I’m sure you’ve heard of it unless you’ve been hiding in your classroom, overwhelmed. Teacher Kyle Schwartz asked her students to finish the sentence,
“I wish my teacher knew ……”
The answers are heart wrenching and more important than just what they reveal about their challenging lives, they also provide students with a powerful voice and means of empowerment. Schwartz makes that point and it’s one of the reasons she also shared the student messages as tweets.
Here’s a video detailing the whole story.
The story got me thinking about the converse, what do we teachers wish our students knew about our own lives?
Every teacher has a different style and level of what they’ll share with students about their own lives. That’s fine and I understand that. However, I don’t think teachers really “voice” to the world enough about their own challenging lives and how teaching is tough, damn tough. Perhaps I’m thinking about this issue because along with this story, read a gut wrenching post from Vicki Davis about her own current struggles as a teacher. She speaks of things we teachers seldom share and it illustrates so well how every one of us teachers has things we wish our students knew.
I remember teaching 2 classes mid day after learning during the break by telegram to the school that my grandmother had died. I wish my students had known that and also I had been brave enough to share that.
I remember teaching grade 4, loving my students to death. Coming in at 6:30 am every day to prepare and leaving after long talks with the janitor at 8 or 9 pm. Then weekends, lying on the couch immobile all day, unable to move, shell shocked from that week. I wish my students had known that.
I remember teaching the same 4 core course classes in a row on Mondays, no break and wishing my students knew I felt numb and like a tape recorder. I wish they knew I had to do it, lacking seniority and any power.
There is a lot we teachers wish our students knew. My own sister recently stopped teaching. I wish her students knew the reason why, the challenges as a mother she was facing day in and day out while trying to teach.
So my question to fellow teachers – share and complete the sentence,
I wish my students knew …..
Give yourself voice and let the world know, that big world outside of teaching, how incredibly hard it is to do both that in class and that out of class. You can tweet them with the hashtag – #IWishMyStudentsKnew.
Earth. It is such an important concept and relationship for students. A must to use in our curriculum, I don’t care what you teach. Take the opportunity to do something with your class this Earth Day, this spring! Revel in the gift that she gives, mother earth.
Here are some resources, videos, ideas you might use or that might spark a lesson. Downloads for EFL Classroom 2.0 members.
My fav. videos.
HOME is a definite classic now. This video really gives an appreciation of the variety and abundance of our earth.
1. Get out of the classroom if possible. Field trips, excursions, pick up garbage in the school yard. But speak English!
2. The 3 Rs. Do a lesson plan around Reduce | Reuse | Recycle. Students simply brainstorm ideas and make a poster to present to the class. How can your school do better?
3. Make a mini book. Students fold one piece of paper, make a book called, MY EARTH. Students draw pictures, label, the things that make their earth important.
4. REAL English. Write a letter to a member of parliament, the UN., the WWW, about what you want our leaders to do. Save animals, plant trees, fight pollution. The ideas are important and students will get motivated by a REAL task.
I recently came across this blog post about Six highly provocative quotes in ELT, from the 6 things blog. So I thought I’d highlight these sparkling quotes again but also add my own to compliment. A challenge to my own linguistic soul.
I love a good aphorism and though these are all thought provoking, they somewhat lack the punch and umphapha that Nietzsche would have imagined. I guess that is par for the course. There are lots of great academics in EFL / ELT / ESL but not many great “thinkers” IMHO. I guess that’s why Chomsky stood out so, standing on the shoulders of midgets….
Okay, I’ve had a few glasses of wine, as you can divine.
Find the quotes here below and my own offering in their regard. You be the judge – who said it better. And remember, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” (flattery – to make something flat….). If interested in some more “sane” quotes, try the 50 quotes for teachers series for EFL Classroom members – 1 or 2.
1. Jenny Jenkins “There is really no justification for doggedly persisting in referring to an item as ‘an error’ if the vast majority of the world’s L2 English speakers produce and understand it.” The Phonology of English as an International Language (Oxford University Press, 2000)
Me “A rose, is a rose, is a rose, even if Gertrude Stein wasn’t a destitute English teacher in Paris, mid 1920’s and sans madelaine…..”
2- Scott Thornbury “Where is real communication? More often than not it is buried under an avalanche of photocopies, visual aids, transparencies, MTV clips and cuisninnaire rods. Somewhere in there we lost the plot.” A Dogma for ELT IATEFL Voices (2000).
Me “I don’t know who suffered more, the tree or the teacher using that textbook…” OR “There is more communication in a roll of toilet paper than 150 pages of exercises in swiping.”
3. Mario Rinvolucri “Ambition, rage, jealousy, betrayal, destiny, greed, fear and the other Shakespearean themes are far from the soft, fudgey sub-journalistic, woman’s magaziney world of EFLese course materials.” The UK, EFLese Sub-Culture and Dialect on TEFL Farm, 1999
Me “Brevity is the soul of wit and also the start of most good teaching.”
