Thoughts from and on Vietnam

Hello and welcome back to my blog, where I welcome you and myself as well. This has been the longest stretch of non-writing in the 7-year-old history of my blog, and for the first time I am not feeling bad about it. There were things to do and worry about, there were people to talk to about teaching in the actual offline world, there were friendships to be nourished. At 32, I now allow myself to take it easy(ish) and practice focusing on what’s right in front of me and what’s most important. This paragraph could run for many more lines, but nobody really cares about non-writing, so I’ll get to the writing then.

With similar experiences of creative blocks silence in the past, I’ve learnt that the easiest blog post to write upon return is a random listicle of loosely connected thoughts, ideas, facts, news, impressions. So here goes…

 

***** What’s on my mind on August 21st, 2018, in Nha Trang, Vietnam *****

(1) Vietnam is a beautiful country and I have pictures to prove it.

(2) The Vietnamese people I’ve met who speak English make next to none grammar mistakes. Teachers, students, nuns (more on the nuns below). Vietnamese learners I’ve got to know appreciate feedback – in fact, directly ask for it! And they seem to be really willing to work hard on their English. They want to be your Facebook friend – and your friend. They are easy-going, friendly, nice, and very open.

(3) For slightly over a month I’ve been involved in something special, something different, something that’s giving me back all my energy to think of teaching creatively, with a purpose, with enthusiasm, with emotional rewards … teaching the way I’d sort of got out of touch with. I was invited to be a teacher of English (with a focus on developing speaking and listening skills) in a Facebook group to over 1300 practising Vietnamese Buddhists, both laymen and monks/nuns living in temples and pagodas. It’s a closed Facebook community and the safest, kindest online learning environment I’ve ever encountered. It is TRULY full of gratitide, love, and respect (well I feel that way). I am not a Buddhist but I am a teacher, and I wonder if such ELT strand as EBP (English for Buddhist Purposes) already exists – or if I’m the pioneer 🙂 Anyway, doing this has been bringing me TRUE joy in the teacher fulfillment sense (as well as many online blessings and general good vibes and thoughts). It has also made me go outside my comfort zone and create… a YouTube channel for the learners to have easy access to the videos and tasks. I have not yet learnt to make the videos look “cool” and properly “vloggy,” but I have learnt to edit automatically created transcripts. Baby steps. A crucially important aspect of this non-job has been getting to know SO MANY friendly, interested, dedicated to learning people of all ages!!! In my 12 days of vacation in Vietnam I have received many invitations to meet – and in fact, met one of the students (a nun) from this Buddhist learning community. I feel Vietnam has its arms ready for a big embrace for me (I am naive and impressionable!). By the sheer length of this point in my listicle you might figure out how excited I get talking about this… Will there be other blog reports about it? We don’t know (but likely)). This teaching makes me happy. Moving on to next point.

(4) I helped to organize excitELT conference in Tokyo in May. I loved all about it and felt especially good about two good deeds: we collected a box of used and new graded readers and sent them to a high school in a small provincial town in Vietnam (a country where for many teachers getting graded readers to use in class with their students is utterly impossible – so isn’t it but just a little bit unfair to go and tell them how amazing extensive reading with those readers is or can be?… just thinking outloud..); at excitELT this year we also offered mentoring to presenters who felt like they wanted help with their presentation prep (it was a great experience for me and I think I’d like to do more of it! That is, help.).

(5) I feel like a list of 5 items would be good, but what’s my number 5?… Oh yes, I’m looking into finding a job in Vietnam and moving there here. If you want to hire me or know someone who might be interested in hiring me, or just know someone or something – do leave a comment. =) Thank you kindly!

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Thank you for reading.

Come again, I might write more soon. 😉

 

 

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Guest teaching, everyone learning (in Hue, Vietnam)

My first trip with Teachers Helping Teachers SIG to Vietnam is over now. It was a whirlwind – and a blur. There is a lot and too much to reflect on as a result, there are projects to work on, decisions to make, new friends to keep in touch with, professional and life goals to set and work towards. You’d never think so much can happen to a person in a week’s time! But this is all material for some other posts that I will or will not write here. This one, however, is about a class I taught as part of our program and that many of YOU, readers, Twitter and Facebook friends, made possible. Here’s how it happened.

***** Planning *****

As I mentioned earlier, the program involves some of us, volunteers with the THT SIG, guest teaching a class in the university where the seminars for teachers are later held (Hue University of Foreign Languages which has apparently been the partner and platform provider for the seminars for about 12 years). Anyway, I had never before been faced with a task to teach a class of students in a country I hadn’t even been to before and frankly, know very little about in terms of education or English education. So the first thing I did was write an email to my partner teacher.. and ask a million questions. I thought I could come across as a little over-anxious, but I needed to know certain things before thinking of a lesson plan. Things I needed to know were the following:  What time exactly does the lesson start and finish? Is there any break between two periods? Who are the students? What is their major? What is their level of English? How many students can we expect in the classroom? The class is scheduled to be a listening class – does that mean that same group of students has a variety of classes throughout the week that focus on different skills? Should our lesson be a listening lesson as planned – or any other focus is possible? Would you like to team teach or would you prefer me to teach the whole time? What do you think will be best for students? Is it necessary to use the topic shown in the syllabus, including the textbook and materials that you and students have – or are you allowed to diverge from the syllabus in this guest teaching class? If it’s necessary to follow the syllabus, could you please fill me in on the important details (textbook pages, what students will have done by then, etc). And if you are allowed to have some freedom in our guest teaching time, would you have any preferences as for the topic? 

Luckily, the teacher, Ms. Phuong aka Kathy was very positive in her response and seemed happy to communicate on these and other points I had for her later. She gave very useful feedback to my lesson idea, too!

And my idea was to have students explain things related to what they know best – their culture. Using Twitter and Facebook, I asked a simple “What would you like to know about Vietnamese culture?” – and got a list of 15 or so questions. Thank you! 🙂 Again, I so easily got the proof of how social media (AND personal) connections can empower our teaching, something I’d almost forgot about teaching in my current job.

Fast forward to March 21st. I’m in the classrom and students slowly trickle in – and I know we won’t be starting on time (which is fine! I remember how to be flexible.) I was feeling nervous, but then I saw maybe students were kind of uneasy, too, and that’s only natural. We chatted about it a little, we smiled. I tried to use the marker on the whiteboard and it didn’t work. Ms. Phuong took a marker out of her own bag and gave it to me. Somehow, I wasn’t even surprised that would be the case – both in Russia and in Japan I carry my own markers to the classroom.

