The truth is, I was really worried about walking into this classroom. You see, I haven’t strictly taught a conversation based class in six years. More importantly, I haven’t taught a beginner class in that time either.
To top it off, I didn’t have fond memories of this particular classroom. When I taught beginner conversation classes six years ago, it’s in this classroom I recalled my biggest challenges: building rapport with quiet students whose interest in learning to speak English either didn’t exist or slowly dissipated as the semester went on. I remembered how much I had dreaded walking into this classroom back then. Looking back, perhaps my students’ motivation was a reflection of my apprehension.
Then on Friday, after all that worrying, this happened.
This was my second class with this group of freshman. During the first class we did an icebreaker activity which involved finding out how old I was (age is an important factor in how relationships are built in Korea). Some students remembered that our Friday class together would be my 38th birthday. I never thought they would remember let alone go as far as buying a cake!
And just like that, my fears went out the door. We had a small celebration together which included one of the best rapport builders I know in Korea: group pictures.
During the rest of the class students shared their own birth dates. Some students discovered they were born on the same day. Then some learned the were from the same city; then the same majors.
Sometimes we can plan ways to build rapport with our students, but most of the time it’s just about being open to genuine moments of connection.
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of teaching my first webinar thanks to the encouraging support of International Teacher Development Institute and Gallery Languages Ltd. The enthusiastic interaction and input from the participants, as well as the fabulous dance party, made this is an experience I look forward to reliving very soon.
(Note to self: always include a dance party in future webinars.)
I presented the idea of teachers dreaming big, and accomplishing big goals, by first taking small steps. To encourage this path, I offered the acronym: SMILE. We make our goals SMILE so that we can play big, and playing big means transforming lives: the lives of teachers and learners.
Now it’s time for you to SMILE! Share your SMILE goals via your blogs, Facebook, or Twitter by using the hashtag #SMILEgoal. Follow the prompts below for support or watch a recording of the talk, as well as inspiring talks from amazing educators from around the world, by signing up at the iTDi website.
Here are mine:
Before I eat lunch today, I will give written feedback on the Reading Skills lesson plans the course participants wrote so that they have a chance to review and edit their lessons before they teach tomorrow.
Before dinner today, I will have written a sample listening skills lesson plan so the participants have a model they can refer to when they plan their listening lesson next week.
EDIT #1 for a smaller SMILE: I will scan John Fields’ “Listening in the Language Classroom” for inspiration for about 20 minutes.
EDIT #2 for a smaller SMILE: I will edit the lesson plan I already have to match the needs of the course and use this plan for the sample lesson.
The first two SMILE goals will help me meet my larger goal of developing a positive learning and growing experience for our KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Course participants. The third one helps me meet my goal of developing a database of healing stories and strategies for teachers.
My ‘E’ for “Enjoy” will involve taking a moment to pause… ahhh…smile, and let the satisfaction sink in.
When teachers find a space where they can shine, something amazing happens: they find their voice. This voice resonates passion, curiosity, and love. It is a powerful voice with the potential to transform lives.
The space that fosters this is found in a community where each teacher is honored and celebrated. This is the space the International Teacher Development Institute creates, and for the next 10 days, 22 voices will shine via the iTDi Summer Intensive for Teachers. To let your voice shine through, click here to sign up for any or all the free webinars your heart desires.
I am very grateful to iTDi for this opportunity to learn and to grow. If you have the time, I’d love to see you at my inaugural webinar. We’ll be exploring something new I’m working with and I would love to hear your thoughts.
August 6th, 12 pm GMT (Check your local time here)
You may have heard of S.M.A.R.T. action plans when it comes to creating lesson objectives or teaching goals. Although “smart” in theory, these action plans may leave teachers feeling dissatisfied to the point of inaction. One way to change this is to turn S.M.A.R.T. into a S.M.I.L.E. Based on research in neuropsychology and personal development, S.M.I.L.E. is an approach to action planning that can relieve the weight of overwhelm or perfectionism, and enhances our sense of satisfaction. During the session, we will examine this approach in order to develop the type of teaching practice we desire.
A dear friend and colleague of mine, Amy Puett, posed a very interesting question about culturally inclusive language assessments a while back. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very helpful in answering. What I could offer, however, was a space to share this question with the larger world of ELT. If you have any insight into what Amy offers below, we’d be very grateful.