4. Rose Senior – “The low status of teaching in general, and of English language teaching in particular, coupled with the ease with which people can train as teachers and find jobs, is reflected in the ongoing debate about whether or not English language teaching can be described as a profession. The overwhelming consensus of opinion is that it cannot.” The Experience of Language Teaching Cambridge University Press 2006
Me “The oldest profession is that of “need” – which fortunately for many a language teacher, involves multiple languages and more “need”. OR “If I had to choose between a job teaching standing up or a job teaching laying down – I wouldn’t choose either. I’d opt to be the pimp or a publisher.”
5. Robert Phillipson – “…Fragmentation and marginalization are two of the four central processes in imperlialism, along with exploitation and penetration. ELT fits into the overall pattern of imperialism in every respect.” Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford University Press 1992
Me “English was invented so hooliganism might prevail as a global economic model”
6. David Graddol – “Although EFL has become technologised, and has been transformed over the years by communicative methods, these have led only to a modest improvement in attainment by learners. The model, in the totality of its pedagogic practices, may even have historically evolved to produce perceived failure.” English Next, British Council 2006.
Me “There is a sucker born every syllable.” OR “What a learner won’t do for themselves, a teacher will definitely step up and take credit for…” OR “English is a language with an army of advertisers.”
Please don’t refrain – add your own witicism / aphorism / poetic comment…. thought is never complete, merely abandoned – so saidith Valkyri
“Learning English is like ice fishing for shark when naked. Everything is attracted but everything bites. You got to keep the worms warm!”
Two way tasks are the staple activity of the communicative approach. Also known as an “information gap” activity, they force students to communicate with each other in order to retrieve information to complete a task.
Usually these tasks involve students with different sets of information, usually consisting of a handout. But now with students bringing their own devices into the classroom or with classrooms that have laptops/tablets/phones for all students – why not have students do the same tasks but using online information? It is also a great way to explore issues surrounding digital literacy and promote digital literacy.
Here are 10 easy to do two way tasks using the internet and technology. I’ll be making a 50 ways list of these to compliment all our other useful 50 ways lists. So stay tuned for the rest!
For all these two way tech tasks, you’ll need to do the following.
1. Make sure all students have access to the internet through a device.
2. Put students into pairs, facing each other so they can communicate but not see each others device.
3. Write on the board or on a handout.
webpage each student should look at / visit
the information each student should find from their partner
target language / phrases / sentences
4. Model the target expression, language. This usually consists of a language cloze or fill in the blanks. Students practice and communicate using the set dialogue but depending on the level, you might omit this or encourage students to use their own language to communicate and finish the task.
They say April is the cruelest month. Not here on our community, its been a great “spring” flourish of resources to help teachers.
Find below some of the most recent resources available.
I’ve also been asked by a few members to host a webinar about how best to use the community, find things etc…. Stay tuned, I’ll be setting the date soon. In the meantime, maybe take a look at this post about searching EFL Classroom 2.0
1. The Prospect. Students will love this indie sci-fi flic about a father and daughter stranded on an alien planet. Use with the lesson materials and download the video. Just one of the hundreds of film/video based lessons available on EFL 2.0. View here.
2. Top 3. Top 5 is one of our fav. games and this one takes it to another level. You’ll love it and play with the scoresheet provided. Download the ppt.
3. Still haven’t found what I’m looking for lesson. Using this great U2 song, students complete the lyrics and talk about what they are still looking for. View the lesson.
I’ve been pleased as punch by the feedback for this reflective journal. It has been mentioned and highlighted in several publications this last year as well as the hard cover book being used in several training programs.
Download the PDF ebook for your own review. Use the discount code: teachlearn on checkout. Please consider becoming an EFL Classroom supporter to get this book and many more books and access to hundreds of thousands of teaching resources for one low lifetime payment.
A bit of a reflective post today while I pack and then head off to TESOL Toronto.
Looking forward to seeing many “teaching friends”. It’s put me in a contemplative mood, about my journey as an educator. About saying who we are as teachers and shining that light into the dark to lead others.
One of the invaluable things a teacher can do is pass on the torch, to help the next generation of teachers. This can be done many ways. Through becoming a mentor, by sharing with colleagues, by becoming a teacher trainer, through writing and reflection. Our lives as teachers touch so many others and the more we do touch, the more we benefit the age we live in – the little green plot of grass upon time’s wind swept hill we tend.
I’ve tried in my writings over the years, to share myself personally and in that way, mentor fellow teachers coming up the ranks. See a few of them HERE. Also, a very well read post, “What I know now but didn’t know then“.
Looking at my life now, as if from a mountain top, it all seems so improbably. Traveling the world, speaking to audiences, having a platform to be heard/listened to, teaching here, teaching there – in a word, FREEDOM. It is as if a dream. I’ve really mucked about during my 25 years teaching and made some very hard decisions along the way. Decisions always in favor of the unknown rather than staying put and just staying in one place. For me, its worked, I need that change to feed my soul and really be alive. The present must be filled with a lot of teaching possibility for me – that’s how I define freedom as a teacher.
I recently left the world of academia and ventured out to help build a company (a long post and story there) and make my way however I might as an educator, speaker, consultant, edupreneur. Lots of hard work but so rewarding and full of self-discovery. It’s working out and I’ve no regrets forsaking the security and repetition of the “standard” university classroom. I love a place, the now, filled with the future, however contradictory that might sound. Just didn’t find it in a regular, workaday university. I’m continuing to muck about and will continue to share my teacher self in the hopes it might inspire other teachers.
