Saturday’s Book: “Aurora Borealis” by Omri Epstein

My mother always told me that she found it ridiculous when parents said they were being objective about their offspring. Children NEED subjective people in their lives.

So I’m not making any pretences about being objective.

My eldest is writing a trilogy and I’m in the midst of reading volume 2 (about 300 pages each book). It hasn’t been published but it is the book I’m reading.

It has it all. Adventure, sci fi, fantasy and romance. The story focuses on Beck, a teenage girl from Canada along with a group of teens from all over the world. They are being trained to become secret agents of a unique organization, which (naturally) is trying to save the world. The main bases are located at the poles.

Not only does the organization have amazing cutting edge technology, their bases  have a really cool feature of appendixes. Changing spaces which include singular worlds which the teens discover as they learn about themselves, each other and grow up.

There is a strong emphasis on visuals in the  book. The unexpected cities in unlikely places and the scenery are vividly described.

The only reason I haven’t finished reading it is that I absolutely hate reading a book on the computer. I spend enough time working at the computer, so I prefer reading on the couch with my feet up or in bed before I go to sleep!

So THAT’S Why Teachers Work So Hard!

Actually, the full title of this post should be:

So THAT’S Why Teachers Work So Hard Despite Unsatisfactory Pay and Difficult Conditions.

Photo – Omri Epstein

School may have not been mentioned at all in this article about Proffesor Adam Grant’s (a proffesor of organizational psychology) theory but he makes it crystal clear.

Grant says that people work harder when they know who benefits from their work, when they know their work matters. “The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves”.

Teachers have the benificiaries of their work squarely in front of them every day. We don’t need initatives from a highly popular proffesor to organize meetings at the workplace with the people who have been influenced by what we do.

His claim that this is the most powerful motivator certainly makes sense to me, as many teachers that I know work in overcrowded classrooms, in uncomfortable physical conditions and their pay does not reflect the hours of work put in. Yet there the teachers are!

Perhaps you may say that I see references to teaching everywhere, but it seems a perfect fit for me!

P.S I’m now one of the lucky teachers who have a working air-conditioner in her class!


Saturday’s Book: “Me, You” by Erri De Luca

I was surprised to see that the title of the English translation from Italian is “Me, You”. In Hebrew the name of the book is “You, Mine”, a line which is repeated several times in the book and is most certainly related in the story to the possesive form. The orignal title in Italian is “Tu, Mio”, which (as I understand it) is closer to the Hebrew tranlsation.

This is the fourth book I’ve read by this author. The trouble with that is, of course, one tends to compare. I still claim that “The Day before Happiness” is his best. “God’s Mountain” is a close second. This book is good, but it didn’t move me in the same manner and I didn’t get “lost” in the story the way I did when reading those books.

The pace is a fisherman’s pace, slow and patient. The 16 year old boy learns a lot about life while learning how to fish off the coast of Naples in the 1950’s. I got a bit more information about fishing than I desired.  The hero  is obsessed with the what no one wants to talk about  – WWll and with a Jewish girl he has met.

The author’s style captivates, as always, from the first paragraph. But at times I wished a strong wind would blow and push the story forward a little faster. Nevertheless, at no point did I consider the option of abandoning ship.

First Day – It’s the SMILE that Matters, Right?

Photo by Roni Epstein
Photo by Roni Epstein

I guess I became a bit too obsessed.

I really wanted the new classroom to look a real English Room the moment the students walk through the door.

I wanted the “phrasal verbs with pictures” , the world map and pictures of the fours seasons to be up.

I wanted the word-card boxes to be full and arranged at the station.

I wanted the library corner to be nicely arranged.

I wanted the curtains washed (they were hung in a very complex way, awfully high, and I need the janitor to find the time to take them down).

But my family is getting tired of hearing about my classroom and one of my administrators said I should stop feeling sorry for myself. This is after I made sure once again that she knew that the air-conditioner had not yet arrived and it is beastly hot in the room which I am clearing out. And how I can’t do any decorating til after the drilling for the air-conditioner will be done (you know, pieces of plaster and dust everywhere) and the wall-carpets will be hung.

So lets count the things that are ready.

School starts on Tuesday. If the air-conditioner DOES arrive on Sunday as promised, it will be possible to teach there. Because, thanks to help from my good friend Dorit and my son, the classroom has progressed from looking worse than this (it was full of junk when I got it):

2013-08-18 10.10.50

to this:

2013-08-20 13.48.35

The ceiling is new and the two extra doors have been sealed. I have more closet space than I have ever had. The holes in the wall are hidden behind the sad computer covered in the back (they WILL be dealt with, just not for the first day). As long as the air-conditoner arrives, a teacher armed with material for the first lessons and a BIG SMILE can work in this room. Even if it doesn’t look  like an ENGLISH room yet. Right? Right!

P.S – Still mourning the loss of Internet connection though. I’m optimistic that I will get it at some point but we used the Internet intensively till now…

Saturday’s Book: “And The Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

Reading it felt like coming home.

I know that’s a strange way to put it, considering that I have absolutely no connection to the area, the language or its people (I don’t even know any expats!).

But its the third book I’ve read by the same author. It IS different from the others, while retaining a familiarity.  I know I’m in danger of sounding “Schmaltzy” here but I see Hosseini as a storyteller. One whom I trust.

