What is a “Whole Teacher”?

There is no simple answer. It seems that one answer misses out on a lot of other factors. This may be why the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) devoted two blog issues to the topic, The Whole Teacher and More Whole Teacher. From these experienced educators, I learned that it is a very personal topic. We all have our own perspective. For their 2014 TESOL Arabia presentation on the same topic, iTDi educators, Chuck Sandy, Tamas Lorincz, Hengameh Ghandehari and Bita Rezaei asked us to formulate our own answers to this question by responding to the following survey. Below were my thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours as well. “A whole teacher is someone who …. ” 

who can see someone else as a whole person full of imperfections and gifts and is able to hold these within the container of his/her own gifts and imperfections.

Take a moment and bring to mind the “best teacher” you’ve ever had in your life. What was it about this person that made him or her “the best” teacher?

He told stories about his life. I’m not even sure if it was connected to the content of the class – though I’m sure it was since it was social science class – but he was always willing to share the travel tales of him and his family. I really looked forward to those stories. After he told them I felt more at ease. I knew I could share almost anything with him. He was also the teacher who approached my friends and I to start a radio show. He saw something in us. He trusted us for some reason.

What was the most important thing you learned from “the best teacher” you described in your answer to the previous question?

I learned that it’s important to listen to your students. To see them as humans who want to participate in the world. I was just a teenager but he could see that we had something to share. We had so much fun with that Friday night radio show. It is a memory we still talk about. I also learned that it’s important to share my story. I connected to his stories probably because I could see the humanity in them. I saw his passion. I saw him as a whole person. If I compare him to teachers who never shared, it was much harder to connect to them and their lessons.

What three adjectives best describe the teacher you yourself hope to be for your own students?

considerate, patient, inspiring

What three things do you wish you’d learned more about before starting work as a teacher?

How to trust myself more. I don’t think this is something I could have learned at school, but I know it is something that would be very helpful in class now. I often second guess myself and I know that zaps the creative potential from my lessons. I tend to control the moment too much and I realize what effect this might have on my learners. I also wish I had learned a lot more about the finer details of grammar: think “grammar trees“. I think that would help my trust issues. :-) I know that’s just two things. ;-) I don’t have more. I think a lot could be added to the “trust” comment.

What was your biggest challenge when you first started working as a teacher? What steps did you take to overcome this challenge?

Learning how to balance what the language institute expected me to teach, and what I knew my students needed. They needed play and engagement, but I was often forced to just cover the material. With kids who had been in school all day and then back with me at night, I knew they needed more than just material. To overcome this I did my best to find ways to tuck in play/fun and when I couldn’t I tried my best to listen to the kids and be kind. It wasn’t always easy because I was frustrated and didn’t have great classroom management skills, but rapport was helpful.

Please tell about yourself. In what country do you work? How long have you been teaching? In what way are you changing as a teacher? What is driving this change? 

Korea – teaching for 10 years

I am learning to match the person I am outside class to the person I am in class. I think my outside self is a bit more easy going and values creative spontaneity.  Inside the class I tend to be more organized and in need of control. I’m trying to see why that is and learning to change that. Vital to this change is my ability to be compassionate with myself. To do this I am meditating and writing more often theses days. I am also interested in creating a community of teachers who need similar self-care. We have begun by starting a Facebook page called, Self Compassion for Teachers #redthumbforlove https://www.facebook.com/redthumbforlove
What does it mean to you to be a “Whole Teacher”?
Here are links on the topic I found interesting. They may help you formulate your answer:

My Teacher Manifesto #30GoalsEdu

I wrote this manifesto as a result of the comments I received from these inspiring educators — Rose Bard, Kristina Eisenhower, Anna Delconte, and Hana Ticha — on my post, Questioning Teaching: An Attempt to Balance Paradox. The manifesto is also a response to a previous 30 Goals Challenge created by Shelly Sanchez Terrell. I want it to be a motivating reminder of what is possible, especially during those days when teaching isn’t so easy.

