Saturday’s Book: “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” by Sendker

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

If you want to call me cold-hearted and nitpicky now is the time to do so.

I was prepared to surrender myself to a legendary love story that breaks the barriers of time and distance. Romance is good.

However, I need consistency within the story. The world created in the story needs to make sense according to the story. Too many details did not adhere to this principle, at least as far as I am concerned.

I am willing to accept that an impoverished, blind, semi-orphan living in a monastery in rural Burma had access to a couple of books in Braille (left behind by a British officer) but asking me to believe he was well versed in all the classics, all of which were read in Braille from his extensive collection is a bit much. And how was the love of his life writing him letters? When exactly did she become literate? Who was educating girls, especially with a handicap? What about the daughter who was abandoned as a child, without any warning, forgives all the moment she hears about how great the love story was? I guess that’s what is called “short-term therapy”.

I think what bothered me most was the underlying assumption that true wisdom can only be found where there is desperate poverty, children die young of diseases that are preventable, a person with a mobility handicap must be carried on other people’s back and more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly willing to truly believe that there is a great deal of wisdom to be found in such places. It’s the “only” that really gets me.

I do not intend to read the second book.

Having a Staff “Pre-Mortem” Before Major Exams

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos


No, I didn’t invent the term “pre-mortem” and I don’t associate exams with life and death situations.

But it is a strategy for avoiding mistakes (or minimizing the impact of mistakes ) when one is faced with very stressful situations and national exam days are very stressful days, ripe with opportunities for all sorts of mayhem. I learned about it from Daniel Levitin’s TED TALK, embedded below. As he points out, when you are under stress your thinking gets cloudy without you realizing it is cloudy.

Obviously it is common sense to plan ahead and be prepared for exam days. I’ve had a checklist for years of things I need to do before an exam. Things such as bringing extra pens for those students who arrive at an exam without one, making sure students remember what time their exam begins, bringing food for the incredibly long day we must spend at school…

A checklist turns out not be enough.

A checklist relies on previous experience, picturing situations already encountered. It is limited to the extent of my personal experience (albeit a long one but the limit remains). It also relies on the assumption that there is a limited number of problems that could arise on exam days. I do not find that assumption to be true.

A staff “pre-mortem” to brainstorm all the things that could possibly cause trouble on exam day would tap the imagination and experience of many people. We would have varied input as to what we can do to prepare for some of the issues.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Some simple examples I’ve come up with when conducting my own “post mortem” of the exam day we just had:

  • In addition to being a teacher I’m a national counselor. I’m on the phone a lot with schools all over the country during exam day. I almost missed the announcement that came in about an hour after the first exam had begun that there was an error in the line numbers on one of the questions. This actually has happened before but it wasn’t on my checklist and it hadn’t occurred to me to set up a “buddy system” to make sure someone checks to see that I’ve heard  the announcement.
  • An administrator came to me after the exam had begun and requested, urgently, that I give her some dictionaries from the English room for students (not mine) that arrived without them. I did. I think, I hope, I had written a long time ago “English Room” inside the front covers. I didn’t check (cloudy thinking!). Will I ever see those dictionaries again?
  • I have no idea what I could have done about the shortage of proctors and the huge delays caused, but perhaps imagining the situation with others beforehand would have brought up some interesting thoughts…

Blogging for ETAI International Conference – IATEFL President Marjorie Rosenberg’s Acrostic

Marjorie Rosenberg

This is the  second interview of the series “Meet our Plenary Speakers” for the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6). IATEFL President Marjorie Rosenberg readily agreed to go along with the spirit of this blog (called VISUALISING ideas, remember?) and to participate in a “visual interview”.  It isn’t surprising given her keen interest in different learning styles and her  ongoing  photography contributions to the ELTpics  (photos by teachers / for teachers) project. However,  one very important fact about Marjorie relates to auditory aspects rather than visual ones  –  read on to find out how a passion for music and the opera tie in with teaching English as a foreign language!