I highly recommend sharing your own teaching story. Please do and let us know when it’s been told. Vicky Loras has a nice series of these on her blog. Take some time to read one or two. Great for your teaching soul.
This year marks the 130th anniversary of John Milton Gregory’s influential (at its time) statement about what teaching and learning fundamentally is – The 7 Laws Of Teaching.
Do you agree that they still apply to today’s classroom and schooling? Which are true and which have not stood the test of time? H.D. Brown’s more recent statement of the 10 Commandments of teachers and learners is also worth taking a look at. Do you agree with them? 10 commandments of Learning and Teaching English.doc
I’m still plugging away on my book, tentatively titled “School’s Out Forever” – a play on the famous cry of the immortal Alice Cooper, “School’s Out For Summer“.
My idea is to think fresh, think anew and have a grasp that exceed’s my reach. To paint a picture of what education could really be like if we started fresh and unburdened by the concept, idea, past of “school”.
While on this journey, came upon this delightful talk by Ricardo Semler. He’s a business guy and born with a golden spoon. Normally I don’t pay attention to or raise an eyebrow over these types parading as gurus and spending money on exotic ideas. You know the types with a big wad of cash but really not about disruption but control and the establishment. But Semler’s different. Watch the video and you’ll see why. He invokes a very refreshing humility.
He asks the good question for us teacher, us parents, us principals – all stakeholders in education
“What are we doing this for?”
He doesn’t really offer any ideas that aren’t out there already. But he packages them well. I agree with most of them except the idea that we still need “school”. We don’t. A lot of his points suggest the same.
Where his ideas and my own meet are on the following points.
1. Place. We don’t need students to show up at one place, day in and day out. What is this need for control other than a continued babysitting role for education/educators? Students should be able to visit multiple locations and “get their education”, be tested, be motivated, connect. Online or off.
Students need to learn with those of the same interest, drive – not those of the same age. Let’s doff the one age and one size fits all mentality of present day education. Children shouldn’t be dumped into a place based on their size or age.
We need a complete re-design and re-engineering of our schools as a place.
2. People. The role of the teacher needs to be based on supporting learning not forcing learning. Teachers inspire and we need passionate people in that role who can organize learning. No more teaching – please!
Plus, we must use the people of our communities and keep the doors of our educational places open and full of fresh air. It is the community that ultimately teaches our students. As Semler advocates, let’s fill the new role of teachers with those with the most wisdom, love and time/experience – our elderly.
We need a different kind of relationship happening in education.
3. Time. How students spend their time needs to be rethought. So much wasted time, like the line from Richard Brautigan
“My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James, for all the time they stole from me.”
Why do we continue to have students punch a clock, like they are all irresponsible truants? What does learning have to do with the time of day? Can’t we use precious time more wisely? If we rebuild the idea of school as a place, we can also rethink the idea of school as X number of hours / year / subject. Students should be able to learn at their own pace, to the beat of their own drummer. Then time wouldn’t matter, learning would be an ongoing event and opportunity, not at an uninteresting play watched at a set time.
We need to melt the idea of school into the larger ideal of education.
4. Power. Yes, and here is the rub and what it’s all about. Control. Semler hints at this during the interview portion at the end. Change does not happen because there is no incentive 1. At the end of the day school/education is controlled from the top down 2. Those in control have no stake in change. It’s too big a risk. It will take time or eventually change will happen from the bottom up and kids just won’t show up or people will in large numbers abandon ship and go elsewhere.
We need to allow choice by parents, teachers, students. Get rid of compulsory education.
One of my goals this coming school year is to be more personal in my writing/blogging. I know I am guilty of sharing precious little about myself. I pontificate, philosophize, condemn, encourage but in that, I share little of “who I am”. I don’t want to be that kind of writer, blogger or secret sharer. So here is a personal post, one of many this year as I “gavte la nata”, “take out the cork”.
This video (below) haunts me. I just stumbled upon it, sent a message by google about it. It was about 2 and half years ago as I trained to do a charity 24 hour run on a treadmill. I’ve had a great career in running. Both middle/marathon running and ultrarunning. I say “had” because soon after this, my run was cancelled and I started to have horrible problems in one calf. Now, a few years later, never been able to run again and now even inactive, am having horrible circulation and clotting problems with my legs.
I say this not for any pity. I say this because WE ALL WILL HAVE THESE DIPS. In teaching too. You can be the damndest best teacher around but life can throw you some whammees. You can get an administrator/principal from hell. Your personal life can effect everything. You just might “lose that teaching feeling” for no apparent reason. You could be put into a situation that nobody, not even the Dead Poet guy, could climb out of. You might just freak out from blowing too many student’s noses and wiping up too much cola off the floor of your classroom.
But it isn’t the problem that is the problem. It is how you fall. We all will fall but I ask you as a teacher, if you fall – fall facing up. Because if you can look up, you can get up. That’s the only lesson I have to relate about teacher burnout. Burnout but then leave an ember, and re-ignite.
I will. I’ll be running again. Maybe not setting any more records or breaking the tape first again. But I’ll be running and I’ll write to you about it here. This Teacher Wellness Guide offers some great tips for us teachers to keep going! In defining the problem, here is a nice article about teachers in Canada and how so many just don’t continue, become stressed out.