What would your teacher manifesto look like?  For inspiration, check out these creative manifestos designed by teachers from around the world.

Teacher ManifestoCreated with the Over app.


Grounded in Reflective Blogging

2012 has been an interesting year so far, and that’s putting it mildly. It’s been full of incredible highs, but also a few unrelenting lows. I’ve been going through some difficult personal stuff: existential dilemma sort of stuff. In the last few months I’ve even heard myself say, “The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m not that sure of anything.” I felt like I had lost my groundedness. I’m happy to say that at least one foot has now secured itself to the earth.

As a teacher, this feeling just wasn’t cutting it. How could I teach when all I wanted to do was float away? A teacher is supposed to be sure. A teacher is supposed to be a tree her students can lean on: rooted.

I’d wonder, “How did I get here? Why am I letting my confidence slip away?”

Then I remembered my blog. Last year, I wrote a post a week. Monday was my day. I’d start writing in the afternoon and there was no way that post wasn’t going to be published before midnight. — And can you believe this was before I understood how to use Twitter? I only figured out the beauty of developing Twitter PLN (personal learning network) in October 2011! But that’s a story for another time.

I wrote about classroom moments that caught my attention during the week. Sometimes I’d write rigorous reflections à la ELC. Sometimes I’d simply share my thoughts on what a participant said or did. I loved organizing tags and categories, and I found playing with my blog’s layout quite meditative.

My blog was where I grounded myself. It was where I reflected. It was where I explored my beliefs and examined my actions. Via these reflections I was developing an understanding of my teaching and of myself. I was growing confidence.

2012 has not seen me blogging to this degree. For the most part, I’ve been neglecting my blog and tending to other matters.

Then it occurred to me: could it be that by not blogging I was creating more lows for myself? Was there a direct relation between my reflective blogging and the confidence I felt last year? I’ve been fascinated by this theory.

I’ve always said that my reflective practice helped me become a more confident teacher, but here I’ve been, barely writing. Of course, many other factors are surely connected to me losing my footing. But could I not be the subject of my own theory? If one gains confidence through habitual reflection, then wouldn’t the reverse be true?

Well, it’s Monday, and here’s my post. I’m not sure if I’m back like I was last year, but I’d like to try. I posted last Monday, and I’m grateful for the amazing feedback I got. This, and other friendly nudgings, definitely encouraged me to try again this Monday. I’m looking forward to testing out my theory, and seeing if I manage to ground myself again.

The Teacher: The Authentic Self?


  • not false or imitation: real, actual
  • true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

I’ve lived in Korea for 7 years:

  • I now can eat spicy food.
  • I’ve been told I use metal chopsticks better than the average Korean.
  • During conversations, I don’t feel uncomfortable during ‘awkward silences’ as I much as I did before.
  • I believe I’ve developed better “nunchi“.
  • When I’m drinking alcohol with someone quite older, I turn away when I take a drink.
  •  I bow when I say “hello” or “goodbye” no matter what country I’m in.

These are behaviors and abilities I didn’t possess before living here. I’ve adapted.

Continue reading “The Teacher: The Authentic Self?”

The ‘Don’t Know Mind’ and Teaching

Seven days at a Buddhist temple, forty-one hours of sitting meditation, two personal interviews with Zen Masters, one Dharma talk, and many hours of silence can have a great impact on one’s mind. The greatest impact for me was the realization that I have very little, if any, control over my mind. One of my favorite quotes from my week at Musangsa – International Zen Center, related to the idea of control, comes from one of the monks. As we hid away in the storage room for a chat over coffee on the last day, she shared:

“One of the greatest delusions we have, is the delusion that we think we make decisions.”

What she essentially was saying is that we have no control over the outcome of any event. We may have plans, we may have expectations, but in reality, what happens doesn’t always match up. No matter how often I ask the barista and think I’ve made myself clear, I may decide to have a cappuccino, but may only receive a cafe latte. I may decide to move to Ottawa to continue my French studies but may end up teaching English in Korea instead. I may decide to arrive at work at 8:30am, and I may arrive at 8:30am. Life unravels as it will.

