Teachers & Conferences? What if Principals Got Letters Like THESE?!

 

Noticing…
Naomi’s Photos

Version One 

Dear Principal ____________,

We have noted with satisfaction the large number of teachers from your school who have attended at least one conference for English teachers during the past year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that encourages continued professional development among your staff members for the benefit of the students entrusted to your care.

Since it is well-known that these conferences / mini-conferences take place in the afternoons and during school vacations, such a commitment to professional development among your staff members is particularly commendable.

We are encouraging other principals in our district to follow your example.

Yours,

The regional inspectors / local school board

Possible replacement options for the first paragraph:

Watchful…
Naomi’s Photos

Dear Principal ____________,

We have noted with satisfaction that teachers from your school have presented at one conference for English teachers or more during the past year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that not only encourages continued professional development among your staff members but encourages them to share their knowledge with others.

 

Dear Principal ____________,

We have noted with satisfaction that teachers from your school have attendedpresented at an international conference for English teachers abroad during the school year. Your school is ranked among the top schools in our district in this matter. While you, obviously, have no say in the matter of the teacher’s pay being docked for the few work days they missed, your assistance in getting the paperwork necessary for such an endeavor approved is greatly appreciated. * Clearly, your management policies foster an atmosphere that not only encourages continued professional development among your staff members but recognizes the value of foreign language teachers keeping abreast of worldwide trends in this field.

Just look around… Naomi’s Photos

 

Principals love it when their school is honorably mentioned.

Teachers who attend conferences and invest in continued professional development do it whether or not the principal or management cares.

But being noticed means a lot to teachers too…

Two notes which haven’t found a place in the letters:

  • Some teachers are only able to come to a part of a conference due to reasons such as family commitments, which means they don’t get any recognition for in-service training points (aka “Gmul).  They deserve to be noticed too!
  • Presenting at an international conference or publishing in a recognized academic journal officially awards a teacher one complete in-service training point (aka an entire “Gmul”) instead of the usual fraction.  De facto it is only worth a quarter point in your salary (30 hours)…

*

 

 

Shifting the Focus of Pre-Reading Tasks

“I don’t nest on a tree! You just chose me because you like puffins!” Epstein Family Photos

You might think I am barking up the wrong tree.

Even if I am, it’s a tree well-chosen.

The short video that you see below “Too Quick to Judge” (3.42 min.)  obviously belongs to the genre of educational messages which we can refer to as “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

Therefore, you would naturally assume that I would be using this video as a pre-reading task when teaching the story in our literature program “Mr. Know All” by Somerset Maugham. That story is about judging someone far too quickly based on his name and looks and this video certainly is related.

Nope.

Being judgmental…
Epstein Family Photos

I needed a pre-reading task for a group of struggling Deaf and hard of hearing learners (note: I also have very strong Deaf and hard of hearing learners!). They are wonderful young people, who are admirably determined to succeed, but their general knowledge can only be described as dismal and they get totally befuddled by abstract things such as metaphors.

The poem “As I Grew Older” by Langston Hughes uses the powerful metaphor of a “wall” to signify discrimination. I’ve decided to begin by focussing the pre-reading discussion on the significance of the wall, or rather a wall.

At first, I thought I the pre-reading task should be a mini American history lesson on slavery, civil rights, and discrimination. These issues will undoubtedly be discussed when I teach the poem itself (I discuss them when I teach the poem to my strong students) but I will not include them in the pre-reading.

The literacy educator Timothy Shanahan writes:

  1. ” Prior to reading, I will help students to think about ideas that are relevant to what is important or challenging in a text. (For example, if we are reading Moby Dick, the preparation activities will not emphasize whales, but obsession. Prior knowledge matters, but it has to be the knowledge that is relevant to what is important, rather than background information that is only superficially connected to the ideas).”  Quote from My New Year’s Resolutions for Teaching Reading Comprehension.
Dealing with walls…
Epstein Family Photos

My students will not understand the poem if they think that an actual brick wall actually popped up between the poet’s home and someplace he wanted to go.  These student’s default mode is to look at language in a very literal manner. Words should only have one concrete meaning as far as they are concerned. Some even complain that it is very inconsiderate of their feelings when this is not the case. Background knowledge won’t be helpful or meaningful if we don’t get them to relate the wall as a metaphor.

I believe the wall is a good place to start because these students actually have experience with a wall that needs to be broken. They all live with a hearing loss that affects their communication with the world around them and the way they are perceived by others.

