Warning – Adding Independent Professional Development to New Year’s Resolutions Can be Hazardous!


Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Temptation is everywhere, just a click away.

For example, Anthony Gaughan and Phil Wade are currently offering  “a one-month teacher development experiment, 5 minutes a day of reflection for a working month“, completely free.

2016 will find #ELTChat continuing to tempt teachers with weekly dynamic Twitter chats on a wide variety of ELT issues. So many ideas and links are mentioned that summaries are posted afterwards to allow a teacher to take it all in.

Even one of the moderators, James Taylor (aka The Teacher James), when posting about his webinar, tempts you with a vision of the kind of teacher you might aspire to be “If you’re the kind of teacher who goes to webinars, reads books, goes to conferences and generally tries to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of ELT…”

All this and more, yet not a DANGER  warning in sight.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

There should be THREE WARNINGS, to be precise.

1) Independent professional development can be addictive. The more you read, discuss and reflect with your online PLN, the more you want to do it. Which means spending a larger chunk of your life sitting down in addition to all the time you spend sitting down marking papers, preparing lesson plans and attending meetings.  Where is that time spent at the gym going to fit in?

2) Independent professional development might open your mind, and lead to a desire to change, innovate and question. Desires which, to varying degrees, are frowned upon by many institutions. The ensuing conflict of desires can lead to frustration and an awareness of constraints not previously noticed.

3) Independent professional development, for the most part, leaves with you with no documentation to prove you have engaged in it. Or at least no recognized documentation. In this country even a certificate of attendance from an International Conference is useless for official purposes (the explanation being that those conferences give the certificate after checking in, and who knows if the teacher didn’t spend the rest of the time shopping?).

Personally, the warnings wouldn’t have deterred me. Being a part of this “scene” is helping me stay motivated after 30 years of teaching with 10 more to go (I started young). But these are real issues. Issues that hurt.



Saturday’s Book: “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai

A cloudy spaceship, straight out of Star Wars (Naomi's Photos)
A cloudy spaceship, straight out of Star Wars
(Naomi’s Photos)

I don’t usually write about books before I’ve finished reading them but I’m so very excited about this book that I can’t possibly wait.

I like everything about it. The language is so rich and the descriptions are beautiful. Desai has such a clever way of bringing in background information, moving between different periods smoothly while giving the reader information needed to undertand the complexity of this region, high up in the Indian Himalayas, and the forces influencing the lives of the people there. The area has known a great deal of strife. It also presents us with the struggles of characters who have immigrated from the region.

Certainly a historical novel but different from other ones I’ve read.

Can I get a note so I can stay home from school tomorrow and continue reading?



A Video Review of “Thank You M’am” by Hughes


Compare and Contrast (Naomi's Photos)
Compare and Contrast
(Naomi’s Photos)

We’ve been studying the story “Thank You M’am” by Langston Hughes for a bit over two months. It’s part of our literature segment in the EFL program.

I felt that my deaf and hard of hearing students need to review the story before taking the summative assessment.

I found a video which was obviously made by young people – Mrs. Jones in the video has braces! The creators stuck to the basic  story line but there are some obvious differences. That actually is useful, as the higher order thinking skill “Comparing and Contrasting” is one we are working on.

Although I’m using this video review without the soundtrack for obvious reasons, I think the fact that you can see the characters talking but not hear them serves as a useful review for students without a hearing loss as well. Especially as the video is not entirely faithful to the text . One example I found amusing was that the creators  felt the need to take inflation into account – Mrs. Jones gives Roger TWENTY  dollars instead of ten.

On the other hand, the dialogue serves as more material to compare. In short – enjoy!


Saturday’s Book: “The Invention of Wings” by Kidd

A lonely bird Naomi's photos
A lonely bird
Naomi’s photos

An excellent choice for a vacation – I found it difficult to stop reading this book.

There were some things that bothered me, but I guess what matters is that I was utterly engrossed and enjoyed reading it, especially the second part.  Actually, I also really enjoyed the afterward, explaining  what is fiction and what is not. The Grimke sisters were fascinating characters indeed!