A nice list of what might be considered our top 20 resources available to teachers. A handy list to the most valuable things on the community. Go here >>>>
3. Top National Geographic “like” content.
We have some incredible video content and lesson material using National Geographic and other “like” commercials. Like “The World Is Awesome” lesson material listed above. Here are a few of these fab. resources.
4. Our Basic TEFL Certificate Course now free for all members.
It now is available to all EFL 2.0 members. However, those who are paid supporters will also get a certificate and letter of reference when they complete the course. Take the certificate course, get loads of resources and now even more! Read more >>>>
We have a great community! Pioneering, always fresh. So much to help teachers. See these testimonials from members. Now that we are a paid community (very low cost), here is a little to encourage others to join or to help our thousands of current member teachers find our “gold”.
“I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life.”
― George Orwell, Why I Write
I’ve been blogging about education without much of a break since 2005, going on a decade. Before that, for years I was in many forums, list servers and groups talking about education and writing replies that were much like blog posts. I’ve seen and experienced a lot in the realm of blogging.
Since I’m right now self-reflecting on my own future as a blogger, stepping back to jump farther forward, I thought I’d detail a little about why I blog. Find at the end, some of the other posts where I’ve already touched on this subject.
Note: all of us “bloggers” have a little of all these orientations within us. Some stronger, some weaker. All of these mix and mingle with each other. My divisions are just that, “convenient” and one way to draw a circle around reality (however failing). None of these orientations are more important than the others, we all have our own reasons for the ratatattat of our fingers and brains that becomes text, video, sound – a blog.
Why do I (and we) blog …….?
1. To Become, To Learn
A formative goal of all educators is to become and improve as a reflective practitioner. That’s one of the ways we improve, develop, grow as a professional. We review, we think, we assess, we make changes, we test, we improve. And so the circle continues. One way to do so is through blogging.
There is something about the process of organizing one’s thoughts, communicating what you think and feel about a subject, something about this private conversation with oneself that “clears the air” and brings in light/knowledge. I never really ever have a hard time writing about a topic. Why? Because all the hard work is the thinking, the digesting and thinking that precedes the blog post. It sits with me an afternoon, a day, a week. Sometimes more. Then finally after many times in my head during a cycle, a run or on the toilet or just laying in bed or reading – it pops out and something new is born. I’ve grown, I’ve become more ……..
2. To Connect, To Share
The advent of more communicative “Web 2.0″ technologies has brought blogging out of the closet and allowed so many to connect to so many more. Through blogs, comments, friending, micro blogging, we can connect with fellow educators the world over. It’s a marvellous and miraculous thing, sharing your thoughts, getting comments from others and becoming “community”. I blog to connect with others and share what I’ve learned during my years.
Blogging is really like a slow, very slow conversation (and in being slow, one can savor it so). As such and as “slow”, it is very human and bonding. We savor the communication and comradery of others and it brings us back, to once again start anew, the conversation. There is something so motivating to me, to be able to share and make a difference in the lives of other teachers. Maybe it is just my altruistic bent, I don’t know. However, I think there is a bit of this in all of us, the need to “keep what we give”, the need to share and nurture something more than just ourselves. And isn’t that what teaching is all about? To be more than just a captive mind?
3. To Influence, To Identify
This is a tricky one but a powerful one. I say “tricky” because the ego can be a very addictive thing. We can like Dorian Gray, fall in love with our own words, our own “blogging selves” , the likes, the mentions, the comments. We might start blogging more to “get a buzz” than to really share, grown, nurture, instruct. I’ve seen it happen and see so many bloggers fall into the lake while looking at their own blogger image – posting stuff just to get clicks and visits, posting in desperation of being noticed and applauded.
This isn’t all bad. It can really be motivating but you have to keep it in balance, remind oneself what it truly is all about. Influencing, teaching others is great but don’t let it go to your head. Let the audience decide who is the expert and the worth of your words and self – they put the crown on your head, not you alone. I’ve been energized as a blogger through a healthy dose of “ego” and my own wish to influence others and declare, to voice and say, “This is me, the teacher, here I am!”. Blogging gives us “voice” and identity and this is of necessity, it sustains us. However, it shouldn’t be the only thing or even the dominant reason why one blogs. But it would be interesting to hear from other bloggers about this contentious point – how has your identity as a blogger been a help or a hinderance?
4. To Help, To Serve
I blog to serve, just like why I teach. Sure you have to pay the bills but there are next to no bloggers who make their money blogging (and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise – they are like gamblers who never count their loses and always think they are in the black, only remembering their wins). We do it to help others, in service. It is a vocation and a state of mind that wants to give and to serve.
I see all the time, many bloggers start up with furious energy. Post after post each day. Then, baaaam, nothing, it’s over. Why? Probably a multitude of reasons but the most common is that they were doing it for the wrong reasons. Deep in their heart, it was about something other than service. Finally the deck of blogging cards fell, there was no proper foundation. To help, to serve is the key to longevity in blogging, most definitely.
But don’t think you have to be Mother Teresa to be a blogger. You don’t. But you do have to have a little light burning within you that says, “I’d do this even if nobody were reading and nobody commented or clapped”.
