I lived in Thailand from 2005 to 2011. I travelled around the country quite a bit but lived in Bangkok that whole time. I loved so many things about the city. The intermingling of modern and ancient, the cultural mix, the arts and music on offer, the constant energy, the hub location. What enamored me to Bangkok during that time also included things like the sometimes enchanting decrepitude of the shophouses and the always adrenaline shot of weaving through traffic on a motosai. The graceful chaos of the crowds in a market and even the ghastly gaggle of 101 electrical wires just above one’s head. But now I’m older. My 20s are long gone; my impending 40s are gearing up for arrival this summer. And yesterday as my (slightly) wiser head brushed against enough wattage to feed both 7-11s on either side of the street I felt a bit differently than I did back then. My wife and I agree: we are not much interested in settling down in this amazing mess again.I keep thinking that I still love the places to BE here, but hate the places to GET TO. For one teaching job back in the day I took a motorcycle taxi to a canal boat to the skytrain to a taxi and I couldn’t have enjoyed the journey more. That’s no longer in the cards. Have you, dear reader, experienced the Krungthep, city of angels? What’s your feeling? And what about what we could think of as the young person’s ‘TEFL lifestyle’ itself – adventurous commuting included – would you say you’ve grown out of? This I wonder.
Right – I’m off to the skytrain to get to a riverboat to maybe hop a tuktuk to a friend’s vegan restaurant across town. The things we do for friendship…and kale! 🙂
In 2015 Anna and Kate started “paragraph blogging”. I think I may have followed their lead for a few posts on my old blog at that time, not sure. Well it’s now just over three years later now and I am going to do it (again?) here. At least for a little while. Why? Well, I’m in a kind of ‘in-between’ time in life right now and I figure a bit of old-school short form ‘diary’-style blogging might be good for me; less than a post, more than a tweet…just writing down the bones and stirring my mental pot. Focused on…whatever comes up. I’ll give each entry an appropriate title when it’s finished. Let’s get on with it.
Old New Shoes
So…I’ve been back in Thailand for over a month now. A week plus up north, a pit stop in Bangkok, a week plus at home down south, and now back to Bangkok for a week before heading down south again for the rest of March. It has definitely felt like a bit of a whirlwind thus far. I haven’t been slowing down time as much as I would like to. I’d say it’s mostly my emotional clock that is on quick-tick mode: feelings of frustration with my low Thai language level has been a constant and I haven’t been able to transform that negative energy into motivated action as much as I would like to. The best thing to come out of it is a lot of reflection on the interior experience of English language learners at lower levels attempting to function in full-on L2 environments. It’s reflection based on the visceral experience. I worked with plenty of low-level learners in the US and tried to be as aware as possible of what they were going through…but right now I’m truly in their shoes. It truly brings things home. But the productive energy I do have I’ve been studying Thai with verve and a brand new focus on reading. I never worried about literacy in the past. I only worried about conversational listening and speaking. Right now this feels much, much more productive and it’s been extremely satisfying. I’m actually confused as to why it took me so long to get started with it. Currently my four main study resources are: 1. this book, 2. this app, and 3. my wife and in-laws, and 4. the linguistic landscape…
The theme of this year’s TDSIG web carnival is “TD success stories” and this is my contribution to the call for blogposts on the topic.
Perhaps a little sadly, I have a sense that this word success is not all that often associated with teacher development (TD) or really teachers and teaching generally. You don’t find ELTers on the cover of Success Magazine (that’s a thing, right?). And, because we rightly recognize that ‘development’ is an open-ended, ongoing, cyclical process it can be an awkward challenge to portion out a particular segment of it for specific evaluation. Do we even really want to be evaluative, anyway?
On some level, I think we can’t and don’t avoid it…I know I often look at my teacher development from a deficit-perspective: focusing on what I’ve yet to learn or skills I want but don’t have. There’s an implicit negative evaluation there. I also tend to land on the cynical side of a lot of programmatic professional development efforts, especially the more top-down, conventional kind. But…I realize that stepping back and really appreciating what I have learned, how I have managed to develop into an expert teacher/trainer, that many PD activities have worked some magic on me, and actually soberly celebrating my development “successes” should be a thing.
