Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: an #ELTchat on changes in teachers’ beliefs and practices over time

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1 – A MUSICAL PRELUDE

 

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2 – CHAT SUMMARY

 

The main players (it was quality over quantity):

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cast

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Marisa started us out by mentioning that “lots of things have changed in our teaching because of tech” suggesting the many external influences on change. Both external and internal sources of change were focused on during our chat. Glenys replied to Marisa with a counterpoint: “In fact I don’t think much has changed except for some technical gadgets & they’re not very important”.

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The chat quickly shifted into more self-initiated, experience-based changes. Many participants talked about how ineffective they were in early days:

  • Do you remember self as a novice teacher? I also have some pretty frightening videos of me so – Marisa
  • I’d like to apologise to my first year’s worth of classes – Tyson
  • Early on I think I was much more technique focused. less people focused – Marisa
  • Amazed how some Ss learn INSPITE of their teachers – Marisa
  • I was SO guilty and sad feeling for my first couple of years, after every class I felt like I’d delivered an injustice upon them – Matthew

It makes you wonder about all the TEFL people who DON’T make it past those first couple of years, and never get a chance to change and grow enough to recognize this!

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Major changes in coursebook usage was something several people shared:

  • Those first years were just straight from the textbook for me – David
  • I haven’t used a coursebook for ages – Marisa
  • Interchange was my formative textbook… now I can’t remember the last time I used a CB. That’s changed for sure. – David
  • Interchange for me too! A good one to start with I think – David

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How we’ve changed our image of ourselves as members of a “real” profession sparked some discussion:

  • I’ve also changed my level of investment and resulting professionalism by far since then too. I used to think ELT was not a career – Tyson
  • ^ Matthew shared an article in response to Tyson’s comment.
  • I think that’s a great part of any English teacher’s career. When you decide to stay. – David
  • That probably is the foundational catalyst for a cascade of change in practice, beliefs, perceptions, efforts, etc. – Matthew
  • …I made the final decision to commit when I was 32, tbh. Before that, just half invested – Tyson
  • Like most, [I decided] when I came back home from teaching abroad. Make or break time – David

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One of the central themes was a shift from focusing on teaching to focusing on learning:

  • I used to go into class weighed down with paper bags of “stuff”. Barely noticed the Ss – Glenys 
  • I remember early lessons full of long grammar explanations probably because I was enjoying learning the details of the language – David
  • I wasn’t enjoying it – I was just trying 2talk myself into something that felt true mostly ;P Didn’t really catch lang. bug until halfway through. – Matthew
  • My MA was a key changer in my teaching – I learnt to read and DO research – this was major for me – Marisa

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We talked about changes in what we teach, how we teach it based on teacher education and increased language awareness:

  • My teaching has dramatically changed based on my changing level of language awareness. Maybe as much as method, this influenced change. – Matthew
  • I think the pendulum I keep noticing in my teaching is from more to less of a focus on form. – Chris
  • For me the focus tends to start from genre and context and go to form rather than the other way round – Marisa
  • Fascinating to me: how much ‘apparent’ change happens on short courses like CELTA, but then longer arc of deeper change starts over afterwards – Matthew

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A few people (including Jim Scrivener, in slowburn!) talked about how “change” actually meant an informed return ‘back’ to earlier things:

  • In some ways change has brought me BACK AROUND to early stuff but w/ wrinkles now. Like reading aloud, or dictation, etc. – Matthew 
  • I think a lot of my journeys haven’t been “used to / now” but wide circles back to near where I started (I hope more skilfully)…e.g. Totally rely on Coursebooks > hate cbooks and condemn > own the book as integral but non-controlling element of the course – Jim Scrivener
  • How much has CELTA or DELTA changed over the years? – Tyson
  • not that much but some top down #ELTchat but the trainers have changed, and so bottom up change is unavoidable? – Matthew 
  • The syllabus hasn’t changed much – more so on the delta than the CELTA – but it’s flexible actually – can’t see why some ppl rant. – Marisa

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change

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As the chat wrapped up, I created a Google Doc for people to keep sharing on this topic. Here is what folks have shared there so far (don’t hesitate to join in!):

 

I used to… Now I….
Teach straight from a coursebook and teacher’s guide (Tyson) Never do that; just my own materials and authentic texts / listenings, etc. (Tyson)
Teach students who were traveling abroad for fun and learning some English to travel (Tyson) Teach students who are very focussed on an end-goal i.e. academic study (tyson? yep )
Be just concerned with techniques, my performance, the material etc – the ss were very secondary figures in that configuration (marisa) I tend to do quite the opposite now – begin from my perception of their needs (or their own statements) and connect much more closely with my students or trainees
Find creating a good rapport very difficult – or may be i was indifferent? Marisa These days it’s very easy for me to do that – have a lot more confidence in myself i guess – older – wiser, etc…. 🙂
This might be an obvious change w/ experience, but: simply being SCARED of/in lessons. Feeling nervous about the lesson ahead of time, and feeling anxious during the lesson… – Matthew Nowadays, I describe the classroom as the most consistently comfortable room I spend time in in my life. It’s like a respite from all the other rooms…students are the best people to be around, there’s ALWAYS something to talk about/do, and I’m really in my element. If anything, I’m now scared to deal with non-students! ;P
Be afraid of people writing to me etc Marisa Will connect with anyone and everyone! 😀
Think that the true “weight” of learning was actually on ME, not the learners. This SLOOOOOOOWLY transformed. I did “talk the talk” of what I percieved as “student-centered teaching” but it took years to “walk the walk” in a way that felt truly different.

– Matthew

Now I’m a so-called “student-centered” instructor, but I see that as a kind of ‘game’ of sorts, rathan than a black n’ white dichotomy. For learning to happen at various points the teacher is best “at the center” and sometimes not.
Share very little of my work – isolation syndrome i guess ( in pre social media sharing times) MC I cannot conceive how it was possible to do that and not share everything!!!  Marisa
^ Exactly this for me, too. Well, I guess I actually always shared A BIT. In the hopes of reciprocation, mostly. My early “social media” was a VBulletin chat forum for EFL Ts in Thailand.  – Matthew ^ yes, this this this. Me too. I scratch my head when I see folks not ‘getting’ that to share is so important..that not to share is so….important! So much of a hold-back..seems to me now.
I used to find it hard to judge input sources and students’ level & language needs, so I taught lots of lessons that were either too easy & thus boring, or too hard & just frustrating! (Clare) Now I’m better able to judge which materials are about the right level, adapt them if necessary, and change my tasks or language production expectations, even spontaneously, to make the lessons more worthwhile for the learners, whatever input we’re working with. (Clare)
I used to be teaching focused (Fiona). Now, I’m learning focused (Fiona).
…write on the WB less, or at least for fewer reasons

