Blogging for ETAI International Conference – An Interview with Tesol President Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis Official Photo
TESOL President Andy Curtis (from TESOL Presidents Blog)


One of the exciting things about attending an international conference is meeting people whose belief in the power of teaching and teachers has had global impact. The upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) brings us inspiring  educators from around the globe.  I’m honored to post an interview with TESOL President Andy Curtis,  a plenary speaker at the conference, who talked to me about becoming a teacher in the face of adversity and how teachers on the global level have more in common than we tend to think. Many thanks to President Curtis for this interview!

NE:  What profession did you dream of when you were a child?

Against All Odds (Naomi's Photos)
Against All Odds
(Naomi’s Photos)

AC: My parents came to England in the 1950s, as poor immigrants ‘imported’ from the British Empire in Guyana, South America, as cheap labour for the ‘Glorious Motherland’. Added to that, there was great deal of racial violence on the streets of England in the 1960s and 1970s. Consequently, we did not have much of a childhood, and our main goals revolved around making it to adulthood intact. For a while, I harboured hopes of being a writer of fiction. But like many immigrant parents, trying so hard to protect their children from the prejudices they experienced as adults, the creativity was knocked out of us, and we were duly funnelled into ‘vocationally appropriate’ directions. For me, that meant the health sciences, and a medical scholarship, which I eventually gave up, to my parents unending disappointment, to become a language teacher, which for my Dad, just added insult to injury.

NE: What caused you to leave the field of medicine for teaching? What was your first teaching position?

AC: In my original professional incarnation, I was a Medical Science Officer in the UK National Health Service, with a specialism in Clinical Biochemistry. I very much enjoyed being on the hospital wards, working with patients and doctors, helping to align diagnosis with treatment. But after some years, I began to be disheartened by the singularly ‘curative’ approach to healthcare, in which we waited for someone to get ill, then tried to cure them, usually with hit-and-miss approaches that sometimes worked, eventually, but which, as often as not, made the person more ill. In those days, if you weren’t sick when you went into the hospital, you sure as hell would be by the time you got out. On top of that, people were reduced to a set of compartmentalized symptoms, stripped of their clothes, and of their dignity. My first teaching position was as student teacher in a secondary school in a poor part of the Northeast of England. After 25 years, I believe I have helped to save far more lives than I would’ve done as a medic.

NE: How/when did you first become involved with TESOL? Do you still remember the first conference you attended?

AC: After completing my MA in Applied Linguistics and my PhD in International Education, both at the University of York, in England, I was keen to go overseas, so I applied for and was offered a job at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. That was in the mid-1990s, and as me and my siblings were very much products of the British Empire, in India, I was curious to see what another, far-flung, country, but also part of the Empire – and a symbol of its demise – was like. One of the best things that happened to me during those first five years in Hong Kong (1995-2000, and I went back again, from 2007 to 2011) was that TESOL Past President Kathi Bailey, was a one-year Visiting Professor at our university (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, aka CUHK). Kathi encouraged all of us in the ELT Unit at CUHK to become members of the TESOL International Association. I attended my first TESOL Convention in 1995, when it was held in Long Beach, California.

NE: What do you enjoy about being President of the TESOL International Association? 

Mexico Symposium, Andy Curtis with Araceli Salas of MEXTESOL (from Tesol Presidents Blog)
Mexico Symposium, Andy Curtis with Araceli Salas of MEXTESOL
(from Tesol Presidents Blog)

AC: It’s been a gruelling but great two years in TESOL’s presidential line, with one more to go. As it turns out, being the President during the Association’s 50th anniversary year, and presiding over its 50th anniversary convention, has made it an especially intense couple of years. But the two hundred thousand miles that I travelled, between 2015 and 2016, gave me the opportunity to meet thousands of members of the Association in dozens of countries. Some of our friends, in our home base, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who do not travel much, say to me: “You must love to travel”. I try not to sound ungrateful or to be grumpy, but the truth is that, as the result of ever-increasingly global conflict, any kind of travel, especially international travel by air, is an increasingly unpleasant experience. But the being there makes up for the pains of the getting there and getting back. To have teachers, from all over the world, tell you their personal-professional stories has been a humbling and moving experience.

