Category Archives: misc

On the courage of losing sight of the shore (or lack of such)

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So I’ve moved to Japan, like I dreamed to, like I made it my Goal to, like I planned to. Yes dreams do come true once you stop thinking of them as of dreams. Now it’s time to find out how it feels to have made your dream come true, how to live that dream. That’s what they don’t prepare you for. How to remember why you aspired for this in the first place.

And if you can ever get close to regretting your choice of dream.

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Inspirational quotes tell us in powerful phrasing to be strong and aim high, yet they don’t mention how many tears there would be shed after you’ve made it. Because that’s where and when you’re most fragile. Having a goal you believe in and smashing everything on your way towards it (or taking each and every step with care and due precision) is like running your distance. As you cross that long-awaited finish line, you’re thrilled but out of breath and your heart aches. Well mine does.

It’s all good to have the courage to lose sight of the shore, yet in order to actually cross that ocean you need more than just that. You need all that courage to keep going all the way you have so bravely planned, plus a whole lot of other supplies.

 

*****

The following part of the post was typed at various times during my first days in Japan – in the street, on the metro, at my workplace (more about that in future posts).

 

***** First day things *****

As soon as I’m out in the street or even better on the subway, I start smiling involuntarily. That’s when I remember what I loved about this country in the first place and why I’ve come here at all.
Everything around me so far seems right and close to heart, like I got to know it and knew it to be. Streets, neat houses, pavements, cleanliness, small private businesses, trains with their warm seats that make you drowsy any time of day, people who I’m not afraid to address for help, shop windows, little details I pay attention to, like a bronze owl placed on top of a very ordinary tiled column at a metro station. The language that I want so much to learn as soon as possible so that I could belong to this place more. Because I want to.
It is now more home-like in my apartment thanks to the things I brought from home, but it’s cold and lonely.
***** First week frustrations *****
When the initial shock of being away and alone wore off a bit and with the day spent at school, for a couple of days life got down to almost normal. However, Friday brought me back to tears in a new way. Frustrations that came out were about me not being able to communicate in Japanese. For the first time out of all my time in Japan I felt an alien, clearly an outcast.
In a nutshell, I went to a bank to open an account but the lady refused to deal with me because I could not speak the language. She kept repeating the same thing over and over again and it just did not help – besides, I got stuck, paralyzed and couldn’t utter a word in Japanese, or English, or even Russian. My face must have looked dumb and eyes welled up with tears. When I was out in the fresh air and about 3 minutes passed, I knew it was all fair. I am a foreigner, they don’t have to speak English, I should have taken care of this communication issue myself as opening a bank account means you need to discuss important points and security. I felt low for the rest of the day and it even rubbed off on my English as I felt unconfident while talking with colleagues.
This unpleasant situation made me feel sorry for students who struggle understanding English in class if it’s the only language spoken by teacher. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it in my future posts, as soon as I get into an actual classroom and lessons begin.
*****
I would like to thank all those people who have wished me luck, supported me and keep doing so with their good words in public comments or private messages. I appreciate it ever so much. I would like to give a mostly useless but 100% sincere digital hug to the people who tell me they know it must be a hard time. It is.
Bottomline: a week and many tears past, I don’t regret my choice of dream yet.
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Thanks for reading.
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A very interesting post about blogs, bloggers and their blogging.

Now I’m feeling something. Something of a nerve to write a messy piece about many things at once.

 

Thing number one, about blogging habits.

In her recent post Zhenya Polosatova asked her readers the questions that brought about a storm of responses, both in the comments and as separate blog posts. It’s amazing just how easily *some* bloggers are drawn into analysing their blogging ways, how excited they get. Well to say “they” would be wrong since I’m normally the very first in that eager line. Here’s my short (see Thing number two) take on the topic.

Last year my blogging habits underwent quite an upheaval. I blogged in a cafe, on a beach, on the floor, in a train station, on a couch, on a bench in the park, on a tatami mat (at home at my desk being the habit). I blogged with people and alone (which is the habit). I blogged both in daytime and nighttime (the latter being the habit). I posted without liking my writing (… liking or disliking can’t be called “a habit” I reckon))). I blogged about teaching and about things far from it.

I really don’t know what else I can do. All in all, I’m more than pleased with how my blogging is developing and I feel desire and energy to proceed the way that will feel right. One new ritual I’m looking forward to establishing this year is going through my WP Reader once a week to balance my blog reading. Hope to see you there.

 

Thing number two, which tries to devalue part of Thing number one.

