’ve been working hard to edit and then make from html/webpage to pdf – a nice #1 ebook with active links. Stay tuned, I’m almost there! I’ll be offering it free but also requestion a small donation for it – to support the costs (about $1,000 plus) of keeping EFL Classroom 2.0 humming along. Your support and feedback appreciated!

Here’s a nice wordle of our #1 feed!


dance * CLT activity * language reference book * review game * inspiring kid * teaching tool * creative writing site * commercial for teaching * way to quiet students * video about mother nature * pronunciation site * misspelled word * teacher training course * icebreaker * conversational game * word used in class * motivation for teachers * way to introduce phonics * summer teaching tool * book to help teachers teach * online needs survey * advice to teachers * non-academic speech * film * audio application * reward to give students * student created video * blog post * documentary * way to assess * no cost teacher * digital story site * way to display student work * motivation for students * online YL vocab * activity for YLs * way to randomly choose students * website for language teachers * thing we know about learning a language * royalty free photo site * weakness of teachers * Xmas story * feature of an expert teacher * story for predicting * Xmas gift for a teacher * short video for teens * short video for YLs * book on language * person in ELT * textbook lesson * friend at school * song *

Food for Thought

brain-food Recently, S. Korea announced that despite all the hostilities and tension with N. Korea, they would deliver food aid to the flood ravaged nation. (see AP article here.)

This got me thinking about my own views on food and then knowledge.

You see, I’ve always, always, always been adamant that food isn’t something one owns. It is to be shared and it is anyone’s right when at my house or in a restaurant, to share anything that is in my cupboard or on my plate. Food is sacred, life giving and not something to covet. It is the source of all our being and like one wouldn’t bottle and refuse air or oxygen to others in need – so to food.

Now I realize the practicalities and don’t take it to an extreme. “Need” is the definitive word here. Someone not hungry and who just wants to clean out my cupboard and resell my food – would get a swift kick. S.Korea is giving food aid because N.Korea needs it and that supercedes all else.

A brief aside. I remember once in Corsica, a very famous German politician came and visited us. We had an amazing evening of wine and food and conversation, laughter and music. The politician drank voluminously but finally, jet lagged and it being late, got up to go to his room. Dead drunk, he pulled out his wallet and threw some money on the table. Then, proceeded to go into the house where he fell upon the first visible “comfort” , a sofa and passed out. Hilarious but it solidifies the point that food is to be shared, it isn’t something just bought and sold.

What about knowledge? I truly believe that much of the bounty and abundance of modern society is because of the free and mostly unfettered flow of information. It is about access to the food of the brain – knowledge/information. Those that need – our students, the curious, the motivated and creative – they all should have access to it.

It is becoming abundantly clear that something is going and growing amiss. So many organization and individuals covet and commoditize knowledge. We put it into books beyond the access of many people. We take open source products and sell them, when it costs pennies (and I know about this – I offer free video conferencing and Learning management systems to schools or teachers and I am far from rich. But I find individuals selling these same products for hundreds of dollars / month!). Ads are with everything, even though cost is not prohibitive. Access is being charged to a higher and higher degree – in many cases, extravagantly almost to the point of usery. (one small beam of light, Tim Berners – Lee, one of the creators of the Internet, has called for FREE access for all). Why do so many go blind to this? As the internet consolidates, the walls ARE closing in and I think more educators should push back.

I won’t rant on. My post today is just to give everyone some food for thought. What about giving education a pass and letting students truly have full access to the world of knowledge. Allow teachers full reign to use knowledge and information in an educational setting?

Utopian? Yes. As Shelly said, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

The #1…. (language reference book)

Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1.
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language – by David Crystal

encyclopediaI’ve long been a big fan of David Crystal. See a nice video below, to get a sense of the “gentle” man. If anyone ever deserved a medal in the name of “Language” – it is him.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language is the ultimate reference and linguists, language mavens and practicing language teachers will all get immense, lifelong benefit from the articles. I’ve long had both a hard copy and ecopy and always dip into it for really serious information about any of the diverse topics related to language. Great charts and illustrations make this book very engaging and accessible. As always, the mind of David Crystal is evident. Here is an excerpt so you can decide for yourself.

Two other reference books worth mentioning are: The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – R.E. Asher, editor in chief. A 14 volume tomb of 1,000s of pages/articles by the best minds around. A-Z of ELT by Scott Thornbury. Illuminating reading and very practical minded for practicing teachers. Also see Scott’s blog for the book.

As promised, here is a great interview and conversation with David Crystal about the Future of English Another great book of his! Also, about a lot more…

Find more linguistics videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0