Anyway, back to class. In the first 45-minute period we did an activity where students speculated about what my life as a Russian living and teaching English in Japan might be, on certain topics that I gave them, such as my house, my daily routine, my free time, etc (I modified one of the activities from Culture in Our Classrooms book).  Time-related and other reasons prevented us from working on ALL of the questions you asked in the second period, I hope you understand. I had to make a choice and picked, together with Ms. Phuong, ten questions that would be most suitable for the level of the students and their ability. I dictated the questions, then students had to choose at least 3 questions that were interesting for them to respond to and work on those individually. I was surprised and happy to find that most students answered almost all of the questions! After talking about their answers in pairs, they were to put their name and a smiley face on their paper IF they agreed to let me use their ideas for this blog post. 🙂 Now, this is what it’s all about. Here’s what you wanted to know about the Vietnamese culture – and we bring it to you.

*****

1. How often and what do college students drink in Vietnam?

College students often drink milk tea and beer when they hang out with their friends.

College students in VN hardly drink alcohol like beer but they drink milk tea and canned drink like Coke. We sometimes drink beer on special occasions like birthday or reunion party.

They often drink milk tea and coffee 5 times a week.

In VN, they often drink milk tea, coffee, fruit drink, cane juice with friends after school, in free time or on weekend.

Quite often. Especially among young college students and young people who are so corrupted (playboys/girls). They drink on most occasions, like random parties, birthday parties, relative parties, etc.

Coconut, sugarcane juice…

Students in Vietnam often drink some fruit water, milk tea, coffee, etc…

Vietnamese college students often drink beer, local beer, and some kind of soft drink.

Twice a month, beer or sweet canner.

Sometimes, when we meet highschool classmates or have some parties. We usually drink beer. Some girls drink coke or something not alcohol.

College students often drink milk tea and smoothies. They drink when they go out with friends or sometimes order from home.

They often drink milk tea, soft drinks, beer.

2. How do Vietnamese people celebrate Lunar New Year?

Vietnamese people celebrate Lunar New Year by cooking “Chung” cake, decorating their houses by blossom trees, and giving lucky money.

VNese people shop for new things for celebrating in their house, buy new clothes to prepare for Lunar New Year called “Tet.” During Tet they visit each other and hang out with their friends or relatives.

Vietnamese people usually cook delicious kinds of food and put them on altar for commemorating ancestors. In addition, they decorate their house and go shopping before Tet. On the first day of the year, they often visit their relatives and children receive lucky money from adults.

The Vietnamese often decorate and clean their houses in Lunar New Year. They decorate their house with lamps, flowers, papers, etc. They also paint again the walls in their house. They prepare a lot of materials to make “banh chung, banh tet,” such as pork, banana leaf, green bean. Members of the family come back and celebrate Lunar New Year together.

The Vietnamese often offer the five-fruits tray that symbolizes the good luck to expect good things in life. It is considered the tradition of Vietnamese culture. Besides, they often buy some flowers, apricot blossom, kumquat tree, etc…

Vietnamese people try to be tactful and careful when they celebrate Lunar New Year.

We clean the house before the new year. Three first days of the year we visit relatives, children receive lucky money, they go to pagoda for wishes.

Before Lunar New Year, everybody in family stay together to cook rice cake and vegetable pickles. The older give the children lucky money.

3. What do Vietnamese students like to do with their families and friends? Is it true that Vietnamese students care more about their families (than friends)?

Yes, it’s true that Vietnamese people care more about their family. Students like to hang out, travel with their friends, and stay at home and cook with their families.

VNese people like travelling with their family and spend their free time after school wth their friends. It’s true that we care more about our family. Family is always the most important and priority.

That’s true. In their thinking, family is all.

They want to go out, travel with their own families. Especially when there are family reunions, they gather family members and have parties to celebrate. It’s also true that most of the young VNese people care about their families, especially after marriage, young people now have their own family to care about, but they still help and send money to their elderly parents.

Vietnamese students like to have meals or travel with family and like to go shopping or watching movies with friends. It’s true that VN people care more about family. They spend more time with family and share happiness and sadness together.

With family, I like all members sit together chatting after meal. With friends,  I like walking and eating out in a place for students. It’s true that we care about family, because often the majority of the Vietnamese live three generations together and people care for each other, especially the elderly.

I don’t know about other students but I like to have a meal with my family, I want to be with them as much as possible. I have been far from them for 6 years. And I want to travel with my friends, we will have a great time together.

4. What countries are attractive for travelling and for studying abroad?

Vietnamese students really want to travel to Australia, Korea, Finland and America.

For the VNese, Thailand or some Asian countries are the most frequent places for travelling. For studying, they choose America, Singapore, Australia or Canada mostly.

Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, becacuse they have delicious street foods and nice view places.

I think Australia, Canada, America… Because their education system is very developed and modern. There are many famous and beautiful places… There are a lot of lecturers who are so friendly, helpful, well-educated… We can exchange culture and languages with other students because they are from many countries in the world.

I think China is attractive because I also learn Chinese language.

The most attractive country for travelling and study abroad is America.

England, USA, Singapore, Japan.

5. Do Vietnamese students make up English-sounding nicknames for classroom use and for daily life?

Not very many Vietnamese students create their own English-sounding nicknames in class or daily life.

We rarely create English-sounding nicknames. We usually make nicknames by animals’ names or someone’s specific character.

Yes, they do. There are some reasons why students want to give their friends or themselves a nickname. Some people think it’s cool to have a foreign nickname or it simply sounds funny compared to what VNese think about names and such. For example, people call me “Tomorrow” because my last name is “Mai” and it means “the next day” or “tomorrow” in VNese.

VN students don’t create English-sounding nicknames for English class but for daily life most students use the nickname that their family usually call them.

I have a nickname for my English class but I don’t use it for daily life. I think everyone is the same with me.

6. Which is more cool, Japan or Korea?

Korea is cooler!

Korea is more cool for Vietnamese students. They love K-pop.

I think it depends on what culture and language people are interested in. Like, part of the young people love Japanese culture, anime culture, J-pop, etc… They will choose Japan. And the opposite part for Korea if they like Korean fashion and K-pop.

I think Korea Japan is more cooler than Japan Korea.

I think Korea.

Korea 🙂

I think Japan.

7. What are key necessary ingredients for a Vietnamese meal?

The necessary ingredient for a Vietnamese meal is sauce, for example fish sauce, soy sauce.

The important ingredient is fish sauce.

I think this is fish sauce. Because my mom says that most of the dishes taste best with fish sauce.

Fish, rice, and pho.

Rice. Of course.

Rice, vegetables.

8. In Vietnam, what is a polite way to greet someone?

The polite way to greet someone is to shake hands.

Say “Hi” and wave hand.

The polite way is shaking hand and hugging each other.

You wave one of the hands and say “Chao,” “Xin chao,” or “Hey”… Something like that, at the same time.

Shake hands and say hello, or wave hello, call name…

Greeting and a friendly smile 🙂

Say “Hello” and make friends with somebody and smile at someone.

Look at her eyes and smile.

Say “xin chao”

9. What clothing is appropriate in Vietnam?

Vietnamese people can wear any clothes, but not to show a lot of cleavage.

Jeans and shirts or T-shirt, shorts are acceptable.