I can’t believe I’ve just written the above first thing! Because in fact it makes me sick to realize just how much I write about myself and my relationship with my writing. Seriously, look:

In this post I say I blog for my own pleasure but hope for shifts in the classroom. Then in no time I come up with a follow-up which is 800 more words about blogging and writing. Here I keep mentioning myself and my plans for writing in what some say are most powerful parts of a blog post – opening and closing paragraphs. If you need more proof of how obsessed I am with writing about (my) writing, don’t hesitate to look here, check this out and click this link.

First I wanted to make a difference. Then I turned into an ego-busting persona. Hedonism? I’m *possibly* done with it. At least with the part which whispers to me that it can be interesting to anyone to go on reading after my “I think that…” At the moment I think that I could think of writing something more exciting.

 

Thing number three, about us Russians.

I am, just like Vedrana Vojkovich here, continuously stunned as I check my blog stats and see that the overwhelming majority of my readers are from Russian Federation. Who are you?! I know a few and I am grateful to them for being ever supportive, plus last year several times my former students left a line or two and it felt great. Otherwise, I am unaware of names and faces of my ghost Russian readership. In any case, everybody is most welcome.

There is yet another, far more critical point to be covered in this part. Russian and Russian-speaking ELT bloggers. A little pre-story: a while ago, in my more energetic Twitter years, I created a public list EFLRussia which I updated with handles of Russian teachers of English who I happened to come across on Twitter (70 now). I haven’t done that for over a year and I’m sure there must be many new faces to be added (my confidence comes from seeing quite a lot of people tweeting at annual E-merging Forums). The situation with the blogs was different. I’m talking about blogs that Russian(-speaking) teachers of English would run in English, so they could be accessed by teachers from the world over. Fortunately, there are now interesting, thoughtful, different blogs that I irregularly follow and will now share the links to here:

iamlearningteaching by Ekaterina Makaryeva aka @springcait

The aforementioned Zhenya Polosatova aka @ZhenyaDnipro and her Wednesday Seminars

Elserga ELT by Elizabeth Bogdanova

ELT Diary by Alexandra Chistyakova aka @AlyaAlexandra

TeachingEnglishNotes by Svetlana Urisman

 

That’s about it. If you happen to know of any other blogs that fit the Russian category, please do share, even if that’ll shamelessly be your own)

One last bit, which is my sincere wish. I wish the following three people started to blog:

Fatima Baste, who has a blog in Russian and also writes about a million things in captions to her pictures on Instagram: languages, teaching, culture, trends, psychology, ideas. Thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, and educational, so I’m quite certain Fatima should start a blog in English =)))

Masha Andrievich, whose Instagram gives a peek into fragments of her teaching at own school (right?) and her learning (DELTA?). I’d love to have a #livebloggingparty one day, when she starts her blog. =)

Ludmila Malakhova, who is a fantastic lady from Yekaterinburg that I had a real pleasure to meet twice at the Forum I mentioned earlier and who suppported me in a very indecisive time with just the right words.

 

Thing number four, untitled for lack of creativity.

In connection with the previous part, there’s a story back from March 2014. Ludmila reached me and asked to participate online in the teacher training she was doing on-site in Yekaterinburg. That was my first (and only) suchlike experience, and in Russian! For 15-20 minutes I talked to a group of teachers sitting several thousand km away from me, and I talked about Facebook and blogs for English teachers’ PD. It was, as you might understand, a brief and general introduction and of course I am not at all sure what impact it eventually had on the participants, practically, if any. However, it was remarkable to me that the teachers sounded mildly interested and asked me post-session questions, such as:

Which blogs do you follow?

How do you find these blogs in the first place?

There are so many, how do you keep up?

Which platform would you recommend to start own blog?

Should we blog in English or Russian?

All these questions. One might think it’s not a topic that could be conference session worthy: too simple, no activities-interactivities, limited feel of innovation. Yet I’m thinking of doing it. There are so many aspects of online ELT community that I’ve grown to take for granted that it’s easy to forget some of these things still may be new or interesting. Even if a plain session on ELT blogging the way I experience it will not lead to a massive influx of Russians into this particular blogosphere, I’ll personally have a fun time spreading the word about you and your blog… =) What do you think of this idea? It’s a shame the Forum AGAIN does not give a chance to talk/ learn about the things I’m interested in by adding Professional Development strand. (Can it possibly be Russian EFL teachers are NOT interested in PD and the Forum organisers go by some survey results?..)

 

Thing number five, Final Thing, or the Thing of Importance.

It’s been on my mind lately. Namely, from December 2nd.

What else can we, English teachers who are united by ELT blogging addiction, blog about?

I took immense pleasure in taking culture notes in my travels and then publishing this post, as well as other, exclusively personal posts that I had out during my time in Asia. I was thrilled to NOT have it in my mind to make any connections to teaching/ learning, because frankly, I don’t believe a teacher should always, at all times in all situations think about his/ her classes. And while I’m sure we/ you all have our interests that might or might not be reflected in the classes we/ you teach, I don’t really know much about them. I do imagine, though, that there are words to be put into long beautiful/ eloquent/ funny/ witty/ touching  etc sentences.

