Here’s a brief summary (in progress!) of our #ELTchat of October 4, 2017 on the topic of the best Web 2.0 tools for teaching and practicing writing skills. This topic was originally suggested by Fiona Price (you can suggest a topic for a future #ELTchat here).
In some sections I mostly just quote tweets. In others, I describe the gist of what was said in prose. I also add a few of my own thoughts here and there in an attempt to extract some basic possible takeaways or questions to consider. I use bold to highlight some of the seemingly most important bits. Please note that in places I’ve very lightly edited the syntax/punctuation of some tweets to make them read a bit more smoothly outside the context of twitter itself. Also, see the transcript for more than I include here.
(As I’m posting it on October 24 this currently summarizes only the first 60% or so of the chat transcript. I will complete it when I have time, but thought that there was just enough here to post now and continue later). Enjoy!
Defining what we mean by “2.0” tools: typically collaborative, digital, and relevant/current writing (via typing) platforms.
Staring things off Matthew asked: “What *are* the things we talk about when we talk about this topic? Associations?”. Angelos, always on the #ELTchat ball, quickly answered: “When it comes to web 2.0 and writing the first thing that comes to mind is: collaboration“. To which Matthew replied: “I think [collaboration is] maybe the essence of “2.0” right? And the primary difference when using digital/online tools?”. Gemma also responded to the initial prompt: “Online platforms. Wikis and so on”. Angelos said: “and of course that it is current and relevant – people these days type; they don’t write”.
If these writing tools are largely about collaborative possibilities, is collaboration necessarily always a good thing?
With the collaborative nature of many Web 2.0 writing tools brought up early on, there was a thread of inquiry – starting right near the beginning and popping up throughout the chat – focused on exploring this a bit. Matthew asked: “So, is using [collaborative] Web 2.0 tools not only productive, but matching the space of actual writing activity itself?”.
To which David responded: “I don’t think so, at least considering real applications. When do we collaborate in writing at work for e.g.? Infrequently at best“. Drawing on her deep well of experience, Glenys responded mentioning that it “depends on where you work. My colleagues & I quite often prepared all kinds of texts together. Used whiteboard in those olden days.”
We agreed that collaboration/interaction is, as Angelos put it, “about the process of learning. Same rationale as with encouraging peer-correction, pairwork, etc”. David wondered whether we include peer-correction in “collaboration” or just constructing a text cooperatively and Angelos maybe channeled a bit of Vygotsky, etc.: “we consider learning as a social act, don’t we? Together we learn better”. Matthew responded: “Agree. But I also think that sometimes these days we’re egged on AWAY from activity that is socially isolated/’unshared’, [and this is] not always [a good thing]“. Tyson chimed in: “Wow. On spot with one of my questions about this”. (This is one of the things that’s so great about #ELTchat and, really, any platform that allows teachers to energetically share and explore together – you never know what questions get light shed on them and what curiosities get fed in all the crosstalk!).
David was pretty clear that he thought most real-world writing tasks themselves were not in fact highly collaborative and it’s important to recognize this. Matthew picked this up, asking: “What if the writing process is [sometimes?] better left as an isolated (but not isolating) activity? That’s what it used to be, no?”. And David, once again: “I think so. There’s the assumption it’s easier to collaborate with tech, but it’s easy to pass around a paper too”. So, essentially we agreed that one major aspect of Web 2.0 writing tools was their facilitation of collaboration, but that it’s important not to be too starry-eyed about it all and keep aims and outcomes in mind. After all, we’ve been doing collaborative writing activities for ages, long before so many online tools became available.
Fiona offered an example of when it is a a key factor: “On projects for example? Potentially more effective?” and Gemma agreed, noting that “projects go thru stages…So collaboration could mean: proof-reading, peer reviews, editing, expanding on topic/content“.
Rachel may have summed things up on this issue quite nicely by reminding us that it all “really depends how it’s handled and when it takes place. Students can collaborate outside class without T interference, and it depends on #purpose”.
Marking writing work using Web 2.0 tools
Sue then brought in the issue of marking: “It is harder to mark online work. My students using a Mac send garbled stuff to me at home. I like the old-fashioned way sometimes“.
Angelos could relate, but added that he is “now…marking everything online (and I think it makes me focus on details better)“.It’s not a painless transition to make, however. Angelos said that it “takes a lot of practice and time”. Gemma agreed here, adding that she “used to hate it but find marking texts on LMS so much quicker. All in same place, easy too see who’s copying“.
So, if ‘copying’ and/or plagiarism is a particular issue in your context, then perhaps using certain Web 2.0 tools and an online LMS to manage written work would be advantageous.
I think Sue’s point about ease of use/function and the teacher’s experience is important because we always need to include ourselves as the instructors in the equation when assessing essentially everything we do/may do in class. Something may be great for our learners for X and Y reasons, but contributes to teacher burnout as its hidden cost. I know I have, in the past, not accounted for this as much as I should have.
Is writing ‘fun’? Old-school vs. Web 2.0
It was mentioned that using Web 2.0 tools can bring in an element of fun. Thinking of some students and teachers he’d worked with in the past (and maybe himself, too!) who tended to think of writing as the ‘serious/boring/difficult’ member of the language skills team (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), Matthew posed this question: “Was writing *not fun* before we started using more collaborative Web 2.0 type tools?