And here it is!


Saturday’s Book: Let the Great World Spin by McCann

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I know it sounds like a contradiction, but this book got me hooked right away yet required patience.

It’s not a spoiler to say that the book starts with a true event, a man performed a tightrope act with a balancing pole between The Twin Towers in 1974. The description is beautifully written.

Then the author moves into fiction,introducing characters.  Here you need some patience, the first story (introducing the first characters) for me was a bit long and I wasn’t sure where he was going with it. But the second one was riveting.

And then the different characters and their lives all tie in.

And there is hope, despite it all.

Quite an unusual book with beautiful language. Worth reading!

Saturday’s Book: “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Eggers

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

I’m sorry.

The book is heartbreaking.

And I do recognize the talent, the cleverness (aka genius) of the style of writing. I really did feel like I was in the head of this 24  year old “kid” who was orphaned and is trying to raise his 7 year old brother.

Which is why I stopped reading the book. Being inside this young man’s head was a totally dizzying experience, one I actually felt too old for.

The book deserves to be read. But I couldn’t deal with it.

Blogging for ETAI International Conference – An Interview with Tesol President Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis Official Photo
TESOL President Andy Curtis (from TESOL Presidents Blog)


One of the exciting things about attending an international conference is meeting people whose belief in the power of teaching and teachers has had global impact. The upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) brings us inspiring  educators from around the globe.  I’m honored to post an interview with TESOL President Andy Curtis,  a plenary speaker at the conference, who talked to me about becoming a teacher in the face of adversity and how teachers on the global level have more in common than we tend to think. Many thanks to President Curtis for this interview!

NE:  What profession did you dream of when you were a child?

Against All Odds (Naomi's Photos)
Against All Odds
(Naomi’s Photos)

AC: My parents came to England in the 1950s, as poor immigrants ‘imported’ from the British Empire in Guyana, South America, as cheap labour for the ‘Glorious Motherland’. Added to that, there was great deal of racial violence on the streets of England in the 1960s and 1970s. Consequently, we did not have much of a childhood, and our main goals revolved around making it to adulthood intact. For a while, I harboured hopes of being a writer of fiction. But like many immigrant parents, trying so hard to protect their children from the prejudices they experienced as adults, the creativity was knocked out of us, and we were duly funnelled into ‘vocationally appropriate’ directions. For me, that meant the health sciences, and a medical scholarship, which I eventually gave up, to my parents unending disappointment, to become a language teacher, which for my Dad, just added insult to injury.

NE: What caused you to leave the field of medicine for teaching? What was your first teaching position?

AC: In my original professional incarnation, I was a Medical Science Officer in the UK National Health Service, with a specialism in Clinical Biochemistry. I very much enjoyed being on the hospital wards, working with patients and doctors, helping to align diagnosis with treatment. But after some years, I began to be disheartened by the singularly ‘curative’ approach to healthcare, in which we waited for someone to get ill, then tried to cure them, usually with hit-and-miss approaches that sometimes worked, eventually, but which, as often as not, made the person more ill. In those days, if you weren’t sick when you went into the hospital, you sure as hell would be by the time you got out. On top of that, people were reduced to a set of compartmentalized symptoms, stripped of their clothes, and of their dignity. My first teaching position was as student teacher in a secondary school in a poor part of the Northeast of England. After 25 years, I believe I have helped to save far more lives than I would’ve done as a medic.

NE: How/when did you first become involved with TESOL? Do you still remember the first conference you attended?

AC: After completing my MA in Applied Linguistics and my PhD in International Education, both at the University of York, in England, I was keen to go overseas, so I applied for and was offered a job at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. That was in the mid-1990s, and as me and my siblings were very much products of the British Empire, in India, I was curious to see what another, far-flung, country, but also part of the Empire – and a symbol of its demise – was like. One of the best things that happened to me during those first five years in Hong Kong (1995-2000, and I went back again, from 2007 to 2011) was that TESOL Past President Kathi Bailey, was a one-year Visiting Professor at our university (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, aka CUHK). Kathi encouraged all of us in the ELT Unit at CUHK to become members of the TESOL International Association. I attended my first TESOL Convention in 1995, when it was held in Long Beach, California.