A thing that doesn’t naively revel in positivity while ignoring what’s broken in an imperfect support system, but rather builds a platform for clear-eyed looking (forwards and back) and also feeds the soul in an atmosphere where burnout can be fueled by even the sincerest negative appraisal on top of everything else.
So, with that said…here’s my short “TD success story” tale for the 2018 #tdsigcarnival!
So, I trained up as a CELTA course tutor in Boston and New York during the spring of 2014. Part of this was being asked to produce a reflective essay focused on what I’d learned throughout the process, submitted towards the end of a course on which I shadowed a couple of experienced trainers. I’d actually forgotten all about this until very recently when I came across the essay in my files. It was a quiet thrill to rediscover. Because it had disappeared from conscious view, reading it back again felt like opening a little reflective time-capsule!
I organized the essay this way:
Things I believed going in
Things that changed, how and why
Things I believe coming out
Key areas to work on
What’d I’d tell a future trainer-in-training
As it turns out, my concern for post-lesson teacher feedback was in place from the start of my time as a trainer; I mention something about it all five sections of my essay. Here are just a few quotes:
“I was constantly reminded of how important post-lesson feedback was to me as course participant. It was clear that trainees both depended on it in order to fully process the experience, get a felt sense of their progress, and gain real confidence that what was presented and practiced in input sessions could be depended on after all”
“How much feedback is enough and not too much feedback? Such a tough nut to crack. And how to avoid it feeling like so much picking over the past? I’ll never forget one of my mentor trainers saying “avoid past modals like ‘could’ve’ and ‘should’ve’ to avoid a focus on past-oriented evaluation. Instead, frame your feedback in terms of future action: ‘You can…’ and ‘You’ll be able to…’. I found this extremely helpful!”
“It will help to talk to other trainers about their own approaches to feedback. I’m not sure it’s actually the subject of a whole lot of regular trainer cross-talk, so this might sometimes be a challenge”
My evaluation of the nut’s (lack of) crackability, I know now, was sound. During my first year or so as a course tutor I constantly struggled to find a comfortable balance between too much and too little, to direct and too passive, too simple and too sophisticated, etc. in post-lesson feedback. Sometimes I’d try so hard to ‘get it right’ that I’d get overly self-conscious, slip into trainer-talk mode, lose track of time, and unintentionally end up forcing trainees to stay through absolutely precious minutes of their lunch hour!
Because of these challenges, along with my belief that expert facilitative feedback is crucial to the learning process on an initial teacher training course, I made post-lesson feedback skills a particular focus of my personal efforts to develop and grow as a trainer.
Here’s some of what those efforts involved:
finding and reading articles about this area very specifically and about related, more general topics around feedback and post-lesson reflection in places like ELT Journal and (the open source!) ELTED
asking fellow trainers for advice about post-lesson feedback – or if not advice per se, simply to describe any experiences or opinions about it (both face-to-face and online)
occasionally recording (with permission) and listening back to post-lesson feedback sessions to reflect and construct action plans
using Jo Gakonga’s elt-training videos and, more recently, her teacher feedback materials to reflect on feedback
seeking out presentations related to this at conferences, sharing experiences/asking questions in sessions, and following up with presenters later
requesting (shyly, but with determination) the masters’ thesis of a colleague I found out had studied the topic in depth
engaging in topically related #ELTchat discussions and reading chat summaries in the archive, as well as joining #CELTAchat for trainers specifically
collecting and reviewing feedback from trainees for reflection and action planning
All of those actions compose the ‘story’ of my TD in this particular area. But why, dear reader, would I call this a “success story”? Here’s some of the feedback I got on my facilitation of a post-lesson feedback session a couple years later:
Reading that, I don’t feel quite as epically pained typing out the word ‘expert’ about myself like I did in the second paragraph of this blogpost. And I don’t feel as much of a *thud* sound behind the word “success” when it’s mentioned near the words “teacher development”.
My route to success in this area involved regular reading, connecting with colleagues, and active reflection and experimentation – three strategies I heartily recommend to the same trainee teachers I give post-lesson feedback to. And I’ll recommend them to you now, along with an invitation to identify, appreciate, and be inspired your own successes as we continue through cycles and stories of development.