Angelos recalled that “certainly the writing [he] did as a learner” wasn’t always big on fun. Gemma pointed out that it depends on the “atmosphere/vibe in class. Fun if the students feel at ease, not fun maybe if not confident“.
So, perhaps if we’re deciding whether or not or to what extend to use Web 2.0 tools for writing work we’re wise to poll our students. Do they feel more ‘at ease’ writing using more traditional tools, or Web 2.0 tools? In which environment/with which tools do they feel more confident? Do they want more practice in one or the other mode to increase their confidence in it?
Angelos: “I am a big – big – fan of Google Docs for extensive writing tasks but I also like any chatting platform (Whatsapp, Telegram, etc)”.
Gemma: “Use LMS. Students do writing tasks there, I get notifications of them submitting. In past group in edmodo, students posted 1st draft there”…”Students then used WriteImprove for 1st revision. Resubmitted on Edmodo. I marked. Have common error & tips file Delta tutor passed on”. (Several other chatters said they’d used and liked WriteImprove).
BONUS: Here’s a fun David Crystal clip in which he cites research showing that contrary to popular belief, people are writing more than ever (just in different ways) and the quality of the written language is not, in fact, going to pot. 🙂
“As a teacher, I am somewhere on the path of my professional journey. I don’t know if I’m closer to where I started or to where I’ll end up. I don’t know if the road is straight or winding. Sometimes I am convinced I am walking backwards. I have seen others in places on their own path that I recognize as places I’ve passed. And I have seen many more people in places I do not recognize at all, but I guess when I get there, I will understand. I try not to make assumptions about any of these people in spite of my own beliefs because I know them not to be engraved in granite.”
I find that if I keep my ears perked, someone somewhere is beautifully articulating exactly how I feel. Sometimes I want to paint my own picture; other times it feels better to paste others’ words on my canvas – words which represent my experience and affirm that so much experience is shared.
Emptying the Room
I’m sitting here in my 95% emptied-out office wanting to write some reflections on my experience as a teacher trainer (thus far) and related things. Gosh, I do like the minimalism in here right now! I’m going to try to take this comfort with less with me where I go. I will admit that I built some impressive piles o’ papers and managed to overfill some document draws so that when you pulled the drawer out far enough, it just fell down to the floor. My colleague here even referred to me as a “hoarder”! Somewhere between two and seven times over the final 12-month period! This was a first. And a clear message to be, perhaps, just a bit more like your Japanese shrine cat in its natural habitat, giving zero fucks.
*As I pop back up to the beginning here later and insert/expand (which I do throughout this post, but without necessarily signal it with these asterisks)* I can say that this post turns out to be just as much about reflection itself andespecially my experience, over the same span of time I’ve been a teacher-trainer, as a person very actively engaged with an online ELT PLN and how that has been (it’s been great). Thinking about it now, it’s clear that these two things – training work and active PLNing – really have played out en parallèle.
So…[sighing]…here I am at this largely cleared off desk with its largely cleared out drawers (I couldn’t find a pen to write with at one point yesterday) just bloggin’ it out with all these changes and movement going on in lil’ newbie’s lil’ life. The central change I wrote about a week and a half ago: my current position as a full-time CELTA tutor here in Seattle, WA is coming to an end. There be domino numero uno. I wrote about being in a transitional state professionally and geographically and kinda sorta spiritually, too. I also weirdly confessed the age at which I lost my virginity [DEAD LINK]. But yeah, I really don’t know if I’ll continue as a CELTA tutor moving into the future. If you asked me how I felt about that, I might say something like:
“Well…part of me would like nothing more than to carry on doing precisely what I’ve been doing here in some new location. It’s been so. much. fun. But…but other parts of me really do yearn for some pattern changes and energy shifts. This is how it’s always been with me, you know. I’m not the type to cut one deep groove; for better and for worse, I tend to cut winding paths out and around and sometimes back in. It’s not that I don’t put my heart into what I’m doing – not at all. But something new – even just the potential for it – is what, for me, enlivens what’s here. The call, whether I answer it or not, echoes in me. But without the fade. It’s like that cup of morning coffee. It makes the second-hand tick a bit louder. It makes momentum. Even if you’re just sitting there, watching the wind blow. Oh…hold up…are you still recording this? Now I’m rambling a bit – I’ll stop now.”
I might be just a teeny tiny bit like Calvin.
Whatever my next steps (or cliff falls) may be, it’s times like these that I’m impelled towards reflection.
Probing a Post
As I count it, I began this phase as a person-who-works-with-teachers-for-work on January 26th, 2014.
There are websites that tell you EXACTLY how long ago past points in time were. I put that date into one of them and got:
I think it’s pretty unlikely that this will be my lastblogpost as a CELTA tutor, and definitely not as a teacher trainer in some way, but if it is or isn’t, I think it’s an act of what people go around calling “closure”. Maybe not like a regular door closing – more like a swinging door wagging down to stillness. Tump-tump-tump.