-Matthew

…write on the whiteboard more, for more varied purposes (pronunciation highlights, more emergent language, quick sketches, etc.)
write packed handouts with complex information. Marc use minimalist design with bare minimum information in instructions. Less is more. Much richer communication. Marc
I used to talk a lot – teacher centered lessons. Silvia Now I talk much much less. How do I know for sure? My throat is never sore, not even after a 7 hour teaching day. Silvia
I used to use students’ L1 quite a lot in the classroom. Silvia Now I speak English almost all the time. Silvia
I used to use coursebooks and teacher’s books. Silvia Now I create my own materials or adapt and redesign what I like from any given coursebook. Silvia
I used to rely almost totally on the provided materials. Now, I find students race through the coursebook and we spend a lot of time talking about “what’s new?”, community events, what’s going on in their lives, watching music videos, going on field trips. Classroom is much more language-rich, and students gain confidence to use it correctly and colloquially.  Ellen

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Update: David Deubelbeiss also chimed in during the slowburn, sharing a link to a post about teacher change here: http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2011/04/02/what-i-know-now-but-didnt-then/ 

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Also, a bonus: 3 tweets of what’s changed for Cecilia Nobre…

cecilia

 

3 – SOME RELATED RESEARCH

 

JC Cover Shot!

…keep reading here: http://www.chan6es.com/uploads/5/0/4/8/5048463/exploring-teacher-change.pdf

Some other interesting research connected to this topic:

Emotions as a lens to explore teacher identity and change: A commentary

Key concepts in ELT: the Apprenticeship of Observation 

 Check out the next few weeks’ #ELTchat topics (and make your own suggestions) here.

bowie_s_changes_by_skylenblue-d5il70i

 

#Researchbites Carnival: The Taped Monologue as Narrative Technique for Reflective Practice

blog carnival

Just below is my ELT Research Bites summer blog carnival “audio bite” of Keith Ford’s article “The taped monologue as narrative technique for reflective practice” from ELT J (2016) 70 (3): 253-260. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccv079

The two links mentioned in the bite:

  1. http://hltmag.co.uk/dec15/mart02.htm#C2
  2. https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/bitstream/handle/10036/3741/FordK.pdf?sequence=2

THANKS! 🙂

An interview about teacher training with John Hughes

I just had to reblog this really interesting and informative 30 minute interview with John Hughes on the topic of teacher training here. The whole thing is worth the half hour, but if you’re interested in a specific aspect of training like input, lesson planning, or giving feedback there’s a helpful outline of the interview at the start with start times for each of the seven areas covered.

On a personal note, I was excited to find this interview because I’ve found John Hughes writing about and materials for teacher training (on his blog and in publication) extremely helpful. There are only so many authoritative non-academic voices and only so much material truly focused on the most practical matters of teacher training and development, and John Hughes is consistently a source of practical, sense-making information for the likes of me. I’ve now been a teacher-trainer for three years but have yet to lose the feeling of being a basic learner of the craft. Ever the newbie! John Hughes has been a great source of both information and inspiration.

Finally, I’d just like to add a note that John is an active member of the greater ELT PLN online and you can easily find him on twitter here. Not so long ago when I was preparing to present on the #ELTwhiteboard phenomenon at a local conference, John got in touch to compare notes and explore how #ELTwhiteboard activity might connect to other means of teacher reflection and lesson study. Needless to say, this newbie was thrilled that the author of “A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT” found it worthwhile to chat with me about such things!

That experience bolstered my feeling that for all the challenges, we work in a field full of real people whose professional work is imbued with real sincerity, dedication, and personal authenticity.

And with that, here’s John Hughes…(video through link below).

*Please use the comment section to post any thoughts or issues sparked by the interview you’d like to chat about! I’d love to connect!*

I recently recorded an interview with Ben Beaumont of Trinity Exams on the subject of teacher training in which I drew on ideas from my book A Practical Introduction to Teacher Training in ELT. It’s over 30 minutes long (!) but it starts with a contents list so you can skip to any part which might be more relevant to you.

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“My triumphant return…and students walk out!” – my TD tale told at the 2017 TDSIG Carnival

This happened not so long ago:

web-carnival_promo

We all experience times when things don’t go as planned in class and we deal with them; we learn from them; they shape our action. These times are often not prominent in our blog posts or on social media, where a rosy hue is cast over the activities, the student dynamics, or the affordances of tech tools. In TDSIG’s Web Carnival 2017, we will explore moments where the wheels fell off and how these experiences contribute to our identities and expand our modes of developing as teacher trainees, teachers, and teacher trainers.

As of today, recordings of all the talks are still available here.

This was mine:

tdsig prez scrip

And I thought I’d share my presentation on this blog in some form as well. Specifically, the form of my slides + my script. If I have a chance, I’ll turn this into a screencast recording (along with my #ELTwhiteboard presentation below). But until then…

These are my slides: 

MN TDSIG Carnival 2017 copy (open in a new window to view as you read below).

And this is my script: 

TITLE SLIDE 1/19

On July 1st, 2011, I returned to my hometown of Boston, Massachusetts after 7+ years teaching abroad. I had decided I was “serious” about teaching, and planned to start my MA TESOL immediately. I felt a certain pride about the hard work I’d put in to (finally!) become an effective teacher…and I was ready for more. Just a few days after arriving back, a prestigious Boston language school called: a teacher there was suddenly leaving, could I take over the class on short notice? Never fear! Matthew’s here!”, thought I.

On the first day four students walked out of my class, asking for a “real teacher”!

 My story of “the wheels coming off” hinges on this jarring critical incident which played an important part in my teacher development.

“CHAPTER” SLIDE 2/19

For this carnival event, TDSIG called for these four things.

  1. A lesson that didn’t go as expected (or was an epic fail).
  2. How you reacted and how your learners reacted.
  3. How it contributed to your teacher identity & development.
  4. How this experience can benefit others.

 So, my tale has these four basic chapters.

Before we dive in – who can identify the specific scene from the background of this slide? I already mentioned I was in Boston. There’s the famous CITGO sign…behind that the Prudential building…the intersection of Beacon St. and Commonwealth Avenue…Fenway Park just around the corner…yes, it’s KENMORE SQ. J

Right, so there we are. It’s Kenmore Sq. in Boston. It’s 2011.

Let’s get started.

“MY PHASE 1/2” SLIDE 3/19

Some background to the lesson in question itself.

I had been teaching in Bangkok, Thailand since 2005. After a year of untrained volunteer teaching in Sri Lanka I had done a CELTA course and settled into life as a so-called TEFLer in Thailand. I enjoyed living in the country, was thrilled with the plentitude of teaching work and the ease with which I could get and keep jobs, and harmonized with Thailand’s particular brand of a Buddhist-influenced happy-go-lucky, laidback lifestyle.

