In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

October 25, 2014
by annavarna
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Poetry in class observations

I currently work in a large public organisation with one of the biggest language learning sectors of the world. To give you an idea let me just tell you that we organise language courses for about 12.000 people yearly and we offer as well 3.000 eLearning licenses. We subcontract a small army of 180 teachers and we teach 28 different languages.

One of my tasks in this dream job for any language lover, is to follow the work of these teachers and make suggestions on the methodology used in the classroom. That poses the challenge that I often have to follow classes that teach a language I do not know. This is what I would like to write about today.

Class observation on its own is a very sensitive issue in teaching. I have experienced it from both sides and I would like to share my views. I know that many colleagues feel strongly about it, I have seen very negative reactions toward the observer and I think it is a great pity.

First of all, I hope that you will all agree that when an external observer sees a piece of our work they can have a more objective opinion about it. It could be a dish of pasta, or the cleaning of a room or a short story we have written, it could be whatever. When we are involved in making our judgement is blurred – we are nothing but emotional creatures, don’t forget that. I also personally have great issues when someone “criticizes” my work and if I have cleaned the house for 5 hours, you’d better not tell me that I have missed a spot on the umpteenth bookshelf! I wouldn’t be the Anna you know J. On the other hand I must admit that, I have indeed missed a spot. This is what the other person is telling me, they are not passing a judgement on me, they do not love me less because of it and most of all they do not say that I am a bad house cleaner because of the missed spot.

With time I have grown to see teaching in similar terms and every time I have had someone observe a class or teach a class with me, I have learned great things! I have had nasty experiences of observation too. In one of my first jobs, my boss used to monitor what we were saying via a loudspeaker installation and later she would comment on our pronunciation! Let’s say that this was a negative example of “observation”. But during the best examples of this practise I didn’t feel threatened at all, quite the contrary. Many of my fellow teachers back in Greece where quick to come with the argument: “I don’t want to be observed, why doesn’t the advisor give us a model lesson demonstration instead”. “Who is this person that is going to observe me? Do they think they are better than me?” I think that these are defensive arguments. The person feels threatened and reacts in a “fight or flight” way. That’s why the way the observer is going to proceed with the observation is of great importance.

This is what I have learned these two years I’ve been here and I have been visiting classes: go into the classroom with acceptance and respect for your colleague. Explain beforehand why you are visiting their class and what you want to achieve by this. And afterwards share what you have observed as honestly as you can. This last part may be the most difficult. It’s not easy to say to people that something has gone wrong or that something needs improvement. Going into a classroom with an open mind means that you leave behind your assumptions about what is right and what is wrong. Different personalities have different way of teaching and although we can agree there are some standards that cannot be negotiated, there is also a lot of margin for creativity and differentiation.

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Anatol Knotek,, a visual poet from Austria. Check his blog:

Time is also important. I remember the time I visited one French class as an observer and the first 15 minutes I was shocked by the attitude of the teacher. “What is this arrogant style I was thinking? Why does everyone seem so frozen in his class? Why does he correct mistakes as if the world has ended?” I could hardly hold myself but I persisted. The teacher relaxed. I could see him changing in front of my eyes. The class was relaxing with him as well. It was like a dance, a mirroring exercise. After half an hour more or less, I could see the real dynamics of the team. The leader had his own particular style, very different from mine, but still very effective and I must say very interesting. What I perceived as coldness in the beginning was only his nervousness because of the presence of an intruder. Because this is what an observer does: they “intrude” a system, a sensitive system and what they observe is never the “real” thing. They are bound therefore to disrupt unintentionally this system.

So these are my formal observations from classroom observations. I’d like to give you some informal ones too. A few days ago I went to a poetry reading organised by EUNIC (European network of institutions of culture) with 5 poets from different countries. We heard poems in three of the languages I speak and two more in unknown languages for me: Turkish and Esthonian. I was so moved by both of them! For the Turkish I also had the translation so you could say that it was the content that did this to me. But for the Esthonian I had no idea what she was talking about. I only knew that the title of the poem was Love. And still I could feel the emotions of this strong woman in my bones.

