All posts by Naomi Epstein

Hi! I teach English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel and am a national counselor in this field. http://visualisingideas.edublogs.org

Goal 7 – Have Fun!

As usual – these 30 goals are so “RIGHT” – you have got to make sure there is some fun involved!

Anyway, as this topic is SO big and different for different age groups and settings, I’ll choose one small point. The goal says “Ditch the worksheet”!

Well, since I only teach reading and writing in English (we don’t speak English in class at all, only Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language) if we’re going to have any English involved in the fun activities, there has to be a written componenet.

So we have worksheets related to slideshows of funny pictures, or even a scene from a funny movie! I don’t have any of these activites online at the moment but here’s a sample picture from one of the slideshows. My pupils are teenagers, they like that stuff!

car wash

Goal 6 – “Inviting Them In” – but not through the window!

When I began thinking about the topic of Goal no. 6 “Invite them in” last night, the LAST person I imagined I would desperately be trying to get into my classroom this morning was the janitor! And he certainly wasn’t included in the list of people to invite in on this challenge!

As I have posted about previously, getting the janitor at our school to fix something in a classroom is a MAJOR production. This morning an exuberant 19-year-old (whom I say is 19 going on 9 years old…) banged on the window to scare a cat away who was trying to get in. She broke the window!!! We’ll see what happens first – I finish these 30 challenges or the window gets taken care of!!

Anyway, “inviting them in” is a real challenge for me. I enjoy a huge degree of autonomy as a teacher, more than the average Israeli teacher and much more than what I read of the American teachers. I have a department principal and a school principal but they are totally uninterested in any pedagogical decisions, they are all left to my discretion. I have the national finals “to answer to” , general school rules and that’s about it. I’ve had students teachers observe my lessons but have NEVER, in my 25 years of teaching, had any supervisor watch a lesson.

I began the YALP project (posts about that on the blog!) this year in order to enlarge pupils vocabulary. It has actually led to “inviting others in” in a manner I hadn’t experienced before. I began collaborating with the speech therapists for the project. Then I heard that the sign-language teacher had a problem with hours that were cancelled and invited her to join me for the YALP project. That led to adding options for the students working on the poem “The Road Not Taken” – she is teaching some of them to sign it in Israeli Sign Language and others in American Sign Language. The poetry project also led me to talk with the teachers who teach Hebrew lit. for advice about teaching poetry (I was having trouble with the difference between similes and metaphors myself, so I couldn’t explain it well!).

While most teachers do not physically come down to our ground floor classroom, there are more teachers involved in what we are doing this year than ever before!

Now I just hope that nothing will enter the classroom through the big hole in the window…

Goal 5: Reflections – Playing the Devil’s Advocate

Challenge number  5 of the 30Goals Challenge is a call for reflection.

I think that all the teachers that invest in blogging and discussing education after a long day at school (some of my colleagues would say I’m really crazy if they knew I actually do just that) are reflective people by definition.  We don’t need much encouragement to reflect on what we do – just look at the excited repsonses to this challenge!

I think some of are so open to reflection that I’ve decided to “play the devils advocate” and warn against TOO MUCH REFLECTION!

Teaching is like a relationship with your kids or your spouse in some ways. You can’t analyze every single thing you did or said that wasn’t what you planned it to be. Sometimes the interaction is more painful but you are “there” for each other tomorrow and the next day  nonetheless.

It is vital to think about your lessons and to see if your pupils understood the material, are progressing and be prpeared to change tack if they aren’t. But if you try, on a daily basis, to analyze evey single exchange in every single lesson you will become terrified of teaching. The fear of erring can be paralyzing. I’ve seen young teachers suffering from this problem!

Cecilia, in her blog Box of Chocolates gave a wonderful example of how something she said when she didn’t mean to actually worked out well!  Only those who don’t do, don’t make mistakes and its a fine line between learning from your mistakes and “obsessing” over them!

So, please reflect, but not about everything and all the time!

Goal 4: Leave it Behind

Wow, these 30 Goals really address important issues! Though for me, the BIG problem is not bringing my personal stress into the classroom, but rather bringing stress from the classroom home!

But maybe that topic will come up in another challenge so I’ll address this one for now.

Leaving stress unrelated to school outside the classroom door was never a big problem for me. I believe it has also become easier over the years.

When our boys were small it was harder, but then in those days there were no cell-phones. If I was needed, a phone call to the school secretary had to be placed. If I wanted to call I would have go to one of the offices or use a pay-phone. So I would only make REALLY important calls between lessons.

Now I do have a cell phone but I hardly use it between lessons. I see other teachers trying to manage issues from afar on the phone between lessons (during short breaks!) and just looking at them seems stressful!  My recommendation – turn off the phone!

I think it has also become easier over the years because at some point the message finally sunk in – nobody in the school system really cares what happens outside of school. I’m here to do my job and that’s what it is all about. How would I feel if our sons came home from school and said that they didn’t learn anything in class today because the teacher was in a bad mood?

Once the kids are in the room there is no time to think of anything else!

Goal 3 “What Do You Believe About Learning?”

My first reaction to today’s goal at the 30 Goals Challenge was; ” there are SO many aspects and ways to look at learning, where do I begin”?