That’s me on the left, bringing my guitar to classes Young Learners classes. I’m pretty sure around that time the Justin Bieber songbook was a large part of my crowd-pleasing repertoire…:P

I was an interested and dedicated young teacher in those years; I read a lot of ELT books, posted on a teacher’s forum online, worked on the next day’s lessons when most of my friends were down at the pub. And I sometimes asked colleagues if we could observe and be observed by each other. (I wouldn’t ask just anybody, of course…I learned the hard way that plenty of teachers found this behavior not only disagreeable but highly suspicious)! I actively sought out professional development and training opportunities, because I took to teaching. I found an identity in work that tapped some old skills and forced me to build some new ones.

But the culture of Thailand and the culture of education, including ELT, in Thailand didn’t challenge teachers like me professionally.

I clearly benefitted from a lot of Native-Speakerism. I was given the benefit of the doubt, seen as an attractive choice for positions and responsibilities simply because I was a native-speaker. And white, to boot. All of this along with the overall lack of rigor in Thai educational culture meant that wasn’t an environment that itself thoroughly challenged and forced someone in my position to stretch my skills and truly grow as a professionally principled language educator.

And so, in 2011, I thought it might be time to see what lay beyond the Bieber sing-a-longs.

That’s me in the incredibly embarrassing collage of pictures on the right, having moved back to Boston with (some kind of) plan to do an MA TESOL and take the next step in what seemed to have become something like a career.

(In my defense, I’m pretty sure I was getting silly mugging for my wife there)…but that image illustrates part of what was in my mind at that time – I saw myself as making a jump. And I was excited about it!

“MY PHASE 2/2” SLIDE 4/19

I was excited when I got the call from a prestigious Boston language school to teach a 4-hour per day advanced level class, excited to enter a vibrant classroom. A challenging classroom. A multi-national, multi-lingual classroom. A “serious” classroom and a professional atmosphere. Part of me, the ego-part perhaps, saw myself as an ELT Superman…this school in distress sent out the signal, and TADA here I am to save the day! Sure, a 4-hour daily advanced class may rightfully put some fear into the heart of any teacher, especially those still not quite fully out of the woods of jetlag! But that part of me…that part of me just leapt up and seized on it as my first step in..well, my first step in joining the ranks of the ELT greats! :P… WATCH OUT, here comes Matthew Noble in his triumphant return to this shining city on a hill, teaching with his shiny skills, ready to hit pedagogical home runs out over Fenway Park across the street.

 “MORE ABOUT THE SCHOOL AND CLASS” SLIDE 5/19

And just a bit more about what grandiose young Super Matthew was getting himself into…

This language school was (and still is) very well known in Boston. Primarily because they had run the same distinctive ad on Boston’s subway cars for the better part of twenty years – and so their undeniably catchy slogan, ‘GUARANTEED SWAHILI!’ – had such cult status that it became the perfect local avante garde jazz band name. 😛

It wasn’t just an English school – it was a world languages study center. It was a linguistic global crossroads. It was guaranteed Swahili!!!!

And here I come, CELTA-certified native-speaker Belieber who probably thinks his Harmer books represents the bleeding edge…:P

Anyway, there’s the class. Intensive indeed.

…so I showed up. The outgoing teacher was there to open the class, but leaving directly for his flight to…I think it was Turkey. I think he’d been offered a university teaching position there. He was older, seemed experienced. I noticed genuine affection in the students’ good-byes, but nothing maudlin. Something infuse with intellectual respect. I noticed his calm demeanor, and behind his eyes the comfort of an expert in his natural habitat…as he handed me some materials and the class rolls and walked out of the door.

MY “EPIC FAIL” – SLIDE 6/19

So…this slide here…illustrates what happened next. There you have it.

I didn’t know what to do that day. I don’t even really remember what I TRIED doing. All I know is that it DID. NOT. WORK. I was, as the kids say these days, “shook”.

One thing I do remember is at one point becoming aware that I was entirely stuck in “graded down teacher-talk” mode…a kind of “low-intermediate directed speech” habit I’d brought with me as carry on from my years in Thailand. Several years worth of which I enthusiastically taught over 30-classroom hours a week…the vast majority to learners at or far below B1 level of English.

I was….simply..stuck there. With these French and Polish and Japanese advanced learners spending 6 months polishing their professional English in the “Athens of America”. 😛

And that by no means was the only problem, but I’ve effectively shoved all the others far down into subconscious levels of memory.

WALKING OUT – SLIDE 7/19

So this is what happened. I’m pretty sure at least 4 out of 10 or so literally walked out on my class. They walked out and headed directly for the manager. They asked the manager if there were any real teachers around to replace their old one.

They didn’t see my cape, they couldn’t feel my powers. I didn’t HAVE a cape…I didn’t have powers.

I remember after the lesson (which I guess – after the walkouts –  I somehow suffered through the next (what must have felt like) million and a half hours of that day) dazedly walking over to the person who’d brought me in an just sitting down…empty.

SINKING FEELING #ELTchat – SLIDE 8/19

Empty…perhaps a bit dizzy…and the more I thought about it and felt about it and what it seemed to mean for me…SINKING.

In 2014 I suggested my first #ELTchat topic, and though I’ve made plenty of mistakes and had many challenging critical incidents in classrooms, I’m pretty sure this particular wheels falling off experience was the impetus for my suggestion.

And so in looking first at how I reacted to what happened, I’d like to briefly dip back into some of that chat.

 #ELTchat Dialogue 1/2 – SLIDE 9/19

PAUSE…then comment as folks check it out…:

  • I certainly did blame myself
  • And when the wheels come off, it can be difficult to be objective
  • Objectivity is fine, but emotion fuels great teachers…but also can burn hot when things go wrong.
  • I did care…and not just about myself, of course. I felt absolutely terrible for the students.
  • Depression? I think I could have completely disappeared into depression had not my supervisor reacted remarkably kindly and calmly!

#ELTchat Dialogue 2/2 – SLIDE 10/19

  • She helped me stay in touch with a sense of proportion. I think she said something to the tune of “you’ll adjust…”
  • She stepped in as a professional friend that day..in a mentor role
  • Dealing with a “sinking feeling” is certainly an important topic for CPD…sinking experiences build the road to burnout, or we could say ‘burn down’.
  • I wanted to burn it down. My confidence was SHOT. Wouldn’t yours be?

***CHEERS*** – SLIDE 11/19

Ok…well here’s what I actually did that day, hehe. Went to drown my sorrows “where everybody knows you name” J (cue nobody quite recognizing the Cheers TV show reference). To add insult to injury I think it also may have been my birthday…?

Do you think I went back the next day? (yes)

Do you think things improved? (they did)

How YOUR LEANERS reacted- SLIDE 12/19

Nobody actually quite the class, or demanded my resignation.

And in terms of how THE LEARNERS reacted…well…here they are at a dinner party hosted at my family home (where I was still camped out) less than a month later.

As white hot and hellish as those first 4 hours were for ME..and as clear a signal that things were NOT RIGHT as the walkouts were…the fact is that learners tend to take something of a long view.

Just as we as teachers expect our students to have off days, and to struggle to rev their engines up, and to sometimes even cower and fail conspicuously in the face of their monumental task…more often than not this goes both ways.