NE: You have worked in several different countries. Did you find significant differences in the teaching methodology or attitudes towards the profession in different countries?

AC: It’s interesting that I’m often asked about the differences, while what I usually see are the similarities. For example, the fad-fashion/claim that we are “post methods” does not appear to be true anywhere. Hearing teachers tell me about what they do in their ELT classes, and sitting in their classrooms, I can hear and see that they are all using methods of one kind or another, even if they do not use the labels assigned by applied linguists, such as CLT, TBLT, etc. But we are now beginning to fully acknowledge what I refer to in my work as ‘the centrality of context’, in which where we do what we do is at least as important – and maybe even more important – than who does what to whom, in the language classroom. Certainly, the Technological Divide, in terms of the haves and the have-nots, can make a big difference, but the qualities and characteristics of a ‘good learner’ and a ‘good teacher’ appear to be much the same wherever I have been.

NE: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

AC: I joke that – but like all such jokes, there is a grain of truth in it – my family’s motto is: “Why be merely interested, when you can be completely obsessed”. So, when I signed on to be in TESOL’s presidential line for three years, I chose to give up a well-paid, full-time academic position to this work for three years, with no salary. As a result, although this is not a healthy, balanced or sustainable approach, I have had little or no spare time in the last couple of years. But my list of things that I will go back to doing, next year, such as Tai Chi, Curling and Fishing, is growing longer by the day…



Saturday’s Book: Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr

ESCAPE! Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

I couldn’t put the book down.

I read it in pretty much in three big “gulps”.

Hooked by the end of page one.

The story is told from the point of view of a child, and I really liked the way the author was careful not to share information about characters’ real intentions or backgrounds that the child, Michelle, could not have known.

Michelle’s mother was Japanese and her father was a from small, deeply conservative, white, blue-collar town in Wisconsin. A town dead set against change with deep-rooted fears of anyone who is different. That’s where Michelle found herself growing up from around the age of 9 (having spent her life till then in Japan).

Frankly, a very relevant read if you are wondering why there are American voters who are attracted to a presidential candidate who rides a platform of ethnic hatred.

I’m eager to read more books by Revoyr.

Saturday’s Book: “Butcher’s Crossing” by Williams

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

We have a really nice librarian at our local library. When she recommended the book I took it at once, no questions asked.

The fact that I actually read the whole book (minus a page here and there) is proof of how well written it is. I did not like the topic of the Wild West and the ethos of the frontiersman. In particular I find hunting (which is putting it politely) buffalo distasteful. That was the section where I skipped a page at certain points.  I would have stopped reading the book if the language and the descriptions hadn’t been so very good. I had to see it through. I did need closure. In doing so I discovered how clever the title was.

It’s important to note that the author does not glorify hunting at all (otherwise I really would have stopped reading!). Nor does he glorify the “cowboy” figure. I got that. But I am left with a sense  of not really understanding the point of the book. The behavior of the hero at the end puzzles me.

I agree with what I saw online that there are elements of the book that remind one of Cold Mountain. I wondered if the Cohen Brothers were influenced by the  book when they chose the name “Miller’s Crossing” for their film. Miller is a main character in the book and “crossing” in the film also has more than one meaning. But IMDB does not support this thought.

In short, I don’t know what I feel about this book. I couldn’t quit but I was glad when it ended.



The Jar, Spring Cleaning & the Teacher Hoarding Devil

The jar in question (Naomi's Photos)
The jar in question
(Naomi’s Photos)

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: What a lovely little jar, with a tight-fitting lid, let’s keep it!
Spring Cleaning: Really?! What for?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: We’ll take it to the English Room at school.

S: It’s made of glass.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: We teach high-school students nowadays, remember? They can be careful with glass.