For a change, I haven’t prepared any structured activities or worksheets for this video. In this case, an open discussion is needed. I’m going to write the word “wall” on the board and begin by asking them if they can imagine the wall between the boy and girl (who is Deaf!) sitting on the same bench and not communicating. Then I will ask if they can see other virtual barriers between people in this video. I believe that they will bring up points related to gender, race and perhaps economic status. I will sum up by reminding them that the wall is a metaphor yet they all understood it.

Once the students are prepared for a metaphor, we will be able to start learning the poem in its own context.

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Last Painting of Sara De Vos” by Smith

One could imagine such a scene as a landscape painting…
Naomi’s Photos

It sounded like a book I would enjoy.

A tale of a little known female painter who was a member of the Dutch painter’s guild as a work of fiction, with the author filling in the gaps in plausible manner given the period and place.  Such books can often illuminate a period in history and distant societies, enriching my world.

The lighting in the painting may have been wonderful but the book did not hold my interest. I read a bit more than a third of it before giving up on it. The parts about the super rich man (with detailed description of the wonders of his apartment) who is, (naturally) unhappy (cursed by the painting?) and the poor lonely art student drawn into forgery bored me and ruined the rest.

The book got excellent reviews but doesn’t work for me.

Family ELT Travel Fun – “Paperback”, For Students too!

*Note: This is not a commercial post and I have no connection whatsoever to any company. Just sharing the joy.

The lookout
Naomi’s photos

Are you fond of games which require forming words in English?

Have you found that the younger generation prefers having extra “twists” to word games, such as cards with double letters (“ed” “en”) , cards that have powers to get you an extra card , replace or duplicate a card, and even earn you extra points?

Do you like games which can be less competitive and encourage the whole family to collaborate on figuring out a word with the hand dealt to one player?  Note: It can also be very competitive, it depends how you want to play it, despite Mom’s non-competitive bent…

Now bear with me for a moment.

A Smart Move
(Naomi’s Photos)

Our son taught us the board game “Paperback” and it’s a great thing at any age for a family to gather around a table to play together. Since this game is good for developing vocabulary in the English  language, I like the game even better.

But I didn’t think of traveling with it.

You know, space and weight in the suitcase, a table is needed and it takes some organizing of the piles of cards, etc.

Well, there’s an app for that.

For the first time in my life I bought a game app for the tablet.

And now the teacher-in-me is considering using the game, in app form, in class.

It turns out that the app solves more than the issue of making the game convenient to travel with ( we played on the airplane with the tablet in airplane mode) , it seems that it will also solve the following issues

* No precious lesson time wasted on setting up the game.

* The app basically teaches you the game as  you play, so no lengthy instructions or learning curve required. It tells you what kind of action is required next.

* It keeps score. That might sound obvious but since points determine all kinds of perks during the game, it’s important to know how to calculate the score. I’m very bad at score keeping in all games, sigh…

* The app won’t accept misspelled words or invented words. Your offspring or your students can play independently without you worrying that they are blithely giving themselves points for nonsense and reinforcing errors.

* There is a single player mode,  a student can play against a computer with three different levels of difficulty, thought frankly I haven’t explored this mode much yet.

In short, Paperback has won me over as a family game. I’m looking forward to trying it in class.

That is, if our English room ever gets those tablets we’ve been promised…

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Poem: “The Armful” by Robert Frost

So many…
Naomi’s Photos

I received a phone call from someone I used to work with as part of my counseling job. It seems that a small box of papers of mine had been discovered in a cupboard that was being disposed of . The papers needed to be removed.

Among the papers from the late 90s and to around 2004, was a handout from a talk the amazing Aharona Gvaryahu had given. It must have been a talk on what it is like to live with learning disabilities but I don’t know for sure.  The only thing I kept  was this poem.

I hadn’t seen the poem since then and did not remember it existed.

But I immediately knew  why I had chosen to keep it.

It’s about me, isn’t it? It can be about you too, I don’t mind. Aren’t most of us in the same situation?

Enjoy!

The Armful by Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns-
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.

An Over-the-Counter “Treatment” for Excessive Note-Taking at ELT Conferences

Over and Over
Naomi’s Photos

Warning – Excessive note-taking at an awesome ELT conference may lead to undesirable side effects, ranging in severity and scope. The following “treatment” may be taken prior to the conference , as “preventive medicine”, or after the first conference day of several in order to alleviate existing symptoms.

