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

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…

Is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without knowledge of vocabulary?

I’m teaching the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” to a large group of my Hebrew-speaking deaf and hard of hearing 10th and 11th graders. It’s in the curriculum.

I find it to be a puzzling situation. On one hand it seems absolutely insane to teach it to most of these kids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of them only know two to four words in the entire poem. Even a word that seems familiar to them such as “sorry” isn’t in the right context as they only know it to mean “please forgive me”.  Even though we did a pre-reading exercise which included translating the really difficult words (such as “undergrowth” “hence”) they didn’t know most of the other words either and couldn’t even begin to read any sentence of it on their own.

On the other hand, this poem is about dealing with dilemmas and making choices. We did a pre-reading activity on how they solve problems and many of them were interested in that. The vocabulary exercise I gave on those really hard words had them match the Hebrew translation to a simple definition in easy English, so there was reinforcement of vocabulary, just not of the vocabulary of the program. In addition they learned  a bit about metaphors, how to infer something and about the poet. Some of the pupils actually said they find the poem related to life!

However, to answer the low order reading comprehension questions (which were in English they could handle) they relied mainly on the translation of the poem. Since I foresaw that, I made sure they had to copy out lines of the text to prove their answers otherwise they wouldn’t have looked at the poem itself at all!

I wonder if I could have achieved the same effect by having all these nice activities and tasks in English, about a poem written in Hebrew?! So, is it worthwhile to teach authentic poetry without vocabulary?

Saturday’s Book – Dinotopia by James Gurney

Dinotopia by James Gurney
Dinotopia by James Gurney

We own the first two books of this amazing series. It’s a wonderful fantasy of an isolated place where humans and dinosaurs coexist in harmony. They share language and technology and friendship ( I love the dinosaur character that’s an interpreter!).

This series is very special in that not only is it a good story but the pictures are amazing, and are an integral part of the story. You MUST look at the pictures (spend time looking at them) in order to get all the information.

Our boys and I had such a good time with it that for a while I tried to translate it into Hebrew. I did  a section and even discussed it with a publisher who loved the story ( her kids loved it too!) . However,  after looking at the large format and the amount of drawings in color said there was no point in even contacting the publisher. The Hebrew speaking book market is too small to support such an expensive publication.

Too bad…

Comment on Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling

I just read Bill Ferriter’s post titled

Can Texting Help Teens with Writing and Spelling?

and it reminded of what we experienced in my classroom when texting first became an option on cell phones. I’m not quite sure how long ago that was anymore – maybe 10 years ago?

The first cell-phones pupils showed up with only had texting options in English. People were texting each other in Hebrew transliterated into English. My deaf students were ecstatic about this visual option to communicate, but they had to use English letters! They spent time on their phonics, always pestering me with requests to help them sound out the letters for the words they wanted to write. It was wonderful.
Now, of course, not only can’t we discuss if texting helps their English, we can’t even discuss if it is good for their Hebrew! Most of the pupils have 3G cell-phones and sign (Israeli Sign Language) their messages!

Comment on “Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes”

On the blog Box Of Chocolates, which I really enjoy following, there’s an interesting guest post discussing whether or not the experience of learning a foreign language can help you understand your students better, called

Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes

I had an interesting experience related to this. About 7 years ago when I was on a partial sabbatical, I took a beginner’s course in Spanish. My motivation was part historical (classic Eastern Jewish story, my maternal grandmother’s family scattered from Poland to Israel, USA and Argentina) and part practical (Spanish is supposed to  be an easy language to learn).

I wasn’t thinking of sharing my students’  experiences when I registered – after all, I’m not deaf and had not been expecting the course to enrich my experience as a teacher. Just hoped to learn some Spanish!

Well, I was wrong from the word “go”. I barely knew 3 or 4 words in Spanish when I started. My clasmates were shocked that I hadn’t known the Spanish word for heart! Hearing children in second grade know all sorts of words in English beore they start formal education. The deaf pupils literally start with nothing (some kids know the word LOVE but only in capital letters).

I had no exposure to Spanish outside the classroom. The only Spanish speaking friend I had at the time had recently moved away and I don’t watch the Spanish speaking Soap Operas.  Many (not all, never all) of my students are not exposed to English outside of the classroom, even though we live in a country where English is influential. They watch TV and movies with subtitles, use Facebook in Hebrew and don’t hear songs in English.

Just like my students I found it increasingly harder to remember the vocabulary. Each week required more effort on my part to review the words on my own. As I was also teaching, it was difficult sometimes to keep up when I had report cards and national exams to deal with.  Just like a sizeable number of my high-school students, who are often distracted by things going on at home.

I put in extra special effort and finished the course pretty well. But not easily at all. Seven years ago, after  not using Spanish at all, I remember very little… But I do remember how I felt when I studied.

I think learning a foreign language is a very important experience for any language teacher!

Saturday! Time for a book!

I’m reading “Them” by Joyce Carol Oates and I’m having a hard time with it. I don’t think I will be able to finish it.

She writes beautifully! I appreciate how when the situation becomes crystal clear and you know what is about to happen, she ” fasts forwards” to the next scene.  No sense wasting words on that.

The characters seem so real and believable. And that’s my problem. The book is incredible depressing. Generation after generation caught in povery with an abusive family environment which keeps repeating  itself. People living in a hopeless cycle.

I read and have read sad books. “A History” by Elsa Morante was absolutely tragic. But I can’t bear this one!

Signs!

No, not Sign -Language -SIGNS!

Since my success with cardboard signs that say “TEST”  (which the kids place on their desk when they take an exam) I’ve been trying to replicate the effect with other kinds of signs. These signs worked really well because they are in use in context. Most of the kids rememebr the meaning of this word when they see it in texts (most – in special ed. it is never everyone).

I’ve had signs, or labels, on things in the classroom for years but most pupils ignored them until I gave them a homework assignment about them. However, that was almost three months ago,  I doubt the vocabulary stuck.

This week I had some pupils who come in for volunteer work (In israel all 10th graders must volunteer, so some come  to my class) make signs stuck onto colored popsicle sticks of common things I say in class. Phrases such as “Look it up” or ” It’s a name” or ” Patience please!” I say these things in Hebrew or Israeli Sign language. My thought was that I would hold up the sign  instead of saying it, in the right context. Thus the pupils would connect the sign with the words. The signs generated some curiosity but I haven’t managed to use them! They sit in a colored container on my desk but I’ m never at my desk when I need them! Theoretically I should have them hanging around my neck!

Any advice?

Any suggestions?

Reform Symposium 2011 and “BURNOUT”

I saw a large number of excited tweets about the Reform Symposium 2011 .  A whole convention online!

The lecture dealing with teacher burnout caught my eye and I decided to attend this one lecture. Now there’s a paradox right there! The lecture, my time , was on SATURDAY, my only day off. If I’m feeling so stressed and overburdened that I’m attracted to a lecture on “burnout”,  (we’re just before report cards and mid-year matricualtion exams and I work 6 days a week!), then WHY ATTEND A LECTURE ON SATURDAY?!!

But the speaker, John Spencer was good. He didn’t just say – go to gym class and you’ll be fine! I didn’t take notes but I went to his blog after the lecture and found my PARADOX right there!  Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote about himself, on his contact page:

“I believe that true impact occurs in a paradox. The more I try to “make an impact,” the less I impact a student.”

I have 4 months of real teaching yet to go this year. In addition, as a counselor I have two more matricualtion exams to deal with.  Maybe I  need to stop trying so hard. Easier said than done…

I’m glad I attended the lecture!