OH MY! I Taught My Student’s Parents!

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

I just discovered that I taught the parents of one of my new 1oth grade students. Yes, both of them. I only tutored the mother for one year (12th grade) while I taught the father for the duration of his three years in high-school.

A friend pointed out that he was rather surprised that I tell this story to everyone who bothers to listen. Frankly, I’m quite excited about it.

I know it shows that I’m getting old. It’s a fact I’m not trying to hide. I’m 51. There, I’ve said it. But I don’t think age is the issue here. I’m much more worried by signs of forgetfulness (I cannot remember names! Oh no!) than by this. After all, I started young, I began teaching when I was 22. When one teaches high-school, one can get “grand-students” quicker.

But it is a sort of red flag.

“Warning! You are still here but the students are new!”  “Been there, done that, won’t work”! “There is still so much you need to learn”!

I think Nathan Ghall’s moving and powerful post Commemorating helped me listen to these warning signals. When I read the  post my first thought was:

Oh, wow, this post should be hung in every teachers’ staff room, to remind those of us who are not Special Ed teachers to respect our students with special needs, and to celebrate what they ARE able to do, the people they are, and NOT what they cannot do.

And then I realized it. Who am I to talk about others, what about me? Every year the students who turn up in my Special Ed classes have more and more additional issues to deal with in their lives, besides their hearing problem (learning disabilities, emotional problems, visual impairments, broken homes etc.).  I need to remind myself over and over  that I must work at looking for the students’ stronger points, even though with some students these points seem to be quite difficult to find at the beginning of the year. There’s something overwhelming about meeting a large group of students with so many “issues”.

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

It also made me think of how much I need to continue renewing and changing my teaching practices. Despite the fact that my life would be easier if I recycled more materials from year to year. Yet when I do, those dangerous feelings of impatience with a student for not knowing something I’ve taught so many times (but to others!) fight to reach the surface.

So perhaps my battles for implementing technology and trying all sort of things will lead to me being ready to teach many more students whose parents I have also taught. I still have at least 11 more years to teach and there are more students coming my way!

It’s Saturday! Musings on Photo-Books

A blast from the past
A blast from the past

I’ve only recently joined the HUGE amounts of people following the posts of “Human’s of New York”.

I’m so glad I did.

The posts are usually very short, presenting an excellent photo of a person with a snippet of something that person said about himself/herself. At the moment the posts are from around the world, as the photographer, Brandon (no last name mentioned on site) is travelling with the UN.

I read about two such posts a day. It makes me pause for a moment, imagining that person’s life. It’s fun.

However, would it be just as fun as a photo-book? It seems that Brandon is coming out with his second book now. I find that one of the appealing things here is “being introduced” to just one or two people  a day. It doesn’t work that way with a photo-book.

In my experience, I read through most of a photo book in the first day or so, look at it again a bit with visiting friends the first few weeks, and then the book is banished to a life of solitude on the bookshelf. I’ve taken some photo books to the classroom and created “scavenger hunts” for them (you know, on which page can you find the following…) and thus given the photo books new lives.



When I was a child I had two photo books which I thought were called “The many faces of man”  and “The many faces of children”. I thought they were from the Time Life Series which we had a few volumes of. Obviously, my memory is faulty and the names are incorrect because Google can’t seem to recognize and locate the books I mean. I was an avid reader as a child too (and there was no Internet then either) and yet I recall looking at these books over and over again.

But that was then. I haven’t done that as an adult. I’m delighted with the medium, Internet, that disciplines me and lets me enjoy these words and photos a few minutes a day. Every day.

Would you buy a photo-book?




Saturday’s Book: “Alone in Berlin” by Hans Fallada


Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos


I was a bit afraid of reading this novel, it sounded quite intimidating.

Once I began I had trouble putting it down. I became completely engrossed despite the serious topic and the fact that it was clear that there would not be a happy ending.

The point of view is so different from other books about the second world war. This book was written shortly after the war by a German author who had suffered the Nazi regime first hand.