 

What would you blog about if not ELT? 

 

Thank you for reading and, of course, – happy blogging =)

 

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Who does your language belong to?

Who does my language belong to?

I don’t mean faceless vocabulary that course books are filled with. Here I’m talking about my distress in attempts to claim my own English. That is, are there words that would define my Self in both speaking and writing, the words that would bring colours, wrap up my most mediocre sentences to look nice?..

This thought has long, really long been unsettling for me. I realize in any language I speak or would choose to learn to speak, I’ll be a borrower. I borrow some words for a post or two, and others I never return. At times the realization that this particular word or phrase initially belonged to *name* is almost literally painful.. and the word or phrase is oftentimes dismissed from my list of options to fill the blank.

Just to give you a real feel of what I’m talking about:
I’ll always know swell, lousy and phoney come from Holden Caulfield. Tenterhooks and bated breath from Laura Phelps. With a nonchalant air from a unit in my university course book, year three or something. Scavenge from Morcheeba. On the bandwagon from Kevin Stein. Hubris and listicle from Mike Griffin. Fluid and compassionate from Josette LeBlanc. Lukewarm from an episode of Modern Family. And so on and so forth… books, songs, people own these words in my imagination – because that’s where I first saw them, that’s how they finally got stored in my brain (hopefully, for good).

I may wish to type or say this or that word, because it truly and uniquely fits, but every time I feel like I’m stealing it right out of their mouths. They will know. Everybody will know. It’s just not safe vocabulary for a vain writer. Thesaurus is good at such moments, a true friend.

I’d so much like to cast off those thoughts bugging me but they’re rooted too deeply. I feel like cheating and I’m surely going to be caught red handed.

That is, suddenly, the end to my post. I would like to know if I’m weird and alone in feeling this, or if I’m weird and there’s more of us, pondering the imperfections of acquired language and acquiring language.

*****
Ironically (because this), I’ve bought a guide on creative writing today. I’ve read 7 pages of this book and written 5 pages of my own since then, at a frantic pace. I stopped to think about a certain word choice every now and then, but generally it was a true spasm for writing that I couldn’t hold back. Every line I read found a response in my mind, heart (or chest, to be more anatomically correct regarding the feeling), and pen in hand in the end. And I’ve thought of this commonplace idea that my writing (as well as my speaking?) might be authentically mine through means other than merely words I use.
*****

warning.
Soon this blog might become even less of an ELT-related space than it already is.
But then I never promised consistency.

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My teaching unprinciples

This post is being written in an unusual (for me) manner, place and situation, and to me this fact is at least just as interesting as the theme of my writing today. More about it at the bottom of the page, just a few paragraphs down. At the moment I’m curious myself about how it’ll go for me. If the end product (=the post) turns out to be of a disputable quality/ value, I’ll blame the change. Because the original idea in my draft, to my mind, was not that bad. :))

*****

In this emerging space of a personal blog it’s time for more personal truths to emerge. They might not be flattering, as personal truths are likely to be.

I have previously mentioned here that I oftentimes envy people who are strongly principled and follow clear directions in their life while making choices, important or less so. I’m probably not always one of them and now is the time to examine briefly and casually how principled a teacher I am.

Following my recent pet trend to look into dictionary definitions for words elemental to my post themes, here’s what Merriam-Webster tells us about a principle:
– a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions;
– a basic truth or theory: an idea that forms the basis of something;
– a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens.

Keeping those in mind, I want to lay bare some of my personal teacher truths, give comments and drag in the definition ideas where possible. This is going to be so random. Enjoy.

(1) Dialogue.
– Do you give your classes following the communicative approach?
– Mmm… Can you explain what exactly you mean or want me to say here?
– (what sounds and impresses like a word-for-word quote from the approach description)
– Well, there’s a lot of group and pair work in some of my classes, less of that in others. There’s interaction, focus on personal experiences, but, I mean, that’s maybe obvious…? I hope I mostly teach to communicate, yes. I don’t stick to the points of the method description.

It’s not a new talk for most all of you, I know. What’s my point? Maybe it is that feeling class, as in both whole teaching process and a particular lesson, makes more sense to me as a teacher who teaches to communicate than reading into the lines of methods and methodologies and being their slave. CLT is not the basic truth or theory behind my teaching, but neither is any other type of teaching on its own.

(2) I can’t stand being lectured. BUT I have been noticing myself sometimes turning on a lecturer mode while being too emotionally involved in something that I believe (at the moment of conversation) to be right. The realization of this contradiction to my own principled view, when spotted, is quite sickening. Lecturing on the brink of preaching (or is it the other way around?) is going a bit too far in my understanding of what an ordinary teacher should be expected doing in an English class.