5. To Curate, To Collect
This is a not so obvious reason but one that is very valid for many a blogger. It is sparkling, motivating to each day, each week, post on a subject and catalog it. Make a living, wordy inventory of your own mind. Collecting is a passion and human trait within us all and no less so the collecting of ideas, of words, of writing.
It is rewarding to look back after a year or two and see your blog posts sitting there, still shining in their own way, still representing who and what you are. Still able to give you insight and acting as a beautiful reference to those things you made part of yourself and learned tacitly but have now forgot.
I could add other orientations: money, career, personality, curiosity, professional development, competition etc….. But I think these I’ve listed cover most of these, even if I’ve been remiss in detailing how. But really, I blog to blog. I’m not being cryptic. I blog because I enjoy the ratatattat of my brain and keyboard. It has become like coffee for me. A good friend that takes me into a very amazing, always overwhelming, special world of being a teacher. That said, why do you blog?
A few other posts I’ve written related to blogging
To get started – let’s warm up with Philosopher’s Soccer by Monty Python!
A dialogue on educationbetween Plato,Dewey and Marx.
Setting:The lost city of Atlantis, in a time neither now nor then or to be.
Plato, Dewey and Marx are sitting around the staffroom table.
Plato very stoic in appearance. Dewey with a sparkly eyed look. Marx, rubbing his beard and scratching his head.
Dewey: So let’s get to work men! We have to decide on the curriculum and materials for this course! If Atlantis doesn’t learn English, they will fall back under the sea and I’m not just speaking metaphorically. Progress never stops and if we hesitate, Atlantians will be forgotten by history.
Marx: I agree, let’s start liberating them! They have been victims of the inexorable march of history too long. Long live the proletariat!
Plato: I can agree with that Mr. Marx. They are so blind and us teachers must lead them into the light! So what do you propose, if I may suggest so “cratically”? (hahaha – he laughs to himself)
Dewey: Well I propose we ask the students and citizens of Atlantis what they want to learn and what they want their schools to be like. We have to respect the individual! Let’s continue their emancipation cooperatively.
Marx: Respect the individual?What do they know, they are ignorant and until they know how they are oppressed “materially” no real education can take place. We have to get them organized and educate them on economics.
Plato: Well said Karl, we can’t have the blind leading the blind.But I wouldn’t want economics in our schools! That is a pseudo science and just mumbo jumbo. We need classic oratory, presentation, rhetoric and logic, math and of course ethics.
Dewey:Aren’t we teaching them English? What are you guys talking about? I recommend we bring them up to speed and get all the best technology for the classrooms. I’m not too concerned about the content – it’s the “how” that is big and to compete these days, they need computer skills. They need to learn the kind of English that they will use in their daily lives – English for Special Purposes. ESP
Plato: ESP? What quackery! What they need is good training in the basics. Let’s get them drill and repeat books. They must master their subject through the use of their mind. Onlythen by control and rationality will they attain the “Good”.
Marx: What’s this about God? Keep him out of it, he’s just more opiate for the masses.
Plato: I said, “Good” not “God”.
Marx: Same thing, just some stupid, non material idea to lead people astray.
False ideology! This school needs books, books not written by the established powers but by those who see how the workers
are exploited and who see the bright future where there will be no division of labor. Paradise on earth, now that is GOOD!
Dewey: I also recommend that students talk a lot. Just talking and discussing will help them discover and test what experience teaches them.
Plato: Only the teacher should be talking until they master the fundamentals at least. And no materials except those from the great authors of the past!
Marx: What! That’s blasphemy!
Dewey: I thought you didn’t believe in “god”?
Marx: Well, you know what I mean. It’s outrageous, with all due respect Plato, to keep feeding the masses the same old content from the same tired “authorities” who keep enslaving the masses with false ideology and “carrots”. I agree the teacher should talk – forget books. But it should be about raising consciousness and not any blather about noble “fundamentals”.
Dewey: You guys are losing the point. We have to create good citizens and our curriculum should focus on the democratic ideal. We are free and we need a school where students can experience the world. In fact, why don’t we just have school outside, in the real world. Let’s learn English on the street where people actual use it!
Plato: Have you lost your mind?“Experience the world”????There is no real except for the forms. Our students must study and control their desires and not run around the streets like “noble savages”. Good citizens yes but they should know their place.
Dewey: Again, man is free! Why do you see our students in such a poor light?
Marx: I think John has a point, we should take students out of school but not into the streets but into the factories and offices. There, they can talk and learn English and truly learn how enslaved the capitalist class is!
Plato: Nothing is learnt by losing one’s head. They need repetition, drill – that’s
how they acquire a skill. Let’s get lots of audio stuff for them to listen to.
Dewey: Let them listen to each other! And what of the scientific method – have you forgotten that or is it unimportant?Our students will learn by us letting them experiment and “use” English. We need controlled conversation and things like language gaps and carefully scaffold lessons so to support student language acquisition through the forming of hypothesis and testing. Students need to become good citizens by learning how to learn.
Plato: Why so?Language is not so complex and it is also a means not an end. The end should be the Republic and the creation ofmen capable of “thought of the good”.Form is good but it shouldn’t be left to the individual.