I’m still good friends with Denis, the French student in the blue shirt, Henri, the Haitian lawyer in the middle, and Diego, a Columbian brain surgeon, recently begged me to assume head teacher duties at his mother’s English school in Cartejenya.

Needless to say, things improved in my 4-hour daily advanced intensive class down in Kenmore Sq.

WHAT IT CONTRIBUTED TO T-ID 1/3.. – SLIDE 13/19

Firstly, as I was just talking about, experiences like this put things in perspective – the students’ perspective! What might feel like an unforgivable cardinal sin may just be a trifle, a venial trespass easily forgotten by learners. In fact, why not fail every once in a while – just to set a baseline. 😉

The true nightmare class forces us to connect to others, to burst the bubble of privatism that may exist around what we do and what we experience behind closed classroom doors. In this instance, I talked to my supervisor – who was supportive and wise…my wife – who was encouraging and loving – and later, my students! Who were forgiving and lighthearted. And now I’m talking to you. And if all this connection and communication isn’t a positive factor for whatever we might define as  “teacher identity” I’m not sure what would be.

As for ego, well…I exposed mine at the beginning of this story. And through this loss of wheels, whatever unrealistic, ungrounded self-image I was unhelpfully entertaining at that time was tempered, to say the least, on this disastrous day.

In fact, to be honest I don’t think that I was yet fully, deeply committed to the idea of doing an MA TESOL and truly committing to a teaching career. But this experience, in hindsight, provide a fulcrum by which I pivoted in that direction with real conviction.

As I recovered from that first day and finished out the two months of the session in that classroom I learned more about teaching and learning than I had in the 7 years prior, and that summer I was fully enrolled in an MA TESOL with evening classes while teaching at two great ESOL programs and mentoring volunteer.

A few years later I started in my current role as a tutor on an initial teacher training certificate course, and in the course of any given week observe a whole bunch of lessons that aren’t sculpted beauties. And it’s easy to recognize THAT SINKING FEELING in others. Really staying in touch with critical incidents like this helps guide me in meeting developing teachers more authentically in a place where empathy and spark growth. Knowing it’s the worst lessons that can teach us the most.

WHAT IT CONTRIBUTED TO T-ID 2/3.. – SLIDE 14/19

July of 2011 is pretty much the exact midpoint between when I started teaching and today. I’m glad I took that call, I’m glad I failed to impress that class so thoroughly and I’m glad some of them abandoned my sorry butt that morning.

I didn’t know what I was doing. But I didn’t yet know that I didn’t know what I was doing. I was unconsciously incompetent!

The invaluable payload of the “best” of these negative experience is conscious incompetence. And that’s the launching pad for learning, for growth and skill development.

Just look, I’ve been all smiles since that dark day!

WHAT IT CONTRIBUTED TO T-ID 3/3.. – SLIDE 15/19

When I get notes like this, I credit whatever ‘good teacher’ juju I have to all the critical incidents – especially the horrible ones.

Sure, the training, my profs, tutors, mentor. Authors, PLN. But mostly the crucible of the classroom and all the wires that need tripping, all the mistakes that need making.

How this can help others.. – SLIDE 16/19

The complexities of education in the larger sense, and a classroom with a learner group and a teacher…is not unlike a Rube Goldberg machine. And theory does not prepare you for it. So keep things in perspective and TAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF, for goodness sake. A bit like Boston traffic: expect delays.

RUMI QUOTE SLIDE 17/19

At a certain point, I think we may just tire of self-judgement. This is how I approach every classroom now. This is how I approach every training experience, every observation, every session at a conference. And webinar, online meetings and sharings and conversation. This is beautiful.

HUG SLIDE 18/19

One final very sappy slide here. “Sharing is caring”, we need to care about ourselves and each other at least as much as we care about our students.

Question Prompts for Discussion Slide 19/19!!!

Fin.

rumiii

The pre-service TEFL certificate: 12 things I learned

I don’t usually “reblog” things, but I think this deserves it. This is precisely what I think about when I think about “muddles” slowly transforming into “maxims”.

DYNAMITE ELT

With industry veterans like Geoff Jordan, Hugh Dellar and others out there swinging their hammers at CELTA, I thought I’d take the opportunity to defend the pre-service ELT teaching certificate. Not the CELTA, mind you, but its oft-snubbed, dubiously legitimate little brother. I’m here to defend the humble TEFL certificate.

For the record, I completed a 120-hour TEFL program with 6 hours of teaching practice at the now-defunct ITC Prague (i.e. not an internet-only certificate). The instructors were Geoff Harwood and three other guys whose names I no longer remember (Geoff’s was written on my end-of-course certificate). ITC Prague (as I found out later) eventually failed as a business, but the teaching instruction these guys gave was excellent. The TEFL has had a sort of slow-drip effect on me, and some of what I learned only really struck a chord years later.

Looking back on it from 13 years…

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An(other) #ELTchat on Observation

This is a brief summary (mostly a glorified cleaned up transcript) of the #ELTchat on February 15th, 2017.

taek a look

The February 16th #ELTchat was on the topic “classroom observations and how we can use them (both as observer and observed) to improve our teaching”.

The chat kicked off with Sue Annan saying what I know most of us were thinking: observation is a really good topic! Because of this, Angelos reminded us, we’ve chatted about it four times in the past. Here’s a Padlet with those previous #ELTchats on the topic of observation (thanks Marisa!) Nutrich then mentioned John Hughes’ recent survey on the topic of self-observation. A promising start. 

Here’s the bulk of what was then discussed…

WAYS OF OBSERVING LEARNERS/FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE

  • How about observing from the learner’s point of view? How engaged they all were, unspotted errors, etc (Fiona)
  • How many times each student talked or categories of student talk (Maria) 
  • Tally sheets for this kind of observation; very revealing (Ambartosik) 
  • I recorded learners’ pairwork on DELTA M2 and was shocked. Nothing I’d assumed would happen happened! (Olya)

WAYS OF TRANSCRIBING & ANALYZING

  • Transcribe a random 5 or 10 minutes and subject to classroom discourse analysis (Marisa)

WAYS OF RECORDING/LIVESTREAMING FOR OBSERVATION

  • Interested in recording observation – never done it. Maybe self-observation, too (Fiona)
  • I think recording one’s lessons is the most powerful tool for reflection and improvement (Angelos)
  • Or livestream it. Just let in a very few people on your livestream channel. Livestream is great if you have a good fast connection and no uploading needed (Marisa)
  • Skyping an observation? If you turned it into a @touchcast it would be an interactive asynchronous observation with opportunities to comment (Ambartosik)
  • I think videotaped and demo lessons go a long way towards getting teachers to polish their classroom skills to a higher level. (Marisa)
  • Do you use an iPad and upload to YouTube? How do you do it? I like the sound of YouTube unlisted. (Fiona)
  • Yes – unlisted videos or private with password are easy to do – but take time to upload. Looking for an alternative. (Marisa)
  • With recorded observations, the school might also start collecting short snippets of successful activities. Teachers are happy to share. (Olya)