Before I read the book I thought that “Alone in Berlin” referred to the isolation of those who dared to defy the regime, who refrained from becoming party members. However, by the time I finished the book my understanding of the title had changed. I now feel that the book emphasizes how the Nazi regime isolated everyone, encasing them in their bubble of fear. No one could trust anyone, it was best not to be in contact with others (nor to confide in them). It was an atmosphere straight out of 1984 – you never knew who would denounce you. Every word could be used against you. Even the party members and high-ranking officials were not exempt from these fears. At any minute they could fall from favor and get the same terrible treatment they had been administering.

I was a bit disappointed to discover just now that the original title in German was “Every Man Dies Alone”, which may not support my theory at all. Alone in Berlin made more sense to me.

What a book!

It reminds me a bit of “The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years” by Aitamtov, which I read three years ago. Also powerful, also very authentic, but “Alone in Berlin” is a much easier read, style wise.

I recommend them both!


“Because I’m Happy” – New Year’s Activity


Happy New Year! Naomi's Photos
Happy New Year!
Naomi’s Photos

I had to consider so many different constraints when creating this video-homework-task that it became quite difficult. Time will tell how effective it was.

1) The first constraint was actually time – I HAD to have it ready by Monday (two days ago). I’m trying to get my new students used to doing homework online, once a week. I post new tasks on Monday nights. Believe me, with this group it is an uphill battle.

2) We’re celebrating the New Year next week and I really wanted to have the activity relate to happiness in some way.

3) I really needed to practice the word “would” right away, even though many students haven’t learned the second conditional yet. It’s a very common word yet the electronic dictionary doesn’t help them understand it. My goal was to stress the hypothetical aspect of the word, and only that. Trying to imagine yourself participating in one of these two videos and thinking about what it would be like to have certain things happen to you, seemed to me to be the way to go.

4)  Students indiscriminate use of Google Translate (or alternative online translators) make it very problematic to assign certain types of tasks. If I just ask the students to create sentences to describe things that would make them happy, copy sentences into suitable columns in a table, or sequence events depicted in a video, they’ll do it all in L1. I call this situation:

“No English was harmed in the course of completing this activity”.


So I added gap-filling to the sentences before copying them into the table, simply to make it harder to use the online translator blindly. Not entirely satisfied with the results, but I had to stick to the “happy” theme.

5) I had to use TWO videos. I knew my deaf students would like the video made by deaf students at a Film Summer Camp. However, I have a group of new (very new) hard of hearing students who not only don’t use sign language, they don’t want to have anything to do with it.  I believe they will relax over time, I’ve seen it happen many times before. The kids study together! So I used a version without sign language and made sure the questions didn’t mention it.

6) I had to make sure the activity fit into one page. It is quite astonishing how many students do not “see” the part on the second page!

So, here are the two videos. Below them are two worksheets. The “blue” one is a bit harder than the “red” one.


 Because I’m happy blue2

Because I’m happy red



Saturday’s Book vs. Movie – “The Giver” by Lowry

Look who peeked out at me!
Look who peeked out at me!

Before watching the last movie adaptation of a book (The Book Thief), I debated a great deal and asked everyone I knew for their opinion of the film. I was afraid of spoiling the way I felt about the book. I was actually very impressed by the film.

With “The Giver” it was different. This book was something our boys and I had shared and enjoyed. The moment we heard that the movie was being released we  decided to watch it together. So I was committed! I did so eagerly despite the last time we went to a movie based on a book I had shared with them when they were younger – “Cheaper By The Dozen” is a great book and a terrible movie! But when you have sons in their 20’s and they want to go to a movie with you, you move quickly!

I’m incorrigible. I compared the book and movie mercilessly. I found the movie to be pretty good. The visuals are beautiful and the acting is good. I don’t expect a movie to be a replica of the book, that doesn’t work. So I was o.k with some of the changes they made. And I think they managed to show the community quite well in a short time.