S: Hmph. Hardly.  Laws of gravity apply in high-school too. What could you possibly do with such a small jar?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Store thumbtacks?

S: We already have a little jar for that. A plastic jar.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Rubber bands?

S: Ditto.

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: So we’ll keep it in the bottom cupboard with the other boxes and containers waiting to be used.

S: We just organized that cupboard and got rid of things! Do you want to needlessly clutter it again?

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: Needlessly? NEEDLESSLY?!! This year you were grateful that we kept the small boxes that once contained chocolate or calling cards and now contain writing prompts.  All thanks to ME! ME!

S: Spluttering sounds.

S: It’s a tiny little glass jar! Not a cardboard or a tin. It’ll break just waiting around in the cupboard! We should not keep this jar!

Teacher’s Hoarding Devil: But it looks so nice, we can’t throw it away…

Teacher shooing away “Me” and “Myself” and just listening to “I”: Enough! I’ll tell you what.  I’m going to give it away. Storage Free and Guilt Free. Now disappear!

Final note: The pair are quiet now. But they are keeping a close eye on any gifts in containers I may  receive …





A Multiple Book Post


Parking Lot Natural Art (Naomi's Photos)
Parking Lot Natural Art
(Naomi’s Photos)

I haven’t been posting about books for a while due to my “Who Were You, Dora? Saturday’s Mystery” Series ,but I have been reading. Here’s a quick overview:

  1. “The Lost – A Search for Six of Six Million” by Daniel Mendelsohn
  2.  “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann
  3. “Dreams from my Father” by Barack Obama
  4. “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline

It’s easy to see a connection to my recent interest in geneology. The book by Mendelsohn seems the most obvious connection. It’s true detective work to find out what became of people who perished in the Holocaust so long ago, gathering information from four different continents and putting together the pieces (fragments!) of the puzzle. I could have done with a bit less of philosophy but I found the book fascinating.  I think it’s a great read even if you aren’t interested in geneoolgy, but since I’m biased I suppose I can’t really tell…

Obama’s memoir was written long before he became president, in fact even before he became a senator. No ghost writer there – he can write! Different but not so different from the previous book.  I enjoyed the parts where he wrote about the family members and the relevant history the most. Once again, I had less patience for the philosophical aspects.

Orphan Train is very readable. I found large parts of it (not the last bit) to be very believable. I was most interested in the story of the older woman, the Irish immigrant orphan – once again I’m drawn to a certain time period… The ending is a bit too pat for me. Real life is stranger than fiction anyway.

Thomas Mann’s book has nothing to do with geneology. My husband has read a lot of European classics and from time to time I pause and fill in what we call “holes” in my education. I could see why it was a classic and there certainly was what to discuss after I read it but I have no desire to read anything else by Mann… I much preferred my husband’s reccomendation “The day lasts more than a hundred years” by Aitmatov, for example.

Next week I’ll catch up to what I’m reading at the moment!

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? The Last Letter

The last letter
The last letter

Note: This is currently the last installment of the Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post

I see this as a temporary end to the series, as my goal is to find out as much as possible about Dora’s life – the schools she went to, what her neighborhood looked like and more. I will not post the details of her death on this blog, on October 15, 1942, at the age of 22.  Dora and her father were registered by the Nazis when entering the Brest Ghetto in November 1941, as you can see here. Dora’s name is on line four. Her father’s name is the one on the last line.  To read about the fate of those who entered that Ghetto, read here.

brest ghetto passport

This last letter is clearly dated August 25, 1940. Two sentences are marked in bold. One breaks my heart (especially when one knows what awaited her) and the other calls for further research as to what she meant.

Dora aged 15
Dora aged 15

“Dear Sister,

Your postcard procured us a great pleasure because we did not hope yet to get letters from you. Nearly a whole year passed that we did not correspond one with the other and has delightfully is that we can at last write one to the other. I forgot almost write English during the time, because I am not using it.  