The idea is simple: connect back to my first blogpost on the topic and see where the lines and loop(s) between take me.
I wrote that I thought blogging would be both a ‘record’ and something that would be developmental. It turned out that blogging (and the tweeting, and the rest of it) did “help me through” and, I think, support my “development”. I can also say that feedback I received along the way suggested that blogging and connecting online also “provided some kind of light along the way for a fellow traveler”.
This makes me feel good! 🙂
Reason to Reflect
You know, this is, to me, a really important aspect of reflection: feeling good! Reflection often produces good feelings: pleasure, dare I say happiness. I wonder if this is even its most important product for me, and why I’ve always been so attracted to concepts and practices of reflection. Yeah, I think it is. Nevermind (I’m going with that as a single word – because Seattle) how analytical examinations of past decisions and actions and their results can supply me with actionable intel I can use in my present and future work in the classroom and courseroom; I want to feel good. Actually, I think this positive affect, this affirmative emotion might even do as much to inspire increasingly effective future action in my work as anything else.
Do that, dear reader, make sense?
I want to explore why it’s making sense to me to assert that. I think there’s a lot about this work (I mean the whole of ELT, including both language teaching and teacher learning, the career scaffolds or lack thereof, the societal perceptions, etc. all pressed into one big meatball) that is unsatisfactory. I don’t need to list all the things in this category, but they span across the spectrum from the macro to the micro, the external and internal, the professional and the personal. Here I’m reminded (as an avid reader of Buddhist texts) that my favorite English translation of the Pali term dukkha is “unsatisfactoriness” (not the usual “suffering”). This is known as the 1st of the ‘4 Noble Truths’ of Buddhism. Ok well I’m just gonna go ahead and call it The 1st Matthew Noble Truth of ELT.
Therefore, for me a big part of what’s needed – not unlike the in prescription recommended by the Buddha 2560 years ago (we’ll go with the Thai Buddhist calendar) – is some sukkha, or well-being, satisfactoriness. In Buddhism pleasure isn’t the end-all-be-all and doesn’t get you enlightened, but without it you can’t or won’t be in a place to do the other stuff that actually makes things better. Without enough of it, I feel like I don’t have a comfortable mental and emotional workspace to do the kinds of demanding intellectual work of teaching or any of the reflective exploratory practices we tend to lionize. Without really enjoying lessons myself (not just he lessons themselves, but having some functioning self-esteem for all of it), I can’t keep my head in the game enough to really sustain focused attention on what the learners specifically need when they do X. Without enough of this sukkha, what’s unsatisfying about being in ELT wins the day because I’m just not quite here for it.
Okay, now I’m sitting back and considering what I’ve written so far. Let’s see. The first thing I did when I read what I’d written – essentially to my future self – was to seek for some pleasure/satisfaction because that’s fuel for further inquiry. I was able to affirm that to a satisfactory degree the goals I had in mind (and in heart, I want to say) have been achieved. And that’s got me wanting to do more.
This does not lead me to feel pride per se. Pride feels like an ‘end state’, whereas this ‘pleasure’ in what’s been achieved is, I guess, more a ‘process state’ (is that a contradiction?). This is because, I think, I identified and wrote down those particular hopes and goals in the first place in order to set this very process in motion. I can’t reflect ‘backwards’ without having preflected ‘forward’ previously, in some way: simply by setting down in time a marker signal with an intention that I should revisit it in the future. And then my reflection on/response to this particular past marker signal here can itself become another one, for another iteration of reflective thought.
So, I’m looking at a reflection process as a cycle, just as it’s almost always illustrated…
…but with products that both feed right back into the cycle AND ones that are emitted out. I’ve learned that putting time and resources into (p)reflection helps me make and make the most of the pleasure to be found in work, as replete with unsatisfactoriness as it can be. Of course what I like about this work isn’t all the product of reflection – but some it of the best pleasures for me seem to be, well, kind of ‘secretions’ of various reflective projects (big and small, official and unofficial, concrete and only mental)…and sometimes, sometimes, it feels like reflection positively explodes with productivity when it involves layering, interconnecting, and deconstruction-reconstruction. *In fact, that’s sort of what I’m doing right now, I’ll remind you again dear reader, as I read back through my initial stream-of-consciousness draft writing here and draw links to other ‘reflective inflection points’ (i.e. these final two lines of this paragraph came later) and/or add headings, images, etc. that feel like enrichers.
4 years and 7 months ago, I also wrote that I thought I’d find working as a CELTA tutor to be “extremely challenging and complex”. That turned out to be true. You know who amazes me? Trainers who can tell you off the top of their heads what criteria point 1c or 4n or 5d is. Not only that, lucidly explain what each one means in just a way that fits the situation wherein explication is necessary.Who can finish written running feedback commentary on TP lessons 10 minutes before the last one ends. Who serve energetically as main course tutors through chemo treatments, showing up in Week 4 of a course with a brand new (and rather fabulous) wig like its nothing, ready for input. Who in 15 years have never use the same ‘find someone who’ fact twice and every one is a surprise. Who run excellent courses AND expertly train-up hapless newbies…
Well then. It’s happening here, as it happens quite often: reflection is leading to appreciation.