NE: What do you enjoy about being President of the TESOL International Association? 

Mexico Symposium, Andy Curtis with Araceli Salas of MEXTESOL (from Tesol Presidents Blog)
Mexico Symposium, Andy Curtis with Araceli Salas of MEXTESOL
(from Tesol Presidents Blog)

AC: It’s been a gruelling but great two years in TESOL’s presidential line, with one more to go. As it turns out, being the President during the Association’s 50th anniversary year, and presiding over its 50th anniversary convention, has made it an especially intense couple of years. But the two hundred thousand miles that I travelled, between 2015 and 2016, gave me the opportunity to meet thousands of members of the Association in dozens of countries. Some of our friends, in our home base, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who do not travel much, say to me: “You must love to travel”. I try not to sound ungrateful or to be grumpy, but the truth is that, as the result of ever-increasingly global conflict, any kind of travel, especially international travel by air, is an increasingly unpleasant experience. But the being there makes up for the pains of the getting there and getting back. To have teachers, from all over the world, tell you their personal-professional stories has been a humbling and moving experience.

NE: You have worked in several different countries. Did you find significant differences in the teaching methodology or attitudes towards the profession in different countries?

AC: It’s interesting that I’m often asked about the differences, while what I usually see are the similarities. For example, the fad-fashion/claim that we are “post methods” does not appear to be true anywhere. Hearing teachers tell me about what they do in their ELT classes, and sitting in their classrooms, I can hear and see that they are all using methods of one kind or another, even if they do not use the labels assigned by applied linguists, such as CLT, TBLT, etc. But we are now beginning to fully acknowledge what I refer to in my work as ‘the centrality of context’, in which where we do what we do is at least as important – and maybe even more important – than who does what to whom, in the language classroom. Certainly, the Technological Divide, in terms of the haves and the have-nots, can make a big difference, but the qualities and characteristics of a ‘good learner’ and a ‘good teacher’ appear to be much the same wherever I have been.

NE: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

AC: I joke that – but like all such jokes, there is a grain of truth in it – my family’s motto is: “Why be merely interested, when you can be completely obsessed”. So, when I signed on to be in TESOL’s presidential line for three years, I chose to give up a well-paid, full-time academic position to this work for three years, with no salary. As a result, although this is not a healthy, balanced or sustainable approach, I have had little or no spare time in the last couple of years. But my list of things that I will go back to doing, next year, such as Tai Chi, Curling and Fishing, is growing longer by the day…



Saturday’s Book: Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr

ESCAPE! Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I couldn’t put the book down.

I read it in pretty much in three big “gulps”.

Hooked by the end of page one.

The story is told from the point of view of a child, and I really liked the way the author was careful not to share information about characters’ real intentions or backgrounds that the child, Michelle, could not have known.

Michelle’s mother was Japanese and her father was a from small, deeply conservative, white, blue-collar town in Wisconsin. A town dead set against change with deep-rooted fears of anyone who is different. That’s where Michelle found herself growing up from around the age of 9 (having spent her life till then in Japan).

Frankly, a very relevant read if you are wondering why there are American voters who are attracted to a presidential candidate who rides a platform of ethnic hatred.

I’m eager to read more books by Revoyr.

Saturday’s Book: “Butcher’s Crossing” by Williams

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

We have a really nice librarian at our local library. When she recommended the book I took it at once, no questions asked.

The fact that I actually read the whole book (minus a page here and there) is proof of how well written it is. I did not like the topic of the Wild West and the ethos of the frontiersman. In particular I find hunting (which is putting it politely) buffalo distasteful. That was the section where I skipped a page at certain points.  I would have stopped reading the book if the language and the descriptions hadn’t been so very good. I had to see it through. I did need closure. In doing so I discovered how clever the title was.