Tweeting with Lisa Dabbs today gave me the “handle” I needed  – mentoring! She has a lovely post on it. I’d like to highlight a different aspect which is what the MENTOR learns from mentoring.

I had the experience of mentoring a brand new teacher, straight out of college, who at the same time also became my colleague, teaching the same pupils I do (we teach in the format of a learning center. I teach full time and she teaches part time in addition to my hours).

I’ve been  teaching for 25 years yet I found I was learning a great deal from the experience. First of all, because she repeatedly asked “WHY?”. I had set into motion all kinds of ways of doing things, some of which I had been doing so long that I no longer remembered why I had decided to do them in this particular way. Suddenly I had to reexamine everything! Sometimes it was tiring, but it was always useful. Some strategies or practices I realized that I felt good about them because now I remembered why they were planned just so. Others turned out to be “dusty” and were tweaked or even replaced.

Of course, as a talented young teacher, she came with suggestions of her own which have enriched my teaching!

But the thing I thank her most for is helping me to continue THINKING about what I am doing and why!

Goal 2 of the #30 Goals Project

Goal 2 of the #30 Goals project was an easy one because I had just done something before reading the challenge! I believe the following qualifies for this goal!

As I have mentioned before, we’re working on the poem “The Road Not Taken”.  Besides all kinds of written tasks the pupils have to do, they are supposed to be assessed on  something creative related to the poem. In the past most of the pupils chose to create a PowerPoint slideshow. It’s a comfortable medium for many of the pupils, and of course. very visual.

This year I’ve been fortunate enough (I siezed an opportunity!) to work with a teacher of Sign Language.  This teacher also knows American Sign Language. So, this year was the first time that the opportunity to present the poem in ASL was made available. Two pupils that came from mainstreamed classrooms and don’t sign are learning to present it in Israeli Sign Language.

However, that’s not the latest development. I have one hard of hearing pupil who isn’t interested in Sign Language and communicates very well without it (utilizes his cochlear implant well!) He has a problematic home life and hardly gets any academic work done at home and would never get a PowerPoint Presentation done. Fortunately, he works with a retired volunteer once a week whom he adores. The volunteer is an enthusiastic American who’s been showing him “the rythm” of the poem.  So, this pupil’s presentation will be to recite the poem in spoken English with some intonation and attention to rhyming! I’ve never ever done that with a pupil in my class!

Only downside is that now another pupil wants to do that and she doesn’t spend time with the volunteer…

“Be a Beam” – My first day of the #30 Goals Challenge

Just joined the #30 Goals Challenge! What a refreshing idea!

As a special ed. teacher, by definition all my students study English in my self-contained class (as opposed to a regular class) because they have problems, either academically, emotionally, or have more than one handicap (in addition to the hearing loss). English as a foreign language is a very hard subject for them as a “default” situation.

So, since basically all of my students can be defined as ” struggling” , I decided to give some extra TLC to “A GOOD GIRL”! Every now and then I catch myself and realize that the few pupils who come in, work nicely on their own (I teach in the format of a learning center) organize everything, hand in their work on time without being reminded,  don’t always get enough attention! I’m often too busy with the pupil who won’t start working until I sit next to him for a few minutes to get him started or with the girl who deals badly with any frustration and needs frequent reasuurance. The volunteer will be asked to sit with the hyperactive boy. And so the list of “blow-ups to be prevented” goes on…

Today I made an extra special effort to spend time with a girl from 10th grade who really is on those “good girls!” I also told other teachers about how she learned the poem “The Road Not Taken” in American Sign Language for her lit. project so that they could compliment her when they meet her.

Wonder what tomorrow’s goal will be!

Comment on “The Power of a Teacher”

On a wonderful blog I’m following called “Be the Change” there is a post about a  powerful quote by Haim G. Ginnot. You can read the quote on the blog or here

I immediatly commented that I strongly identify with the quote and I stand behind that statement.  However, for the last 24 hours something was nagging at me about it and now I identified the problem.

There is a “but” in there. The teacher IS the decisive element in the classroom BUT not the only one. Sometimes things will get out of control, a “drama” will occur despite the fact that the teacher reacted or behaved in the manner we would define as the right thing to do. There is something about this quote that brings you close to passing the dangerous line from being a great teacher to trying to be a PERFECT teacher.  Which leads to misery because there is no attaining the status of perfect teacher.

A recent example of this occurred in my classroom. Pupils are not allowed to eat during the lessons. They are allowed to drink, chew gum (as long as they don’t make balloons!) but no eating. No eating during lessons  is a policy ALL kids are familiar with since kindergarten and I don’t make exceptions for that particular rule.  No long ago, first lesson of the day,  a 12th grader burst into my classroom and took out a sandwich. When I reminded her that she is not permitted to eat in class there was a huge scene which actually only lasted two minutes or less. It ended up with her leaving the classroom, slamming the door as she left. I felt bad about it all day but could not see how I could have reacted differently. She’s 19 years old, she can wait for the break to eat and that’s the kind of rule that if you make an exception to it – well, its like opening the floodgates!

At the end of the day the scho0l’s art therapist came  and told me that this pupil had had a major fight with her parents before coming to school and I was basically the first person she met when she arrived. Her reaction had nothing to do with eating and could easily have been about anything at all. She was brewing for a showdown with someone and I was there…