Once again, this is a #tdsigcarnival post for IATEFL’s TD Special Interest Group’s 3rd annual web carnival event. I sincerely hope it inspires you to write about a “TD success story” of your own and join in. As far as I know, this is the second in the series for this year; Fiona Price’s post here was the first.
Hopefully these are but a couple on a long list! Please consider writing, and of course reading others. Let’s carnival!
*If you do write a blogpost, make sure to let TDSIG know about it – tweet TDSIG at @tdsig, or tweet or email me at @tesolmatthew or noble.elt at gmail dot com (since I happen to be a main web carnival organizer this year!).
Finally, here’s hoping to see you at the live (and recorded), free, open-to-all TDSIG web carnival 4-talk series with IATEFL-affiliated teachers’ association representatives discussion panel on Saturday, February 24:
I can’t not start with this: Trump happened. Trump happening influenced how I often felt (less hopeful, sometimes dismayed), what I thought (about the trajectory of progressive politics, the national character of the US, the startling powers of new media, etc.), and how I acted (I left) in 2017. Now let me pre-apologize for some strong language here…but basically the Trump factor and it’s effect on me in 2017 can be summed up in two words: fuck this.
But Trump ain’t the boss of me. He’s not the real reason I left the US. Not entirely unexpectedly (but still quite suddenly/jarringly), the Cambridge CELTA program where I worked in Seattle was scrapped. This precipitated the decision my wife and I made to return to Thailand…where we met, where her side of the family is, where I turned into a committed ELT person, where we hope we can start a family of our own sometime soon. I miss CELTA, I miss Seattle, but I’m so very ready for what’s next.
In 2017 I became a conference presenter on top of an enthusiastic conference goer. OK this technically started in 2016 with my first-time talk at TESOL in Baltimore, but in 2017 it became a thing. I did another TESOL talk, a WAESOL talk, a Spokane ESL Conference talk, a regional KOTESOL talk, and got Thailand TESOL talk and an IATEFL talk accepted for early 2018.
I met one of my favorite PLN members, Anne Hendler, on two continents! Annnnnd I met another one of my PLN heros, Michael Griffin. I also met/saw a lot of other great ELT folks in 2017, including BCTEAL people who are the best people. Like soylent green, ELT is people. It’s people.
My dad retired. This allowed him more time to travel and more mental and emotional space for family, and it was good.
My beloved hometown basketball team got really interesting and exciting to watch despite tragedy befalling us 5 minutes into the season.
Where are we? Ah, this is #8: I got to know and love a new city, Seattle. Seattle has a lot going for it and I hope to be back someday.
This little blog was given some dap in 2017. Said dap was bestowed by Chia Suan Chong’s column at English Teaching Professional with the help of ELT humans of Twitter that she surveyed. I think this means that I should keep this blog going in 2018.
My wife and I still love each other after 7 years of marriage and 12 years together.
I pretty much stopped eating red meat and it’s been good and I feel better for it.
Although I’ve gained weight, I did start jogging in 2017 and it’s been good and I feel better for it.
The ELT blogging community was perhaps not as active and conspicuous in 2017 as in previous years (though I really can’t be sure, objectively), but reading blogs like futurealisreal, criticalelt, wednesdayseminars (the inspiration for this post), the prolific hanatichaeltblog, and so many more really helped keep the juices flowing.
ELT Research Bites was a really great thing in 2017. (I started off the year with a submission here and did this in June – mostly I retweet links to open-source articles and the like). Writing more bites is something for 2018 for sure.
Some wonderful colleagues invited me to join them in their teacher training work in Daegu, South Korea for a few months and it’s been a great experience so far with more to come! (We fly to Thailand in late January, 2018).
Finally, for my 17th bullet point, a hearty thank you for reading my little blog in 2017! It’s new year’s eve tonight. Have fun. Here’s to a great 2018…
Lesson plan? Training session ideas brainstorm? Presentation notes?
>> PASS THE BLANK SHEET OF PAPER! <<
I keep blank paper around, always. I loiter around the printer paper pile. I’m wont to snag a slightly too-pristine leaf from the recycle bin. I keep the extra leftover quarter-sheets from my and people’s lessons on my desk, those are great!