What does this mean for the ultimate control freaks: teachers? We are trained to create SMART objectives, to plan minute-by-minute lesson plans, and to “manage” our students’ behavior. Teachers need control!

Our obsession with control is connected to our attachment to outcomes. We use the textbook, we plan a few speaking activities so students can practice the past tense, and of course, we expect our students to be able to use it. To our surprise, the reality is usually very different. The reality is we don’t really know what our students took away from this experience.

What if we went into the classroom knowing that we just don’t know? What if we entered the classroom with the “don’t know mind” I heard so much about during the retreat?

“Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not.”

“An expert may know a subject deeply, yet be blinded to new possibilities by his or her preconceived ideas. In contrast, a beginner may see with fresh, unbiased eyes. The practice of beginner’s mind is to cultivate an ability to meet life without preconceived ideas, interpretations, or judgments.”

Gil Fronsdal

If educators could see with unbiased eyes, maybe they would see that Jong Won doesn’t want to talk about what Mary and John did during their summer vacation in Paris. Maybe he wants to talk about the girl he met at the PC room. With a beginner’s mind, maybe Sun Hye’s teacher wouldn’t laugh and tell her she is wrong when she tells the class “I always fly.” In truth, she does fly: each night in her dreams.

I think a teacher with the “don’t know mind” would have lessons such as the ones Scott Thornbury describes in Teaching Unplugged (Or That’s Dogme with an E):

Think about it: how many of your best lessons just happened? For example, a really good discussion cropped up, and you let it run. And run. Or something that had happened to a student in the weekend became the basis of the whole lesson. Or, because you missed the bus, or because the photocopier wasn’t working, you had to go in unprepared. But the lesson really took off.

During my retreat, I realized it’s very hard to let go of my attachments. I realized that I don’t have the “don’t know mind”. Despite this, I’m glad to say I realize the its power. From what I’ve learned and experienced, this mind offers more peace and spaciousness. I think it’s from this space that deep learning can come… or not. I really don’t know.

The Doubting and Believing Game

Korean teachers of English have the need to be heard, to be understood and to be valued by their employers, especially by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The MOE seeks to create English communicators of its students, but principals still ask classrooms to remain quiet; test scores still take priority over being able to carry on a conversation. Many of these teachers feel limited in their English ability, and can’t imagine how they could be role models of English communication. But we press on; we ask them to reform their ways, and so they feel exasperated, confused, and alone.

So how can we ask these teachers to change when it seems that they receive so many signals saying they should hold on to their old ways? This question has been haunting me all day as I attempt to plan a lesson on teaching techniques, namely on the concept of “eliciting“.

And the clincher is we can’t ask them to change. They have to believe that this change will work out for them and for their students. This is the only way that they will reform the way they teach.

A successful implementation of any educational reform is closely related to how teachers perceive the reform, and their perceptions can be influenced by their beliefs about English language education. Therefore, the success of reforms in English language education is contingent upon ESL/EFL teachers’ beliefs. (p. 2)

Continue reading “The Doubting and Believing Game”

Cultivating a Bountiful Crop of Rest in Nova Scotia


Teachers need rest.

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. – Ovid

We need rest in order to maintain our levels of compassion and empathy towards our students. We need rest in order to remain creative because creativity profoundly serves our lesson plans. We need rest to stay open to the change that learning requires.

This is how I’m taking a rest right now.

Home Cooking

Rapûre (rappie pie in English) is the traditional meal for Acadians from Nova Scotia. Click on the link to find the recipe for Clare‘s best selling rappie pie, Evelina’s Rapûre.

Some of you may not know this, but I’m of Acadian descent. This means I was raised francophone and my second language should be English. I, however, can’t see an identifying division between my two languages. My intention is to write a blog post of how this has affected me as an English teacher. Stay tuned for that processing.

Nova Scotia’s Beauty

un petit bergot (a periwinkle snail)

Continue reading “Cultivating a Bountiful Crop of Rest in Nova Scotia”