I always loved the word appreciation. I have a slightly odd anecdote about this: when I was a moody, rather pensive freshman in high school, I took the anarchy ‘A’ symbol and I claimed it for my own fledgling philosophy I called, simply, “Appreciation”.
Influenced primarily by Jack Kerouac’s ethos in ‘On the Road’ (which I read over and over again), the Tao of Pooh, and Chögyam Trungpa’s concept of “basic goodness” (which I was introduced to joining in my best friend’s family’s Buddhist traditions) among other things, I reasoned that no political or cultural revolution could be successful if people didn’t fully appreciate what was good about present conditions. And there was a kind of personal ethic to it – essentially, ‘accentuate the positive’ (did you know that the oft referenced, seemingly frivolous tune actually begins, “Gather ’round me while I preach some/Feel a sermon comin’ on me/The topic will be sin/And that’s what I’m agin/If you want to hear my story/Then settle back and just sit tight/While I start reviewing/The attitude of doing right”?).
I also liked how the word’s secondary meanings (see below) added much more depth. I’m pretty sure I wrote, in my teen-philospher’s journal, something about how the external ‘appreciation’ of wealth so central to the capitalist system made way for the internal appreciation of value. Or if I didn’t, I should have.
So, I want to express my Appreciation for the teachers and trainers I’ve met over the last few years. I could write another long blogpost just writing about each one and what I appreciate about them. The list would be long. And some (many?) of them, if they saw such a post, would likely have no idea how or why they made my list because they might simply be teachers in the same building who taught with their doors open in a hallway I frequently walked down, and so got regular second-long snapshots of a classroom in action. Those snapshots are great, but it’s also that the students who peeped me walking by, perhaps, saw the look in my fleeting but watchful eye that said, “there’s something valuable going on in there”, so some of those instances of distraction could have been instances of positive affirmation, too.
If I operate under the assumption that I’m always somehow influencing something and being influenced by something in some way or another, I can keep that ‘morning coffee’ mindfulness going more. An open classroom door. Micro-eye contact. Laughter through a classroom wall.
So, yes – very small things can (and should) get you on the list. 🙂
Listen up, read up, feel good
As I read that old inaugural blogpost above yet further, I see me mentioning reading (on blogs) and listening to other teachers (in person) as being part of what led me to where I was at that point, and something would continue to feed the cycle of action in my anticipated future of teacher training. Well, reading other teacher’s blogs recently is certainly what made me want to get back to posting a bit more right now. Listening to teacher-talk in a staffroom is why I’ve been occasionally but regularly eating my lunch in the teacher’s space of the language center where my CELTA program is housed. So it seems that’s still a thing.
I’m realizing the amount of study and interest I took in Buddhism during my 20s in particular just can’t be shaken off, dammit, because now I’m reminded of something from that particular wellspring yet again. I guess it’s kind of like my personal ‘Aesop’s Fables’; there’s one for everything. Here’s something the scholar-monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote in a piece called ‘Humility’:
Which in turn connects me to what Marc wrote about a couple of days ago at the end of a blogpost called “You can lead a horse to water…”:
Should I attempt to talk about teaching beliefs and philosophy? I have no idea. I only know I’ve done almost all I can.
The colleague he describes in that post (which you really should read if you haven’t already!) demonstrated a kind of superstubborness in regards to effortful development and clearly isn’t in touch with that sense of humility along with which comes a sincere “willingness to learn from the little things, no matter where they show themselves”.
It’s clear Marc has done a heck of a lot to assist this person; this is where the things that would help have shown themselves. But it seems fruitless, and Marc was feeling a bit deflated. There are some wonderful replies in the comments on that post. I guess for my part I’d want to suggest to Marc that he try to find his own pleasure and satisfaction in those extended efforts to assist this teacher, no matter what the ultimate outcome is…not only because he likely deserves a nice little pat on the back and all that, but also because (as above) I think that the pleasure-satisfaction sometimes opens more/new spaces for thinking and acting. Reading that post, what’s made clear is how perceptive, empathetic, and knowledgable Marc is. Also, because he’s reflective, failed attempts at X can inform future attempts at X (or Y, or Z) just as much as successful ones.
Heh. I wonder if the advice above – not to ‘settle’ so much as ‘regroup’ – could almost be described as a psychological ‘survival tactic’ of the full-time CELTA trainer who experiences this kind of thing ‘in bulk’ as mostly willing trainees pile in and out of our lives one month at a time, the next group here shortly after the previous one departs, and you just can’t stay hung up on the ‘ones that got away’ despite everything telling you there’s this one more thing to try. 🙂
That stuff rings so true. The fear of isolation – and indeed the experience of it – was what made me post over 20,000 times to my first ‘PLN’, the AjarnForum discussion board, during my first several years of teaching. My constant struggle with feelings of inadequacy (ask my wife how often I said anything good about my job performance. She’ll let you know: ไม่เคย!/never!) and “being overwhelmed” where the hallmarks the early days.