To the oriental thoughts: men can wear any clothes they want but women should wear full-covered clothing or people will consider you are a naughty or a play girl. But in modern days people are more open-minded and wear Western-style clothing more.

Ao dai, T-shirt and trousers, dress…

Ao dai is the clothing suitable in Vietnam.

Skirt or jeans or T-shirt.

You can wear everything you want but not too short or small.

Jeans, skirt, shorts.

10. Do Vietnamese people travel around Vietnam? What are some popular destinations?

Yes, they travel around Vietnam. The popular places are Hue, Da Nang, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Sapa.

We do travel around VN. Some famous destinations are: Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, etc.

Some people do, some don’t. If they have good financial condition, they will. But still, some people just want to work more and more, and save money for the living purpose, not to enjoy life…

Sapa, Hoi An old town, Nha Trang beach…

Yes, they do. Here are several destinations in Vietnam: Hoi An ancient city, Hue city, Phong Nha-ke Bang cave.

VN people travel around VN very much. There are many beautiful caves in VN that attract tourists to go there.

Vietnamese people travel around Vietnam. The places where Vietnamese always travel are Da Lat, Da Nang, and Son Doong (Quang Binh, DMZ).

Da Lat is the most interesting place for travelling because it has many beautiful views, fresh air and flowers.

Yes, I do. Some popular places are Thien Mu, Dai Noi, Nguyen Dinh Chieu street and so on…

I think that is Danang and Hoi An. There are a mix of modern and traditional. I have never been there.

Yes, they do. They often travel in the summer or spring. Some popular places are Da Lat, Da Nang, Sapa…

***** Final thoughts and comments *****

I would very much like to thank this group of students, who didn’t know what kind of class they were walking into on March 21st, but were all so engaged and responsive and active. I had been nervous imagining what it was going to be like, teaching a class of students I don’t know (and who don’t know me!), in a country I’d never been to before. In the end, it was so much fun – and I hope the information they shared can be useful for anyone who wants to know more about Vietnam. Ms. Phuong, Doan Van Vu, Pham Thi Thuy Linh, Nhat Minh, Lien Thi, Thanh Nhat, Thuy Dung, Hoang Anh Mai Thi, Tien, Linh Thy, Nguyen Phuong Thanh, Vo Thi Van Tham, Hong Diem, Minh Trang, Phuong, Nhu Quynh… Thank you so much – and I’m sorry if I made any mistakes in spelling out your names!!..I did my best 🙂 And I truly hope I’ll see you again.

 

 

P.S. Random notes:

  • their handwriting is a beautiful cursive!! Very impressive penmanship.
  • after class a few girls came up to me and wanted to become Facebook friends. Each of them later sent me a private greeting and thank-you message! I was touched and again impressed by their social media manners 😉
  • it was already in Vietnam that I learnt that every word in Vietnamese is one syllable (right?…). So they spell their country as Viet Nam. Hence the abbreviations you might have noticed in their writing – VN and VNese people.
  • maybe I remember how to plan a class that is not a discussion class that follows a similar structure each time. Maybe I remember how to be a little creative and flexible in-action. I was relieved to feel how I felt teaching what I myself chose to, and being comfortable and confident doing so. I think maybe I’ll be OK in my next job.  🙂

 

Thank you for reading, as ever. I hope this post can be useful in some ways, to some.

 

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Serendipity (#ELTmentor story by Chris Mares)

In my previous blog post I wrote about my keen interest in understanding mentoring relationships and the way they work for teachers. Chris Mares (whom you might remember from another guest post here on this space and whom I since then have been lucky to meet) quickly responded to my call for #ELTmentor stories, and now I’m excited to share it. One mentor story from a man who I’m certain has been a mentor to many.

 

SERENDIPITY

by Chris Mares

They say everything happens for a reason. It does. But not always for the reason you think.

“I think you’d like him,” Bob, my friend, said, finishing his story.

“And he wants to teach English in Guatemala? Send him to me.”

Which was how it began. And now, weeks later, I’m standing at the white board during English through Film, looking at Mikal with the, “OK, hit play,” look.

“I’m giving them time to finish writing down those phrases,” Mikal said, not rushing, sensitive to the pace of the class, rather than caught up in the excitement of it, as I was.

I smile. Shake my head. Who’s mentoring who, I wonder? Twenty-two meets fifty-nine.

“What?”  Mikal says.

“You,” I say, thinking, you are something else, Mikal.

His story comes out in fits and starts. He hasn’t seen his dad for years. Or his mom. He was a military kid. Always on the move. Rootless.

“But he’s so grounded. So comfortable in his own skin,” I say to Bob. Mikal lives in Bob’s house because Bob is a writer and writers bring interesting people in their lives.

“He picks up languages so fast,” I say, “in break I hear him speaking Thai, and Turkish, Portuguese, and Spanish. What an ear.”

“Have you heard him sing?”  Bob asks.

A week later Mikal and I were playing guitar together. I sang JJ Cale’s Magnolia and Mikal played lead. Smooth, understated, and right on the money.

“That was sweet,” Mikal said.

He was in a different league. Then he played Norwegian Wood with a dreamy elegance that made me tingle.

The day I had to take my truck to the dealer to have the brake cables replaced, I had Mikal teach my classes. I had full confidence in him.

I have seen him with all sorts of people and he is always who he is. A listener. He gives and he gets. He embraces life. Plays the sitar and shamisen, the banjo and the ukulele.  And he’s only twenty-two.

“Mikal,” I said, “come and do the TESOL Certificate Program during Spring Break. You don’t have to pay.”

Mikal’s face lit up. He was so grateful. So touched.

But not as grateful as I was. He will make the program special. For all of us.

Ostensibly I am his mentor. In some ways I am but I have learned so much from him.

And so, in all humility and wonder, I thank you, Mikal.

And serendipity.

 

In addition, Chris kindly agreed to answer some of my more specific questions about what the experience of mentoring entails. 

What do you do as a mentor?

I simply do what I do. I believe in the apprentice model. Follow me. Watch me. Eventually I will give you something to do. And then something more. Until you’re doing it.

What do you talk about together?

We talk about Bob, music, love, friendship, students, beauty, food, travel, language, shared experiences.

How often?

We see each other every day. If Mikal wasn’t living with Bob I’d install him in my basement.

Why is Mikal such a good fit?

We click. He gets me. He knows I live on the edge. That I’m marginal. That I don’t care what people think of me. That I’m smart. That I’m funny. That he doesn’t have to tell me what key he’s playing in because I will find it. That I care about the truth. That I’m an iconoclast.

Having said that, a good mentor can tailor themselves to anyone.

In Mikal’s case, tailoring is not required.