But I missed more of what Jonas went through to be able to understand what the Giver was showing him. It’s against his entire life indoctrination. And most of all I was troubled by the change regarding the friends sticking together. I know they needed to make more of the love story for the movie to attract an audience and needed the action sequences with the friend, but in the book Jonas is very much alone, cut off from his peers. Which is one of the reasons its such a potent book for teens who feel different.

Still, I’m glad I saw it. And it was a great family outing!

Fortunately / Unfortunately – An EDTECH Tale


Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

Note: Inspired by one of my favorite children’s books, “Fortunately” by Remy Charlip.

Naomi, the teacher, must teach the story “True Love” by Asimov.

*FORTUNATELY, Naomi had the idea to prepare a short slideshow comparing the story to the movie HER, as a lead-in activity. Visual activities are good for deaf & hard of hearing students.

UNFORTUNATELY, Naomi teaches in the format of a learning center and students need to watch it at different times.

FORTUNATELY, Naomi easily uploaded the slideshow to Edmodo using slideshare. She has a computer with Internet access in her English Center-Classroom . Students can watch when needed.

*UNFORTUNATELY, the air-conditioner in the English-Center-Classroom has been out-of-order since Sept. 1 and Naomi must teach every hour in a different room,  without access to a computer.

The English Center on wheels, every period
The English Center on wheels, every period

FORTUNATELY, Edmodo has an app.

UNFORTUNATELY,  Naomi used slideshare which means that another app must be installed to watch the slideshare. Not good.

FORTUNATELY,  Naomi reposted the activity, uploading the original PowerPoint instead of slideshare.

UNFORTUNATELY, some  of the students who  DID use the computer (in the library or at home) to watch the slideshow didn’t watch it in “slideshow” mode. Which meant that  the link to the section of the trailer (for the movie “Her”), which was cropped using Edpuzzle, wasn’t clickable. Some pasted the link into the browser but others did not watch the clip. On slideshare all the links are clickable.

FORTUNATELY, those who watched the slideshow found it pretty interesting (“how could a person possibly love a computer?” they wondered) whether or not they saw the clip.

UNFORTUNATELY, Some students didn’t watch it all before beginning  the story because their confused teacher, who was exhausted from lugging all the class material over half the building, every period,  didn’t check Edmodo’s progress charts.

FORTUNATELY, everyone seems to be doing very well with the story (seems a good choice for these teens!) regardless of how much of the lead-in activity they saw, if at all.

So why did Naomi bother preparing a lead-in activity?












Saturday’s Book: “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Trigiani

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

The bottom line is that I read the book to the very end.

All  475 pages of it.

So I guess that’s what counts. But…

I received this as a gift. I DID know when I began it that the basic story line is (and believe me, not giving anything away here, it’s not a spoiler) : boy – girl meet, lose each other, meet again, separate and finally marry. The book is called the Shoemaker’s WIFE, so there can be no mistake.

I began the book and it is such an easy read that I treated it like comfort food. After such a stressful summer (in so many ways) I was ready for a predictable, comforting book. I cried in the right places too. In the first part it also seems as if it is an historical novel sharing the experience of immigrants from Italy to the USA in the period preceding WWI.

But the historical aspects are very superficial and fade away as the book progresses. World War 1 is supposed to have had a huge impact on the male character’s life yet his experiences there are summed up quickly, in a few pages. At some point the platitudes about women and men become annoying. People aren’t rounded enough, the good are so very good ALL the time. clichés abound. I read the last 150 pages “arguing” with the book and myself for continuing, not feeling comforted at all.

Yet I couldn’t stop. I needed closure.

A much better, rounded out and realistic picture of the immigrant scene in New York, complete with a love story, is the book “The museum of extraordinary things” by Hoffman which I read  a while ago. I compared the books several times as I read.

Oh well. Reading this made me eager to start “Alone in Berlin” which I was a bit apprehensive about. The first few pages caught me right away!