Marx: Ah, here you go again with “the Good”.There is nothing “good” except the conscious awareness of our role in history and the nature of “class society”. Our schoolshould be a place to emancipate the working class, English for the purpose of class liberation — forget the individual!
Dewey: But they are already free and I don’t think learning English will help
people learn about “class consciousness”. They need to know how to read a recipe book or a menu, things like that.
Plato: But if they want to learn English they will, this has already been decided. We just need to teach grammar, the basic rules. All should focus on that.
Marx: The deck is rigged! We can’t have that!If we have to teach anything, let’s teach them skills and trades – not the poppycock, abstract stuff!
Dewey: I agree and so too would Voltaire, “ecrasez l’infame!” “Fight the infamy”. We need to really get utilitarian and ask “what will the students need to use English for?” and proceed from there.
Marx: Now I can see your agenda John. You are a capitalist dupe. A “dogooder” keeping everyone enslaved anon……
Plato: Marx, you would make a formidable opponent in debate!
Dewey: Yes, he would. But he’d still be wrong. There is nothing practical about his world view and he hasn’t given one good idea for student learning except economics and “conscious raising”. These are good but are they pragmatic? Marx, let’s give the people what they want, that’s what is good for history.
Marx: The people don’t know, nor will our students.
Plato: Here! Here! Now that is an ideal I support. Some students are just not cut out for higher learning or “the way of the good”.
Dewey: Why can’t we just cooperate? We are all on the same ship.
Plato: Apparently not and I don’t think it is in man’s nature to cooperate unless truth and beauty are agreed upon.
Marx: I’ll cooperate if you do what I propose…….or you both go back to your “superstructural” ideological illusions.
Plato: Marx, now you are talking like a poet. And they have no place in my Republic.
Dewey: Well, I have to run. Another meeting. Lots to do…..
Plato: Yes, I have a book to finish also and then some writing.
Marx: Yeah, let’s meet again next week and in the meantime I’ll get some pamphlets printed from my printing house and call a mass meeting where the workers can have their say.
Dewey: Okay, let’s disagree to disagree. Until then.
Part 2: Postscript. A discussion on educational views and philosophies.
“Critical thinking means that teachers are objective and unbiased, encouraging students to examine all sides of an issue.”
The above statement is certainly something that would sit well with a liberal. The liberal views as primary, the process whereby the student is empowered through their own “critical awareness”.Whether that be Dewey’s “Complete Act of Thought” or just students coming to terms with their own individuality and freedom.
Education to a liberal is about both the progress of the individual and society in concert. A liberal would have no problem with this “relativistic” approach and this is probably at heart, why so many conservatives detest liberalism so much – for their faith in students and student centered approaches.
Society changes constantly and liberals view “issue” oriented education as a must. Otherwise, mankind is not ready for the world as it is. Reality changes and demands vigilance and individual responsibility. Society and democracy also demand it. As John Stuart Mills suggests, people need to choose and participate in society — this is the goal of all teaching, the creation of a meritocracy of respectful citizens.A teacher must encourage that through objective examination of the “issues”.Let the students come to their own conclusions and become “choosers” and not those who amorphously follow public opinion or their teacher’s opinion. Student government and leadership are encouraged, tolerance is a rallying cry and so too is pluralism. We must respect even the dissenting view.
Critical theorists on the other hand would be wary of the above notion of “teacher objectivity”. A critical theorist is acutely aware of the power structures within schools, educational bureaucracies and society enlarge. They would point out that one can hardly expect a teacher to be “objective” however well intentioned he or she may be. While in favor of critical thinking, they would point out that educational institutions maintain and reproduce the dominant group however well intentioned the dialogue and discussion. They challenge who controls the curriculum and the very nature / place of where this discussion takes place. It is not only what is said that is important but the underlying conditions – a critical theorist would argue.
Critical theorists would also be wary of the notion that school consists just in “discussing” values. Praxis is vital to a critical theorist and they believe ardently in the notion that schools and students should be involved in actions to change the world for the better. Empowerment is not just “knowing” but also “doing” and they value a more experimental and radical approach to education than the liberal.
Liberals on the other hand are wary of the “revolutionary” agenda of critical theorists. Issues like Illych’s deschooling, the home schooling movement or many progressive ideas are too radical.They would say that there is too much “fire in their kitchen” and they shy away from the collectivist ideas and more strictly adhere to the spirit of the above quotation – that of respecting values and individuality. In a word, civilized discourse.
I think about this, Henri Giroux outlines the translucent dividing line rather well. He speaks of his early years of education…..
“Where I grew up learning was a collective activity. But when I got to school and tried to share learning with other students that was called cheating. The curriculum sent the clear message to me that learning was a highly individualistic, almost secretive, endeavor. My working-class experience didn’t count. Not only did it not count, it was disparaged” – from Border Crossings
“ Education, especially instruction in schools, should arise from the interests and needs of the students.”
This statement is at the core of the Progressive belief system. A full respect for the freedom and validity of the child. It is child centered and Progressives believe not just in the sanctity of the child but that education is for their benefit and thus should have their interests at heart.
Progressives firmly espouse the view that routine is a killer and that the teacher should try to arouse student interest and motivation through the use of student centered activities and interests in the classroom. The curriculum should in no way be prescribed and should come from the “interests and needs of the students”. It should in no way be “set down” upon students from above.