(Therefore?) that’s part of what has driven my attempts at a particularly emotionally supportive mentoring style on CELTA courses. I think what I’ve been trying to do matches what article suggests in the 2nd except below: engaging in focused, future-oriented practical problem solving as a coping tool while clearly acknowledging the negative feelings that arise situationally. I’ll never forgot my trainer-trainer asking me to compare the verb tenses, etc. she used with the ones I was using in my first shot at post-lesson feedback. And what I noticed about the differences between “You could have done…” and “You can do…”.
Also, hey – when was the last time you DIDN’T encounter “unique situations” as an ELT operator? Novelty is so common around here as to lose it’s meaning. If you’re tuned in and ready for it, yay. If/when you’re not….I neglected to highlight the sentence about burnout above but…my god sometimes it sure as hell has felt like EFCRBACSB up in here!
…Oh, you aren’t familiar with that particular acronym?
It stands for: Everything Follows from the Constant and Relentless Battle Against Creeping and then of course Sudden Burnout.
But: O is for Optimism:
I bet the 3 shillings which are my day’s takehome portion that humor factors into it, too. I’d say an important part of being ’emotionally supportive’ as mentioned above is offering the space of humor in the face of big stresses and doubts, things CELTA-takers are famously excellent at.
Also, I’d like to take a sentence from that excerpt and insert my words into it: “optimism could lead to more pleasure taken from teaching performance”.
I certainly think all that ‘negative stressor’ talk in the article applies nearly as much (hopefully not exactly as much, but maybe sometimes more than as much) to us non-novice teachers, and trainers, and well everyone really. But luckily my co-trainers in Boston and here in Seattle have been optimism-inspiring and supportive (and fun!). I’m actually thinking about this a lot right now as a potential job decision hinges mainly on the fact that there seems to be a certain factor that might spoil that environment’s “healthy manner”. So far, I think I’ve been lucky. Go go coastal states US CELTA scene! 🙂
Be a Maker
For me (and I think for a good number of people involved) the whole social media-based PLN is also absolutely a “social supportive resource” that can sometimes be difficult to fully maintain IRL. But if and when it is maintained IRL, the ‘virtual’ (but real indeed) side can add to and enrich it. And break the barrier between, as at conference tweetups and whoknowswhats (“meme-parties”, etc.!)…
As a teacher from 2004-2013 the discussion forum I mentioned was my ‘augmented-reality’ support. As a trainer from then until now, my social media ELT PLN has been.
So…I notice that my appreciative reflection here is through-and-through suffused with other people. It’s certainly not me staring at a reflection of me; I think as convenient as the metaphor is, reflection isn’t a mirror (it’s a well-cleaned window?). Hmmm. I think the RP guy (you know, with the ‘reflective practice’ hat?) himself, Thomas Farrell has, increasingly, been emphasizing the social, dialogic nature of fruitful reflection hasn’t he? If so, I’m encouraged. Because I’m not at all in the self-constructed, self-referential echo chamber here that he and others warn against…am I?..am I?….am I?……am I?……..
Even though I’m no social butterfly, I want to get and stay in dialogue with myself AND other teacher-people via whatever network works. This is why I’m pretty always interested in attending a conference. It’s not necessarily to talk with every person or be a particularly active networker, etc. it’s something more like maintaining an already established equilibrium wherein my personal professional imagination comes pre-populated by like a thousand other people. Including guys and gals with and without cool hats.
I do feel like I mentally manage a lot of type of ‘dialogue’ I’m talking about over longer-term spans, and fed by lots of different but connected inputs. But different threads have their mental ‘hashtags’ attached, for access when and where needed, ‘clicked’. Maybe this is just a description of an ADD-internet-addled human brain in 2017. I’ve yet to finish the book ‘Deep Work‘ but the author isn’t a fan. And it resonates.
So now I can hear Farrell reminding me that reflection isn’t necessarily the greatest thing in the world forever and ever…kind of ducking and deflating any whiff of essentialism in a manner reminiscent of a zen master. Go do a case study. And I’d be reminded of what I already knew – the ideas don’t matter by themselves. What you are going to do?
I know that working on training courses has definitely helped me avoid getting stuck in what might be called “reflective ruts”. There’s something about this environment. Maybe it’s all the observation? Maybe it’s the knock-on effect of seeing and hearing and feeling new teachers changing and growing all around you? Whatever it is, this has been one of my favorite things about these last 3 years and 7 months and I’ll be sure to miss it when and if I shift away from it in the future.
The scholarly Steves of Walsh and Mann suggest a ‘way forward’ from what they view as a central dilemma inherent in how RP has often been approached which
“can be broken down into four issues that need to be addressed, namely, that RP is:
heavily focused on the individual at the expense of collaborative options;
dominated by written forms of reflection;
lacking in detail about the nature and purposes of reflective tools.
Maybe the provision of so much scaffolding for trainees on a course like the CELTA helps fuel things ‘forward’ and accounts for why I’ve enjoyed and been positively affected by it so much…scaffolding which does provide ‘data’ (written and oral feedback galore), at least some collaboration (in teacher-tutor guided lesson co-planning, minimally), plenty of non-written forms of reflection (though I do wish I’d already have tried giving the option to replace written post-feedback reflections with other kinds!), and detail, detail, and more for sure. Now if this aspect of an intensive one-month course like the CELTA could just be unfurled, exploded, and evenly distributed throughout an entire career path!