I think the feeling was made much stronger because I listened to this book as an audio-book. Excellent choice for audio-book, because there are three readers, one of whom is the author himeself. All three readers have local accents and intonation. Hosseini often mentions in his books the Afghan love of stortytelling. Listening to the book enhanced the feeling of sessions with the master storyteller, even though I wasn’t sitting on a rug while listening!

IN a Global Student Project but OFF the Net!

Last year my students and I joined a new global project set up by the inspiring and creative Arlene Blum. Slowly she has been enlarging the number of high-school programs for deaf and hard of hearing students from around the world participating in the project. You can see her new welcome post for the new school year, introducing us to Cambodia (and its sign language) here: A Global Blog For Deaf and Hard Of Hearing Students

A sign in Spain / Family Photos

Keeping up the students’ interest in a global project over a long period of time is challenging. We added a private group on so that the students could post more personal things in a protected manner (the blog can be viewed by all). I think the feature my students love best on Edmodo is the poll feature. THAT they are always ready to do! But the fact that Edmodo looks a lot like Facebook (but is NOT connected to it) actually emphasized the issue that “turned off” many students. They are unable to chat “live” with their global partners. Even if the program offered it, the time difference doesn’t allow it. These teens are used to instant gratification. Writing and then having to wait for a reply seems so odd to them. Particularly as our American friends have a two day weekend. If one of my students comments on a post Sunday morning, asking a question, the earliest possible reply will be read Tuesday morning (assuming the American student answered first thing Monday morning, which is Monday afternoon here).

I ended the school year thinking about how to deal with that problem (hadn’t come up with a solution). Now that I have been moved to a different classroom (updates on THAT story next week!) I no longer have an Internet connection in class!

I think participating in such a project is very important for my students. There is so much they don’t know about the world! Some didn’t even know that children abroad don’t go to school on Sundays or that it rains in the summer!

So how do we do it without and Internet connection in class?

My ideas so far are:

1) See what we can do with cell phones. Last year only two of my students didn’t have a smart-phone, one of which because she lost hers three times and her parents wouldn’t buy her a fourth! Edmodo has an app, but you can’t yet use it for all the functions on the site.

2) Look for volunteers to take students to the computers in the school library. A lot of luck involved in this plan…

Any suggestions?

Saturday’s Book: “So Much For That” by Lionel Shriver

It seems that Lionel Shriver specializes in tackling difficult subjects, ones that we don’t like to talk about. I thought that after   reading “We need to talk about Kevin”, which was about a postively explosive subject, I wouldn’t want to try any of Shriver’s other books.

But Lionel Shriver writes REALLY well and I had trouble putting this one down. Its a good thing school hasn’t started yet – I didn’t want to stop reading!

It took me a number of days till I even told my husband what the book was about. Who wants to read a book that deals with death and illness? When I tried to describe it I was worried about creating the impression that the book is full of clichés and platitudes.

I didn’t find it to be the case. There is something refreshing about airing these things. Lets face it, they are an inescapable part of life. And there is humor in the book! I did not feel depressed while reading.

In fact, at the end of the book (why didn’t the publisher place it at the beginnging?) there is a section where the author writes about the letters she has received from readers. Readers who say how they postponed reading it because it sounded intimidating and then were so glad they did.

I recommend it.

*** It took a while until it sunk in that the author is a woman. Lionel is not a name I’ve encountered for a woman anywhere else.


Arguing about LOVE in the Classroom

Photo by Omri Epstein

O.k. I’m not arguing out loud with live people. There aren’t any available and at school we never talk about such things.

But I AM arguing with a book, teacher’s magazines, blog posts and postings on social media. It’s time to get back into the mindset of returning to school and I object to the attitude of “All you need is LOVE”.

I think the meaning of LOVE is being badly abused.

LOVE isn’t a switch the teacher turns on when the school year begins and then turns off on the last day. LOVE doesn’t have an expiry date known in advance, otherwise known as the end of the year.

In relationships where LOVE is truly present, participants don’t administer tests, grade performance regularly (in numbers) and possibly fail achieving the objective (aka the class). Behavior isn’t recorded each time the participants meet in a computer program, as it is in school.

In fact, very often excellent teachers do not make good tutors for their own personal children. That’s telling, isn’t it?

Objectives. That’s the key. Classes are designed, by nature, to achieve certain objectives.

In order to achieve those objectives, a student, any student, needs to feel respected, valued. That his/her abilities are applauded while weaknesses are recognized, addressed and not belittled.

Above all the student needs to trust the teacher. Trust the teacher to be a professional with the knowledge, ability and desire to assist the student on the path to achieving the objectives, receiving suitable support along the way.

The classroom must be a safe place for a student.

There are many demands the teacher must live up to.

LOVE isn’t one of them.




Saturday’s Poem: “True Love” by Wislawa Szymborska

Among the “rainfall” of books I received for my birthday, I was fortunate to receive a collection of poems by Wislawa Szymborska.

I had heard of her but hadn’t read anything of hers. Somehow, when I go to the library, I don’t look for poetry.

But a book of poems is good to own, because I find it good to read it slowly. Read a poem and think about it. Then read it again. I’ve only read a few of them so far and I am excited. Its good to know that I have many more to savor in the coming months.

This particular one, True Love, I’ve read quite a few times.

It just rings so true.

It makes me think of people I know. The ones who are searching and dreaming, the ones who used to but stopped and those who don’t need to anymore.

It’s a poem I understand without studying it in a Lit. course, reading support material or working hard to decipher it. It strikes home right away.

Interesting to note that in Hebrew the poem is called “Happy Love”. It adds an emphasis, don’t you think?