 

*****

Thank you, Chris, for sharing what seems to be a very personal account of a very special mentoring relationship. I’m going to guess not so many young teachers can boast such a story (well, I know I wouldn’t have been able to…). While I tried to picture myself in your shoes and understandably soon failed, I think  I have some learnings to take away from your story:

  1. To be a mentor one should not only love what the mentoring is about, but also love people. Be humane, a person of big enough heart to care.
  2. Maybe mentoring relationships can develop organically from the seeds of understanding each other and being “on the same wavelength”. Maybe. And then, is the other way around also possible?…
  3. I want to believe that a good mentor can tailor themselves to anyone, but I can’t just yet persuade myself to believe in the “anyone” part.
  4. And finally and related to the above, I wonder if my perception of a mentor as a person who you have a deep connection with is true and not limiting. Limiting me to seek to learn how an honest, beneficial mentor-mentee relationship could be grown and nourished from a different place. I want to understand if idealizing mentoring is an attitude that helps or hinders (or neither).
  5. I want to read more stories. Different stories. Like this one from Matthew Noble (thank you!) and this one from long ago by Michael Griffin.

 

As usual, thanks for reading.

 

 

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#ELTmentor stories (yours!)

Do you have any?

 

There are words that are BIG. Whatever it is that inflates them (read: social media buzz) doesn’t often help in figuring out the true meanings. In fact, the hype seems to distract from the real depth and lessen the importance. It is a little confusing, especially if the word lures and the concept is enticing, in the way my imagination defines it.

This word I’m talking about now is mentoring.

I’ve recently taken a keen interest in the idea and planned a couple of opportunities for myself to experience mentoring. An interesting flash of a thought at the back of my mind: three years ago I would get all excited and jump into it without a second thought, without preparation. Learn by doing. Learn from the experiences themselves and mistakes that inevitably come with. I chuckled thinking of the way my methods changed. I pace myself now. If I get to do it, I thought, I want to do it “right”.

Now here’s the thing… what is “right”?

Maybe to start with, it’d be useful to define a mentor, and I want to define not from a dictionary but from my heart. For me, a mentor is a person who supports, listens, helps to reflect, inspires, challenges you, ideally shares beliefs. Gently, in a non-intrusive kind of way, offers a vision that makes sense for you. They are people you respect and feel comfortable talking to about what bothers you, honestly and not necessarily openly seeking guidance or advice (though you know they have what you need). I haven’t had a mentor assigned to me by a program or through an institution, yet it’d be a lie to say I haven’t had mentors. There are a few people I consider to be my mentors but, frankly speaking, I don’t recall ever saying it to them… So maybe they don’t know. I can’t say we ever went through a process of mentoring that started and ended. So probably my view is distorted, over-romanticised, idealized. Can I trust it? Am I crazy (and arrogant!) to think I could be a mentor to anyone, given my own definition?

What am I saying?… I feel lost. Because I want and feel the need to support and listen and help to reflect, I want to have more clarity on what mentoring is or can be. On what a mentor is and what the relationship involves. On how it starts and if it ever finishes. On how it’s organized. On what happens if two people just don’t click. And I think stories that I’m sure other people have might be just what I need to get that clarity.

 

So, do you have any #ELTmentor stories? Successful or not so much, stories where you were the mentor or the mentee, for a specific period of time, project or otherwise. I hope you can share some of your stories with me – and anyone else who is interested – in the comments to this post, in the comments on Facebook, or on your own blog.

Thank you for those and for reading, as ever.

 

 

 

 

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Chris Ozog on the ELF issue (guest post)

February is not only my birthday month, Valentine’s Day month, and the coldest, most miserable month to experience living in a tiny old apartment in Tokyo. This February also happened to be the ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) month. Along with other teachers from all over the world I’m taking the ELF-Aware Classroom course with Katy Simpson on iTDi and I’m trying to get my head around on how we can raise our own and students’ awareness of the issue and learn what teachers can do to incorporate more ELF activities smoothly.

And now, February will also be the month when Chris Ozog writes a guest post on ELF for this space! I think I first met Chris during ExcitELT in Tokyo last summer, though I’d known him from the ELT internet spaces before. I was paired up with Chris in a session, and by the end of that session I was of this opinion: I wish Chris were my teacher trainer. He’s so sharp and chill and thoughtful. Over to Chris, then. 

 

Chris Ożóg Photo 2016Chris a teacher, teacher trainer and writer, originally from Scotland but now based in Japan. He’s been involved in English Language Teaching for long enough now to have white hairs appearing, usually working for International House, and is the current editor of the IH Journal. His work has taken all over the globe, from Costa Rica through Dubai to the Czech Republic, amongst other places, and he’s very much enjoyed almost every minute of it. He also tutors on online courses, writes occasionally, and keeps the world’s least updated ELT blog. You might occasionally see him presenting at a conference or giving the odd webinar, but you’re much more likely to find him in a café reading literature, history or psychology books. At present, his work involves mainly Delta and CELTA courses, which he enjoys for the chance to work with so many teachers and aspiring teachers from such diverse backgrounds.

(Anna: If you want to know more about Chris’ ELT journey, read  from the man himself here. An additional benefit of doing so is, if many of us click the link, his blog will stop being one of the least updated ELT blogs and we ourselves will have done a good thing).

*****

Accents, ELF, and Teacher Training

A teacher’s pronunciation is important. We can probably all agree on that. What we might not agree on, however, is why: why does a teacher’s pronunciation matter?

There are two general answers to this question:

  1. A teacher needs to be a model for their students
  2. A teacher needs to be able to identify pronunciation issues in learners’ speaking

So, what does that mean, in reality, for teachers’ own pronunciation?

A recent survey in Tokyo found that most respondents:

…believed teachers’ pronunciation should not have traces of a Japanese accent, and that teachers should instead acquire native-speaker accents…[i]

It seems so simple then: teachers should sound like native speakers – problem solved. But regardless of where you stand on the emotive issue of native speaker deference, this ‘solution’ is not as simple as it seems.

Digging Deeper

Let’s return to that quotation above. Unpacking it a little, the teachers in the survey seem to be suggesting that:

  • Japanese English accents are inferior/incorrect
  • Native speaker accents are superior/correct

This might seem straightforward enough: native speakers’ pronunciation is better and so, one assumes, easier to understand; Japanese-inflected pronunciation, on the other hand, is deficient and therefore more difficult to understand. The simplicity is attractive. But it’s also false.

Consider the following interaction:

Japanese person: Hi. Whe-a izu the banku?

English person: i tzeaze yif ye teika rai tovah de road

Believe it or not, that English person is speaking a form of ‘native speaker’ English. Try sounding it out syllable for syllable to see. Then put it all together and say it quickly. Is the native speaker’s pronunciation really clearer?

What Does This Mean?

The example might be rather crude, but it makes the point. Being a native speaker does not necessarily guarantee your listener will understand you. In fact, being an unaware native speaker might be exactly why your listener does not understand you! What matters instead, for native and non-native speakers alike, is being intelligible, i.e. speaking clearly so your listener can understand you. But this brings its own complications. Who are the listeners? Which sounds are most likely to be clear? To begin to answer these questions requires an understanding of the way English is most commonly used around the world, as a Lingua Franca – a common language between people who do not share the same first language.