Possible side effects of untreated excessive note-taking

Excessive note-taking  may seriously impair a teacher’s  ability to digest  new information. The act of keeping the eyes glued to the notebook /screen during an entire lecture can result in:

  • missing the fine points of nuance, which are expressed in mimicry and  body language
  • inability to properly take in visual materials, viewed at a brief glance.
  • constant tension – hyper-state of alertness due to trying to keep up with every word the speaker says.
  • inability to focus on the main idea to be implemented, not on the specific details (which cannot  be relevant for every class).
  • feelings of irritability.
  • exhaustion.
  • LOSS OF ABILITY TO ENJOY THE CONFERENCE!
Standing alone won’t help
Naomi’s Photos

The BUDDY METHOD of Treatment

Stage one – Find “a conference buddy”

If you haven’t arrived at the conference with one prepared in advance, simply introduce yourself (with a smile!) to the teachers sitting near you before the first session begins. The attendees are not a group of random people –  these are ELT teachers who made the effort to attend the conference because they want to benefit from it, just like you. Having several “conference buddies” works too.

Stage two – Talk Sessions

Arrange to meet with your “conference buddy” over lunch, on the commute home (if relevant) or perhaps skip a certain session slot. When you know you will be soon be briefly discussing what you just heard, you will find that jotting down key ideas, phrases, links will be enough. This matters because after you discuss what you heard, you “digest” it better and your brain can begin utilizing the information in order to make connections with your classroom reality.

Or in other words, you will probably never find (or bother to look at) all your conference notes three months from now. But if you discuss what you heard with someone it will leave a helpful “residue” in your brain.

Something will sink in
Naomi’s Photos

Stage Three – Division of Labor

If coming home from a conference with a file (handwritten or digital) of notes is important to you, divide the sessions with your “conference buddy”. In each session one of you slows down,  focuses on listening, looking (and feeling!) while the other takes notes. The “listener” can gently nudge the “note-taker” when there is a good visual stimulus he/she really must stop and look at. When you talk about the sessions afterwards, the one who was the note-taker can add information the listener took in and the note taker missed.

The “listener” is also in charge of prying the pen out of his/her buddy’s hand when the speaker has just given the link to where the  entire talk can be viewed at any time.

Division of labor
Naomi’s Photos

Stage Four – Let Your “Conference Buddy” Drag You to a Session You Didn’t plan on attending.

Obviously, you won’t want to take notes during a session which is, theoretically, not relevant for you (perhaps it focuses on teaching  younger learners than those you teach or is more suitable for private lessons while you teach classes). Focus on watching the speaker – what he/she said might not be particularly useful to you. However, how the material was presented to a roomful of adults and how the speaker drew the listeners into the topic might just spark some amazing ideas in your head as how to present something  to your own students.

All of that can happen in your head without writing down a single thing.

IMPORTANT DOSAGE NOTES:

The “BUDDY METHOD”  of treatment can be used repeatedly at multiple conferences without any negative side effects. It is free and available for ELT teachers around the world at all times. Frequent users of the method often exhibit tendencies to share the method, though the frequency of this phenomenon has not been documented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Saturday’s Book: “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs

So, what’s up?
Naomi’s Photos

So how do you define crazy? I have a feeling that no matter how you tend to use the word “crazy” , it will apply to this memoir of growing up in a completely crazy environment.

The book is very well written  but I do not agree with any of the reviews that say it is funny. I felt shocked, upset and sad.

How can it be that a child could grow up, in the city, and not trigger a single red flag in the system?! Nobody noticed that his parents were dysfunctional (and yes, mentally ill) and that he basically moved from barely attending school to not at all? Not a single person took note that a psychiatrist was having some of his patients live at his home (calling it a dysfunctional home is an understatement) and “treating” several of the women patients undergoing crises in a motel bedroom?!

I find that incredibly sad.

I could never use such a book in my own classroom setting,  but I did imagine discussing one point that came up several times in the book: The author had what many teenagers would envy – absolute freedom. As a teenager no one ever told him what to do or when to do it, he could do anything he wanted (including tearing down a ceiling) and nobody cared. And that made him miserable. It made him feel trapped, going nowhere. That’s something I would be glad to have a few of my students ponder.

I understand there is a movie version but I’m not going to see it. The book is well written and I think the style of writing counts a lot in this memoir. Without it I suspect one is left only with craziness.

When Students use the “Fishbowl Response” – A Comment

The day after… Naomi’s Photos

On the last day of school I found myself, once again, visualising the first day of the next year school year. It’s the easiest day of the school year to visualise, unless you bother to count “the last day”, which I always spend stowing away supplies in the English Room.

It goes without saying that I see myself smiling and chatting with the students as they come in (or stop by) about how they spent their summer vacation.

However, there won’t be any formal lessons related in any way to the theme of “How I Spent My Summer Holidays”.

All because of “The Fishbowl Response”.

The what?!