And because I’m a BPOPP, of course I keep a good pen in my shirt pocket at all times. I have a love/hate relationships with even the nicest shirts in my wardrobe that lack one. Because where does the good pen I need to write on black prices of paper with, like, AT ANY POINT IN MY DAY go? (It goes between two buttons, is where, but that’s not ideal).
Today/right now that pen is in the easy access position in my pullover sweater thing:
Easy access to what end? For to take the shortest possible path from point A (in my shirt pocket/between the buttons/clipped to my sweater) to point B (a wonderfully unconstructed and unconstricting – read: blank – piece of paper).
At the moment, there’s one folded blank price of green paper in my pocket with a few different notes from today from different parts of my day today. There even be one somewhere in my person, who knows. That means that all within a one meter distance rests my holy trinity: Mind – Pen – BPOP.
Are you also a “BPOPPer“? If you are, you recognize what I’m getting at here.
BPOPPies of the world unite and take over!
No wonder I’m into Dogme ELT. No wonder I’m into #ELTwhiteboard (it’s like a big ‘ol blank piece of paper stuck on the wall).
No wonder I think the best reflection “form” on a teacher training course comes straight from the printer paper supply pile, or better yet the recycle bin.
Here’s an example from today. My colleague had done a listening lesson demo, and afterwards my job was to elicit from the trainees what took place, how it unfolded. What (activities in stages) and why (task/stage aims). And introduce them to some (no, not as many as I have there for sure all in one session) to some key considerations.
That’s a very typical look for a lesson/session plan right there. It’s kind of a fusion WB Plan/procedure page/notes bank. I can generate that in about 15 minutes with a BPOP and a good pen and few sips of powered coffee-like substance. Hard to say how I could possibly generate the same thing typing, or god forbid filling in the spaces between the bars lines of some form.
Once my shirt pocket black or blue pen has (typically) hogged most of the precious wide open real estate on the page, if available I’ll reach for a color or highlighter to punctuate the density with clear organizing signposts (1/2/3, A/B/C, etc). See that happening in the pic above. Then it’s really cooked and tasty for me.
Does this way of scaffolding my work…work for me? Well…to the degree I’m successful in delivering lessons and delivering sessions on TT course, I suppose the answer is yes. But I’m one bottle of soju too late to go down a full bodied self assessment of all THAT tonight. 😉
Let’s stay focused on the BPOP itself:
Advantages: feels good, lets my thinking flow and take its accurate shape easily as it does, efficient, durable, convenient, tactile, elicits creativity, avoids MORE screen time, etc.
Disadvantages: easily lost track of (let me tell you), more TOO efficient – leading to overplanning (let me tell you), unprofessional seeming…etc.?
Okay, so to wrap this up….I’ll be honest. Brutally honest: I abhor forms. I really, really do. Lesson plan forms are not a little bit disgusting to me. Lesson reflection forms? Utterly revolting, can I confess this to you dear reader?
Here’s an example “hot” reflection form, with Qs, trainee response, and a comment from me in blue.
There’s much more to say about this last point about reflection, but…I’ll just say I’d rather a blank piece of paper be used for this, too…and thus end this blog post about being a BPOPP. (More about reflection & blank papers specifically in my upcoming talk at Thailand TESOL (in January), “Reclaiming Creativity in Teacher Reflection” to be sure).
Also, my last post came about as a kind of “cold” reflection on a Sunday, writing about the week that was. But reading it back, it felt like such a pale account of the week that was…a week truly chock-full of things I’d rather have memorialized in writing, maybe. I’m not sure I’m all that good with the more remote past, to be honest (and yes, the past week is indeed very often a “remote” entity for me by Sunday – that’s saying something!).