Let’s pause a moment, though, and go back to the Tokyo survey. Who were the respondents? Who held the implicit view that native speaker pronunciation was clearer? The answer: 100 Junior High School teachers. In other words, teachers themselves! So, why is it that the Junior High School teachers in Tokyo believe that native speaker accents are more relevant to their context? Especially when we consider the importance of being clear and English as a Lingua Franca?

Sadly, the research in question does not probe this view further, so we have no insight from the teachers themselves. However, from my own experience in teacher training, I would suggest that these kinds of misconceptions are so firmly entrenched that they filter down to learners in the form of (un)conscious attitude and classroom practice. When those learners then become the next generation of English teachers, so the cycle continues: the received wisdom is passed on. The problem with received wisdom though, is, while it is often gratefully received, it is rarely questioned. So where to start asking questions?

Accents and Teacher Training

Use yourself or a recording as an example

  1. Tell the teachers a short anecdote (or play one).
  2. Ask them to note down anything they notice about your accent.
  3. Groups discuss the accentual features they notice.
  4. Whole class discussion about which features were noticeable and why, whether any caused communication problems, etc.

(for a more detailed version of this activity, see here)

Read a text aloud (in a multi-lingual group)

  1. Choose a short text of about 50 words and prepare a task sheet for teachers.
  2. In groups, teachers read the text and the others note down which words they pronounce differently in the group.
  3. Whole class discussion about which features were noticeable and why.
  4. Highlight any potential problems in intelligibility and discuss issues connected to ELF.

Give an article about ELF

  1. Find an introductory article to ELF, e.g. this one, and prepare some questions, such as about which accent is desirable, is L2 accent ok, etc.
  2. Pre-reading, have groups discuss the questions.
  3. Give the teachers time to read the article and answer questions based on the article.
  4. Groups discuss the questions and then open this up to full class.
  5. Robustly defend an ELF perspective in the discussions and challenge teachers to find objections (the aim here is for teachers to develop their ideas, so still be nice!)

 What’s the Point?

Pronunciation matters. The more issues surrounding pronunciation are explored, the more acceptance there will be of different accents. The more the goal of a native speaker pronunciation is challenged, the more confident those Japanese Junior High teachers can become. The more a trainee teacher knows about their own pronunciation, the more confident they can be in their own intelligibility. And the more a teacher knows about ELF, the more they can help their learners communicate successfully without trying to force them to speak a certain way.

 

[i] Yoko Uchida and Junko Sugimoto: Towards the implementation of ELF-oriented pronunciation teaching in Japan. Retrieved from: https://elfpron.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/elf10-uchida-sugimoto/

*****

I want to thank Chris for this post and yes, I want to robustly defend an ELF perspective in discussions with other teachers… and with students, too. There’s a controversial story on my mind that I want to blog about some day but I’ll hold it off for now, but I’ll just say this: 

In the past couple of months, I’ve been lucky to have opportunities to travel around Southeast Asia. Every interaction I’ve had in English – with people in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia – is an example of an ELF interaction. By paying closer attention now to those interactions and analysing them (sometimes even too much!), I’m learning so much. It’s often hard for me to understand  English in SE Asia, and I think nowadays I’m keeping a more open mind to the challenges than I did before. And I keep thinking that as a teacher I want my students to have an open mind, too.

There are some more thought-provoking posts on the ELF issue here:

Michael Griffin makes a point that acknowledging  ELF and viewing your teaching through this perspective doesn’t have to mean any dramatic change to our lessons.

Katherine Bilsborough adds an ELT author’s, materials writer’s perspective to the issue.

Katy Simpson recorded short video interviews with many teachers, whose first language is or is not English, in which she explored their attitudes on different aspects of ELF. 

 

 

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On things that were and might be, musings

I welcome 2018 in an idle state of mind. I wrote elsewhere that reflecting on the year that passed did not come natural this time, and it still holds true. Every time something important (and even unimportant) happened, I talked it over and in detail and the matter ceased to exist or bother. When and if it didn’t, I blogged.

For resolutions, I found that for me writing them publicly almost equals condemning myself to failure. Sure, I can tell you I plan to create routines, and practice Japanese, and write diligently every day (just like I recommend my students to do, hypocrite), and study something new, and so on and so forth. The truth is known – I likely won’t. I do crave writing though, so on this cloudy yet beautiful day on a beach somewhere in Myanmar, instead of starting off the year with a post that is doomed disappointment, I will muse and ramble. No shame in that.

***** A few random thoughts on the beach, Year 2018, Day 2 *****

  1. I feel proud when I see former students writing in perfect, complex English sentences on social networks. By “proud” I mean proud of their effort and success. At the same time, I feel just as proud when I see former students writing in short and simple English sentences on social networks, because it takes courage to start and overcome the barrier, even if the wall is digital.
  2. Last year I sounded critical far more often than I intended to, in various situations related to work. If I made resolutions, one would be to breathe deeply and give myself time before offering any opinions, however important they seem to be at the moment. In fact, especially when I feel that my opinion is the right one and thus so “necessary” to be shared immediately. I will keep practising deep listening.
  3. Related to the previous point, one of the presentations I’m planning to do this year will be about Buddhist ideas that impacted my teaching. I quite look forward to that.
  4. It should not be viewed as official statistics but I feel like the majority of my colleagues have part-time jobs in addition to the main, if not too demanding, full-time job in our university. People work as IELTS examiners on their one and only day off (Sunday), give classes in other universities or language schools, do translation work, etc. This leads me to contemplate my own strong choice of NOT adding more PAID work to my day. It is pretty clear to me that I love teaching, so why wouldn’t I teach more? Why wouldn’t I add more variety to the somewhat  monotonous life within a unified curriculum, a classroom life that repeats itself day to day, week to week, semester to semester?… The answer to these questions to myself is, I enjoy exactly this. Having the time to leisurely stay at work after work and do things at my own pace; organizing reflective practice meetings each month and investing my time and energy in what is going to happen there, because it’s something I truly care about at the moment; curating and editing iTDi Blog issues on a *mostly* monthly basis; being involved in a few projects at work at the same time; presenting at conferences; organizing a conference; and doing my many hobbies off and on. It is good for me. But… might I enjoy a side job, too?… That’s something to ponder this coming year.
  5. In March I will go to Vietnam to give workshops and volunteer as a member of the Teachers Helping Teachers team (a JALT SIG I mentioned previously in my posts). Maybe I will decide it is what I want to be involved in more. Maybe I will like Vietnam so much that I will choose to live and work there. Maybe it is a passing stage and I will keep looking for what it is I want to do next with my career. In 2018, I’m open to maybes.
  6. Along the same lines, I recently heard from a colleague about opportunities to (volunteer to?) teach English to North Korean defectors. If there is a way to do it online, or on a short-term basis (my trips to South Korea are frequent but never longer than a week), I would jump at the chance.
  7. Finally, I want to apologise to all I have left waiting for something from me: emails, comments, responses to requests… I have not been very organized. It has not always been easy to face communication and/or making decisions. Sometimes I am efficient, other times I dread the pressure.