(3) I say openly and loudly at presentations, webinars, blogs and meetings: Go for social networks with your students! Explore them, try out with your class, have fun or fail, reflect and try again – that would be pretty much the summary of my belief on the issue.
Just sneak a peek into the Students Connected FB group and judge, by its happenings, how much of that I’m doing myself these days.

Quite often I find myself unconsciously steering the conversation or course line in my class the way I would not normally do, discussing texts and topics I would naturally not want to include (for the reason that they’re trite, mostly).
Quite often I find myself wishing for the calm, regularity and boredom of a coursebook while claiming to be all too pro-coursebookless teaching style (I’m sure that is not a word).

Why did I call those points my “unprinciples”? Many a time I catch myself thinking, saying or doing something that I generally don’t believe to be 100% true or right. And maybe that is so because I don’t believe most things to be 100% true or right, most of the time. I doubt and then I doubt more, but this hesitation, aside from being refreshing, can also prove frustrating.
As anything is possible, I can expect any kind of a choice from myself in class and I’m not always too happy with those choices.

Maybe those uncomfortable un- and semi-principles could be called a compromise?…

Thanks for reading.

*****
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@KateSpringcait, who can usually be found blogging here, today could also be found blogging when sitting next to me in a cafe in the centre of Moscow. This was her *excellent!* idea and I highly recommend it to others, too. It is fun, it’s the first time I’ve blogged outside of the comfort (and distractions!) of my home, and I want to do this again. In the end, writing alone is not really a principle I hold on to too passionately either.

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I don’t like this.

Impulsive, prompted by a picture of a fancy salad, post about non-ELT things.

When I was watching the recording of the iTDi Summer School MOOC session by Rose Bard a few days ago, I wrote on Facebook that it’s rich with ideas I relate to. After the session I found a note I’d only half-consciously made while following Rose. The note says:

Help them go beyond “I don’t like this”.

I turned the page of my planner over to this new week and let the note fade away from my memory, without giving it much further thought. Since I’m in this lazy-jelly-brain summer state.

写真 (1)

A few minutes ago (upd: a couple of hours – it takes time to write, even if impulsively) I was flipping casually through the pages of a mag. I saw this picture. I wasn’t hungry, and in fairness I’m no good or satisfactory cook, but I thought it looked fresh and easy. When my eyes glanced through ingredients and saw “300g of pears” there, only a millisecond passed before my mind registered a fleeting but confident “I don’t like pears” line.
I’m sorry for the lack of logic and presence of irrationality here, but this was when I frowned at myself and rushed to this screen to type an incoherent post about the dangers (?) of not liking stuff.

Where am I going with this?

“I don’t like this.”
It sounds like a strong statement of personal will, manifestation of solid knowledge of self, its needs and desires.
It also sounds to me now like a limit, a constraint one willingly prescribes for oneself, to live within and know little better.

And since it’s only human to like and dislike, I imagine I could, in a carefree summer fashion, connect this to teaching and learning.
I don’t like to teach kids. I don’t like to teach, or better say deal with, grammar. I don’t like role-plays. These are major and all have stories of reasons behind. However… What is it about me and liking here? Does liking have a place at all for a teacher, imagining herself to be a more or less professional? Feel free to let me know in a comment.

I don’t like it that I regularly struggle with writing.
I don’t like libraries.
I don’t like Quizlet. (it’s funny just how often this app name makes an appearance in my posts)))

It’s fascinating to me to analyse what lies behind those dislikes binding down our experiences. It’s no less fascinating to imagine now what can happen once I let go of my dislikes. It’s bound to be uncomfortable there out of the homelike confines. I might, in the end, harden in my view and confidently proceed with disliking.
Incidentally, I might just as well reconsider.

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I don’t like pears much. If I see them sold at the market I don’t have an impulse to buy a kilo, not even one pear (as opposed to cherries). If I happen to have pears on my dining table, I’ll most likely choose another fruit or nothing. If one feeds me pears I’ll eat and like them, though. I love lemonade made of pears. Pear cakes. The smell of pears. I’m not totally sure what’s behind my dislike. I don’t have a serious point worthy of hours of thinking over with this post. I don’t like cockroaches either, but I’m not inclined to try liking them, or making pets of them, not at this point of my life. Obviously, you can’t rejoice in all things in the world, and indeed why would you?

But seriously, next time I catch myself thinking “I don’t like this”, I’m going to take a step in just the opposite direction. Facing the antipathy, probing for stamina, going beyond my self-imposed prejudice.

The Help them go beyond “I don’t like this” sank deep into my mind and heart, and I want to explore it, for myself and maybe students, too.