What to me I have none news. As you know I did not succeed in life to this time. I must reconcile with that. The housework is very not interesting and I am busy day by day at house.

From Palestine we have not any letter. There is very unquietly. The father works at a state working place. He will also write you a letter the next days.

Write as soon as you will get this card. Let us hear good news one from the other and the rest family.

Your sincere Dora”

No good news came.

So very sad.

When a Sentence Disappears Before Your Eyes

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

If you happened to walk into my high-school classroom of Deaf and hard-of-hearing students this week, you might have met an eleventh grade student whom I’ll call Young Lady. You can imagine her easily,  the 17 year old girl who does study but has got  a mirror app on her phone which frequently appears when she thinks I’m not looking…

Young Lady has a cochlear implant.  You, the visitor, can chat with her comfortably in her first language, ask her where she lives and what subject she is majoring in and answer her questions to you.  If you  leave the classroom after this exchange you could be forgiven for believing that the wonders of modern technology have solved Young Lady’s problems. You might even wonder why she needs to study in our special learning center and is entitled to accomodations on exams. 

That is, unless you had stayed for yesterday’s entire lesson, when Young Lady demonstrated clearly the effect of being born with a hearing loss (actually not hearing from the fifth month in the womb, before birth!) on language developement. She is a student at the three point level (the lowest of the full matriculation levels) who is doing very well and has good grades.

Follow the marshmallow trail (Naomi's photo)
Follow the marshmallow trail (Naomi’s photo)

Part of the literature component in our curriculum involves teaching higher order thinking skills. Young Lady’s current task was to give an example of something she saw on the evening news that demonstrated the skill we had learned called “cause and effect”. THE EXAMPLE WAS TO BE GIVEN IN HER MOTHER TONGUE.  Here’s our conversation, also in her mother tongue (Note: Young Lady doesn’t really use sign language, mainly with friends):

Y. L: “I saw hospital”.

Me: “What about the hospital? Why were they showing the hospital on TV”?

Y.L:  “Was man, ambulance, siren and hospital”.

Me: “You saw an ambulance take a man to the hospital. Why was he taken to the hospital? What was the cause”?

Y.L.: “Car accident”.

Me: “You watched the news and saw an ambulance take a man to the hospital because he was in a car accident. That’s a good example. Now you say it”.

Y.L.: “I watched news an ambulance take a man to hospital because car accident”.

Me: “I watched the news. I saw an ambulance take a man to the hospital because of a car accident. Now you write it down”.

Y.L. shows me her written sentence (in her mother tongue):

” See accident in ambulance man hospital”.

Most of the verbs are gone. Only one preposition “survived” and is in the wrong place. She knows she’s supposed to use them but she doesn’t  feel a need. The sentence makes perfect sentence to her this way. The order of the nouns shows the sequence of events. Though I can’t see the slightest justification for the disappearance of the word “news” (or T.V) since she didn’t actually see the accident herself…

Young Lady conceded THAT point.

There’s work to be done…



The passport photo of Beileh, one of Dora's half sisters who immigrated in 1927. Do you think they had the same eyes?
The passport photo of Beileh, one of Dora’s half sisters who immigrated in 1927. Do you think they had the same eyes?
Dora 1935 - Do you see a resemblance to half sister Beileh?
Dora 1935 – Do you see a resemblance to half sister Beileh?

Note: This is part eleven of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post

This is the next to last letter. It is undated but the next letter mentions the fact that a year has passed since they last heard from Libby. That letter is dated August 1940.

“Dear Libby!

Thanks you very much for your letter and pictures. I wished to write you now a big letter but alas I am very occupied with work in the house, because we have not today a servant, and beside this I have some ????? ( see below) because I must earn a little money. Much time I have not, to this I have also other unpleasant thinks so that I have not sufferance to write more. Perhaps I shall write you for myself a letter, when I shall have more time.

Thanks you for a dictionary”.

earn money unclear word