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.
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.
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.
I was excited to blog about research for the latest iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) issue, Ongoing Research, because I knew it would kickstart my research into research. This is what iTDi does: it kickstarts your professional development. I’ve been involved with iTDi for almost two years now, and I have learned from various teachers from around the world, mostly from the comfort of my home. Each of them brings a fresh perspective to teaching, and the amount of inspiration they bring seems never-ending. For this latest issue, I had the privilege of writing alongside three of these inspiring teachers: Divya Madhavan, Kieran Dhunna Halliwell, and Nina Septina. Click here to read their insightful posts. I have a feeling you’ll learn something about research you probably hadn’t thought about, or maybe you’ll learn you aren’t alone in your worries about research. Either way, you’ll learn something new. Again, that’s what happens at iTDi: you learn and you grow.
Below is part of my post where I explore my understanding of Narrative Inquiry as an approach to research. Follow this link to the iTDi blog to continue reading this post, and to find many posts about teaching and learning. I also encourage you to sign up as a member of iTDi. There are no strings attached; the only strings are connections to amazing teachers.
I have a craving to learn. Part of this craving is satisfied by writing about teaching and learning here on the iTDi blog as well as on my blog, and also by talking with my inspiring community of teachers, but sometimes I think I need more. I think of working towards a PhD. The idea of diving deep into my topics of interest – how reflective practice and compassionate communication intersect in teacher education – seems like it would satiate my appetite. However, my research into research methods always left a bad taste. I just couldn’t imagine myself crunching numbers. My areas of interest seem to be beyond equations (re: quantitative methods), and too big for what I understand about action research. Then finally, this part of my search was over.
After class one day, my colleague, Darryl Bautista, and I were talking about research, and I told him about my distaste. This was when he told me about his professional experience with narrative inquiry as an approach. And just like that, the world of research opened itself to me. What follows is a description of where my ongoing research begins: in discovering narrative inquiry. (…)
Synchronicity Visits a Teacher – This is the post I wrote while I was doing my research for the issue. I learned that Throwing Back Tokens has a story that needs to be explored.
This was the question that was on my colleague’s mind. Bradley Smock (check out his blog Bradley’s English Blog) teaches English composition to 3rd and 4th year English Literature students at Keimyung University. As the semester went on, he started noticing that his students were coming to class looking lethargic and lifeless: like zombies. In an attempt to understand them, he posed the question:
What is causing the low motivation of many students at Keimyung?
As part of their next essay assignment, his students wrote responses, and I will be posting* their responses here. I hope this offers insight into what life is like for many Korean students.
Today’s theme revolves around student competition, and not having personal goals and dreams.
When professor asking how are you, usually students say tired. Despite there was nothing happen last night, they always feel tired and gloomy. To foreign students or teachers maybe do not understand this normal happen in Korea. Also this happen arise to most of Koreans. Most students are zombie at the class because they are not doing exercise, they just follow Korea’s competitive atmosphere and they do not know what they want to be or like it.
Most students are not doing exercise. Few of students are exercise themselves but exercise is not familiar to Korean students. when they were young about elementary school students they started to go to academy(Hakwon) after school. So exercise was second to them. Even they learned exercise at the hakwon such as Teakgundo or Judo. Maybe people understand these exercise should learn at the hakwon however they have less time to hang out with other friends. Most highschool do not have PE class because of study. Even if students have a PE class, it was time for sleep not a exercise to students. Therefore all Korean students need exercise for their physical strength.
Most Koreans are just follow and attend on Korean’s education system. This is kind of psychological problem. Korea society make a competitive atmosphere which means playing is wasting time and not studying is considered becoming loser. I always feel, Korea society said “you must be a winner at the competition to live comfortable. There is no friend in this society.” I’m sure every Koreans are feeling this. This kind of feeling make them anxious even when they are hanging out with their friends. Thus, Korea’s society make a competitive atmosphere and people are tired to following this.
Last reason is related above paragraph. Most Koreans ,age 17 to 24, do not know what they want to be, what they like it. This is happened because of blind education system. Every highschool teachers or parents said “Do it whatever you want when you become University student. But now is for study.” I also listen this sentence when I was middle and highschool student. Theoretically, middle school and high school age is looking for their interesting and what they are good at. In Korea, it’s opposite. Most students study with short knowledge about them and just attend on university with their highschool score and Korea SAP score. Shortly most students attend on university do not have exactly what they want to be and like it.
