Sometimes Being a Teacher is the BEST Job in the World!

highres wild

                                                                                                              drawing by Alice Axelbank

Some days are simply amazing – everything seems to fall into place. Friday was such a day.

It isn’t quite something that can be explained – I strive to “push the right buttons” every day yet the outcome varies.

I’ll take the fifth period as an example, though the highlight of the day happened before that (yeah, wait for it!).

I had the two weak 10th graders, who are particularly fond of punching each other on the shoulder, working up by the white board. I wrote two sentences on the board, a sentence with each of their names (using vocabulary they need for their test) and left them to figure them out. Every five minutes or so they called me to see what they had done and give them two more sentences. They weren’t exactly quiet (and they did punch each other on the shoulder) but that didn’t bother anyone and they were working!

Meanwhile,two students were practicing their vocabulary at the Y.A.L.P word station. We discovered a new “tutor” star – seems this student is very creative at giving helpful tips to remember words! Two more students were working at the computer on their literature log (we’re learning “An Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins). The remaining three students were doing review sheets for their upcoming exam and I was moving from one to another. Kids talked and laughed but everyone was working and we got a lot done! The atmosphere was so relaxed and productive!

The highlight  of the day was when one of the ‘”problematic” 10th graders sought me out during the break. She wanted to discuss her homework, or rather lack of homework. She hasn’t done homework once since the beginning of the year even though she got several demonstrations of what to do. I even let her begin one of the tasks in class so as to get her going. Nothing.

However, I think peer pressure began to influence her. She sought ME out to discuss homework on her break! Since the class computer was hooked up to the Internet, the students can easily get as much help with their online homework as they need (either extra explanations before handing in the task or quick feedback on their work afterwards) the number of students who do homework regularly has improved dramatically. Only 5 pupils out of 59 don’t do homework!

She told me that she doesn’t have WORD on her home computer and that she can’t seem to do it at school I suggested a solution (have done this with another student and it worked really well) – I paste the task into the content space of an email and  she replies there. Still, this student has to take action first – she must send me an email!

Miracles don’t happen over night (haven’t received an email from her yet) but I feel the classroom culture has changed in regards to homework and it is such a good feeling!

Saturday: The NEW YORKER Has Been Writing about Books I read!

I was delighted to discover a piece in the New Yorker about one of my all time favorite books “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norman Juster. The article is in honor of the book’s 50th anniversary and officially call it a classic! Hurrah!

This was one of the first books I posted about on this blog, here.

And now I’m reading another article in the New Yorker about a journey in the shadow of Ararat, in Turkey (It’s called Natural Histories, by Elif Batuman). The writer discusses Orhan Pamuk’s book “Snow” which takes place in the area, in a place called Kars. The book wasn’t light reading but fascinating! It is very interesting to read comparisons of descriptions and events from the book to the impressions of the writer of this article. By the way, there is a lot of focus on birds in this article!

Double Vision – How do I get students to stop using the word TO too much?

Photo: Omri Epstein

This is a classic problem of language interference. Many Hebrew speakers, with perfect hearing, say such things as :

“I want to help to the man.”

“She gave to the man his money.”

They say this because this is exactly the way it is said in Hebrew.

If the hearing students have such trouble with this, it comes as no surprise that my pupils really have a problem with it. It is a question of remembering rules when you don’t hear the language spoken.

This came up again in class today because we were correcting students’ answers on the worksheets related to the video “The Power of Words”  . The students used the words “help” “give” frequently in their answers, along with those extra “to” words.

HELP & GIVE are such “warm”, “rich” and strong words. Has anyone used some sort analogy, imagery or mnemonic device to help students to remember not to add “to” after them?

Saturday’s Book: “God’s Mountain” by Erri De Luca

I was completely in love with the book by page 2.

I know I have said it before but this writer uses words in a different, magical way.

Such a special book!

The only thing I regret is that I’m reading the book in the English translation, instead of the Hebrew one. Not that the translation isn’t excellent, it is just that I read very quickly in English. This book is meant to be savored slowly. I may end up rereading it at some point in the future, so maybe then I’ll check out the Hebrew translation.

The Trouble “Mull of Kintyre” Caused Me – In response to Vicky Loras’s Blog Challenge

Vicky Loras posted a blog challenge called “What’s Your Story” . I was able to identify with her story of immigration as I moved to Israel from the United States when I was eleven years old.

Back in mid 1970s there was no Internet and the world wasn’t quite as globalized as it is today. Fashions spread slowly then and my new classmates stared in shock at my brand new bell-bottom pants. Unlike today everyone wasn’t watching the same T.V. shows and food products from the States (such as peanut butter) weren’t available in the local, small town supermarket.

I wasn’t particularly attractive to my new classmates. They had all been together since kindergarten. I was a poor student as I knew Hebrew, but not on grade level. To make matters far worse, I was a complete klutz in the playground and could not contribute to team sports. Couldn’t sing well or dance well either.