WAYS OF PEER OBSERVERATION

  • We used to do pair observation. You could ask them to concentration on something which you needed help with. Useful. (SueAnnan)
  • [You can use] the last observation action points as focus points for current observation. Simple, but I think most effective. (Fiona)
  • We’ve just started a new idea fo CPD observations: mini SIGs, which you join to suit you. Your own reflective practice, observation of others, sharing findings. It’s fab. The teachers are all on board because they can choose what they want to concentrate on. (SueAnnan)

OTHER WAYS OF OBSERVATION

  • A friend of mine has started doing “fishbowl” classes at conferences (teaches a group, conference attendees observe), then discuss. Scary! (Olya)
  • Unseen observations (via @ChrisMoyse) in UKed is a neat framework. Would love to implement it. (MattStott)

We talked about how not all teachers are comfortable being observed, but that perhaps it’s important to feel that discomfort and get on with it…with the ultimate benefits in mind.

Glenys talked about seeking out observations and watching her peers back in the day. To her, it’s simply “essential”. Ambartosik expressed that she really wishes teachers had the opportunity to observe regularly (of course it’s quite rare to be able to do this). I think many of us feel this way. 

Finally, Olya shared a link to a “really useful” talk on peer observation/coaching from IATEFL 2015

And here are some extra resources on observation that weren’t mentioned, but fit right in:

Martyn Clarke’s “5 Activities for Peer Observation”

Martin Sketchey’s blog post on observation

Chapter on observation in teaching practice from Jack C. Richards

Observation tasks from the Demand High blog

Class observation “beyond the obvious” from the OUP ELT blog

Finally, here’s Jo Gakonga’s video on Observation:

See you at the next #ELTchat? 

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My #ELTwhiteboard presentation at the Spokane Regional ESL Conference (March 2017)

I wanted to much more than just post this here but I’m currently pretty overwhelmed by work and life what with moving office, moving house, prepping for an extended visit to my 2nd home (Thailand…well, only two weeks – not all that extended), and much more. So here, in raw form, are my slides and audio of *most* of the 45 minutes of my presentation (it cuts off about 5 minutes before the end, unfortunately). It was really quite off-the-cuff, but felt real and good in the room…and though it might sound like a low bar, I suppose that’s about as much as I’m after when it comes to these things.

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Audio: https://soundcloud.com/mattnoble4/eltwhiteboard-an-elegantly-simple-teacher-sharespace

Lots more to say but I’m off to be overwhelmed by life again. I hope to be back soon when I catch my breath. I’d still like to make a recording with slides of a bit more ‘together’ version of the talk and post it up eventually. Thanks for checking this out! Be well.

EDIT:

Perhaps more interesting than my presentation itself is the whole of all the great responses I received to a survey I sent out (still open, btw) about a week before the presentation. Check it out!

form wbwbb

Survey: https://goo.gl/forms/gWzvl1NDF17pqP7l2

Responses: http://bit.ly/2nbKZMx

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Using a Fellow Teacher’s Lesson Plan

[Another between-courses post here, written while I’m mostly doing office and planning stuff and teaching the TP students, trying to keep…and grow…our community of learners]

Some teachers in the ELT world create unique, inspired lessons and then freely share the lesson plans on their blogs. I know. It’s pretty darn cool! We’re talking full-scale usable lesson plans here: nicely produced printable class materials, links to online media, even expertly-crafted teacher’s notes.

One of those teachers is Cecilia Nobre. She’s on twitter here and blogs at the highly recommended https://cecilianobreelt.wordpress.com/, which includes interviews with fellow teachers (including me, a big fat honor!). Every post is smart, fresh, and insightful. What more can I say, Cecilia simply rocks!

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On November 7th, 2016, Cecilia shared this very well put together lesson plan with the world:

Conversation lesson: Do you mind if I take your picture? A lesson based on Humans Of New York

US-CULTURE-PHOTOGRAPHY

Now, this isn’t actually a post about the topic of using fellow teachers’ lesson plans. I think there’s something – perhaps LOTS of things –  to say about how and why teachers freely share lessons, what it means for other teachers to use them, how this could be one harbinger of the eventual downfall of the coursebook industrial complex, and oh! how about a helpfully listing the various lesson super-creator-sharers, out there…

Yeah, that’s all good but…for now, in this post, I’d like to simply share a bit of what I did with Cecilia’s lesson and how it went. Call me simple. ;P

The idea for this post came out of just wanting to get some feedback to the OLC (Original Lesson Creator), Cecilia. I was thinking maybe I should just send her email or a comment on her original post…but then, perhaps others might find it interesting to see for some reason? So here we are.

The learners, by the way, were around the B1/B2 level at the higher end. There were 8 of them in class that day (yesterday). Ah, this was last week now that I’m actually getting this posted – last Wednesday.

First, I’ll add my notes to the “Lesson Plan Outline” Cecilia shared in her post. My notes are in bold red:

Aims:

* Describe pictures beyond the use of adjectives

Achieved: Ss used adjectives to describe the pictures, but also, when prompted constructions for speculation like “she might be a model/perhaps she’s a model”, etc. 

* Create meaningful stories through storytelling

Not achieved: I wish it had been! I ended up focusing on listening and lexis during the 2nd half of the lesson, rather than giving students a chance to do much speaking/storytelling. 

* Discuss reasons to share or not to share intimate thoughts with strangers

Mostly achieved: when prompted, Ss (to varying degrees) got a chance to express their personal views on ‘opening up’ to a stranger (many were mostly focused on how trustworthy/”normal” the stranger seemed). 

* Listen to details

Achieved: plenty of listening practice with the video. While I wasn’t thrilled with bringing Fox News into my classroom 😉 the clip was quite nice, containing some nice vocabulary and a nice arc as a text.  

Next, more text from the procedure section of Cecilia’s lesson outline and my notes:

Before I moved into Step 1 below and the first slide (I used the PPT and also gave the Ss the slides in a double-sided packet to take away with them), I linked this lesson to the previous lesson by writing

Do you mind if I…

on the whiteboard and elicited the learners’ understanding of this phrase from last week’s class (use: everyday semi-formal polite/indirect request, meaning: asking for permission for something usually immediate and usually small, pron: connected speech happening, form: + base verb and do can become would, etc.). 

I then asked pairs to come up with common examples. Then, leading into this lesson, asked: imagine some random person, someone you never saw before, a stranger, walked up to you and used this phrase? Imagine what they might say? 

The predominant thing Ss were thinking of, it seemed, was “Do you mind if I ask you for directions?”. So we briefly discussed this kind of ‘requesting to make a request’ and why that could be used to be extremely indirect. 

Then I said: now, what if that stranger had a camera around their neck? and maybe even looked like a real photographer? What might they ask? 

