Oh, But There ARE ELT Emeregencies – A Comment

There is a wonderful post which I really recommend reading: “Can you have a normal life and work in ELT” on the TEFLGEEK Blog. I really identify with that post!

But I just had to comment on the following statement from the post:

“But I can think of absolutely no situation within my own teaching experience, that could possibly be classified as an emergency”.

Epstein Family Photos

So here are a few ELT emergencies, beginning with the ones least causing palpitations:

First of all, as someone still fairly new to the world of “for profit” schools (I’ve recently begun teaching my second course at a private language school) I’m amazed as to how everything is treated as an emergency. When a client squawks  all able bodied hands should report for duty at once:

* I peek at my phone during the break at the high school. Four (!!) unanswered calls from the private school. I call them back. A student contested his grade, they need me to come over right away. Fortunately, I have  a clever husband who said ” I bet they could scan and email the exam to you”. He was right, they could and did, when I knew to ask.

* A student mailed me a query through the private school’s website less than two hours before the lesson (begins at five p.m). I only saw the query after the lesson. Confident that I had discussed the issue with the student personally during the lesson I did not answer the letter. At eight a.m the very next morning (!!!) there was a letter from the private school intended to draw my attention to the fact that there was an unanswered letter to a student in my inbox!

However, lets return to those ELT emergencies that involve running, physically.

I took this one myself…

National Matriculation day (our leaving exams are called “Bagrut Exams”) is often a source of drama at high-schools round the country. Being a special ed. teacher adds more combustible pieces to the puzzle, but doesn’t make my situation seem like an exception to the rule:

* Mad dashes down long corridors and up/down steps to get to the photocopying machine when:
a) not enough exam papers were sent

b) the envelope containing the special section for the students with hearing problems got sent to the wrong room by mistake and no-one knows which room (more running, photocopying of master copy if necessary)

c) one of my students who has emotional issues (my students arrive early on exam days as they don’t have transportation for exactly when they need it in the afternnoons) tore his watch strap while horsing around with another boy and threw a temper tantrum, screaming and banging on walls of classrooms where exams where taking place. More running to get available staff over to remove him from the testing area and help him calm down. Quicker than trying to get people on the cell phone because they are probably on the phone!

True, none of these emergencies required a police escort, as described in the blog post. Though my husband would have appreciated one the day  he had to make a special trip to the high-school because I had left the candies we give out on exam day at home!

It’s Saturday! E.B White Wrote Poetry?

For me E.B White has always been the author of beloved children books. I think my personal favorite was “The Trumpet of the Swan” (I guess an amusing tale about a Trumpeter Swan who “makes it” despite being mute would appeal to a special ed. teacher!) though I believe my sons enjoyed “Charlotte’s Web” more.

Since the age of nine or ten, I’ve always associated E.B White with humor. That was when I received the HUGE book called “A Sub Treasury of American Humor”, which he edited along with his wife, in 1941. I still have it and it truly is a treasure trove. It is an edition from 1941.  I got it from friends whose children were all grown along with the classic board game “Careers” in which man had not yet reached the moon. In the pages of this book I discovered authors (such as James Thurber) whom I later encountered in many contexts, and countless others whose work I never encountered anywhere else.

This week I learned that White also wrote poetry. Think of all the babies you have known – isn’t the following poem so right?!


Hold a baby to your ear

As you would a shell:

Sounds of centuries you hear

New centuries foretell.


Who can break a baby’s code?

And which is older-

The listener or his small load?

The held or the holder?

Sneaking Ed-Tech In Through the Back Door

When a 21 year old student walked into class on the first day, stopped by my desk and informed me that  HE “doesn’t do” computers in English, I knew that the time I had spent agonizing which Ed-Tech to use and how to get the students to use it, was not wasted. In my previous course a sizable number of students had trouble with the online component of the course (on Moodle, I’m not in charge of it ) and expressed a significant lack of willingness to try online tools that could help them.

Time to be sneaky.

Epstein Family Photos

My latest class is incredibly diverse, even more so than the last one. In a class of 37 students, the youngest is 19, the oldest is 54. There are representatives of either 3 or 4 religions ( I don’t ask such things) and different sectors of society. They are all in my class because they failed to pass the minumum threshold on the English component of their college entrance exam.

How to use the Moodle section was rammed down the students’ throats both at the beginning of the first and second lesson. Pure “front door” approach. Some students seem to tense up and tune out and then need to get individual help over the phone.