You know, the response you get when you cheerfully inquire what a student did over the summer and he/she mumbles “Nothing” and turns quickly away.

So what does that response have to do with a fishbowl?!!

Alone…
Naomi’s Photos

The phrase “the fishbowl response” was inspired by a story Jamie Keddie told in one of his “Sunday Posts”, which I subscribe to. Keddie brilliantly combines visuals and storytelling – I love how a simple sign or an object becomes a thought-provoking story! In the post entitled “Are You a Fish in a Fishbowl?” Keddie tells us about a story from his own school days. In response to his teacher’s question (“What did you do at the weekend?”) he replied “nothing”.

She demanded to know if he was a fish in a fishbowl.

Oh!

My first reaction was a gut reaction.

I could never say that to a student, and I don’t think anyone should. Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive since I’m a Special Ed teacher, but children who reply with “nothing” are feeling vulnerable enough as it is, and are not likely to ponder metaphors and hidden meanings. In fact, they can easily feel insulted.

When you read the post you quickly see that Keddie’s point is that even  a fish in a fishbowl actually could have a story to tell. You don’t have to have had an exciting , eventful summer in order to have a story to tell. Your thoughts and experiences matter.

Let the story out!
Naomi’s Photos

So, considering that I agree wholeheartedly that every student, no matter how “boring” his/her summer vacation was, has something worthwhile to share, why do I refuse to plan a lesson on the topic?

Because it takes time, every single year, to create a safe classroom atmosphere – a class where everyone’s story is respected. Some teenagers, particularly in special ed classes, have pretty lonely summers. Not only do we need to teach students to respect someone else’s story, we need to teach students to recognize and respect their own stories.

That takes time.

One more thing, before you go:

Think about the “fish in the fishbowl”  for a minute longer. See how Jamie Keddie’s simple image becomes a focal point and helps get the message across?

Images matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Golden Legend” by Nadeem Aslam

Naomi’s Photos

What a remarkable book!

Riveting!

It’s the kind of book that makes me wish I were back in college, taking a literature class in which we were studying this book. I imagine “taking a magnifying glass” and taking a good look at how cleverly the author lets information drip in, not adding more information than you need at the moment, letting you sense things before they are affirmed and presenting horrific events with just enough detail to let you fill in the dots yourself, in the amount and manner that you can deal with.

In this legend, that takes place in Pakistan, there most certainly are extremely painful events. However the tale of current events is intertwined with a BOOK (which was once lost , once harmed, being stitched back together in different strokes) whose pages strive to alert the world to the many ways all known cultures in the world were influenced by each other and are connected. Education, books, learning about the other, accepting people’s differences (since no one is really that different) is the path to touching the legend. Extremism, ignorance, banning of books, thoughts and feelings hurts the people setting the bans too, not to mention those caught in the crossfire.

Think of “The Handmaids Tale” or “1984”.

Reading this book made me think of both of them, though in this one there is more hope, a bit easier to see what could be possible instead.

This is the kind of book that leaves an impression.

When Former Students Pop In or How Does a Teacher’s Memory Work?

What gets caught?
Naomi’s Photos

“We’ve walked both sides of every street
Through all kinds of windy weather;
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together”.      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I met the most recent former student, who had popped in for a visit,  in the teacher’s room. Thankfully, she hadn’t come down to the English Room first.  It made me feel slightly less bad to know that the other two teachers, who had also chatted with the student warmly about what she’s been doing and what she plans to do, didn’t remember her name either.

The student graduated six years ago…

When we did figure out the student’s name, I was taken aback. That student and I had really “walked” together for three whole years through all kinds of “windy weather”! She was one of those hard of hearing students who had arrived in 10th grade hell-bent on proving that not only didn’t she know any English, it would be impossible to teach her any.  It took quite a while until she agreed to “take my hand” so we could “walk together” and brave the elements with a security net.

“Can you remember who I was?
Can you still feel it?”      “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what I remember (or don’t) about which former student. With some it’s their name, with other’s it’s a task they handed in or the way they behaved in some situation.  Some students I remember a great deal about and some I barely remember. That’s particularly embarrassing as I teach most of the students for three years and I spend a great deal of time thinking about them.  I’m at school five days a week, too. But it seems as if there’s a capacity limit  – each new class of students seems to erase memories of previous students.

You know I’ve heard about people like me
But I never made the connection.           “Crossroads”,  Don McLean

I’ve been teaching for 32 years now..

At least when I  meet students whom I taught more than 10 years ago I no longer feel embarrassed to ask them their name.

But six years?

Does your memory work in the same manner? How do you deal with it?

 

Skip to toolbar