Nel Noddings, a major thinker in the Progressive camp outlines this succinctly when she writes, “There is more to life and learning than the academic proficiency demonstrated by test scores.”Progressives believe that standard curriculum leads students to hate learning and this in turn leads to many social ills in our society. A progressive believes there is something much greater than just “school” and thatschool should be less about “content” knowledge and more about what is and will be important for students in their lives ahead. The literally definition of “progress”.Noddings illustrates this point well with her quip that, “There are few things more central to our daily lives than money, family, and food. Yet our schools pretty much ignore all of them.”. Progressives focus as much on the emotional needs and creativity of students as the “knowledge” that is external to them.
The Progressive position is encapsulated by these wise words of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi,
“Teachers must not instruct students with the arrogant attitude of ‘Become like me!’ It is far more important for teachers to adopt the attitude, ‘Don’t satisfy yourself with trying to become like me. Make your model someone of higher caliber.’ True teachers (who are genuinely concerned for the development of each student), therefore, are those who have the humility to advance together with their students. Education must never be coercive. The heart of education lies in the process of teacher and pupil learning together, the teacher drawing forth the pupil’s potential and raising the pupil to surpass the teacher in ability.”
Essentialists would argue that we have to give our students guidance and prepare them for the future with knowledge – facts/figures/focus.Students need to “know” before they can do and progressives are putting the cart before the horse. Essentialists are firm believers in tradition and the notion that a teacher imparts knowledge to which the students absorb. Thus, their belief as Bestor suggests in “fundamentals” which will provide the basis for success in life. Essentialist would never tolerate the notion that a student could decide what they wanted to learn.
Essentialists are conservative and believe in tradition and the proven time worn standards, like the 3 Rs. Accountability features high on their list and standards based approaches are their bulkhead. There is some “essential” knowledge that all humanity should know and it is for the teacher to instruct their students in these foundations and skills. A child needs routine andEssentialists through discipline, order and authority believe they can promote learning using the very condition ofteacher driven structure. The teacher sets the agenda, schedule, tone, mood and process. The teacher delivers time honored curriculum, the “canons” included – to which students should masters through memory and obedience.An Essentialist sees students reaching benchmarks and not wasting time on any student centered “fun” stuff..
These two educational philosophies (I’d rather say perspectives) are diametrically opposed. Very hard to reconcile the two and in one. Essentailists envision a school system where every student in a grade is learning the same thing at the same time. Learning is methodical and usually by the book. On the other hand, progressives would have children learning this or that dependent on the school or the local — the individual needs of those students.I would argue that there must be a middle ground. Life is not either/or, however much Kierkegaard proclaimed such….
Nationalism and in particular that peculiar breed of nationalism labeled, “ethnonationalism” are ideologies that I fundamentally believe are outdated yet continue to live on, in particular in our educational systems, simply because they can be used so easily to such horrible ends. Yet still, there are many, too many who believe that a nation state is the basis of all “being” and who suggest that education is a means of becoming not just a good citizen but a “zealous” and “proud” citizen.
Nationalists view the learning of other languages at a young age as detrimental to the proper development of a child. The mother tongue is paramount and almost godly. Nationalists suggest that he who controls language, controls the future. Children learning another language at an early age risk “corruption” and would weaken the nation state, a state formed through myth and collective narrative coated in language to become that “we-feeling”. In Korea, many suggest that learning English could destroy the moral fabric of youth and corrupt their “Koreaness”. Nationalists believe it wrong and are strongly against any foreign travel or “learning” at an early age. The nation is paramount and all resources of society should be used to “bond” the child to the nation state – their “mother”land.
Nationalists of today are not only those who in the past promoted raciallybased societies through the national agenda (racial purity – aryanism etc…). Presently, they might include many cultures in the “nation”– yet still schools should be about allegiance and patriotism and all the signs and symbols, paraphernalia and illusions of the “nation state”.
I believe the only proper response to a nationalist is to show them how outdated they are. As an English teacher, I would point to the innumerable studies that show that children who learn multiple languages at a young age suffer no ill effects. Rather, they excel far above other children in intelligence.The sanctity of the mother tongue at an early age is a myth. Identity is much more complicated..
I would also argue that given the world as it exists today and will exist, it is encumbent that we look more “internationally”. The children who succeed, and by succeed I mean that they leave a little more on this planet than they destroy, will be those who join in the global village and not those who seek to create a boogie man of it.Education is for the student’s own emancipation I believe and nationalism puts bars on each person’s windows. It is a prison and contains all the same violence and isolation despite the chants of togetherness from the cellblock.
As an educator, I feel sad seeing how societies, even the supposed “enlightened”like our own, hold up nationalism as a “beacon”.I believe it the role of all educators to bring the world together through encounters and knowledge of the “other”. Given the new technologies, this is becoming much more a part of education and I’m actively promoting this. Students will no longer have just the prism of their nation to view the world through – they will see as McLuhan suggested, “On spaceship earth, everyone is crew.”