*** Late Warning***
It should be obvious I’m musing while being well aware of how far from generalizations this whole line of reasoning is. Thank you.

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The Life of Me, Teacher

This unembellished narration, telling briefly about almost 9 years of my life as a teacher, among other roles, was written for a reason. The reason is not to say yet more and more about myself – I’m certainly coping with the task to be running a self-centered blog very well. The reason behind writing this is the upcoming IATEFL webinar. On July 19th Barb Sakamoto will be talking about the Lives of English Language Teachers. This story is just one particular professional journey of several years up to now. It does not aim to impress, ask for a moral, or inspire. I’ll say more after the 3 paragraphs of the journey.

A beginning teacher (9 years ago?).
I didn’t enter a teacher training university to become a teacher. I wanted to study English and I wanted to work in a profession that would mean being around people, that was my reasoning. Like most of my university mates, I started tutoring kids when in my second year of studies. That was more of a game at first, having fun making own crosswords and cutting lots of flashcards (apparently, there’s an age when it is a fun game)). Then, as part of our study course, we had to teach for a month in a comprehensive school in the 4th year of studies. That experience involved intensive teaching, planning, observing, feedback receiving and handling extra-curricular activities. Somehow it happened that I, surprisingly for myself, fell for the excitement of working with the kids. A month after this mandatory teaching practice finished, I found myself a job as a part-time English teacher at a small private school. I felt the thrill, pride and importance of being a teacher. Well, to cut a long story short, 2 years after I quit, both happily and with a heavy heart of feeling frustrated about education system in my country that I’d experienced (more about why it so happened in my blog post here).

About halfway, and getting to the tipping point.
For a little over a year after I quit there was downtime and feeling down, too, for me. I toyed with an idea of trying myself in some other job, went to a couple of interviews, and that was enough to realize teaching felt as a best fit for me at that time. I started teaching in-company (both General and Business English), I got employed by a leading university in Russia. All in all, I found myself in a good place, where I finally felt interested and comfortable teaching. I’d describe the time as smooth and routinely exciting. The familiar routine was rocked incidentally by joining Twitter, learning there’s a whole global world of ELT (also learning about the acronym), and meeting Chuck Sandy online, all of that in the spring of 2011. Since that time my life as a teacher has changed in many ways, some of which can be traced online – on iTDi website, on Twitter and Facebook, on my blog.

Now, summer 2014.
I’m still working at the same university and I’m enjoying it. I’m still teaching English to adults, while also helping them to remember (or often to relearn) how to learn. I’ve found out there’s comfort zone and it feels challenging, necessary and rewarding for me to be stretching it by presenting at conferences, talking to other teachers, listening to them, thinking about my classes and writing about these.

I never wanted to be a teacher and I don’t presume I “was born to be one”. It’s my belief that a person can be anything he/ she wants as long as there’s realization about this, confidence, pain and effort, and acceptance of the way to be thorny, though sometimes rosy, too. That totally depends on your perspective. My way now is interesting and inviting, allowing me to have time and chance to think and improvise. Now I’d like to change my teaching context in a way more radical than instructing learners of another education stage (besides, I feel like “a veteran” who’s seen enough of it here – I get the idea of ELT in Russia). I wish to see how I would cope with teaching, students, and teaching students in Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, etc. At the same time, I wish for myself to be writing more and better, about things I know or spend so much of my time contemplating about. I imagine I could very well be anything other than a teacher, still, and maybe I will. A columnist, a psychologist, a gallerist, some other -ist. I wouldn’t mind being a teacher all the while, too. 🙂

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you there —> Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto – ‘The Lives of English Language Teachers’, July 19th.

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#OneStudent and his guest post.

This is a guest post from D., my former student. Read on, and then on to my commentary at the bottom to make sense of my reasons to request the writing in the first place and publish it here, unedited and with permission.

 

*****

As far as I got from the letter, for some reason your opinion about my level of EFL is quite good, so I am to tell why.
It made me think for a while so for now there’s a couple of words I can say.

It was maybe the 2nd grade (12 years ago) to offer an English lessons for the first time. It wasn’t obligatory so we had a small group of children whose parents wanted their kids to study foreign language. The teacher was my mother’s friend in youth so I became special for her (for my teacher, not for my mom; for mom I’ve been special before for good marks and other stuff). Her name was Ekaterina Vladimirovna, and she was awesome. I remember her way of remembering structures and words, it was based on a rhythmical repeating. It was so effective so i still remember the rules of being polite (“be the first to say “hello””, “say “thank you” a lot” etc.) and the line from the text about breakfast that I will never forget: “…porridge, an egg, a sandwich and a cup of coffee for breakfast…”. We painted arrows up and down over the words to remember where to go with the voice up and down. Once she made me repeat “Africa” nine times till I pronounced it right. Nine times for poor Africa.
After her course I was able to list my breakfast with an excellent pronunciation. But the even better thing to change was that after her lessons I would never consider English as a discipline. For me it always will be a game, a song that I have to sing, a rhythm that I need to play with. Since then being at the ordinary lesson would be a torture for me.