In any event, on CELTA courses participants do a “hot” reflection right after a teaching practice lesson and then a “cold” reflection to hand in the next morning, with a bit of distance, and taking feedback into account. This here is more of the ‘hot’ variety. In fact, I kept this page open on my laptop all day just so I could, in stolen moments, just jot stuff down. Yeah, THAT HOT! So maybe by the end of THIS week I’ll feel better about the things that remain front and center in my mind come Sunday (that said, perhaps there’s a good reason why it’s not all “serious” pedagogically profound, or even work-related things that make the list…hmmm). ;P
Though it’s not even really “reflection” is it, because it’s simply the first bit of the cycle (in this nicely simplified version). It’s just the WHAT…before the SO WHAT and the all-important NOW WHAT. It’s just…some things that happened today! Why post them? Perhaps I’ll return in a future post and pic one or two things to throw into the cycle…and even if I don’t, maybe just maybe something rings a bell of recognition for a reader, sparks a question, or is just vaguely entertaining to hear account of. So without further ado, here we go:
One teacher trainee came in a hour+ early. This is a first. Nobody had yet come in early or stayed late. I’m not surprised that this teacher is the first one to do so. She’s actually the only non-English teacher in the group of 15; she’s looking to make a move from homeroom teaching to English subject teacher. She has a great attitude, and in our recently 1-on-1 check-in she was very receptive to and encouraged by the idea that being a bit more of a ‘blank slate’ for what will certainly be new and challenging ideas may, in fact, by an advantage for her.
I had to tell the group that “on time” actually means “early”. “If“, I said, “you want or need any time to prepare yourself for the first session of the day, which starts promptly at 9am”. We couldn’t get started until about 9:08 today. Later, my session when a couple minutes into lunch time and asked if they could take a slightly shorter lunch (it’s scheduled for a convenient and unrushed 70 minutes), to their chagrin. I justified my suggestion by mentioning the late start, and mentioned timing was “a give and take, this is your time – but that was my time this morning”, and we all need to be in this together. They got the full 70 minutes; they also got the hint.
Blind contour drawing as a quick warm-up activity to start the day: this went really well! I had this demonstration already up on the WB when we started. I used Mr. Squirrel, who was sitting around here largely unemployed, it seemed, until I gave him purpose and fame as my conversation model partner in a demo lesson last week. I drew another one of him live(quite a bit better!) to demonstrate the rules (no looking, no lifting pen).
They drew a few classmates, then an object in the room. Lots of giggles, lots of fun. Here are a couple of BCDs people drew of me:
They did great coming up with modifications and extensions (change the rules a bit, timed vs. not-timed, etc.) and possible language focus (questions ‘who’s/what’s that?’, facial features vocab, etc.)
This was the handout:
I thought this was successful, which was a relief because I wasn’t 100% confident. It’s “overlaying” Gordon’s Ladder onto the ECRIF lesson framework. The Gordon’s ladder bit went quite well, lots of happy head-nodding and good questions showing uptake. I was glad to be able to fit in how ‘native-speaker’ teachers are coming DOWN the ladder when it comes to language teaching awareness & skills while they (so-called ‘non-native teachers’ are/have been going up, the same direction as their learners. This, despite the fact that when I polled the group re: how many were working with a foreign co-teacher, far fewer turned out to be doing so. I thought most of them were; less than half are.
Also ECRIF-related, there was this:
A few of the English words and phrases taught “in flight” over the course of the day:
contour, nostrils (during the warm-up activity mentioned above).
hot-headed = easily angered vs hot = sexy (came up, somehow, on the tail end of the whole class coming up with some CCQs for ‘warm’)
exposure (during a chat with a trainee about possible stage for the ‘Encounter’ stage in their lesson plan).
But most of the vocab this week has been acronyms and teaching talk, stuff like the jargon on this poster I made today:
BTW, dear reader, have you heard of and/or used “COMA” as shorthand for “Choose, Omit, Modify, Add”? Or a variation? Or alternative? (I hasn’t, until my colleague showed it to me).
INX = Instructions, and “golden” there refers to some ‘golden rules’ of instruction-giving I presented last week:
This isn’t an acronym, but “scaffolding” is nicely and simply defined here.
I think that’s it. I wrote a post about the ‘acronym soup’ on courses at some point. Oh, here it is.
This was my lunch. Why? There are so many great restaurants in every direction, cheap and with wonderful fresh fare. Why? Well…truth is, I’m getting close to in the neighborhood of near the borderline with bonafied broke. So 7-11 microwave lunch time it is! (Payday is just on the horizon, I’ll be OK).
I had a few more but it’s 6pm now and I’m a glutton for extending my workday a bit with this kind of thing but not THAT much of a glutton…it’s time for dinner. One final thing that happened today: I realized that I’d been silly and mistaken about where I was throwing bits of trash right outside our main classroom….