As the world burns, still burns with the fanning effects of nationalism, I would argue to a nationalist that nothing but destruction has come of this creed and thus, it is not the “knowledge” or way of being that we should impart to children. The nationalist denies that the student needs to participate in and be a part of other cultures. I would suggest they must – that isolation as in the case of the U.S. and much of its passport less population only allows rabid violence through nationalism to ensue. Travel at a young age, encountering other cultures at a young age breed a “healthy” pride of country and temper nationalism. We have wisely secularized our schools but I now believe we should begin the process of “de-patriotizing” our public schools.This indeed was Dewey’s call so many years ago and I’ve returned to him again recently through this course(and I thank you, he is inexhaustible). I’ll end with his wonderful words:
“We are now faced by the difficulty of developing the good aspect of nationalism without its evil side; of developing a nationalism which is the friend and not the foe of internationalism. Since this is a matter of ideas, of emotions, of intellectual and moral disposition and outlook, it depends for its accomplishment upon educational agencies, not upon outward machinery. Among these educational agencies, the public school takes first rank. When sometime in the remote future the tale is summed up and the public as distinct from the private and merely personal achievement of the common school is recorded, the question which will have to be answered is, What has the American public school done toward subordinating a local, provincial, sectarian and partisan spirit of mind to aims and interests which are common to all the men and women of the country – to what extent has it taught men to think and feel in ideas broad enough to be inclusive of the purposes and happiness of all sections and classes? For unless the agencies which form the mind and morals of the community can prevent the operation of those forces which are always making for a division of interests, class and sectional ideas and feelings will become dominant, and our democracy will fall to pieces.”
Over the years, spending time with thousands of new or budding teachers – I’ve thought and thought and thought about the major factors that make a “great teacher”. It’s not an easy thing to pin down, given that there are so many different teaching environments, so many different students and subjects. However, this story from my past speaks towards one that I feel is important and especially important in ESL / EFL teachers.
I was teaching grade 4, regular classroom of all second language students, in a portable, out in the hinterlands of the school yard. Demanding job, any grade 4 class – but especially this one. During recesses and lunch hour, I enjoyed the quiet time in my class while the students played outside or had lunch in the main building (unless I was on yard duty!). During this time, I collected my thoughts, recharged my battery and took one step back to jump ahead during the following classes.
Rose Avenue Grade 4
However, if it was raining (which seemed all the time), the students stayed in the classroom during recess. It was a portable so it was loud! Plus the rain pounded down on the tin roof. My head would feel like it were bursting and those days without my “alone time”, really were trying.
One such day, I was sitting at my desk watching the students play a game which seemed to engross them. They behaved and cooperated well. It was ordered and fairly quiet. Heaven! But from my perch, I watched and studied the game they were playing, “zip-zap“. Lots of fun. Plus, my headache was less and recess inside didn’t seem so bad anymore.
But I got to thinking. This game is fun but could be much more fun if the students were using English! Meaning, instead of just “zapping” each other as the original game does – the zap was a letter of the alphabet or a category and the students instead of responding by “zapping” another student had to both zap them and reply in English.
So I got up out of my chair and started playing with the students. Sneaky me. I played and played both recesses but during the last recess I stopped the game and said, “This is boring.” I then convinced the students to try my version – and being Grade 4 students they bought it and a new “zip-zap” game was born. One where they were having fun and learning English – even during their recesses and lunch time!
I think back fondly on this adapted game. Since then I’ve designed many games, helped teachers use them effectively in their classrooms. But what I really look back fondly on is my own ability to adapt, adapt creatively. There was a classroom, there was the curriculum but it was up to me to see it as a canvass that we could create into something personal, beautiful, fun, happy.
And that’s the quality of a great teacher and what I especially love about teaching English. You can take the core objectives but wrap them up, deliver them with sparkling creativity. And when it comes together like “zip-zap”, it is truly satisfying. The creative teacher is the basis of the great teacher.
I’ve been working on a new post this weekend, a reflection on my own development as a teacher and all the footprints that truly led me to where I am right now. Something for myself but which other teachers might find some truth therein.
I’m not even near finished, so many footprints, so many seminal events that one after another pointed me to the here and now. But I’ll share one of the them and how it set me off towards an understanding that we teachers need to know when to break out of our roles, our routines, stop “playing the teacher”.
It was in the early 90s and I was in the storied, most beautiful movie theatre in Toronto, the Runnymede. It was way past its hay day but still could make any movie special. I was watching a movie I’d missed years before when it appeared, “The Purple Rose Of Cairo” – one of Woody Allen’s most treasured films.
There is a scene where Baxter who is playing the lead actor in the film, spots Cecilia in the audience. She’s been coming to watch this same movie for weeks. He literally “walks out of the movie” and into reality. The scene has always stayed with me and listen to Woody Allen explain it in the video below.
In the days that followed, I thought and thought about the scene and it really hit me hard as a teacher. I realized I’d been sleepwalking through things. Playing the part. Handing out worksheets, ticking off boxes, giving homework and smiling and nodding and punishing like a teacher. I wasn’t real. From those days on, I began to awake as a teacher, to keep slapping myself and keeping things real in my classes. I started to have a compass within myself that told me when I was just playing a part and that I needed to “walk out of the dream and into reality”.
Thank you Purple Rose of Cairo and Woody Allen. One of those footprints that I walked in and which pointed me to where I am.