Unexpectedly to me at the time (but with the luxury of hindsight somewhat predictable), the Ss had quite a hard time getting to “…take your picture?”. Because I’ve learned to deal with emerging learner language issues to some degree of success we spent some time here, teasing apart confusions about who’s taking what for whom exactly! Not at all an obviously ambiguous construction there…

OK! Then right back to it. Show Slide 1 with the title of the lesson…

Step 1
Prime students with the three questions from slide two before showing them the two pictures. Give them enough time to observe and hypothesize (Slide 1). 

Step 2
Show them each picture separately and give them a few minutes to discuss the initial questions with their peers. They might jot down some ideas if needed be ( Slide 3 and 4)

The 3-question prompts got them talking about each of the 2 pictures for about 3 minutes each. I floated around giving prompts to some of the less productive chatters.

Step 3
Share the three pictures related to the woman’s story ( the wedding dress, the hair stylist, and the dog) and, in pairs, they should come up with a story. Help them with vocabulary if needed be ( Slide 5)

Then this, which was fun…however less productive than I’d hoped. That’s not the lesson’s fault – but only one of the pairs really jumped into imaginatively constructing a possible story line and coming up with rationales for why it might apply to one or the other person from the photos. Next time, I’ll energize this by switching up pairs, maybe have them in standing and rotating pairs instead. In fact, I only switched up pairings during this whole 2 hours lesson towards the end! 

Also, some of these students are not as used to this kind of lesson. Admittedly, it’s got quite a different dynamic than the somewhat more highly structured CELTA TP lessons they get during courses. The amount of speculation and inferencing I prompted them to attempt was a stretch for some of them. I ‘sold’ it and scaffolded it as best I could at the time, but nevertheless think heard the odd stomach growl for a bit more solidity. 😉 

Step 4
Then, share the three pictures related to the couple’s story ( the subway, the cookies, and the Black Label). Students should come up with a story using the three pictures in pairs ( Slide 6)

Same as above. 

Step 5
Show the two pairs of sentences to the students. They are supposed to match the sentences to the pictures.
“I wasn’t even planning on going out that night” and “I just started dancing by myself” are related to the couple’s story.

“I quit my job” and “everything is one big question for me right now” are linked to the woman’s story ( Slides 7 and 8)

Perhaps oddly, this got a bit more buzz then the pictures above. Again, I should have switched up the students. I can think of one imperfectly matched pair who I left stranded with each other most of the day. Doh. Maybe it’s not odd…maybe the pictures seemed just a little bit too random to build logical bridges between, but these two pairs of phrases seems more coherent to them. 

hony

Step 6
Next, students are supposed to read each story.

Ask them: Did you use the pictures correctly to make sense of each story? Were your inferences accurate? Were your initial questions answered within the texts?
Some phrases and expressions you might need to go through:
Story 1 – The woman
I feel like I’m about / I can’t help but… / to mess up / nothing has come of it

Story 2 – The couple
cookie dough / to make out with someone / to run into someone

I didn’t pre-teach that vocab, but I soon had the sense I should have. When I post-taught, I found only cookie dough was thoroughly known. The phrase that we actually had the best time focusing on was “I chopped off my hair” – looking at how this word choice conveyed a sense of violence, conveying the act as an emotional reaction to something difficult. You’d never hear, I got a new job! To celebrate and prepare, first I’ll chop off my hair, then…;P

At one point I asked the Ss which story they liked most. Most chose the woman’s story, I think simply because it’s a bit richer and more involved. 

Step 7
Have students join small groups to open the debate with their peers. Allow them to agree, disagree, make jokes, etc.

This particular step (7) didn’t really happen – at least there was no ‘debate’, and not really any S-S ‘joking’. Thinking back to my reading this plan before the lesson (about 30 minutes before, when I decided at the last minute to try it instead of something I’d had slotted in but wasn) 

Step 8
After the debate, they should click on the links to leave a comment or reply to a comment from the post. Help them with new vocabulary and monitor what they write. Ensure their opinions are respectful and supportive.

We didn’t go online, but the Ss did seem to want to check out HONY through their personal facebook pages outside of class (I’ll find out tomorrow who actually found and followed it). 

Photo 1 : Link here

Photo 2: Link here

Step 9
Listening to details: Tell your students they’re going to watch a three-minute video about Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York. Let your students read the topics that Brandon might tackle in the video ( Topics mentioned: Why he thinks people open up to him, his most popular photo and the questions he likes to ask people). Let students share their guesses.

This news clip was nice. As I mentioned above, I have several reasons not to love using Fox News in my classroom, but clip was nice and I could grin and bear it. It’s very a typical/conventional ‘human interest’ news segment. It’s a good length, has a good pace, and a nice arc. Some nice varied lexis, which we treated a bit after the gisty listening task included in the lesson. At this moment I’m a bit too busy and lazy to recollect exactly what and how. 

Watch the video here.

Step 10
Questions about Brandon Stanton and Humans of New York. Let your students make questions in pairs or small groups. Share their answers with the whole group.

Here’s where we did a productive skills activity (speaking), and it was pretty straightforward: walking around, one of you is Brandon with his camera and his questions (we had his types of question on the whiteboard from the video). Ask, as politely and friendly-like as you can, to take a picture (act that out – ‘click! click!’) and then follow up requesting to talk and asking a question or two (can you tell me about the time in your life when you felt guiltiest?). I encouraged students to share personal stories to the extent they felt comfortable (this group is generally pretty open, even confessional). 

This was a bit rushed. We had only 14 minutes left in class by the time this began, which is ridiculous given the task and the potential for multiple longer, open-ended interactions. But some nice stuff came up and some animated conversations ensued. 

Thanks for the great materials and lesson plan/ideas Cecilia! As you can see, it was a pretty decent success. And it went from blogpost to live classroom in just +/- 30 minutes! 

Finally, I’d like to applaud Cecilia’s efforts in the area of PARSNIPS. This lesson is one of a handful that contain content that is either a little bit or a lot “parsnipy” (see this lesson dealing with domestic violence and rape) and I, for one, love it. In the last-minute rush to prepare this lesson I regret that I didn’t gather myself to include an intentional, specific way to address this in class. I kind of ‘made space’ for students to react/respond to the gay couple in the 2nd pic, but didn’t force anything. I guess that WAS my approach, and it felt comfortable. While I think perhaps some learners were quietly surprised to find something less whitewashed than they usually do in these classrooms (we use the standard heteronormative mainstream coursebooks during CELTA courses on which they are the trainees’ TP students), there was a nice sense of recognition and a ‘not-a-big-deal’ vibe. 

I look forward to the chance to use another one of Cecilia’s shared lessons and maybe one day even get the chance to return the favor! 🙂 

 

#ELTchat summary for Nov 30th, 2016: Ideas for Making the Most of Exercises

Welcome to this week’s summary.