For some odd reason, I got to thinking “can” on the red bin meant ‘trashcan’, so I was throwing candy wrappers, etc. in it (several times a day, there are little candies around to grab). I must have identified the picture of an actual can as a little bin. Never mind that there is an actual trashcan/bin thing right next to these things – that fact was even noted by me, and put, I suppose, in the ‘whatever!’ area of my brain (that area is all over the left side and right side, and in the back and middle, maybe other places too). And today I snapped out of it.
I don’t think I could process the idea that THAT kind of can would be a frequent item here? If the little illustration were a soda can, this whole unfortunate 3 week long Alice’s Restaurant worthy debacle may have been avoided!
I made a language analysis worksheet, partially filled in, and did a bunch of the rest (identifying the Meaning, Pron, Form, and Use of a handful of items) with the whole group before they did more in groups and then turned the focus on the TL (Target Language) of their upcoming lessons (they are doing micro-teaching, no real students unfortunately).
Overall this bit it went great. I’d change the 3rd column to be more specific and scaffolded. We ended up not really using it, instead I wrote an example clarification stage of a lesson plan (for be + going to + verb, the first item on the sheet) on the WB and we examined it.
Today was also an intro to CCQs and they killed it for total beginners with those.
Overall, I’d say today was a good day. Worst part about it was lunch, prolly. 😛
As you probably already know if you’ve read this blog in the recent past, I’ve up and split from the US and am spending a few months in Korea before landing back in Thailand where I lived and taught from 2005 to 2011. Then, after returning to North America to do an MA TESOL and dipping my feet (but inside, diving headlong) into teacher training while on it, I got trained up to work on CELTA courses – first in Boston, MA (and around the country doing ‘pop-up’ courses in summer) with Teaching House and then in Seattle, WA at ELS.
Now I’m working on a non-CELTA teacher training course here in South Korea. It’s for South Korean elementary school English teachers. In total it’s a six month program broken into a handful of parts: about three months of language study (the 15 teachers’ proficiency ranges from high A2 to scattered points up and down B1/2), two months of training (a 4-week TESOL module and another few weeks of a CLIL/Critical Thinking module, and then a one month trip abroad to Australia that includes school visits and projects, etc). The South Korean MoE pays for the program; I work for the contracting company. The teachers are in their mid to late 20s and 30s.
Bring it on
The work is not a complete departure from the familiar for me the ‘newbie CELTA trainer’ but there certainly aspects of it that are quite different..and extremely refreshing, I’m happy to report. These include:
Working with local teachers in a more local context (in-country, though remote from their schools/hometowns)
Working with participants with sub-C1 CEFR English language levels
Working with non-Cambridge CELTA training course curriculum/criteria
Autumn aims and interests
And here is a short list of some of the things that are important to me these days, aims and interests that I’m bringing into the situation I described above:
Learning as much as possible about the details of the teachers’ contexts, established practices, and ideas about/desires for the future.
Maintaining my equanimity in what is a new environment for me, and in the face of potential uncertainty and skepticism from trainees re: the new guy. Also, I’m back in Asia.
To take advantage of every opportunity, especially on a less stringently structured course than CELTA, to respond confidently and creatively to the trainees’ needs and interests using all the internalized knowledge and mentorship resources I’ve worked very hard to develop from my MA TESOL onwards.
Colorless green ideas
It’s now Sunday after the first week of the 4-Week TESOL module. It’s been fantastic and certainly sufficiently challenging for the likes of me, so far. There have been many salient critical incidents, fulcrum points, and aha! moments for both me, my colleague (it’s a two-trainer course) and for many of the participants. But rather than write at length about those publicly here and now, here’s one simple, silly little vignette from this past Week 1 of the 4-week TESOL module that was memorable for me:
I had a 3-item sentence halves matching task sketched onto the board, the answers to which were: The sky…is blue / The sun…is yellow / The moon…is white. When I matched them, the teachers’ collective jaw dropped at my fallaciousness. The moon? It’s yellow. The sun? Red, of course. Me: “Like the Japanese flag?” Them: “Yes, just like that”. In the US, when I grew up reading picture story books and drawing happy scenes, the sun was always yellow, and the moon was usually white. Back to the scene, I feigned an extra amount of shock. It was one of many moments of light-heartedly acknowledging the cultural gap. (Later, when I told my wife – who is Thai – what happened, she wasn’t surprised at all…I’m left unsure why I was in the first place!).