In later classes my teachers were changing every year. They were my school’s director that skipped half of the lessons, three of four students or university graduates (I had problems with literally ALL of them) and one extremely old woman with so German voice so I considered her to be a fascist. Students were so boring and dumb that I had to argue with them to feel awake. Once one of them said that the right noun to be derivative from “lonely” is “lonelity”. I called it bullshit because I knew that in Coldplay’s “Yes” Chris sings “…cause I’m just so tired of this loneliness…”. She was unarmed.

Thanks to them my knowledge in English grammar is about zero. I don’t know any rule, I don’t know how to make two parts of the sentence seem relative. My strategy of allocating the prepositions is terrible. Why am I writing now? Because there’s another awesome woman in my school history of English learning.

She was a teacher in another school, and her lessons were extremely cheap. So many times I asked her to take more money for the lesson but she never accepted. She was not very old, she had a cat named “Boy”, and she was in love with English. Evgenia Ivanovna taught me that English is a LEGO construction toy that I MUST create words and structures in a case of not knowing how to say something right. She tried to explain me some rules but soon she gave up on it. I had a insight, so all we were doing was solving tests in “automatic” mode and reading tons of texts. She never allowed me to spell aloud the wrong answer twice. With her help I won two municipals and one regional English contests. She was proud of me, and that was her best reward.

In my university life I’ve been only polishing what I have on classes (hate to boring lessons, love to the great CREATIVE ones with A.V.) and mostly by myself. I started to read in English (Flowers for Algernon, To kill a mockingbird). Sometimes it is still hard for me (I hate this stupid feeling of forgetting the word I’ve just found in a dictionary) but I do read sometimes. What concerns speaking I benefited a lot from the lessons of Ann because she demanded us to make a speech every lesson. This was helpful to demonstrate my taste to forget all the words that I know during the speech.

This is it, I suppose. Playing English is still one of my hobbies, the bad side of it is that I do not make any progress. My luggage of words does not fascinate, I still use dictionaries (for typing this story I used http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ a dozen of times) and sometimes play dumb (today in a short conversation with a Chinese tourist I found myself unable to recall the word “passage”). But it’s just me being lazy to study.

I think this story above is what you wanted me to do. If not, well, I spent a couple of hours in my past; this is a great gift of you. Thank you. (Thank you! A.V.)

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I wondered if D. could write up a story of how come his English is so natural and style so fresh after I read this post by Mike Griffin.

My point, if there has to be one, is not about Russia being an EFL situation and students getting bright and shining with their Englishes (which D., believe me, is a very vivid example of) against all odds, including their schools, books and teachers. A continuing, irritating to many, flux of English teachers, entering classrooms to stay for several months and then rush away. Apparently, D., just like Yeajin somewhere on the other side of the globe, is not a typical student… but in some *good* ways he is. He’s interested, he’s curious, he’s lazy, he’s evaluating teachers by what they taught him, how they did that, what kind of people they came across as, and other subjective factors. He is not typical at all in that he can reflect on his learning like he did, he can create a rich and colourful narrative without being assigned a creative writing task. Or maybe exactly thanks to this.

I don’t know much about D.’s experience travelling abroad and yes, I believe the mere fact of travelling does not guarantee transformative insights in regards to language learning. When I was in the UK after graduation and went to Starbucks, I had a most embarrassing time making a simple order. On second thought, that was a kind of an insight.

D. explicitly shared what has worked for him personally in his 12-year English language journey, and you can also read between the lines to find out more. There’s no conclusion I’m planning to make here or a moral to take away. It is just another #onestudent story, which also features many teachers along the way.

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I think about #OneThing.

This is another upside down blog post. I’d like to rewind this day (and more) back, take you on this backward journey through the convulsive, abrupt and illogical path of my logic, and finally reach the moment when the #OneThing happened. Here we go.

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Any day is a set of scenes, each of them full of small things that happen and often go unnoticed, like they weren’t there at all. But they were. And one class in a thread of classes on a long teaching day is a subscene, full of small things that happen and often go unnoticed, or worse, misinterpreted. This one class does not ask you to keep your eyes open for the #onething, nor does it need you to speculate on your professional (in)efficiency. This one class has likely been planned and will surely go its own way, whether this way and your lesson plan go the same way or their paths diverge. This one class will have its unique air, which will be the product of: the moods of the people in class; the feelings of the people in class about the class and about the people in class; the attitude factor; the choices and reactions to these choices; the mindset for this class and these people in it. And probably many other factors, not excluding your choice of a warmer activity and a smooth progression of lesson stages.