I suppose that’s sort of what it actually does for some people – those people who can sincerely say “the CELTA made me who I am as an ELTer”. I might even be one.
Reiterating the Point about Other People
To the extent that I’ve been able to derive satisfaction results this work and my reflections on it, it seems to be due to not only to something about the training course environment program/culture but also, as I mentioned above, just lots and lots of other people. In itself, this should be probably taken for granted. I guess what’s interesting about it is that some of these other people are or have been directly in my sphere physically, and some of them I connect to and interact with exclusively online. It seems weird, but I honestly can’t draw any direct correlation between physical proximity and level of influence. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me; I’ve read more about what say, Michael Griffin thinks and feels and experiences and does in his classroom than many of the people toiling away all day every day just next door to where I do.
Props to the Proto-PLN
Wait up, hold on. I keep mentioning a ‘discussion forum’. You know, one of those old-fashioned Vbulletin things. Have you even been a member of one? Are you know? I’m chuckling now, about how back in 2014 I was writing about how discussion forums allowed me to connect with an online community of practice. How quaint! 😀
As I think about my first days as a CELTA trainer, I recall that it was the very last day as a trainee on my own CELTA course in 2005 that I signed up for the primary discussion forum I would have been referring to above, AjarnForum based in Thailand where I was (it’s gone now – if social media weakened, complications due to lèse-majesté laws delivered the fatal blow). This first ‘proto-PLN’, the discovery of which came out of the final input session on the course called, shinily, “Professional Development”, was my initial source of sufficient connection with other teachers. That prepared me to use other media – Twitter, etc. – to continue to strengthen those connections and cast a much wider net being able to see a bit of what teachers in further reaches of ELT are doing and thinking and talking about. You get to ‘listen in’. That’s why I like it so much; same as it ever was.
Cringe and Carry On
Continuing to read my old blogpost, there was one ‘like’ (by Josette LeBlanc) and there this comment:
Springcait, if I remember, did stay in touch for a while and we connected over a few things. I’m interested to try to track her down now, see where she’s ended up (her nice blog ends in June 2015). I remember being so happy that someone like her found the blog within a few days. I had no idea how any of it worked…still don’t to be honest. 😉
I responded to that comment like so (let cringe begin):
Hmm. What exactly prompted me to go on about “synchronicity” I wonder, and come up with those goofy CELTA-sports analogies? I’m thinking it might be emblematic of how I talked before my training-up process and some clear directives to be straightforward. There, it sounds like I’m just grasping for a way to make sense of what I thought I was going to be doing and express my idealism about how I thought I’d do it. If I had to pick one of those images I threw out there now, it’d probably be “coach”. Definitely not a “point guard”. I think it’s evidence of me having trouble visualizing myself as an authority in the courseroom and instead of just letting that be so, coming up with these notions about being a “teammate” instead. Sort of like how people can use ‘the student-centered’ as a not-so-clever way of avoiding facing up to the responsibilities of the role of the teacher.
I go further, equating this with what I saw as a strength in my teaching. I don’t think I find the idea of teacher-learner “equality” at all valuable or even sensible now. I also seem to almost apologize for ever “facilitating and leading” a class. I sound a wee bit full of it! And maybe a wee bit full of myself.
The only I don’t mainly just cringe a bit above is the final bit. There, I’m on point. That’s the part that was real and turned out to be important. That’s the foreshadowing of what I wrote about above regarding working with emotions in mentoring.
My response ends with a return to how I tended to explain my interest in teacher training then: it being a natural outgrowth of a ‘fascination’ with teacher cognitions that came through ‘conversation with peers’.
Someone in the building keeps (!) asking me, “So, are you sad?” and I keep telling them no. Sure, it was sound to find out our program got axed. It was sad to find out that I’d no longer be working with some folks I’ve really enjoyed seeing every day. I’m certainly a bit anxious about down-to-earth money matters and life complications. But beyond that I’m not sad because, like Calvin, I welcome change. And my partner is with me in this, and we love each other now like we did before. Also, so much of what I’ve been doing doesn’t stop with this job, even if I shift away from CELTA course work. If I become a full-time instructor, I’ll try my best to be my own best tutor-mentor. If there’s a new, different blog to write about teaching this one will still be here to check back on, just as the older one is there now.
I hope can keep on cringing as I read this as an old post…but cringe with gusto and purpose! The cringe is good. The cringe is necessary. No pain no gain and all that.
What this shows me is that I have definitely matured in the last few years.
Walk Away from the Blog
At the moment I’m really looking forward to a one-month period with pretty much zero ELT in it (save for some #ELTchat moderation on Wednesdays – see you there ok!). I’ll be busy liquidating furniture etc. Maybe taking part in this so-called “gig economy” stuff everyone’s talking about around here…what are they, “side hustles”? Do things someone somewhere makes me do from their phone screen. There’s also a lot of part-time dog-walking work to be had around here, apparently. We’ll see. Then, eventually, off to the next (real) thing.
Dog walking? I’ll end up barking out an ICQ at some point.
Cognitive dissonance? Absolutely. Plenty of that in my current state.