That’s what they call a “culture bump”, I guess.
Hold the handrails
On that note, here’s a short list of some of the “little things noticed by the new guy around here”:
Bathrooms tend to be cold, with windows left open even in winter – and there’s rarely any hot water in the sink, and often no hand-drying provisions. Result: BRRRR.
Our apartment trash and recycling scene is confusing. “When’s trash day?” I’ve asked several people. Nobody is sure, just put it out (somewhere) whenever. Our recycling baskets downstairs have 4 labels: plastic, bottles, cans, and vinyl. That took me a minute, and it seems cardboard/paper goes on the ground somewhere in the same vicinity.
Hippies and slackers ruined American fashion. People here dress, on a regular day, something not that unlike a proper New Yorker in the late 1940s. And I like it. I really do. Even at my best, I look only like a relatively conscientious, sobered-up beatnik.
What sounds a lot like ‘hot dog’ to me is Hotteok (호떡), a stupidly addictive small pancake filled with brown sugar, honey, pine nuts and cinnamon. This does not bode well for my attempts to arrive in Thailand a bit lighter around the waistline. There is a really friendly hotteok seller right around the corner from our apartment.
People didn’t walk on escalators much in Thailand. Here, people REALLY don’t walk on escalators. I’m a patient guy, but I’ve always been an energetic escalator-walker, not an escalator-stander. Most escalators here are quite narrow as well, so there I am, standing with the rest. I’m OK with this, partially in respectful deference to the impressive elevator design in the train system here in Daegu: there are sensors which allow them to shut down when not in use and come to life when you walk up to them. Having grown up near the longest/deepest and seemingly most often broken down escalators on the Boston subway lines, I bow deeply to thee.
Less to do with the new environment itself, but this is my wife’s first time living in a place that isn’t Thai or English speaking. After the first week she said, “It’s amazing how much just body language works to communicate!”. It’s been cool to see how she’s navigating the gaps. Also, her practical Korean bits n’ bobs are generally coming along faster than mine…
Come to think of it, I’m not less interested in learning to get by in the local language than I used to be, but I *am* less concerned/self-conscious about attempting to use English with folks, more able to scaffold and grade my language effectively in various contexts, and more interested in affording folks’ a chance to engage their English language abilities with a person I’m confident will be a decent interlocutor (me!). So I’m more focused on that than trying out my Korean all the time.
Apprenticeship of Donation and Meditation
Finally, my colleague recently mentioned how she’d learned critical reflection and other useful skills employed in teaching and on teacher training courses during her years as a student of ballet. It made me think of what previous study/work/training I’d had that perhaps similarly prepared me…and the first thing that came to mind was my nearly two years as a door-to-door canvasser/fundraiser for environmental campaigns in Massachusetts and North Carolina.
That job changed the way I spoke (projection, eye-contact, etc.), the way I listened (carefully, strategically), interacted (more empathetically, aware of turns, etc.), worked (my ass off), etc.
And another experience, maybe, is another side of the coin: being a frequent meditation retreat participant on weekend, one-week, and one-month long courses. I’d say that as a trainer a rather large percentage of my attention gets paid to what course participants are thinking/emoting/’psyching’ beyond the explicit parameters of the course content. And I see something like the CELTA, in large part, as a potentially transformative personal experience (as it was for me). I think all those retreats have a lot to do with this.
[EDIT]: I realized that I posted about this very thing in 2014: https://celtatrainer.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/priming-experiences/
The end…see you next week?
Well, there’s a collection of notes and thoughts after the first week (counting from the beginning of the TESOL module, anyway). Maybe I’ll try to get something posted each weekend going forward, reflecting a bit week-by-week.
Thanks for reading, and if you’ve got any comments or questions please don’t hesitate!
*Hat tip to one Michael Griffin who put me on to the “Bye, Felicia!” thing at what was, for me, an embarrassingly late age. Somehow, some way, I kinda sorta missed Friday and its multiple culture-meme spawns.
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.
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).