I’m currently working on an MA in TESOL, and I’m doing a research project on biases in spoken assessments. In my experience, there hasn’t been a lot to account for in differences in cultures, ages or purpose when it comes to assessing students in their level of spoken English. The standard guidelines for assessing one’s level of spoken English are generally the CEFR and ACTFL guidelines; however, these don’t account for shy, uncommunicative Korean students who might be under a lot of pressure with their studies or a socially astute Pakistani student who knows when and where to pull out stock phrases to impress others with their English skills. Also, there is little room in these guidelines to accurately describe young learners. I’ve taught many Korean elementary students who are at a B1 level of reading, and I can’t see the students acknowledging their level by saying “I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).”
Even the guide to using the CEFR guidelines states in the introduction that ‘The Framework aims to be not only comprehensive, transparent and coherent, but also open, dynamic and non-dogmatic. -Council of Europe (2001a:18)’ It also mentions that it’s not expansive in describing young learners.  However, I have still witnessed that many students are nonetheless labeled with these terms, which I feel can affect how some teachers teach them. The ACTFL has similar issues. For example, the following is said about a student with ‘low intermediate’ speaking skills:
“At the Intermediate Low sublevel, speakers are primarily reactive and struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information. They are also able to ask a few appropriate questions. Intermediate Low speakers manage to sustain the functions of the Intermediate level, although just barely.”
It would be beyond many people’s conscience to behave in such a manner in some of the countries I’ve taught in, and they would learn how to fake responses or gloss over any gaps in their understanding. I also know language students of higher speaking levels who would act in the same manner due to their naturally shy nature in dealing with foreigners.
I feel there must be more TESOL instructors can do to incorporate a more inclusive set of terminology that would allow either more room for interpretation or include a more sets of guidelines to adequately assess students and describe their levels of spoken English language skills.
My question is can any share their experiences with this issue or recommend relevant research? Any help would be appreciated.
When I Googled, “I’m just a teacher” I was surprised at what I found. It’s a hot topic! Hot enough to dedicate a poster to.
“Just an English teacher” is a phrase I’ve heard in a few different contexts. Sometimes it’s used to confirm that this is the essence of our work. We teach English to speakers of other languages, and while we have other responsibilities such as caring for our learners and managing classroom interactions, there is nothing inherently special about the work. I understand the sentiment, but I also grapple with it because “just” is a weighty word.
Sometimes the phrase is used in dismissive ways, as the poster above implies. This is the context I am referring to today. The memory of this phrase leads me to a school where I used to teach. During a staff meeting, one of the administrators tried to justify why the English language teachers had different responsibilities from teachers of other subjects. Without going into detail, on multiple occasions he explained this was because, “you’re just English teachers.” He implied we were of lesser value.
This story came to me today as I read the quote below. It made me wonder: does he understand what some English language teachers take into consideration before they go to class?
From bundles of acoustic cues in the speech signal , the listener manages to identify phonemes, the sounds of the language. Then the phonemes are built into syllables, the syllables into words, the words into phrases and the phrases into clauses or sentences. Finally, the sentences have to be converted from language into ideas.*
– Listening in the Language Classroom, John Field, p. 129 (Kindle reader)
And then of course, part of the English teacher’s task is to make sense of this knowledge in order to help learners. The teacher tries to use this knowledge in order to turn it into someone else’s skill. This brings “alchemy” to mind.
As the quote suggests, language is incredibly profound and complex. It is a representation of the human mind. What could be worthy of higher regard than a system that aims to create human connection or that puts ideas into action and tangible forms?
Take the word “just” for example. This word prompted me to write this piece which is now on your computer screen or in your hands.
There is weight in words.
And there just isn’t something just about that “just”.
Although I didn’t join the chat on “words” last Sunday, #KELTchat got me thinking about words this week. Thanks!
I watched this talk by Ruhpa Mehta about “the weight of words”, and now I see this expression in a different light. I’ll definitely be paying attention to her organization, NaliniKIDS, and look forward to learning more about her method for developing emotional literacy.
*Note: John Field does goes on to say this isn’t necessarily the way a listener processes language. He uses this sequence as a representation of the different types of decoding that goes on while listening. The quote could be one representation, but it isn’t the only one.