And plenty of potential things to write about on this blog that I haven’t posted to since…let’s see…June 26th’s #ELTchat summary. Yes, it’s been a while. Like Michael Griffin recently did, I could list many reasons why. But I’d rather just typity-type here at 5am (I went to bed early!) and see what tumbles out. Just “get down the bones” as Natalie Goldberg puts it.
Regarding my current state, I could have written this line of Anna’s myself: “My own diagnosis is as follows: a time-out at the crossroads. Re-evaluating the purpose and meaning, locating professional self, contemplating directions.”
What converges at my “crossroads”?
I recently found out my current job working on CELTAs here in Seattle, WA will disappear. Poof! Thankfully we were given fair warning and have until October 1st to wrap things up and build our bridges to what’s next. I can’t complain about the circumstances and the support given, but it’s been destabilizing. There’s no away around that. A lot of anxiety comes with the sudden need to shift into a new state built around much more future-oriented thinking and decision making. I can feel it in my chest right now.
I’ve done some looking around locally for work in teaching and/or training, but my wife and I have decided that it’s time to move back to Thailand. This whole unplanned and destabilizing episode we’re looking at as a…catalyst. The ellipsis there indicates had to google the spelling of that; it’s one of those words for me!
I also ended up (“hyperlink heroin” style) on the wikipedia page for ‘ellipsis’ and was reminded of another emotional reaction my job going poof! incited in me by the bit in bolded italics here: from the Ancient Greek: ἔλλειψις, élleipsis, “omission” or “falling short“.
No matter how clearly/intellectually I understood that it had nothing to do with my performance, there’s a voice in my head saying “ya fell short, buddy”. That’s not very nice, is it…but thems the evil ellipses of my inner monologue! 😛
It didn’t help to have proposals I was sincerely excited about rejected by TESOL right in there.
Anyway: a catalyst. One connecting back to what happened 6 years ago.
In 2011 we moved from Bangkok (back, in my case) to Boston because 1) I decided to do an on-campus MA TESOL and 2) my wife wanted to live and work in the US for at least a spell; we wanted to balance out our planetary partnership, you know.
Those two things have happened. And more. We’ve had a great time. Professionally it’s been great for me. The MA was enlightening. I’ve taught so many great students in some wonderful places (remanufactured calipers factory, anyone?), worked with amazing people to present at TESOL and other conferences, and become *GASP!* a teacher-trainer. My wife has had good, if sometimes challenging, professional successes here as well. Personally, we’ve also grown. Our marriage is strong. We’ve dug East Coast and West Coast cultures. We’ve had some great family time with my relatives here and there. We’ve done some satisfying traveling and had some uniquely American adventures. It’s been awesome experiencing my home country afresh through her discovery.
Now, even though I feel – if I’m honest – somewhat disconnected to much of what and who I was in 2010, I feel it’s now time to head back (but not backwards) past the trailmarker I set for myself then.
But it’s not all about me and my path. What I didn’t include above is another aspect of family: our attempts to start one. Talk about destabilizing! Here’s some rather personal ‘real talk’ you don’t read on the ELT blogs very often: from the time I became sexually active at age 16 to recently, I did my damnedest to avoid having kids. And then finally the time comes to let nature take its course and…it’s a whole thing?! Really?!
Where am I going with this. Not much further I suppose…but if I want to piece together the puzzle of what my current state is like and feels like, that is certainly there. Here. Right here in the middle of the feeling in my chest. It plays its role in our “forced” decision-making process too, because I’m not rich and procedures that assist in starting a family can be much more affordable outside of the US. And it plays its role in my anxiety these days, the feeling that you might never have certain joys you seek.
Speaking of money: we live pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck. Boston was expensive. Seattle is expensive. Places like Bowling Green, OH aren’t, but I just don’t want to live there. My wife doesn’t either.
That trailmarker I set? The 2nd home I have back in Thailand? That may be a place where my skills and interests meet opportunities that mean I can save something, and so make something. Not just do, make. I want to open a school someday. I want there to be a learning center for both students and teachers that functions in a way that I’ve envisioned. Maybe that center is down a trail back the way I came.
Pause….breathe…or try to, through the anxiety in the chest….
Jumping back to Michael’s recent blogpost, his reason #11 for not blogging much:
My home country is, ahem, destabilized. It’s sometimes hard to prioritize blogging. I find it difficult to, say, dive into the intricacies of ICQs when my home country’s political situation is so chaotic. It’s sometimes hard to muster the outrage of a good rant when the news provides an excess of outrage.
Exactly what he said, and more. I’d be lying if I said the political situation here in the US doesn’t also have some role to play in how this catalyst-sparked process is playing out. But am I running away from patriotic duty? Should I double down, should I up my activist game? I’m conflicted. Mostly I’m just disturbed, and – echoing, echoing – destabilized.
Jumping again, back to my own current state vis a vis the online PLN, etc. These things are true:
During the time I’ve been creating this post I signed up for an upcoming webinar. I’d say I still have some interest in these, but whereas I used to truly prioritize them in my schedule (even when it was like 4am my time), I now end up actually attending if and when it fits in a reasonable way.