What can ruin your class? Do you really think a class can be “ruined”? I don’t think classes get ruined because of inconsistent lesson plans, poor discipline, unprepared students, absence of students, etc. I think a class is 90 minutes which will go and be over no matter what happens in this time. Last week, and the week before, I was battling with every 90-minute slot gritting my teeth to come out emotionally intact myself and with the least amount of damage to my students. The unique air of my classes was predetermined by my anticipation of problems; by my uncertainty regarding my plans; by my unwillingness to face the people in my class; by my own heavy emotional background for those days. No class was ruined in a sense that would imply self-criticism of high order. I am sure my students left the classroom without any strong aftertaste, the most tangible and noticeable maybe being the idea that the teacher looked tired/ bored/ strict/ unwelcoming/ unfriendly. I do believe this was the most harmful impact those classes had, for them. And I felt disoriented and stuck, wishing to flee the university building asap. No harm in that either. I slept, time passed, and today we had great classes which had a very different unique air, because the teacher felt different, and all the components in the subscene of this day fitted together more or less nicely.

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For one of the groups I teach the homework was to watch a section from Britain is Great series (individually assigned for every student) and be ready to talk about it. 9 out of 12 students were present. 6 out of 9 students were prepared. 2 out of 6 students had accidentally clicked the same link in our Google Doc and watched the same videos. So we had 5 topics instead of many. The planned activity would have meant working in 2 groups, listening to the different aspects of the greatness of Britain, and completing the KWL charts about the topics discussed in that group with the notes.

I was not shocked or angry or even displeased about the fact those 3 students were not ready for class. Neither were their groupmates. So, while I was having an indecisive moment of thinking how to rearrange the group for the task now with this information, Student K suggested they worked in 3 groups with 1 unprepared groupmate in each. Then they’d move to other groups and listen to other students talking about the greatness, and in this way would all try to cover all 5 topics, in a more engaging and dynamic way (this is now my personal comment, she didn’t really say these words).

I am not sure I had to do much that class. It was interesting to listen to them speak and make comments, and be openly uninspired by some of those topics. It was great to see them organize their lesson flow, set the pace, search for the shortcuts to get finished with the task with less effort in less time. My amazement and satisfaction were piqued when I saw two of the three unprepared guys sit a little aside and start filling each other in on what they’d each heard or missed. That was the #OneThing moment.

Somehow I felt a relief, and I was smiling and felt very good about having these people, all 9 of them, in that room. Because I can trust them to self-regulate our time together, because they seem to trust me to find a compromise. Because today we helped each other to bridge the gaps and create the unique air which probably left all the people in that class feeling involved, respected, and hopefully learning.

Well, at least this lesson left me feeling good about us and willing to write this post.

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From within.

If you’re on this page, odds are you’re an English teacher. You might be busy and quite likely to be about to skim through this post. Please do me a favour and watch this video first. Thank you.

Now you can skim.

*** Commentary ***

– This video (animation without voice-over) was shown last Thursday in class by one of my students as a presentation he’d prepared (he was reading the text at that point). The presentation of any topic of their choice is an obligatory part of the course this term. The student had spent about 12 hours filming it, and then I suppose more recording his voice because I asked him to do that. Because I selfishly wanted to share it here in my blog. The student created this animation out of his own idea, out of his own will. His teacher (me) did not motivate/ inspire/ encourage such performance in any specific way. The student did use multiple sources to research for his work, including reading non-fiction books on the psychology of fear and such. His teacher (me) has little, or more accurately – nothing, to do with this attitude. I’d say it all came from within.

– One thing we do with my students after watching presentations is writing personal feedback messages. Students are asked to write 5 sentences, or as much as they’d like, in their notebooks with their impressions, notes, suggestions, advice. After that they hand over their paragraphs to the presenter and then to me. This has been my practice for two months only and I do think, supported by feedback from the students and their enthusiasm that I’ve seen, that this idea is a winner on several levels. Well, after this particular presentation on FEARS I asked the group mates of the presenter to share their biggest fear in the message they were going to write. Before I did that, both the presenter and I had revealed our fears, so I thought that’d be fair and maybe interesting to give a chance for others to open up (if they wished – that was a condition). As a result, half the students felt comfortable and added this personal sentence. Several wrote they’d never thought about it. Others were either vague or not willing to share. Well, whether we pronounce our fear or not, it stays within I guess.

– In my next post, which I boldly almost announce in this way because it’s already half-written, I’ll tell about one of my biggest professional fears. The fear I revealed to my students in class is of existential nature. Scared by my own thoughts – that is about me. From within?