This is part 2 of the interview I did with my father, Guy J. LeBlanc, for a new blog series called, Educational Influences. My intention with this series is to share the stories of people who have influenced my perception of education. I know you will learn as much from them as I did, and this is why I want to share their stories here.
In the last post, my father spoke about the beginning of his career in education. This post continues from his time as an elementary school PE teacher where he answers the question, “What was one of your most memorable moments teaching PE?”
Guy: The other was to give elementary students the chance to participate in sports they had never even heard about. Like soccer: in Clare (where we grew up) soccer was not a sport that was recognized. We started volleyball, badminton. Volleyball, that my daughters, and many others participated in, started here at the elementary level. Another teacher, James Boudreau, had organized the first volleyball team that participated at the Jeux de l’Acadie (a provincial, multi-sport competition for the Acadian regions in Canada’s Atlantic provinces): they were grade seven girls from École Joseph Dugas. And from there, volleyball has always been a sport that is strong in Clare. We were often the Nova Scotia champions.
Me: So because of the work that you did, in terms of bringing sports to the community,…
Guy: It was the first team from Nova Scotia that ever played for the Jeux d’Acadie because before that it was only for the acadian youths from New Brunswick. Because of my affiliation with recreation, I knew guys at the University of Moncton and basically they were the backbone of les Jeux de l’Acadie. So they invited me to a meeting and we left there with the participation of one team, and now it’s a full delegation like any other region from New Brunswick.
Me: And at that time the first team or group was just a volleyball team?
Guy: Yes. A group of girls. Louanne Dugas, Judy Aucoin who’s on CIFA (Acadian radio station) now, Brenda LeBlanc… that was at the grade 7 level at the elementary school. Only the grade sevens at that time. And then after that… well, you played for many years after that. (My sister – at Louizette Photography – and I played varsity volleyball throughout our middle school and high school years. My sister also played for the provincial team. Les Jeux were the highlight of our summers.)
Me: And it was because of you?
Guy: Yeah, I guess I was there. I wasn’t scared to step out of Clare to network, and so we had the opportunity, and we had people who supported us. At that time there was Yvon Samson who worked for the FANE who helped us raise money. And then the year after, well, Clare was going, so Ste. Anne du Ruisseau (the municipality of Argyle) put together a team. Then Richmond went, and then Cheticamp…everyone. In the Acadian regions if one wants to do it, the others do too. So then everyone was encouraged.
Me: In relation to the students, when you were teaching at the elementary school, was there a student who stood out for you, or something you learned about teaching children?
Guy: One thing I learned is that children up to the age of 4 or 5, at least back then, don’t have secrets. Often, what happens at home, you (the PE teacher) would hear about it in the PE class. They trusted you and they spoke about it. Often you heard strange things, and at that time there weren’t all the regulations that there are now. Some kids did not have a good time at home. I realized at that time that there were people who weren’t treated well, but in their eyes, they were happy. Today you might say they were abused, but it was just because the parents didn’t know better. And some of them (the students) turned out really great.
Me: You thought it was the PE class that helped them to speak?
Guy: The PE class was less formal than others so they could speak to you. I guess they felt they could speak more freely, more often.
Me: Do you remember if they would take you aside, or was it just random?
Guy: Well, it was just random for them. It wasn’t a big thing. They were waiting their turn to serve the ball or to go on the court, or something like that.
Me: Anything else about the students?
Guy: There were many more students back then. There were large classes.
Me: Did you think motivation was different than it was today?
Guy: There weren’t computers, so kids were looking for something to do, whether it was sports or dance. They had more time for that than they do now. Now they have time but they have more choices. They can spend two hours on the internet, or on video games. At that time there weren’t any. The only video games If you can call them that ones that existed were at Alcide’s Restaurant, or the Submarine Restaurant… pinball machines. That was the closest to video games that existed.
Me: What was after this?
Guy: I was president of the Chamber of Commerce. I was in charge of the Boys Scouts in our area. That was when I was teaching I think.
Me: You were in charge of the Boy Scouts because you were a Boy Scout?
Guy: Yes. I went through that system. Then I went to the Chamber of Commerce.
Me: Was it volunteer?
Me: Why did you want to do that?
Guy: I was always interested in the well-being of the community. To make sure that there were jobs and that people stayed; to develop something new in the community.
Me: I guess that’s why you entered politics. Was it because you really wanted to make a big change?
My father will answer this question in part 3 of this interview in the following weeks.