Do not excercise, competitive atmosphere in Korea and Do not know what they like or want to be, make spiritless to students in the class. It’s kind of sad thing in Korea. This reason, happiness index is the lowest in the world. Although Korea education system make Koreans smarter than other countries, they have less happiness and creativity.
The students at Keimyung are being zombies in class these days. They seem to have no enthusiasm for what they learn and what the teachers say in class. They also have no emotion on their faces and do not respond to the teacher. Due to this fact, teachers are having really hard time teaching in most of their classes. The reasons that many students at Keimyung are low motivated are because of the pressure on the grade, getting no immediate benefit, and not knowing what they like or want.
Most students are under pressure to have good grades. Since the beginning of the semester, they start to fight with assignments and exams. It is likely to be released from the pressure when the midterm is over, but assignments go on and on. They consider the grades very important because they believe that the grades affect their future when they try to have a job. That is why they are so stressed on assignments and exams to get good grades in class, but they do not, so that makes students less motivated.
Since students study to prepare for their future, they do not see immediate benefit ahead of them, so they are low motivated in class. What they study in class seems useless in daily life, so they might think that these studies are useless overall. They, however, do not know what they study in class now will be used when or where in the future. Not knowing all of this, students do not see a point of studying in class and keeps complaining that they do not want to study. They lose interest in studying while they do not see the future.
Whether they think the study now will be helpful in the future or not, the worst problem they have is that they do not know what they really like or what they really want.
In my case, I am majoring in English language and literature and taking classes to complete a course in teaching training. I like English, but frankly, I do not know exactly why I am trying to complete a course in teaching training. I am not even sure if I want to be a teacher. I actually more interested in planning performances or exhibitions. This is the problem. Like me, most students do not know what they like and want, and they keep studying what they are not interested in.
Students at Keimyung are not much enthusiasm in class, and the teachers know and have difficulties in getting the students’ attention and the class going smoothly. What are being the problems in this situation are that they are so pressured, that they do not see what is ahead of them, and they do not find their own interest. The most important thing among what they can do now is to find what’s their interests are sooner rather than later. Finding it, it will give them more motivation in studying and help them to be more active in class.
*My intention was to post more essays and create a series, but I decided against it. I think this post was enough to create a valuable discussion.
This is the first of what I hope becomes a series of reflections on Parker Palmer’s, book The Courage to Teach. His book really speaks to my thoughts and feelings on what it means to teach. By “unpacking” what I read, I hope to get more insight into the often unchartered territories he deals with. They aren’t easy places to navigate, but I trust that the arrival will be worth it. I hope these explorations feed your curiosity as much as they feed mine.
Ten minutes before class. What am I supposed to teach today? Damn, I’m not ready! Who has taught this class before. Matthieu. Right. I’ll give him a call.
Damn, he isn’t answering. Oh man. Eight minutes left now.
“Jon, can you help me out? What am I supposed to teach today?”, panicking on the phone as I scramble to find something more professional to wear. I’m still in my jeans and old t-shirt!
“No worries. It’s the end of the semester and they just need to cover this and this…”, said in the smooth, calm voice Jon always seems to have.
“Oh wow, you’re right! They only have a few classes left! Thanks Jon. I think I can handle it.”, gasping — not sighing in relief like I should be — as I think to myself, ‘How did I let this happen? Two more classes in the semester? They are going to think I’m so incompetent. I am! And man, I’m late now….’
At this point I woke up. I didn’t get a chance to see the faces of my course participants. I suppose my subconsciousness couldn’t bear seeing them.
Fear. This is what I felt when I opened my eyes. In this case, the fear of failure. At that moment, Parker Palmer’s chapter Culture of Fear I had just read a few days before, made much more sense. Even in my dreams I didn’t want to face the fear I sometimes feel. One of the points Parker Palmer makes in this chapter is how fear disconnects us from our students. Fear labels them as the lazy kid, the problem boy, the girl who can’t pay attention. When we see students like this, of course it’s hard to trust what’s inside their minds.