– I’d not known about sleep paralysis before I watched this presentation.

 

And yes, the student said he can’t draw.

We (the student and me) thank you for watching and reading.

 

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On Capote and motivation in broken logic.

I’m learning lessons from every situation that gives me a tiny chance at learning something, that is everything that happens with me, everything I do, every consequence and reaction that follows. This post is a perverse version of the original impulsive blog post I drafted a couple of weeks ago, during and right after I watched the movie “Capote”. All this time has allowed impulsiveness to subside. I will now try to work on the draft, in cold blood. I know it will be a bizarre piece of writing, but I can’t keep thinking about having this in my drafts as a very heavy burden anymore, so let me have it out.

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As I allowed myself to blog the way I want or see fit for the moment, I’m writing an impulsive post again after I watched “Capote”. In an odd way that is so typical of me, I both enjoyed and suffered watching it. This is exactly the kind of film (not only a film, but a story too) that makes me tick and also gets me have a lump in my throat. This time it was powerful on several levels.

Aside from the non-fictional In Cold Blood story itself (which is one of the books that affected me greatly, as TC character said it would), my mind couldn’t but keep being focused on the writer. That is, on the image of a writer that Philip Seymore Hoffman was picturing for me and which I was closely watching, noticing, paying attention to, getting emotional about.

I see the writer’s pains and torture that lead him to create something extraordinary.
I see how different a writer at a social gathering is from the same man working at his desk.
I see a writer as a sly and tactical man who knows he needs to manipulate people and their emotions for the sake of his art.
I see the way experience has to be lived and suffered through to become real.

For me all these random observations in the flow of the story line, which is a real story line of one particular writer, open up a thinking direction. How knowing or trying to grasp the author’s individuality, intentions, reasons, idiosyncrasies can help me review and re-visualize the image of his writing I have. That idea, I very well understand, must make little sense, for which I apologize and move on to another part of these musings.

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I realize it can be seen as absurd to bring together TC writing and students essays or whatever other writing you get them to do.
But maybe – just maybe – … I want to think ELT and just see what happens.

To track my line of thinking this should be helpful:
It wasn’t a plan (it never is) to get myself to write something after I watch the film. On some other day, I might not even finish watching it. But now that it is happening, I’m looking inwards and question myself: how did you get motivated to make these notes in order to later put them together in some more readable form? Zooming this inward look out, the next question is this: how do you motivate anybody to have ideas? Bringing the focus onto my class: how do you find a way to impress each and every student in such a way that they are truly motivated to do stuff?
You can’t know what would make them tick. Even if you think you do (O. likes football and P. is keen on arts and music), you have no idea, in fact.

***** broken logic line *****

Think writing again – just how utterly frustrating it feels to have limited vocabulary. I am fed up with the words I keep using again and again. That just makes me think of students, any level really, who have an idea they want to express immediately – and feel for words as if they’re drowning, and while doing that (I’ve seen it plenty of times) they get distraught at how long and how much effort it takes, so they give up. They either give up on expressing their point, or on their mission to search for a word which would convey the sense of their thought more accurately (possibly never as precise as it is there in their mind).
I’m right there with them, these students. We are none of us Truman Capote.

“I know what “exacerbate” means…there’s not a word or a sentence or a concept that you can illuminate for me.” (quote from the film)

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So I keep wondering … how motivation that gets me to write is different or similar to motivation that can get students to do their homework, write in their notebooks in class, listen to what their groupmates say in a class, care to write an assignment on their own. I keep wondering if it’s in my power (or if I need to care about it that much at all) to look for and find this something that can motivate them to think. Even if English is not their most favourite subject, not anything they’d readily spend hours doing, even then. Motivation seems to be a shallow, insufficient term to help this.

I believe there is a lot of confusion for both learners and teachers who are, or crave to be, aware of their learning and teaching.

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At the end of this mess of a post I’m thinking 3 words. Move. Motivate. Manipulate. That’s what I’ve seen Truman Capote do in the movie. And here’s what Truman Capote himself said in a film-interview here (I hope you watch this till the end, it’s quite interesting and on another level stunned me with the portrayal of TC that P.S. Hoffman did).

I always have this theory… That if you want to move someone else as an artist …you yourself necessarily must have been deeply moved by what it is that you are writing. But you must keep exploiting that emotion in yourself over and over and over and over till you’ve become completely cold about it… I mean so that you no longer laugh, say, about whatever it is that made you laugh… You see it like it was some extraordinary specimen, but you know that it had that effect on you, personally, so that you know that if you can reproduce it you can make it have exactly the same effect on someone else

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The lesson I’ve learnt is to never mix different film genres on one day. The Big Lebowski is a hilarious movie clearly deserving blog posts written about it, but its effect on some impulsive posts has been proven destructive.

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