You can also find the post I wrote about my father for International Teacher Development Institute, Outside Influences Issue, at this link.
This past winter, I interviewed my father on five different occasions, with each interview taking place at St. Pete Beach, Florida. My intention was to learn more about the moments he felt were significant to him in his work in education. I also wanted to share his work with others, and of course learn more about my father — or “pape” as my sister (view and purchase her captivating photography here) and I call him.
I want to thank my father for being so open with me, and for allowing me to share his story here. It is a sweet privilege.
And here is where the timeline begins.
Me: Why did you enter the field of education, and when was that?
Guy: I started teaching a swimming course when I was 16 years old. That was really my first experience in education. And then when I finished college* I had an offer to work in a bank, but it didn’t pay my student loans, so at the last minute (August 15 and the university semester started in September), I decided to get my Bachelor of Education at Acadia.
*This iswhat we would consider as the final year in high school now. During his teenage years, my father studied at what is now known as Universite St. Anne. Although the community was francophone Acadian, this was the only school in the area where the content and instructions were in French.
Then I taught for two years at the Clare District High School. The formal classroom was never my style. I had always wanted to teach Physical Education (PE). My parents discouraged me because I had a bad back — two slipped discs at 16 or 17 years old. The discs came back into place, but I had a weak back. And so if I took a major in PE, I wouldn’t be able to teach in a regular classroom.
Then after two years at the high school, I decided to go to Acadia to take a Bachelor of Recreation.
Me: Let’s back up here. So you you had been in a regular class, and you taught…?
Guy: …Social Studies, History (what they called back then, History and Geography). We taught Health with a book from 1948, and I was teaching in the 70s. Not one of the profs felt it was right, but because we were in a school that was predominantly Catholic, there were certain things about sexuality you couldn’t talk about with students. There was little about health like we know about it today — like how to eat; how to exercise; how to strengthen yourself and be in better health.
Me: Was that one of the reasons you didn’t want to keep going in the classroom?
Guy: That was one of the reasons. When I was a student in school, I didn’t really like going to school, so teaching in the classroom didn’t interest me greatly. But I loved working with people: with young people. I had always worked with kids in my swimming courses and in clubs for kids.
Me: So you wanted to work in PE because it was more in line with your beliefs; it was more active and more of what you had already done in your life. Then you went to Acadia to take your Bachelor of Recreation…
Guy: …and Physical Education at that time. It was a new program that started. At that time it was strange because they were talking about a “4 day work week”. Everyone was going to have a lot of free time for recreation so it was going to be a growing field. 35 years later, it’s not a 4 day work week but more of a 7 day week.
They wanted to focus on activities for the community, while now it’s about health and staying fit: to keep the mind fit and the body fit. Recreation is an integral part of almost every community. I was the first recreation director in Clare. It was a newly created position, but I only stayed a year (My father describes a controversial moment that occurs that leads to him being let go. The community was upset with this decision because they wanted the position to remain in the community and wanted my father to keep the position. Terms weren’t met and so…)
… I returned to teaching. There was position that opened up to teach PE from grade 3 to grade 7 (8 to 12 years old). I taught PE for 5 to 6 years in elementary school.
Me: I remember because I was really hoping that you would be my teacher. (I was a huge PE fanatic as a kid, and the idea of my dad being my PE teacher was big dream. When I got to grade 3, however, he began his career as an elected member of the Nova Scotia legislature.)
What was one of your most memorable moments teaching PE?
Guy: One of my greatest accomplishments was convincing the school board to teach swimming to all elementary students for 10 weeks instead of the regular PE classes. There were many drownings at that time. Every summer there was a young person who drowned. The predominant industry in Clare was fishing. Everyone spent time around wharves and boats, so for me it was important for kids to learn how to swim. So I was able to convince the school board on the basis that if the kids could take the basics, they would be safer citizens.
Me: What were the basics?
Guy: Some kids could swim, but some kids had never seen a pool and would never see one because their parents couldn’t afford to bring them to the pool at Universite St. Anne. Like this, transportation was provided for the students and the “foyer ecole” (home and school association) raised money to pay for the buses and the school board approved. This way everyone learned artificial respiration and other basic life saving skills, basic swimming skills…if they fell in the water, they learned how to put on a life jacket and save themselves.
Looking back, that was probably one my best achievements at the elementary level.