Another tool was sprung on the students – use of a QR code to take attendance. Since that required use of their beloved cellphones (in case you don’t know this, Israeli’s are inseperable from their cell phones) that seemed to be less intimidating for most of them.

Nonethless, I decided that the only way to go was to add one more thing. You see, you need a framework, a building, in order to have a back door to use. Especially in such a large class.

I told the students that we would be using Edmodo, which is built like Facebook but is not on Facebook and is completely closed and private for our group. I explained that we need it because this way they can get more support from each other and that assignments done on Edmodo are “Process assignments”, they can be commented on, corrected and even regraded.

I signed the students up and gave each one a card with their password (same username and password). You should have seen the sigh of relief when they realized they were already on the group without doing anything (the registration process is simple but they do need a code from me). In addition, the fact that emails were not necessary for registration reassured some students that it was really a private group. I explained only the minumum they needed to know to get started. Let them discover things on their own and  / or explain as needed. Too much explanation in class is wasting precious face-to-face time and intimidating.

In my previous course most of the students did not take advantage of the vocabulary lists I put up on Quizlet for them to practice with, despite extolling the many wonderful things one can do with Quizlet. Many students told me that they had studied for the quizzes only from the book. Quizlet sounded like a whole new program to learn to deal with.

This time, I posted a reminder about the quiz and added a link to the Quizlet page. The definitions they need for the quiz are all there, so I’m pretty sure almost everyone will enter the site. Whether they choose to practice from the list or try to click on buttons to enter different practice modes is up to them.

There have only been two lessons out of nine so far, though I’ve been in touch with some students through Edmodo (it’s great to read how they introduce themselves). We will see how smoothly use of Edmodo progresses and which other tools I can bring to their attention.

Will keep you posted!






Saturday’s Book: “Searching for Caleb” by Anne Tyler

Wow, it is almost Sunday and I haven’t posted “Saturday’s Book” yet. A bit distracted here…

I chose this book because of what it said on the cover (if you recall, I dislike reading blurbs on the back cover): “Bestselling Author of THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST”.

That was a fun movie! I saw it years ago! The funny thing is, what has mainly left its mark all these years (the movie came out in 1988) was the main character’s job. He was a writer of travel guides on how to minimize the feeling of being abroad when you have to be away from home (such as where to find hamburgers that taste just like the American ones, etc), instead of welcoming new experiences . I always think about this on trips abroad. While most of the time I’m delighted with new experiences, there are certainly times when I would give a lot to eat a proper Israeli salad (lots of chopped tomato, cucumbers, peppers and onion) instead of a bowl full of lettuce with a decorative tomato…

Anyway, back to THIS book!

I was drawn in from the first page. Very readable. Certainly an intriguing, most unusual cast of characters. I won’t even begin to describe them, it would be a spoiler. Now that I’m up to page 100, the pace has gotten slower and the extended family is SO unusual I think it is a bit much. But really, it all depends on where the story goes from here. The wonderful thing about is that I haven’t a clue!

So, I think I’ll add a footnote to this post when I’ve actually finished the book. I’d better not stay up too late reading!


When Life Repeats Itself, It is Time to Repost

I know I posted this song on the 18th of August 2011.

But the words (written below) of  this song, with its haunting melody, are just what we should be thinking about now.

I know it is what I’m thinking about.


(Soundtrack of “Lost Horizon”)


Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the air you breathe is soft and clean
And children play in fields of green
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears (anymore)

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the winter winds will never blow
And living things have room to grow
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Many miles from yesterday before you reach tomorrow
Where the time is always just today
There¹s a lost horizon________waiting to be found.
There’s a lost horizon
Where the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears

It’s Saturday! Telling the Story with LETTERS

So, here’s how my mind works:

There was an article in The New Yorker magazine about a tiny Channel Island called Sark (tiny place with a big problem). For me, mentioning the Channel Islands immediately evokes memories of a book I really enjoyed: “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Schaffer & Barrows”. It’s a wonderful book combining a historical tale (the island of Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during WW2), a love story AND the benefits of reading books! The whole story is told through letters the heroine wrote and received.

Which got me thinking of other books that tell a tale through letters.

“Daddy Long Legs” By Jean Webster is the first thing that came to mind. I only discovered the sequel, “Dear Enemy” (same format of letters) in recent years – I heard it as an audio book. Interesting to see how women’s roles and educational polices have evolved.

