On Certification

April 25, 2011

A guy named David Deubelbeis has a very good blog: http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/ and I agree with a lot of what he has to say about teaching, and he has some very good ideas for the classroom. I really liked his blog, but I’m going to have to disagree with something he said.  I feel  a little bad, because he does have more credentials than I do. He is a Master’s of Education with a TEFL emphasis. So he has a lot more certification than I do.  ( I”m still in the application, waiting and hoping stage of my Master’s degree)

However – I started reading on his poetry class idea post, and then because I liked it, I thought I’d read more from the blog, and got to this post: Hype that’s not my Type http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2011/04/17/hype-thats-not-my-type/  and he talks about the new paradigm in teaching and how these are just hype and not part of the real teaching world.

The first myth he busts is that the world is changing so fast – and I agree with him “Education still is about people, communication, knowing, doing.”  I’m thinking – right on

Then he talks about testing, and I’m thinking – preach it brother  – testing itself isn’t evil, but it is important how they are used, and should be used as a disposable assessment of the learning process. Yeah.

Then he talks about information vs. content and says something really true: “No matter how quick you can google something or how perfect the retrieval of information. Students still need stuff in their head to mix and churn and access in the quiet of their mind.” and I’m reading this saying YES! I agree totally. Awesome

THEN he says: “The onus should always be on what a person can do, not what they did in a course . Credentials by default create barriers to real learning and to real discourse. They divide and create cliques”

And here I part ways.

Because I do think credentials are important, they do divide those that want to be professional from those that don’t care enough to do 100 hours online or take a month-long CELTA course, or even get a degree. Yes there are financial barriers, but I would say instead of getting rid of credentials, why don’t we make getting them more accessible to talented people through scholarships or grants?

ESL as a  profession, especially in Asia, have a serious problem with professionalism. Right now the demand for native English speakers is huge. In Korea, the hagwon or private academy business is booming, despite the governments efforts to put native English teachers in the public schools. Many of the teachers hagwons employ are not really teachers. They don’t have any qualifications other than they were born in a country that has English as a first language.  They are not professional (although many of the hagwon teachers I’ve met have been, and they really try to teach their students, and work very hard to learn more and learn how to teach)   My problem is that just because you can speak a language, and even more importantly speak correctly, doesn’t mean you can explain the language, the rules, or explain how your students can get their message out.

I am a teacher. It is my profession, and I’m very proud of it.  And it may be elitist of me, but I don’t think just anyone off the streets of America (or Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia) can walk into a classroom and teach English. And I don’t blame any school for asking for some proof that a teacher has the basics – and that proof is credentials.  I don’t think getting credentials, or a degree or going to a seminar or a training session is the end. No, these are just the beginning.

I ask a lot from my students. I expect them to do the best they can in the classroom. I think it is only fair that I do the best I can in the classroom, and that includes continuing my education, reading educational blogs, going to seminars, going to training weekends, and yes getting more and better credentials.

Other than this one paragraph that stuck in my craw, Mr. Deubelbeis’s blog is very good.


The circus is in town.

April 17, 2011

Last night I went to see Cirque du Soleil.  The performance was of Varekai,  It was amazing.  The costumes, the story, the props, the acts… it is still a bit of jumble in my mind, images superimposed upon other images. I should have taken notes, but I was too busy being wide-eyed and open-mouthed in wonder.

The story was of Icarus falling down in a jungle full of fantastic creatures.  He couldn’t touch any of them, but he did kind of fall in love with a sentient plant like woman.  Then the games began. I’ve always loved the aerial acrobatics, and the 4 girls on a single trapeze like thing were fantastic. There was one part, where two guys swung around over the audience on a bungee cord the held on to by their wrists and hands. Just watching it made me fear heights. Fortunately no one died. That I know.

I liked the comedy sketches, and the actors even spoke a little Korean for us. There was a chubby little girl who was amazing, who did a fantastic little comedy dance.  My friend loved the juggler, and he was fantastic. Fun fact: I can juggle. Ok, ok, only three balls for three minutes, but ….. I had dreams once of joining the circus.

Did I say the costumes were awe-inspiring? They were.  The use of color and pattern fit each performer and performance. Just having the performers parade with the costumes would have been worth the price of admission.  I think if Michel Park got a hold of a traditional circus the end result would be the Cirque du Soleil.  If you don’t know Michael Park, you are missing some seriously beautiful, dark and surreal paintings and etchings.

angel interrupted by artist michael parkes


The show reminded me of his paintings: Surreal, dark, erotic and beautiful.  I felt like a child full of wonder.

They wouldn’t let us take any photos, so I looked up some performances on YouTube. Unfortunately I couldn’t  embed any of the videos, and I must be a real tech-tard, because the links don’t work. Go look them up yourself, and really try to go to the show if you can, it is truly gorgeous.

Beauty is real

On moving to a new country

April 16, 2011

My old hagwon is hiring some new teachers, so I let them have my e-mail address to give to their prospective people. I think what most people want is reassurance that they aren’t walking into a horror movie set.

I understand. Moving to a new country is really difficult, you are leaving behind all your old friends, your family, and your safety net. It really is hard to trust that you will land in a good place.