This is how I often feel when I observe a teacher whose language I don’t speak: I observe the teaching itself, the core pedagogy without being distracted by the content. I can see the movements of the teacher, I can observe the web of interactions that is being developed, I can see in real time what I have been reading about: teachers usually address people who are on their right side much more that the ones on their left. I can see if the teacher is tired, hungry or full of energy. I can see if the teacher feels passionate about his job, if they savour the words of their language. I can see if there is a balance of skills practised, if people cooperate, if they trust their leader. And let me tell you: sometimes it is pure poetry what those teachers are doing!

My friends are telling me: “But you know Anna, you have no idea what the teacher is saying to the students in Danish. Maybe she is talking nonsense and she has asked the students to not tell on her and participate by speaking nonsense too”. It is very possible, my friends, but if nothing else it makes a great language lesson!

 

(Extra: In #eltchat the topic was discussed extensively and this what teachers around the world think about it)

What is best practice for observing teachers – #ELTchat summary

(Extra 2: The poem from the English-Turkish poet Alev Adil: Baggage )

October 6, 2013
by annavarna
1 Comment

Cold feet, RSCON4 and other things

Today was the day that I worked most on my presentation at the RSCON4. The 2013 Reform Symposium for education is an online conference that will take place next weekend (11-13 of October). Some of the most important educators are taking part in it. They come from all fields and not only from English Language Teaching. And it is completely free, you can attend it without spending anything, wearing your pajamas or your high heels, eating pop corn or drinking coffee!

A few years ago I had tried to participate again but because of professional overload I backed out. Then the next two years I was in a turmoil involving big changes in professional and personal life and somehow lost it. This year, Shelly Terrell, one of the most active educators I personally know, motivated me to apply again and here I am, getting ready to do it.

I have a confession to make: this morning at about 10, I had worked a bit on it (I had started preparing a Prezi a few days ago) I was reading the checklist the organizers sent us and I got cold feet. “it’s too much”, “Why are you doing this? Isn’t your life full enough already?” and the scariest one “Nobody’s gonna be interested in what you have to say” the voices inside me were telling me. And I knew that I could find a credible excuse (too much work, which is true but didn’t keep me from applying) and that there are so many presenters, no one would miss me especially.

But then I dealt with my fear, I spoke to it and I told him (Fear is male in Greek): Hey, you’re trying to keep me out of this, because I haven’t done it before and it needs work. But what’s the worst that can happen? That I give this presentation and only my friend Olga is there. So what? I have survived much worse than this!

A few minutes later the above mentioned Olga called, and told me about a beautiful speech by the mayor of Thessaloniki talking about his own fears and how he fought with them and I felt I was now obliged to go on. Once I finish this project I will volunteer to translate the video in English because it is really worth watching it no matter what you do and where you are from. Mr Boutaris is an iconic mayor of Greece and one of the few political personalities we still believe in…

Back to RSCON4: My biggest fear comes from the fact that for the last year and a half I have been so much out of my comfort zone, doing things so different from I was doing until then that sometimes I feel totally out of my league. This time I don’t have a specific classroom project to tell you about. I’m not even in the classroom anymore. But I thought that telling you a bit about what it is like to work in a team that coordinates language teaching for about 12,000 people every year, who learn 29 different languages, using three different modes of learning (classic face2face, blended and eLearning) might be of interest to you.

On top of it I wanted to tell you about how going back to the classroom to learn (or rather relearn) a language changes my perspective towards teachers and learners every day. Back at school I had learned French and even have the necessary certificates to prove it. But only when you go into a professional meeting with French speaking IT specialists designing a new LMS do you realise how much you have forgotten and how imbecile you sound and how much embarrassed you feel, and how much you identify with all your students back home… And you embrace yourself and start studying “La Subjonctif” again…

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These are more or less the things I’m going to talk about on Saturday. I’ll throw in a few things about where language learning is going, the added value of Cultural Institutes and how finding new identities for ourselves can help us face our fears. If you want to learn more about all these, connect to your laptop or tablet or PC, on Saturday 12th of October at 18.00 CET. But even more important, try to catch as many of the presentations of the other educators who will be talking to you for three days. Because we still believe in education and we think that we can make a difference!

November 24, 2012
by annavarna
2 Comments

Critical Thinking and How to Dance it (the making of… )

Last April I started following an online course on Critical Thinking with the University of Oregon and professor Sherie Henderson as our basic moderator. The course opened up a whole new world for me, the world of Critical Thinking and involved a lot of thinking as you can imagine. At times I really struggled to follow it, mostly because it coincided with my relocation to Brussels, with the first month of changing everything: job, city, country. But I survived and learned a lot.