Then there was “Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh” by Irving Stone. I read that a long time ago but it made a significant mark in my memory. The characters seem so real when you are reading their letters!

One book I keep hearing about, is often discussed, intend to read but still haven’t done so, is: “Letters : 1925-1975” – The letters of Hannah Arendt & Martin Heidegger  What a strange connection, yet they kept corresponding! I really should put more effort into getting hold of that one.

I’m sure I’ve read other books told through correspondence but I can’t recall any more titles at the moment. Can you?


The Dark Side of Continuous Professional Development

I use the word “Continuous” in the most literal sense.

Epstein Family Photos

As a proud member of a wonderful PLN I am exposed to fascinating blog posts on a regular, very frequent basis. Despite these posts being about an incredibly diverse range of topics, they all have one element in common.

Every single post is a call for me to reflect.

A call to reflect on what I’m doing, what I did and what I would like to be doing. To reflect on what the students did and what that tells me about where I stand with them. Even to reflect on how one adapts our teaching to our physical space (Thanks to Tyson Seburnt).

I come home from school every day and turn on the computer to see what my PLN is up to. Even with resolutions that I really do stick to regarding seriously limiting the number of recommended posts I read a week, all it takes is one post and I’m off to “reflect -o-land”. I mean, just listen to a sentence from this week’s trigger post, by Kevin Stein:

“Take a personal time-out: as teachers, we want to fix perceived problems as soon as possible.  But perceived problems might not be actual problems…”

Stein has certainly struck a chord with me regarding rushing in too quickly to resolve things in class. A “contol issue”, I would say.

Reflection takes time, time that isn’t built into my daily life. Many teachers I work with work many hours, juggle work and family. Just like I do. Some even study something. Once upon a time I used to have proffesional development, like they do, only over the holidays. Now the time I need to think about what I am exposed to causes me to go to the cupboard to get more detergent and not to remember why I went there. To let the laundry pile up while I’m corresponding with the author of the blog. To feel even more impatient with teachers talking about a stupid reality TV show when we could be discussing this interesting topic.

Epstein Family Photos

Although some say time is elastic, I have not found it to be so. It is always a trade off. On different days the trade off is different, that is all. Today the need to reflect about what I’m feeling has caused me to sit and write this blog post, instead of taking a power walk. Which is the worst sin of all.

I seeked out this PLN and these posts becuase they answered a need I have. I do not have anywhere else to discuss these issues. In my PLN. being a nerd for wanting to do so is not considered a negative thing. I love that.

But everything comes with a price.


Saturday’s Book: “Blindness” by J. Saramago

I have been “going around” this book for a number of years now, saying I would read it but not actually doing it. But two things happened that led to me reading it now. And I am so glad that I am!

As I mentioned in the past, I read The Cave by Saramago a couple of years ago. Its a very good book with a powerful message (what an ending!) but extremely slow moving. There are endless detailed descriptions of clay figures and of course, Saramago’s signature style of pages of run on sentences. I read it in Hebrew and it took me a long time to read.

I kept saying that now wasn’t a good time to take on the commitment of reading another Saramago.

Then, in July, following my husband’s recommendation, I read Saramago’s “The Elephant’s Journey” and rediscovered Saramago’s magic.

The final push was waiting for me in the Readers Corner (where people leave books for others to take for free) at the library. A copy of “Blindness” in perfect condition. In fact it looks as if I’m the first to read it!

If that isn’t a sign I don’t know what is!

I was amazed at how much “action” there is in this book, especially in the beginning chapters. Not comparable to the pace of the events and the potters in “The Cave”. Each chapter seems written as if in one breath so I’ve changed my reading habits for this book. I like to read books (as opposed to other reading material, such as The New Yorker”) before going to sleep but I simply cannot stop in the middle of a chapter. So I read one chapter a day right after school.

This turned out to be a good policy in regards to the content of the book as well. I’ve read half the book and reading the description of events (and filth + smells!!) that follow when an unnamed place is engulfed in blindness is certainly not easy reading and nor are these things I want to think about before closing my eyes at night. Very powerful social commentary!

In any case, without having watched the movie I strongly urge everyone to read the book and not settle for the movie. Saramag’s gift was with words and his way of telling it makes the tale what it is. I read quite a few reviews of the movies and they are unanimously negative. Inmy opinion it was a mistake to try and turn a book by Saramago into a film.