I told the very nice youngster that one of the biggest factors for enjoying your stay is how well you get along with the people you work for and with. A lot has nothing to do with them or you, just chemistry. It’s a bit like going on a blind  date, only much, much longer. If it works, it is awesome. If it doesn’t, it is endurable for the duration. Although sometimes you are very unlucky and it feels like a small chunk of hell spit itself out and landed next to you.

I still think that most schools, even the hagwons are basically decent and most people are basically decent. But then I’m disgustingly optimistic.  But. I have worked in schools where everyone else seemed to be having a good time, without me, and I didn’t feel I could do anything right. It sucks.  That said, I think if you talk to the people who used to work in the school, talk to the manager, and talk to people who work at the school now, you can find a good match.

Even if your work is a small chunk of hell,  Korea is an awesome place to live.  The food is really good, and even when you crave western food, you can find it.  Seoul is a very international city with a ton to do, and even if you live way out in the country, going from Pusan the farthest south-most city to Seoul, the farthest north-most city, will only take you 4 1/2 hours on the KTX, so a weekend is very doable.   Most of the cities have a lot to do, from sports to mountain climbing (the national pastime here) and knitting groups, photography groups, art groups, and just about any hobby you want to explore. There are several places to get English books, Koreans are generally friendly and most will go out of their way to help you.  The cost of living is reasonable, and because they have single payer insurance, medical costs are reasonable.  The public transportation is awesome, and with a bus or train ticket you can get to: Cherry blossom festivals, mud festivals, kimchi festivals, fireworks festivals, and water festivals ( those are only the ones I know off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many more)

So I would say to those contemplating a move to Korea – dive right in, the water is fine.

Keeping it cool -2 (another post on classroom management)

April 13, 2011

I like to think of myself as a good teacher. I try to stay cool all the time, and be the “cool” teacher. As I’ve said before, I’m not really the “fun” teacher, in that I don’t give candy and I don’t play games very often. I’m also pretty strict on a few things. I only have 3 rules, but I don’t let my students break them. I did when I first introduced the rules had them agree to them. I went around and said “Do you agree?” and made the students say “yes” — this was mostly to have it in their minds that they did indeed agree, and therefore own the rules. (they are 1. Everyone works together 2. Everyone does a presentation 3. Respect each other) –

When I first started I had a lot more rules, but this is a distillation of the things I find important in the classroom.  I understand that Korea is “testing” culture, and a lot of emphasis is placed on doing well on the tests, but this is not really that good for language acquisition. To be able to speak a language you need a lot of practice, and studying by yourself, or reading from a book, or preparing for the test, are not going to give you the practice you need. That’s why I put my students in groups, and I want everyone in the group to do the work. I’ve learned that if I don’t keep my eyes and ears open, the students usually want to give the worksheet or project to the “best” student and have her do it all. This isn’t good for anyone. So everyone works together and I go around all the groups and help them, talk to them a bit and nag them a little to work – everyone needs to work.  If you start at the beginning of the semester with this, it usually become routine by the 2nd month, and you don’t have to nag so much.

One of my personal pet peeves in the classroom is other groups talking when one of the students is giving a presentation.  It makes it more difficult for me to hear the student and I think it is disrespectful. Therefore my “Respect each other” rule.  To enforce this rule I usually have three techniques. The first is just moving to where the group doing the talking is, physical proximity works amazingly well. The other technique is to ask the offending students “What did she just say?”  since they weren’t listening, they usually can’t answer, so I make them ask the presenter to repeat what she said. This is quite embarrassing and I usually don’t have to repeat this technique often. – I actually ask this question randomly throughout presentations just to a) keep them on their toes and b) help them practice listening to people who are not professional voice actors speaking.   The other technique is to ask the student if she is being respectful. I then ask her to read “rule 3” — I don’t usually need to use this very often.

I also don’t like it when the students are talking when I’m talking.  I usually have a call/response routine to get their attention (this year is Queen’s “Another one bites the dust”  – I say Hey, hey, hey… and they say “another one bites the dust” and that is the signal for them to be quiet so I can give more information or change the activity.  If they keep talking, sometimes I will snap “I’m talking here!” but mostly I’ve learned to marry “teacher look” with silence.  I will start the sentence, quit in the middle and just look at everyone, with a not really angry face, but I’m not smiling either. This works. This works really well.  And this is where my age is a definite advantage, because you do need a bit  of gravitas to pull it off.

I admit I have gotten angry with a class, and I’ve even yelled a few times, but it doesn’t work. Ever. And it usually makes things worse in the long run, because no one likes an angry teacher.  To prevent this, I’ve learned – through much trial and error and falling down and picking my self back up — that prevention is worth a metric ton of cure.  One of the ways to prevent students from getting under your skin is to know what you really need from the class, and what you really don’t care about that much.  If you are clear in your mind what is important to you, then you can be clear to the students.