Fear causes this to happen:
… our assumption that students are brain-dead leads to pedagogies that deaden their brains. When we teach by dripping information into their passive forms, students who arrive in the classroom alive and well become passive consumers of knowledge and are dead on departure when they graduate. But the power of this self-fulfilling prophecy seems to elude us: we rarely consider that our students may die in the classroom because we use methods that assume they are dead.
When I first read this quote, I was inspired to write a rant blaming the Korean education system for perpetuating apathy, violence, and yes, death. This is what I first wrote:
Fear. It has a grip on us. It is all around us and so it permeates our senses and our way of being. It has become such a societal norm that we don’t even realize it’s there.
To notice fear would mean we would need to face it. To admit that fear exists would be to admit that we are doing it wrong.
And this is what I believe. I believe we are doing it wrong. When fear rules our education system, we need to set aside our pride, and look into its face. Administrators aren’t ready for this. To face their fears would also mean losing face.
That’s as far as I got. I was just about to go into tirade (Yes, trust me, it is possible.) against Korea’s old boys’ club when I started thinking of the English teachers in this system. I imagined the fear some of them have told me about: the dread of going to class and meeting students that talk back to them; the anxiety they have about the kid who is “better” at speaking English than they are; or the administrative stress of paperwork and the need to follow the demands of the system they’re in (ie: teaching the same lesson as all the other English teachers, not leaving any room for creative lesson planning; listening to parents who aren’t satisfied with the way they are teaching their kid.)
I realized I couldn’t point fingers. Not many of us want to meet fear: not administrators, not teachers… not me. Looking into fear would mean that we’d have to admit our vulnerability. And let’s face it, not many education systems out there create a safety net for vulnerability.
But here’s the twist: it’s only by facing our fears that real change is able to happen. This relates as much to a fear of heights as it does to a “fear of diversity”, “fear of conflict”, or a “fear of losing identity”: the diversity of our students’ experiences, interests and motivations; the conflict that could happen by paying attention to this diversity; and the loss of our ways of being, our ideas, and our traditions in the face of all this (The Courage to Teach, p. 38). If we want students who are happy to come to class, we will need to look at what we are doing that prevents this from happening. If teachers want to be happy when they come to class, they will need to take some time with fear. According to relationship expert, Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, this is the only way that fear will loosen its grip:
When we remain outside our fear, we remain trapped within it.
When we, however, consciously get inside our fear, it’s as if it turns inside out. Getting inside our fear with wakeful attention and compassion actually expands our fear beyond itself. Once the contractedness at the center of fear ceases to be fueled, fear unravels, dissipates, and terminates its occupancy of us.
In entering our fear, we end our fear of it.
Through attending closely, caringly, and carefully to the particulars of our fear, we decentralize it, so that its intentions and viewpoint can no longer govern us. When the light goes on in the grottos of dread, then fear is little more than our case of mistaken identity having a bad day.
As I ponder my own fears, I wonder if teachers and administrators will ever find a safe, communal space to attend to theirs. The idea of “decentralizing” fear in order to make room for real connections with each other is one I find incredibly appealing.
When I consider the magnitude of this healing, sitting with my own fears sounds a little less scary.
This afternoon a few course participants asked me if I could email them some of my favorite TED Talks. As I started going through the list in my head, I started visualizing a playlist. Then I imagined what I would call that playlist. And now my imagination has taken me to this post instead of a private email. I guess you could call this a modern day mixtape for educators. :) I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!
The first target of inspiration came from the playlists the wonderful folks at TED started putting together. Below are my favorites so far.
I have pulled out my favorite talks from these playlists, and from the memories etched in my mind. Instead of telling you why each of these talks inspired me, I’ll simply tell you how they made me feel. I’ll unashamedly admit that about 90% of these talks brought tears to my eyes: tears of inspiration, tears of disbelief, tears of joy, and tears of hope. I have watched each of these talks at least twice. These presenters are making an incredible impact on the world, and I have no doubt they will have the same affect on you. I am sure I have missed a few, so please feel free to add your favorites in the comments.
How Education Can/Must Change
The Creative Mind
Mind, Body and Soul
Risking It All for Freedom
Perspectives on Success, Motivation and Leadership