My problems had to do with the fact that some things didn’t sound believable. I don’t meant the tales of the suffering of the slaves – I certainly believe the description of life in Charleston of those days for slaves and for women! But in many places the characters sound too modern, the dialogue flows beautifully but seems planted from the future. I felt this for both the characters of the landowners and the slaves. When I read Toni Morrison for instance, I didn’t feel that at all.

Nonetheless – I’m glad I read it!

Saturday’s Book: “Truth and Beauty” by Ann Patchett

Photo by Gil Epshtein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

When I find a book by Ann Patchett In the library I take it at once. I really enjoyed all four of the previous books that I had got a hold of. I think “Run” was my favorite but that is open to discussion as they were all so good.
This book is different from the others. It isn’t fiction.
It tells the story of Patchett’s friendship with Lucy Grealy, a writer, and is officially about Lucy yet naturally deals with Patchett’s life as well. As fascinating and an unusual a character Lucy was, it’s Anne’s life that interested me even more. She’s the person who wrote the books I enjoyed so much!
It’s very good. There is a small part in the middle which was a bit slow for me, but otherwise it was great. Patchett describes herself as the “ant” to Lucy’s “grasshopper” and it’s absolutely riveting to see how the challenges and benefits of being Lucy’s close friend intertwine with her finding her own way in life as a person and as a writer. I personally am interested in how “ant” types deal with life. No wonder she had to write a book about Lucy when she passed away!

When Students Have Surprising Reactions to Literature Pieces

acoustic solutions in the classroom
tennis balls provide an acoustic solution in the classroom

It’s a BLOG-BIRTHDAY! On December 5th this blog turn five!

And I’m still teaching and blogging…

Some of the unexpected things students say when studying literature pieces in the EFL class are delightful.

When we studied “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” (Walter Dean Meyers) we got to know Greg, a 14 year old who was failing math and preferred to play basketball. Most students predicted that Greg would grow up to be a coach or a sports teacher. But two students said he would be a math teacher!

I was actually delighted when one of my students claimed Robert Frost (we studied The Road Not Taken) was an idiot for leaving Harvard, as precious few of the Deaf and hard of hearing students that I’ve taught over the years had ever heard of Harvard.

Robert Frost would approve of my new parking spot near the school.
Robert Frost would approve of my new parking spot near the school.

We are currently studying “Thank You Ma’m” (Langston Hughes). In the story a teenager, Roger, tries to steal Mrs. Jones’ purse. She repays the act by taking him home with her (against his will in the beginning), giving him supper and money to buy the shoes he wanted.  Once the two of them are in Mrs. Jones’ one room apartment, she leaves the door open. At this point, we always ask the students: “Do you think Roger will run away now?”

Most students make their case for either “yes” or “no” but one student replied: “I know he won’t run away because otherwise it would be the end of the story”!

However, sometimes students express disturbing emotions. Responses the answer keys don’t give you guidelines for. I know I must carefully walk the line between making sure the student’s response isn’t based on a total misunderstanding of the story and legitimizing the student’s feelings, but it is a stressful situation.

In the shadows (Naomi's Photos)
In the shadows
(Naomi’s Photos)

One student vehemently called Mrs. Jones a meddling annoying adult who had no right to have anything to do with that kid. When I gently tried to point out that Roger made contact with Mrs. Jones when HE tried to steal her purse, and not the other way around the student was unimpressed. He called her interfering. I mentioned that Mrs. Jones was careful not to ask Roger any embarassing questions about his family and that she gave him money. He insisted that she had no right to do any of that. She could kick him for trying to steal from her and call the police if she wanted but that was that. In the creative section of his Literature Log he wrote how the two characters met 10 years later and Roger effectively told Mrs. Jones to “get lost”.

What I can say about the student is that he has had dealings with social services a lot during his young life. There’s a lot of anger there we don’t see in class every day.

The student and I went over the language aspect of his creative piece but let the content stand.

I didn’t see it coming at all.