I was quite sad to have missed last Wednesday’s weekly #ELTchat teacher discussion on twitter (pesky little thing called work often gets in the way at 11am here on America’s west coast) but I had suggested the topic originally and was happy to read back and find another worthwhile live chat between a group of wonderful and teachers! If you haven’t taken part before, do yourself a favor: GET THEE TO A CHAT, PRONTWISE. Anyway, I was able to engage in the “slowburn” portion, and was rather happy to get the chance to be this week’s summarist.

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I’ve been taking this great online class with Vicki Hollett at iTDi.pro and looking for all the chances I can get use and get better with video (boy do I have a long way to go!). So, I decided to produce this #ELTchat summary in video form. You’ll find my Part 1 and Part 2 videos below, plus a short written follow-up to account for the slowburn. Enjoy!

(BTW, my iTDi classmates are have been making wonderfully professional-quality stuff under Vicki’s expert tutelage; I’m just the class clown – so don’t let my goofy videos affect your impression of that course!)

Note: Part 1 is a hearty, potentially TL;DW 6+ minutes long, and contains more…um…’Matthew being Matthew’. If you’re interested in getting right into a list of some of the ideas shared in the #ELTchat, skip to Part 2, which is more focused and a brisk 1:57.

1

2

THANKS FOR WATCHING! 🙂

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When the live 60-minute #ELTchat is finished, we go into slowburn mode. That means for the next 24 hours we keep the discussion going. Involved in slowburn chatting last week were mainly @sadeqaghazal, @Marisa_C, @getgreatenglish, and me. 

burn

[edit: more on ideas from slowburn coming here very soon]

The slowburn culminated in a Google Doc with 2 typical coursebook-type exercises (from the Headway 4 workbook) and places for teachers to share ideas on how they might approach them with extensions and further/varied exploitation of the content in mind. Please don’t hesitate to join in! That’s HERE.

And don’t forget to submit a chat topic idea for the next #ELTchat and that’s HERE.

suggest

Who do I think I am?

I just read Tyson Seburn’s post “Who do you think you are?“, loved it, and decided to have a go myself. The other day I’d also watched the recording of the discussion panel on teacher identity at the IATEFL/TESOL Joint Webconference Tyson was a part of, so I read the post with interest. It in, Tyson responds to and reflects on the same questions which guided the discussion bringing forward a lot of interesting issues.

The questions and my own scribblings, then…

Who are you?

First name Matthew, last name Noble. Son of Chris and Bette. Chris is retired now, but was a lawyer. He decided to go to ‘go square’ and attend law school only after studying the drugs Indian mystics took to make sure they had the best visions (it’s that sort of cheating?). Bette (1944-2002) was doing a project on sustainable agriculture when they met at Benares Hindu Univeristy…so I’m a ‘child of India’ in that way. Bette was mostly a freelance writer during her life. Bette was also a sometime ESL tutor in our home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Maybe that had something to do with my interest and who I’d become?

I was raised in a multicultural environment. We often had international tenants living in our house,  I went to a progressive and diverse Quaker elementary school, there were a lot of former civil rights activists around for dinner. I chose Malcolm X as “my hero” to write a paper about in 6th grade. I remember being most amazed, reading his autobiography, by a sense of how much freedom he finally found in leaving the US and meeting a larger, meta-national community of people in Mecca. I had a real sense, even then, that it was extremely important to leave the US, to burst the bubble of one’s one environment, culture, familiar world. Maybe that had something to do with my interest and who I’d become?

I could write several more paragraphs, all ending with “maybe that had something to do with my interest and who I’d become?

…but I don’t wanna. Instead, I’ll get back to where I started and the concrete sense of being a member of a particular family in a particular place. That family and that place definitely had something to do with my interest and who I’d become. Reading that back, I’m actually sort of surprised at myself. I guess I’m getting older. I supposed I’ll add that I’m 38 right now.

rents

What is your teaching philosophy? 

To this question Tyson Seburn wrote: “Ugggh. That one’s the worst” and for my part I’d say: not a truer word could be spoken. I wholeheartedly agree, which is ironic because I recommend the composition of one to trainee teachers all the time. I suppose it’s more of a feeling-based reaction than an intellectual one, because I know how important it is to articulate beliefs. But really the important thing isn’t the paragraphing of some kind of bold, thorough statement of beliefs as if it would hold as a ‘constitution’; rather, it’s the process, the actual brain- and heart-power and exploratory intent directed towards the bright (though dim at times) light of “what do I believe in?…what makes me want to teach, and teach the way I do?” and it may or may not be easy or even worthwhile to capture in paragraph form. I’ve attempted to compose a ‘final’ type of teaching philosophy statement several times, but perhaps inevitably they really don’t seem to have much staying power – they weaken as soon as I cap the pen or minimize the window…because I’m so busy, instead, instead, trying to live those questions constantly (which may contribute to accounting for of my high levels of interest and engagement in the field existing alongside relatively low levels of very conventional/concrete productivity…like, actually attempting “answers” to the questions in article or book form, for example..but I digress).

I loved the image Tyson used for his blog, which really animates this sense of something moving to much to pin down, composing and eroding simultaneously, in flux:

brain-and-identity-800x450

From: http://bit.ly/2gW8yJe

But right now I am writing, and the make-up of my mind as it is now has me thinking about three of the many puzzle pieces (that keep changing shape) which I can say fit together, mostly, to form an image of me, mostly, as above:

 > Pacifism: I mentioned the Quaker school above, but not my dad’s overtly non-religious but sincerely pacifistic Quakerism (expressed, for example, in his conscientious objector status during the Vietnam war). That was passed down to me. And I do, I think, clearly perceive and frame my activity in the ELT realm as a pacifistic, peace-building endeavor. Basically I want to avoid soulless work buying, selling, or processing stuff, just like Lloyd Dobbler…but more than that, I want to do work that I feel promotes peace. (I’ll add that I’ve literally had to ‘make peace’/mediate potential in-class violence once in my career, and it was a room full of teacher-learners, not English students).

 > Multiculturalism:  I also already mentioned the multiculturalism that my marked childhood environment. I suppose I see myself as a ‘multiplier’ of culture(s), not so much as a cultural ambassador for any kind of monolithic cultural entity competing with others. I try to be very sensitive about when and how materials I may be using seem to be presenting some problematic cultural bias. I originally became a teacher of English initially as a way to be a student of culture and language and history different from my own. I feel as though I am still the student in many ways no matter what position I take in a classroom or courseroom.

mee

 > Buddhism. My best friend’s family was Buddhist and I started to read about Buddhism and Buddhist texts and started joining in Buddhist meditation retreats when I was sixteen.  I found the psychology very helpful and the cosmology very fascinating, and of course the pacifism resonant. I ended up with a BA in Comparative Religion, but really focused on Buddhist philosophy (along with a minor in Conflict Resolution). Clearly, I wasn’t all that career-oriented! But what I was was interested in what happens in those spaces within and between people. Perhaps this explains why my favorite ELT quote of all is Earl Stevick‘s “Success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analysis, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom”. I perceive and make sense of many of the most crucial skills I’ve developed (no – am developing) as a teacher in terms that I originally found in Buddhism, like the mindfulness required to facilitate and scaffold instructional conversations, or give explicit corrective feedback in a radically non-judgmental fashion with a sense of a non-duality between right and wrong. And most concretely, it was the opportunity to teach English to Buddhist monks at a rural Sri Lankan monastery school that made me take my first dive into language instruction.