It’s important to note that the author does not glorify hunting at all (otherwise I really would have stopped reading!). Nor does he glorify the “cowboy” figure. I got that. But I am left with a sense  of not really understanding the point of the book. The behavior of the hero at the end puzzles me.

I agree with what I saw online that there are elements of the book that remind one of Cold Mountain. I wondered if the Cohen Brothers were influenced by the  book when they chose the name “Miller’s Crossing” for their film. Miller is a main character in the book and “crossing” in the film also has more than one meaning. But IMDB does not support this thought.

In short, I don’t know what I feel about this book. I couldn’t quit but I was glad when it ended.



The Jar, Spring Cleaning & the Teacher Hoarding Devil

The jar in question (Naomi's Photos)
The jar in question
(Naomi’s Photos)

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: What a lovely little jar, with a tight-fitting lid, let’s keep it!
Spring Cleaning: Really?! What for?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: We’ll take it to the English Room at school.

S: It’s made of glass.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: We teach high-school students nowadays, remember? They can be careful with glass.

S: Hmph. Hardly.  Laws of gravity apply in high-school too. What could you possibly do with such a small jar?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Store thumbtacks?

S: We already have a little jar for that. A plastic jar.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Rubber bands?

S: Ditto.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: So we’ll keep it in the bottom cupboard with the other boxes and containers waiting to be used.

S: We just organized that cupboard and got rid of things! Do you want to needlessly clutter it again?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Needlessly? NEEDLESSLY?!! This year you were grateful that we kept the small boxes that once contained chocolate or calling cards and now contain writing prompts.  All thanks to ME! ME!

S: Spluttering sounds.

S: It’s a tiny little glass jar! Not a cardboard or a tin. It’ll break just waiting around in the cupboard! We should not keep this jar!

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: But it looks so nice, we can’t throw it away…

Teacher shooing away “Me” and “Myself” and just listening to “I”: Enough! I’ll tell you what.  I’m going to give it away. Storage Free and Guilt Free. Now disappear!

Final note: The pair are quiet now. But they are keeping a close eye on any gifts in containers I may  receive …





A Multiple Book Post


Parking Lot Natural Art (Naomi's Photos)
Parking Lot Natural Art
(Naomi’s Photos)

I haven’t been posting about books for a while due to my “Who Were You, Dora? Saturday’s Mystery” Series ,but I have been reading. Here’s a quick overview:

  1. “The Lost – A Search for Six of Six Million” by Daniel Mendelsohn
  2.  “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann
  3. “Dreams from my Father” by Barack Obama
  4. “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline

It’s easy to see a connection to my recent interest in geneology. The book by Mendelsohn seems the most obvious connection. It’s true detective work to find out what became of people who perished in the Holocaust so long ago, gathering information from four different continents and putting together the pieces (fragments!) of the puzzle. I could have done with a bit less of philosophy but I found the book fascinating.  I think it’s a great read even if you aren’t interested in geneoolgy, but since I’m biased I suppose I can’t really tell…

Obama’s memoir was written long before he became president, in fact even before he became a senator. No ghost writer there – he can write! Different but not so different from the previous book.  I enjoyed the parts where he wrote about the family members and the relevant history the most. Once again, I had less patience for the philosophical aspects.

Orphan Train is very readable. I found large parts of it (not the last bit) to be very believable. I was most interested in the story of the older woman, the Irish immigrant orphan – once again I’m drawn to a certain time period… The ending is a bit too pat for me. Real life is stranger than fiction anyway.

Thomas Mann’s book has nothing to do with geneology. My husband has read a lot of European classics and from time to time I pause and fill in what we call “holes” in my education. I could see why it was a classic and there certainly was what to discuss after I read it but I have no desire to read anything else by Mann… I much preferred my husband’s reccomendation “The day lasts more than a hundred years” by Aitmatov, for example.

Next week I’ll catch up to what I’m reading at the moment!

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