I believe that most, if not all students, want positive attention. They will take negative attention, but it is second best and not really that desirable.  If you are very clear about what you want.. for me it working together, making a clear presentation, and being quiet when other’s are speaking, then your students know where you stand. Let the other stuff go.  I won’t get too strict if they speak a bit in Korean, and I allow my class to get a bit noisy, and I allow them to have a lot of leeway in their answers, and even reward creativity over correctness.  I never correct the students in class and usually just have a “mistakes were made” class occasionally if there is a huge mistake that a lot of students make. Communication is in the class title and as long as the mistake doesn’t interfere with meaning or communication, I let it pass.

I also believe in the power of praise.  I make them earn it, but I also make sure I let them know when they do something right or they do well in class.  At the end of class, I let them know how well they did following the rules, and if they did presentations really well or listening really well, I give them a round of applause. If they need work on following one of the rules I let them know, but I don’t put them down, I just tell them “You can do better” – and I expect them to.  I also am very clear on what they need to do to “win”. I think this is especially important in the lower level classes. They already don’t have a lot of confidence with the language, and by giving them opportunities to succeed they usually do better than expected.  By the 2nd or 3rd  month, I don’t really have many problems, mostly because I’ve been very consistent with letting them know when I want better and when they are doing well.

I think consistency is a big key. That and routines. Of course, if your class is too routine, students will fall asleep, but it is good to go in, and the students know what to expect, what is expected of them, and the basic schedule of the class. ( I come in, say good morning or good afternoon, have them repeat the rules and write them on the board, go over the worksheet or project, and then either put them in pairs or groups, have them work on the worksheet or project until time is up, give them praise for work, have them volunteer for presentation-  and yes they do volunteer because I get really excited and happy when they do, and I still make them do it when they don’t – we then do presentations, and then we go over what I really liked about their class and all the things they did well. We then applaud ourselves and as the bell rings I tell them good-bye.

Actually I don’t say good bye anymore. When I was a kid, my dad and I had a routine he’d say  “see you later, alligator” and I’d say “in a while, crocodile”  – now I say to my students “see you later alligator” and they say “in a while, crocodile”   I didn’t realize it, but it is from an old song from Bill Haley &  The Comets

It is a fun little song, isn’t it?


3 Things

April 11, 2011

Thing 1:  A bad thing:

Two weeks ago, I hurt my back. I’m not sure what I did, or how I did it, but my back was a fiery pit of hell attached to my body. That Monday I could barely walk, and I didn’t walk home, I actually took a taxi back.  The next day I felt a bit better, but not much. Teaching was torture.  Thursday I had enough, and called “mercy” – I went to a doctor near my school that my co-teachers recommended. One of the bonus great awesome things about working in a public school, is you have a large pool of potential experts in almost any project or problem.  Anyway I went to the doctor, he took an X-ray, and I learned that I wouldn’t actually die – I would wish I could for a few weeks, but real true death was not in the books. After an hour of physical therapy that included a weird feeling electrical device, I could walk. I didn’t have a bounce to my step yet, but I was able to approximate mobility. I was good. The doctor told me not to exercise or do too much. That was boring. So for the last two weeks, I’ve been going to work, going to the doctor, and going home and trying to find a place to be that was reasonably comfortable. I watched way more TV than I usually do.  I felt old and helpless and I didn’t like that at all. I do feel much better now, and yesterday I almost had a bounce in my step.  Next week I will get the bike dusted off and take it to the shop to have the gears oiled and the tires pumped. It should be nice.

Thing 2: A good thing

Friday was my birthday, and the students were on a field trip, so some of the other teachers that were in school with me took me out to lunch at Outback.  I don’t go there very often, even though it is fairly close to my house, but it was really nice, they sang ‘Happy Birthday”  in Korean, and we had a very good meal. When we came back to school, we found out that we could all leave early. A very good day. I celebrated Saturday with a production of the Vagina monologues. The show was awesome, sad and funny at the same time. A few of the vignettes had me in tears, and a few even had me laughing so hard I cried. It surprised me how many Koreans were participating, and I liked that they had 1/2 the vignettes in Korean with English subtitles and 1/2 the vignettes in English with Korean subtitles.  I talked about it with one of my co-teachers, and she surprised me by expressing interest in going next year, so I invited her next time. It is a good cause and a good show, so it was a good birthday.  I met a friend after for dinner and we had dakk galbi jim- a chicken stew with lots of vegetables and  rice noodles very delicious, if a little bit spicy.  I decided I liked the area a lot, and as it is in one of the subway stops that is a transfer to go home, I might start stopping by after whatever activity I went on.  (and, and, and, for my birthday, some of my students gave me chocolate and coffee. My two favorite things in the world.- I feel quite loved)

Thing 3:  Another good thing.

Old friends reconnected. I try to stay in touch with old friends, mostly because I like them.  I am always very grateful for all the technology that makes staying in touch easy.  Well, this week I got back in touch with two people I hadn’t talked to in a long time. One is from Seattle, and it was good to hear from him and realize he is indeed doing well.  One is from Deagu, and we worked together several years ago. I had sent a few e-mails and messages on the phone to her, but I didn’t realize she was in India at the time. She is back and called me, and we are going to try to meet up again.  I think of all the gifts I received for my birthday, hearing from these two old friends was the best. (although, I still love chocolate and coffee)