 

*****

Aimless, I step into 2018.

I know I will try to be the best teacher I can and be kinder to my students, my colleagues, and myself.

I want to try to keep up the rejuvenated spirit of socializing offline.

I might try to be a better communicator online, too.

It is kind of exciting to not have a big plan of what happens next and make adjustments on the way.  It’s fitting this way now.

Onwards!

 

Thank you for taking the time and reading to the end. I truly appreciate the fact. 🙂

 

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My Happy ELT Story ‘2017 (or RP meeting that didn’t happen)

Today’s blog post is a reflective practice meeting on paper.

Wait, what?

Let me explain. Here in Tokyo we hold monthly reflective practice meetings (and I mentioned those before in my previous blog posts, for example here). We tell stories and ask questions, trying to help each other look deeper and see more in what happened. Some meetings see more participants than others, some have two. Like today.

And while it wouldn’t be unreasonable to have a chit-chat with Lina and call it a Meeting, we thought we’d do something special. We’d type up what we’d otherwise be saying.

So here goes your Christmas present from RP Tokyo, a reflective conversation around a happy ELT story from a 2017 classroom. 

 

***** PART 1, THE STORY *****

My happy story did not start so cheerfully. In fact, it started as one of the most challenging, trying classes of this fall semester. In a bunch of high level proficiency students, most of whom had either studied or lived abroad, there was one kid who seemed particularly… bored. Let’s call this student Bo.

Bo’s casual English was nearly flawless. I could easily see Bo hang out with his mates in LA, London, Singapore, etc. and have zero problems getting the message across (a possibly timely note: Bo’s “mates” in my imagination would be 16-18 year olds). So back to our classes. From the very first lesson (and mine is a mandatory discussion class that HAS to be taken no matter how fluent and great you are at English), Bo looked like the class was about the worst possible way to spend time (yet, Bo only missed one class out of 11). Bo was the first person to grab the bag and leave the classroom the very moment the bell rang and I wrapped up the lesson. I don’t remember Bo ever saying goodbye to either myself or group mates – and the class size is eight students, so I would most definitely hear those words. In group discussions, Bo liked to sit back in the chair and waited to be asked to share opinion. Which Bo would quickly do – and return to the very comfortable if idle position.

Needless to say I felt not a little annoyed and frustrated by Bo’s attitude. However, that class was a BUNCH, as I said, and it was a bunch of Bo’s and other. Every day I had to teach that class, I mentally prepared myself for a storm of emotions that I might have to go through. One such time it hit me pretty hard and I blogged about it. I didn’t really want to give up on them and all of the various issues I found myself experiencing when teaching this particular group. I tried to do something (or not do something I’d been doing) in class, hoping that a little change would work (for this idea in my mind I will forever thank John Fanselow). Yet it seemed like they could see through my intentional effort – and class went off the rails (for me anyway) in a totally different way again.

Anyway, I did say it is a happy story, and so it is. After our latest lesson I was returning back to my office from another building on campus and I saw Bo, who I’d earlier taught that day. Bo was in a group of friends and engaged in a conversation… but as I was passing by, Bo made sure to say “Goodbye Anna” loud and clear enough for me to hear and react to. Right now as I’m typing this, I’m smiling. Such a tiny thing, you’d think. Coming from Bo, though, in a circumstance like that, it felt pretty great.

I am not sure what had happened and what Bo will be like in the remaining classes we have together this term. I do want to mention something, though. In one of the recent lessons I asked those students to do a self-reflection. Among other tasks, the reflection had these questions:

Apart from our Discussion classes, do you have an opportunity to use English in your life right now? (By “use” I mostly mean speak, but please mention other ways you use it, too). When do you use English? How much (a week)? With whom?

We only have 5 classes left. After that, you won’t have any more Discussion classes. This could be a good time to set a goal to achieve by the end of the course. What goal(s) would you like to set for yourself for Discussion class? What can you do to achieve this goal?

Bo’s answers were eye-opening to me (and who knows, maybe to Bo, too…). Bo said that, having spent many years abroad speaking English every day in an international school, now there is NO chance to use English. Bo’s goal was to participate actively every class and ask group mates lots of questions (I’m obviously not quoting, so I think Bo formulated it even better, and with … mmm… heart put into it). In fact, all students in that class surprised me that time with how thoughtful they were, how genuine their response was, how openly and responsibly they took the questions. They inspired me to be more positive and have good faith in what we can all do together in class. I now don’t fear that class approaching. I like them and I think I will miss them when I have to say goodbye.

I don’t think self-reflection or any other measure I took or didn’t take to turn things around in that particular class worked on its own. Frankly speaking, I’m not even sure how the next class is going to be. But I feel now it’s a happy story already.

 

***** THE QUESTIONS Lina asked *****

In group discussions, Bo liked to sit back in the chair and waited to be asked to share opinion.

Lina: Why do you think this happened? Bo’s English is almost flawless, as you describe it, so it wouldn’t be difficult for Bo at all to participate in the discussions actively. What could have stopped Bo from doing that? Bo didn’t like being forced to take this class? Bo didn’t like the topics? Bo thought it was too easy?

Anna: I observed Bo, even though I think for the first few weeks my vision was clouded with the frustration I felt about exactly this – having the means to do the thing and participate, and yet not having the desire to do so. I think this is a case when ability and willingness to communicate did not get to meet. For a while. It might have been conditions, or atmosphere, or mood, or class composition, or teenage rebellion… anything, really. Everything.

 

and class went off the rails (for me anyway) in a totally different way again.

Lina: It would be interesting to hear in what ways the classes went off the rails. In what ways did they ruin your efforts?..

Anna: For example, I have a bad habit of running class a little overtime. It never seemed to be a problem with any other students, but as Bo was always the first to leave abruptly, I felt badly and thought we should finish on time. However, it’s tough as students in this class are overly chatty and I had to spend quite a bit of our time bringing them back to tasks. So that one class I started by offering “a deal” – they’d be paying attention and not getting distracted, I in my turn would be able to finish and let them go on time. I was pretty happy with my idea. Well… they could focus for about 7 minutes… and for the remainder of the lesson, they suddenly decided to chat with each other in Japanese!… In all lessons stages, between speaking tasks, during speaking tasks, in group discussions.. It was something new, and something I couldn’t expect from students of their level of proficiency. It was something else. The deal didn’t work…

 

Bo’s goal was to participate actively every class and ask group mates lots of questions

Lina: I can’t wait for an update! I really want to get to know if this student achieves the goal or not. Will the usual behaviour change?

Anna: We’ve had two classes since, and it’s been great. Touch wood. =)

 

I don’t think self-reflection or any other measure I took or didn’t take to turn things around in that particular class worked on its own.

Lina: Do you think you managed to establish a good rapport with these students? Do you feel like they’re a unity now or still just a bunch?