My knowledge of all matters American seemed suspect. I claimed that there were 50 states in the United States.  The teacher (BIG sigh!) and the pupils all said there were 51 states. We took a class trip to the Kennedy Memorial. Each state there has a plaque and SO DOES THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA! That adds up to 51…

But at least I knew English. That is, until “Mull of Kintyre” became a huge hit.

The kids were wild about foreign music. As there was no Internet to get the lyrics from, the thing to do was ask a native speaker to write down the lyrics while listening to the song. I often had trouble doing that as singers don’t always enunciate clearly or the music is  too loud. But “Mull of Kintyre” was the worst. As a kid I had no idea what a “mull” was or that “Kintyre” was a name of a place. In fact, I couldn’t even tell where one word began and the other ended, I tried to make sense of different sound combinations (mulling on tyres / molliking on rye) and drew a blank every time.

I know there were other songs during those years that caused me angst but this  one stuck in my memory because it took me a long time till I learned the meaning. By then I had become proficient in Hebrew and gotten over a lot of the problems that had plagued me as a newcomer.

This song always triggers memories.

Day 2 – When the Difference Between “Chips” and “French Fries” is the Last Straw.

This post is a continuation of the previous two posts about a 3 day course I’m teaching to deaf middle-school children whom I barely know.

I made a lot of mistakes today.


True, there were those elements I couldn’t control. Some different students came today, students who hadn’t participated in the lead-in activities to our planned visit to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. There were distracting things going on outside the room’s windows and in the building. The tech I had hoped to use to show some pictures of Disneyworld didn’t work.

Nonetheless, two days in a row of learning based on imagination was too much. I couldn’t relate well enough to stories they told about amusement parks they had been to in Israel as I wasn’t familiar with the rides (though one boy had been to Disneyworld and one girl had been to Euro Disney) and the kids were not listening to each other – they only wanted to tell. I thought we could work on descriptors (such as scary, exciting, fun or whatever reaction they cane up with) as we imagined going on rides – I told them about the rides based on movies such as Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. because I was sure they had seen them. They are old movies now, only a few remembered seeing them. Most of the students said they would go on everything and that’s that (though some said they wouldn’t go to the haunted house).

Basically, there was too much new information about a world outside their daily life. They need it in small doses. The bit about asking for Chips in a U.S fast Food place and getting a bag of potato chips (not French Fries) was too much for some of them. Just lost them.

I should have known better.

Reflections on First Day of “Unplugged” Travel-to-Disneyworld Lessons

Just me, 8 students and a whiteboard. And one imaginary millionaire (one student suggested “billionaire”) who is sending us on an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyworld, Orlando.

Overall I think the lessons went well. The main issue that needs improving is the pace.


The ‘’problematic” 8th graders didn’t bother to show up. There was only one tall, lanky, hyperactive boy who kept moving either his chair, the desk, rolling a water bottle or doing something else. But he was participating too.

We started off with a discussion in Hebrew (which I didn’t even try to add English to) just to set the framework of the story. I “introduced” our benefactor and asked what you need in order to go the States. Some kids didn’t know the difference between “a passport” and “an identity card”. Many didn’t know what an embassy was or that you needed  a visa for such a trip. They didn’t know the words for these things in their L1, it wouldn’t be effective to work on these words in L2 when others are more commonly used.

The “action” began when I asked them what they would pack for their trip. I wrote what each student suggested on the board in a full sentence, asking them whether to add “has to take” or “wants to take” . That may sound a slow process but for that part the pace was actually fine. This is because a lot of discussion was needed whether some of the suggestions were logical  or not. For example, one student suggested bringing a winter coat. I pointed out that I had told them that the weather in Orlando is hot and rainy. He replied “See! You said it again! You said it is rainy so I need a winter coat”, In Israel it only rains in the winter, when it is cold, rainy and hot is a difficult combination to imagine!

At some point they all started giggling and one boy handed me a note, saying this is what he wanted to take. They all looked at me to see my reaction. It was a word badly spelled in Hebrew and I thought it said “hay”. I told them I don’t understand why they want to take food for cows. There was some consultation and the note was corrected. Turns out they meant “bra”. “Of course” I said, “very important item to take! Don’t forget underwear too”! There was a lot of positive laughter and that was good but I didn’t cooperate when they hyperactive boy wanted to drag on the topic and learn the words for different kinds of underpants (remember, these are 13 and 14 year olds!).

But now that there were all these sentences on the board I couldn’t go on – there was a lot of new vocabulary there.

So, I pulled out a travel game called “trouble” whose main appealing feature is that the die is encased in a plastic bubble. Fun to press (you have to press hard!). One by one each student pressed the die, and I erased a corresponding number of words on the board. That student had to come and fill the words back in. The student at the board could ask the others for help.

Here was the problem with the pace. On one hand, the students liked the activity and did help each other. But it took a long time and there was a lot of unrelated talking in between.

I didn’t want to split them into groups for two related reasons. I don’t know them well enough to build balanced groups AND it is much safer not to encourage competitive behavior. Some of these children respond badly to pressure and I don’t know which ones. So I really don’t know how I can improve this part. I’d be most grateful for suggestions!