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Image from: https://literacyteaching.net/2015/07/10/

What does it mean to you personally to have a professional identity?

It gives me a feeling of purpose, and of self-worth. Going back to family, I think it is likely very important for me to feel like a “professional” on a deep psychological level because both of my parents had clear professional identities. They were both always extremely open to whatever I might ‘become’ in terms of work and career, so I don’t think I ever felt explicit pressure to make choices based on expectations. But I’m aware that I do expect myself to “live up” in some sense to the challenge of establishing a professional identity…based on work that you believe in, that is perceived as valuable to yourself and your community.

I recently read this blog post  from Elly about the experience of friends and family not quite taking this career seriously:

ticha-quote

And boy can I relate. I think some kind of positive, concrete identity can be a kind of bulkhead against these waves, as wont as I am to ‘go with the flow’ and make it ‘not about me’ in all sort of ways. Actually, it IS about me – it’s my career.

But I don’t think that developing and maintaining a positive professional identity is particularly easy in ELT. It certainly has not been for me. Listen to me and my understatements. Shall I re-write those last two sentences? Developing and maintaining a positive professional identity in ELT is possible but as far as full-spectrum professional resources and support it’s a fucking shitshow people.  I’ve clawed tooth and nail, through thick and thin, to get to this special happy place where I can even consider myself vaguely accomplished. Goddammit! 

Whew. Okay…we’re back. Hey, I feel…cleansed. Back to our regularly scheduled program:

I have probably experienced more overall identity insecurity and negativity since I started in 2004 than the opposite, but at some point I tipped the scales towards a positive, productive, and healthy sense of self as an ELT person and it’s ‘snowballing’ now.

Although I’m working as a teacher trainer right now, I would say that my identity is primarily based on the feeling of a joyful absorption (jhana in Buddhist terms) I feel in an ESL classroom as a teacher/guide working with the ‘inside and between’ stuff and language knowledge and skills that can connect people and cultures across boundaries. *I wrote that sentence thinking about how I felt this morning given the opportunity to sit down with a learner one to one for 30 minutes. It stuck me so viscerally: this makes me feel happy. As does working with new and potential teachers, knowing that I’m introducing something that I know to be so wonderful.

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How far is it useful to be conscious of your identity as a teacher? 

I think Tyson makes great points about how non-static/fluid identity is, and how it’s a “starting point” for new experiences and new growth. I think it’s a starting point for connecting with others. At the annual TESOL shindig you meet 100s of other teachers and the first thing you do is share where/who you teach (or play “spot the info on the name tag without seeming rude”)…but it’s anywhere from there.

And with students – they want and need to know you as a complex, sometimes contradictory, normal person, sure, but also as a known amount: a teacher who does this because they believe this, who doesn’t put up with this because this is their stance on this.

And of course the more conscious of the fluidity of your identity as a teacher, and the conditionality of it, the more able you are to try to set conditions that favor growth. Even when they sometimes cause pain. I remember asking to be observed and fellow teachers looking at me like I was crazy to want the extra stress and likely pain of critique. But I was looking for experiences that I knew would likely instigate some kind of growth. These days I try to ask assessors for extra bits of criticism they might give of my feedback session, or whatnot. I think to the extent that I’m conscious of my identity – or rather, the open-ended and open-to-change nature of my identity as a teacher – the hungrier I am for not just critique specifically but…dunno, identity-instigation. Things that will force me to ask, yet again, who am I? Why do I do this?

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How far is a teacher’s identity linked to their sense of value, and how can teachers’ associations foster this sense of identity and value?

I’ve been to a few state-level conferences and 6 TESOL conventions. Sadly, I’ve never been to IATEFL or any other conference outside the US (we all need goals). But I’ll say this: when I walk down the corridors from session to session at a TESOL convention I feel a very strong sense of tribal communion. A near-spiritual humming of identity-confluences and overlapping egos…it’s great. It’s important. It’s invaluable, really. And I stay plugged into the ELT borg-matrix through the greater PLN on twitter and FB, the blogs, iTDi.pro, etc. All of it fosters a sense of identity which, without any of it, could really be weakened (let me also just mention here the precariousness of ELT and ground all this idealism in a reality of sometimes looking for abstracted satisfactions where for many, well-apportioned vacation travel does the trick).

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What experiences have most deeply affected your own sense of professional identity?

So many. I think I’ll just list a bunch, whatever springs to mind, in no particular order…joining in iTDi webinars (for teachers, by teachers!) as both presenter and participant, having an ELT book sent to me by a member of my online PLN, once being walked out on by unhappy students before turning it around to be a great class, starting to have courage to submit proposals..and have presentations accepted, being encouraged by trainees to write a book, being contacted by fellow teachers with questions and “i thought of yous”, positive feedback from ESL students, finding a well-professionalized position, having my dad say he was proud of me and the work I was doing, moving back to the US and maintaining/evolving an identity I’d developed abroad (I wasn’t 100% sure about this), marrying a ‘non-native speaker’ and across cultures, writing this blog, finding old materials I created in piles of papers and seeing their value afresh, feeling like I can (and will) move to any number of places to follow the paths of the work, seeing trainees succeed in their work, knowing someone out there is reading this…and so many more…each and every day…and by saying that there are so many I hope not to water the whole thing down. Of course there are big ones, with real, lasting impact, and then there’s “the little things”. But it all matters. It’s just how I feel, because I’m pretty much ensconced and as my brother used to say, I’m a ‘meaning junkie’.

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Finally, I’ll say that many of the experiences that have most deeply affected my own sense of professional identity are not directly mine; they are those of other teachers sharing their stories and their own expressions of identity…but these things don’t feel so other. In fact, they almost feel like my experiences – like shared experiences between members of a ‘tribe’ who share a bond that verges on psychic. Which is why the joint webconference was so great, especially sessions 3 and 4 on teacher identity. And why iTDI is so important, and all the connections between teachers and experiences on twitter and blogs, not to mention in the staffroom at work. We’re in this together, and our identities as professionals don’t only exist inside us alone, they’re also between us teachers and between us and all of our learners. Maybe this is actually what we ‘buy, sell, and process’ in this work. Just don’t tell Lloyd Dobler that. And it’s almost as good as kickboxing, but don’t tell Lloyd Dobler that either. 😉

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How does any of that resonate with or against your puzzle pieces? Consider a blog post with the question prompts, or simply leaving a note in the comments section…