Anna: I feel like we’ve come closer. Not only me and them, but also them with one another. And…. again, I was frustrated that my usual methods of “establishing rapport” were not successful with this group. It’s a long, long process, the building of group dynamics. Now that we’ve probably come to something good, we’ll have to part soon…

 

***** THE HAPPY END***

This post was brought to you by a #livebloggingparty featuring Lina and myself. Be sure to read Lina’s happy story in her blog here.

We wish you and your students many happy moments in 2018! Stay positive, and if you feel you can’t – find a person you can talk to. Chat with an understanding colleague (hi, Shoko ;)). Write a journal and give it to read to someone you trust. Come to our reflective practice meeting, if you’re in Tokyo. =)

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It’s not about you. Or is it?…

It’s been the longest day. So long that by the time you get home you can’t quite remember what mood you left the house with in the morning, what you had for lunch, or how the first lesson of the day went. No detail, no fine lines, just one big smear of the day. The smear caused by something that happened in class that looms dark and large. By the time I reached my front door tonight, I had complained, got frustrated, felt disrespected, poured my heart out, tweeted for help, got comforted, made action plans, blamed myself, found fault with students, realized where I’d done wrong, sulked, felt ashamed and sorry, chastised myself, and finally cried.

I am spent. It’s tough, but I know I need to write about this whirlwind here.

I’ll go backwards and start from the end. As I walked home and replayed the class in my mind over and over again, it hit me that I’d cooked my own bacon right there.

When students were chatting off-topic in class, I took it to mean they were not focused – but were they challenged enough to keep their focus on task? Did the task mean much to them? Did I myself believe in the task I was offering?

When students’ poses during group discussion time looked “too relaxed” to me and suggested indifference – did I consider that’s how those students are, in general, as people? Relaxed.

When their answers to my question “How was your discussion?” didn’t match my expectations, did I acknowledge their responses as viable at all? Did I give them a chance to be heard? Was I ready to hear them, whatever it was they had to say?

Was my view of a good discussion different from theirs, but I stubbornly insisted on mine?

Was I mean to them at any point? Was I patronizing?

Did I praise them at all in this class? Both those who seemed to care and worked hard, and those who didn’t *seem so*?

Could I possibly have imagined some of the attitude? Didn’t I succumb to the negative I saw/imagined, let it control me, and spend the rest of the lesson day with my vision blurred and judgement clouded?

 

The realization that hurt me the most was that I’d acted against my own beliefs (does that mean they are fake?…). Something I talk about with my colleagues a lot – that students are people first and foremost and people are different; that they made a choice to come to my class and that can be appreciated in itself; that they have a right to not enjoy this obligatory class; that we don’t know what’s happening in their lives outside of our class, which is exactly when their whole life is happening; that it’s me as a teacher – and hopefully a grown-up – who is in charge of making steps towards a positive environment.

I forgot to empathize. That’s what made me cry on my way home – and now as I’m typing this.

 

I know I can’t change my reactions, what’s done is done. Surely it was both of us, me and the students, but I know my ego blew it out of proportion. I got defensive, but I’m not sure what I was fighting for so fiercely mattered that much. In retrospect, I sincerely hope nobody other than me got hurt by the blow.

The response to my emotional message shared on Twitter and Facebook was overwhelming, both online and in real life. I’m thankful and amazed at how kind people are to me.

I will try to be that, too.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

On the current state

Today I want to write here some of my current thoughts about professional development, the possibility of a burn-out, my place in this profession, the changes in my interests in the six years that I can trace back with the help of this blog, and importantly, my thoughts about future. As in, my professional future. Tomorrow morning all of this might make little sense to me but as of now, it stands. I might feel differently ten days from now when I go back to work and have to plan classes again, meet students, spend hours with colleagues, work on projects. But now, lost in vacation, knee-deep in idleness, I feel that.

It’s been a month since I last stepped foot in a classroom, and I’ve learnt by now that long vacations are not exactly a good fit for me. Nearly every time I lose sense of professional purpose, but this summer hit me a little bit harder (though frankly speaking, it has been creeping in for a while).

“What is IT?” you’ll probably ask.

As I scroll down my Facebook feed, I see (this summer much like any other time in the year), an abundance of good-looking and not-so-good-looking resources, useful and toxic articles, thoughtful and all different kinds of blog posts. There’s a lot of everything – and there has been for as long as I have used social media for ELT, which is 6 years.

Yet barely anything clicks now quite the same way as it used to.

I am not drawn to webinars.

I am not willing to participate in Twitter conversations.

I don’t have the energy to look at my WordPress Reader.

You most likely don’t see my comments to any of the ELT discussions on Facebook.

You have not yet received my response to your kind, long and thoughtful comment on my blog post.

 

Burn-out?

I want to look six years back into the logs. Here’s what I’ve been massively excited about for something like 4-5 years: activities, professional communities aka PLNs, technology (apps, web tools, blogs, social media), sharing students’ work, etc. I am far less thrilled about most of those now. I sometimes even catch myself sounding skeptical, and I don’t want to become that person. I used to be so passionate about so many things. These days, I choose and pick, examine carefully what to be passionate about. And then become mildly enthusiastic. I have more criticism in me than I’d prefer. I don’t use as many exclamation marks when I write. One could take it to mean I’ve lost some vigour, if one were to analyse that much.

And, of course, conferences. I couldn’t get enough of them. I wanted so much to be everywhere, to meet everyone, to present and share what I’d done as a teacher. The kind comments, positive response of the audience, presence of those who’d become friends – it got me high and dizzy every single time. Together we make each other feel important. So much support, so much learning, and above all, our relationships growing deeper. We became each others’ stars.

Does it sound like I’m saying I don’t value any of that anymore?

That’s not what I’m saying.

I can’t seem to find my place, that’s what I’m trying to say. I don’t want to be the kind of presenter who shares own experiences in the self-centered way. When I go to a conference, I look to see who will be there. And then aren’t we trapped in this cycle of doing it for the same people over and over again? I don’t think I want to share for the mere sake of sharing anymore. I don’t always understand what and who the conferences are for, my view is blurred.

I wrote before that I want to participate in programs to “help teachers” in developing countries. I still do, but there’s this nagging voice at the back of my mind offering me a vague picture of what it might look like… me performing a role, albeit excitedly. Imparting whatever knowledge or skills or ideas I come up with when I write my abstracts to go. How can a short visit with a couple of workshops help anyone? Do I want to be a person associated with this kind of help? On the other hand, though, what’s wrong with it? Having never been part of it, why am I already doubting the impact?

That’s a rough sketch of where my mind is. Of the current state.

 

My own diagnosis is as follows: a time-out at the crossroads. Re-evaluating the purpose and meaning, locating professional self, contemplating directions.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Semester reflection July 2017

Tuesday July 18th was a great Tuesday.