I got a handful of encouraging, informative, and generous DMs saying “come work in X!” when I tweeted out my status on Twitter recently. It confirmed that everything I want to say about Twitter in that imagined talk is still true.
I had a Skype job interview tonight, for a great CELTA-related position that essentially SCREAMS “MaThew I am ze job for yUUU!” (that’s how a job screams in English) and ten minutes before it was to start my neighborhood’s (it turns out) whole internet connection died. So I ran, not walked, to a cafe and made it 10 minutes into the damn thing before needed to abort because the connection was just not good enough. And a million other things went wrong. But the main thing that really got to me: my connection when down. When you’re hyper-connected, it HURTS. Also, there are no straight lines to what seems to be in your future.
I nearly yelled at my wife who was just trying to help; it was a visceral reaction that put into sharp relief the kind of psychological bind that the articles and books above describe. 😦
And now the sun is coming up. I am going to go jogging. Then I am going to meditate. Because when this much cognitive and emotional dissonance arises…less internet, more innernet. I even bought a new mediation cushion set. But this was a few months ago. I’m not yet into double-digit usage yet. Mostly I’ve been using the TV screen behind it to not meditate so much as watch 5 seasons of Homeland. Hmm, would that disqualify me for a job like this one?
Okay, now back to my current state and PFPBCs (potential future plans because catalyst).
On the way back to the Land of Smiles (Thailand) I’m hoping to spend 2.5 months in Korea working on a section of a teacher-training program there. This is not settled yet, but in the works. That would be my fall into the 2018 new year. What makes me very happy about this prospect is…well it’s a bunch of things, not least among them: re-uniting with some of the very same folks who I had as trainers in the past. I mean…what? Wow. Also, the chance to maybe meet some PLN folks I’ve been interacting with online for what feels like a long and fruitful time.
My wife has already put in several hours of internet research and knows about to say the 7 most practical Korean sentences, the difference between regular and deluxe taxi services, and the best way to book a ferry ticket to whatever island you do that for. Plus 60 other things people should know before they leave for a place. What would I do without her?
Meanwhile, the news. Involving the Korean peninsula and the rumblings of WWIII. Great. Breathe….
Jumping again – back to the vital zen koan of the moment: is ALL THIS connectedness real connection? Are my 12 open tabs each a link in a heavy samsaric iron chain I’m wrapping around myself? What am I doing and what do I really want to be doing? Anna says these kinds of questions start to emerge when she’s “lost in vacation, knee-deep in idleness”. And it’s happening to me, too, in this neither-here-nor-there state where I’m going into work but not prepping for a next course, not sure where/when/what I’ll be this fall of my 39th year on the planet, looking around me at everything, including the mediation cushions waiting for my butt, thinking: how much will I get for that on craigslist?
Truth be told, my best and most healthful ‘meditation practice’ of any sort recently has been cooking. I signed up for Blue Apron and for the first time in my life have been cooking for two 3x week every week for the last few months. Everything from calzones to bao to exotic curries. My current state is overweight but because I’m cooking so much, they’re more soulful pounds. Sure, Blue Apron may be one of those things that’s “eliminating the human” to some degree. But I can justify it. And I certainly won’t bring it to Asia with me, where things are still organized around the daily collection of fresh food for preparation to a greater degree. And now I know what to do with it back in my kitchen much better. What’s really amazing is this, though: if this cooking thing sticks, it will be the first new hobby I’ve picked up since entering ELT, I think. That’s big! Like me.
And…and…I think that’s it. I don’t have any clever wrap-up to bring it all together – like I said, cognitive dissonance. Also, clearly I’m getting hungry.
But not just for food. I hope that this painful catalyst of change brings about a healthy shake-up for both mind and body. I hope that some of my current muddles can be transformed, manure-like, into fertile soil for learning, doing, and maybe even eventually making.
There’s the “deep work”.
In the process of writing all that, I dug up some humor and some perspective that feels good. I needed it. My chest is a little more open, and I’m ready for that jog. If you made it all the way down to the end here, congrats and thanks. I bow to you in my apron – the blue one.
PS – after writing this I thought back to something in my interview with Cecilia Nobre where we talked about the “pain” of learning and growing. That morning, I talked about realizing there was “no way around” the fear and discomfort of the learnings I was after and the necessity of risk taking. I’m so glad I can listen back and try to skim some wisdom for me now from me then (talking about me eventhenner). We also learn so much from ourselves and our own experience though. If you have any advice or thoughts, please do share.
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”.
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!
Major changes in coursebookusage 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
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
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
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
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
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…
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.
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
…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
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.
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:
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…
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.
A lesson that didn’t go as expected (or was an epic fail).
How you reacted and how your learners reacted.
How it contributed to your teacher identity & development.
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 learnerstend 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.
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.
This is a brief summary (mostly a glorified cleaned up transcript) of the #ELTchat on February 15th, 2017.
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)
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.
Here, in (very!) 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.
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.
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!
The Warwick ELT, an ELT-based ezine run by a group of MA ELT students in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, promotes informed discussion of developments in ELT and draws attention to research and innovative practices related to English language learning and teaching and teacher education.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).