I owed my good (actually hyper) feeling to an exhilarating hailstorm in Tokyo, my sweet students who gave me the first shikishi thank-you card in my life and made me feel special, AND the best attended RP Tokyo meeting in history – 10 teachers sacrificed their Tuesday night in order to meet other teachers and talk about teaching. When I phrase what happened like that, I can’t help but feel deep appreciation – and fascination, too! I know there are other ways to spend a nice summer evening in Tokyo. I’m grateful people made the choice they made.

We’ll have to put hailstorms, however exciting, aside as this post is about the RP meeting of that day. It was different in a few ways. First of all, we hadn’t had so many teachers in a meeting before. Secondly, we hadn’t had four new members join at any one time before. And finally, we hadn’t structured our reflection in a way like that before. So I have to admit to having been slightly nervous… but maybe it went well (thanks to Bill Snyder and everyone else for being positive and supportive).

And now I’ll tell you what it was we did that got me so excited.

Here’s what happened:

IMG_7496   —>   IMG_7497

Background: A few weeks ago I attended a 5-minute webinar by Sarietjie Musgrave aka @sarietjiem, in which she described a reflection tool she uses with her students in South Africa when they finish certain projects. The idea behind it is that every finger of a hand is used symbolically to pose a question for guided reflection. The original questions that Sarietjie provided were as follows:

  • What worked well for you in this project? (the Thumb question)
  • How can you apply the skills/ information you got in real life? (the Index Finger question)
  • What caused frustration? (the angry Middle Finger question)
  • What made you feel passionate while working on this project? (the Ring Finger question)
  • What made you feel vulnerable? (the Little Finger question)

 

The idea immediately looked so appealing to me that the following week I tried it out with my students, playing with the questions a little to match them to the course the students had just finished. At the same time, I thought it could be interesting (and fitting) for our last Reflective Practice meeting of the term, which had been planned to focus on our achievements and progress made in the four months since the beginning of this academic year.

Procedure: I brought the empty hand template to the meeting and we worked in small groups coming up with our own questions for each finger that we would later answer while reflecting on the term. After that, there were 10 minutes of silent individual writing time (a moment I truly value both in our meetings and classroom scenarios). Finally, we spent the rest of the time discussing our reflections in small groups, asking each other questions to find out more and understand each other better. In the last 15-20 minutes of the meeting in a whole group discussion we shared our thoughts on this way of reflecting and wrapped up the meeting with thanks and farewells and such. Among the thoughts that other teachers expressed while reflecting on reflection were the following ideas that spoke to me:

(1) It was through talking about the experiences lived by us during the term that we could make a better sense of things and events, and also see the interconnectedness of these experiences. I guess holistic could be a suitable word to describe this method of reflection that we used.

(2) We often offer ready-made reflection questions to our students (e.g. how was today’s class? what did you enjoy? what did you learn? how do you do your homework? etc). But the experience of us writing our own questions could very well be transferred to the ways we do it in class – let students come up with the reflection questions they’d like to answer. See where it takes us.

Maybe here’s where the possibly useful part of the blog post finishes and the self-indulgent one begins. I’d like to capture the spring term of 2017 reflection for myself, so here go my answers as they happened during the meeting.

*****

The Thumb, or “Highlights of this semester”

1) Without any doubt, co-organizing ExcitELT conference in Tokyo was the biggest highlight! That sounds like it could be enough but I made a choice to also present at PanSIG conference in Akita two weeks prior to that and at Teacher Journeys conference in Kobe a week after ExcitELT. Five presentations on four different topics within three weeks – so far I haven’t had any experience to top that.

2) At the PanSIG conference in Akita something special happened. I found out there is a SIG that I had just been looking for, THT SIG – Teachers Helping Teachers. In short, teachers volunteer their time and money to go to developing countries and give workshops, presentations, or other forms of support for teacher communities there. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me as after traveling to Cambodia earlier this year I have thought about volunteering as a teacher a lot. Finding the THT SIG seems to be just what I needed. Onwards.

3) After “complaining” about rapport with students in my previous blog posts (that link, and also here and here), finally I feel like this term I’ve managed to establish a deeper connection with my students. The simple answer seems to have been in giving it time, giving me time to adjust to the system. With more control over my lesson plan and my performance within the unified curriculum, also came flexibility. And a comforting feeling that I can afford being me in my class once again.

The Index Finger, or “What did I learn that I can share with others? What did I learn that can help me to move forward?”

1) I would love to keep working on “spreading the love” for reflective practice, the way I know it to be, in the ways I can do it – blogging, organizing and advertizing our group meetings, writing articles, presenting more at conferences, possibly at future workshops that I could volunteer to do as part of THT SIG programs in countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, etc…

2) I would love to share the experience of what organizing a conference can be and how to go about doing it in my university in particular. That’s a possible blog post.

3) I would like to read – and practice – more about how to become a better communicator. Among other things, I’m terrible at managing conflicts, in fact, I’m terrible at experiencing conflicts myself. I think I’m grown up enough now to work on that.

The Middle Finger, or “Frustrations, disappointments, anger, and negativity of this semester”

Swept up in the hassle of May-June conference-related and other busyness, I got so grumpy and stressed that I often did not communicate with the people around me… well. Felt no energy to invest into that communication, into understanding others and being patient, into looking for a common language. It wasn’t good for my system and only added to the already existing stress.

The Ring Finger, or “Connections”

This semester I was as social as I hadn’t been in a long while, definitely not since I moved to Japan. That resulted in renewing old connections and building stronger bonds, forming new connections with colleagues in my workplace as well as with new members of the RP group. I sent a hundred emails and networked meaningfully at conferences. With the information about THT SIG, a whole new vision has opened up, with a view into possible connections outside of what my current teaching and working zone is. Connections that could be a bridge into my next step – teaching in other countries in Asia. Feels like the door has opened a crack.

The Little Finger, or “When did I feel vulnerable?”

Quite a few times during the term I felt vulnerable and uncertain in class with student A. An exceptionally fluent – and overfluent! – student who has lived and studied abroad for many years, student A. was swearing in class, unknowingly dominating discussions, and yet all that with the best of intentions as I later found out. How did I deal with it? Talking and being honest helps. Helped. 🙂

Added in the palm of the hand – “Achievements that I am proud of”

I believe I am somewhat proud of, even if exhausted by the end of it, being a part of ExcitELT this year. It was an experience I hadn’t had before and one that taught me a lot – about conferences, about people, about myself.

Another source of pride would  be our RP group success! New members, the interest, the buzz *that I’m feeling**… More than ever before I hope that other group members will step up to become facilitators and share what they believe is worth reflecting on, as well as how else it can be done.

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In a discussion a few days ago I complained with an earnest feeling of frustration in my tone that I think I have a problem. My problem is my stubbornness. The fact is, I appear all too ready to be reflective, only if that’s going to be MY way of reflecting, something I understand, something that speaks to MY style. I know it limits my development – and worst of all, I feel like such a hypocrite. Thus, I’d like to end here with yet another quote that takes its roots in the Buddhist teachings.

When we hold too firmly to our beliefs, we risk being blind to reality and seeing only what conforms to our beliefs.

Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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