At about that time I was also trying to come up with an idea for a proposal for the 31st TESOL France Colloquium which takes place every year in Paris in mid-November. I had been accepted as a speaker there the previous year as well but hadn’t been able to go due to personal reasons. This year, with Paris being just an hour and a half away I was determined to make it.

So, before long, I put the two together and proposed a talk about how to promote Critical Thinking in the classroom. Little did I know that it would take me months of thinking, tens of books and hundreds of articles and many many hours of tinkering with Prezi to prepare for this presentation. It was the third one in an international Conference and I must say it was the one that tired me most, mostly because it was a vast topic and I was feeling inadequate to handle it. But I dived into it, anyway, like I usually do :) Here is the result:

What I wanted to say was that: We, educators, have the duty to train our students to think more critically, to become good thinkers, to seek reasons and become reflective. It is OUR mission to do so, whether we teach English, Maths or Physical Education. It is not easy but it CAN be done. I hope that with my talk and prezi I have helped a bit to show you where to look for ideas and inspiration.

I would like to take this opportunity, to thank the fantastic team of TESOL France, Bethany Cagnol most of all, but also all the other educators who were there and with their ideas and enthusiasm keep the fire of education alive. Thank you James Taylor, Mieke Kenis, Ellen de Peter, Jurgen, Tyson Seburn, Vicky Loras, Sue Lyon Jones, Elizabeth Ann, Heike Philp, Eva Buyuksimkeysan, Julie Raikou, Vladka Chalyova, Chuck Sandy, Tom Farrell, Chia Suan Chong, Brad Patterson, Fiona Mauchline, Divya Brochier, Jeffrey D0onan, Dimitris Primalis, Nick Michelioudakis, Elinda Gjondendaj and all the others!

P.S. Don’t forget tomorrow morning to attend the brand NEW BELTA’s inauguration webinar! Click here for info http://www.beltabelgium.com/p/events.html

 

 

November 10, 2012
by annavarna
0 comments

Critical Thinking and How to dance it in Paris

It’s Saturday morning here in Brussels, it’s rainy as always and a woman is sitting on her couch with a cup of coffee (the second one) and various books and magazines open around her and tens of windows open in her task bar.

This is how I feel right now

Wouldn’t it be better if she stood up grabbed her raincoat and walked to Place Flagey to taste organic breads and confitures and then enjoy a glass of champagne and a plate of moules?

No, no, this woman is determined not to lose focus this Saturday, it’s her last Saturday before she has to take the train to Paris. Oh, la la, Paris…..

I’m diverting again. So, next Saturday, I will be in Paris to participate in the 31st Annual Colloquium of TESOL France. I have to finish my presentation tomorrow at the latest but this is much harder than I expected. Mostly because there are so many good ideas and I have to trim and trim.

But in any case, right now I was reading a beautiful hymn to grammar, yes, grammar that part of Language Instruction that seems to be the scapegoat for all problems in classrooms since the beginning of time. I’ll just quote an extract from this defense because to me it’s like poetry: ” The inner theme of grammar is simplicity, even unity. This is the subtext of the rules: Let all in the sentence be one, let it be clear and agree that the center of the sentence be seen. The works of the sentence must move in harmony, like the wheels of a clock. The subject and the verb must be in agreement, the pronoun and its antecedent must be in agreement, the tenses of the verb in the sentence must be in agreement with each other. Everything being in order, the sentence can depict a truth” (Michael Clay Thompson, The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol XIII, No2, Winter 2002, pp 60-66).

Doesn’t it remind you of John Lennon?

Next Sunday at 10.00 in room B316 at Telecom Paris Tech, we will ponder on ruminations like this and  we will discuss and maybe debate how to best teach grammar and vocabulary to our students and at the same time promote Critical Thinking.

I can’t wait to meet all of you new friends and see again some ones from the past!

Now, I’m feeling better

 

 

October 3, 2011
by annavarna
4 Comments

The learning challenge

What have you learned today? What have you learned lately? Do you remember what it is like to learn a new thing? Do you remember how difficult, frustrating, excruciatingly embarrassing it can be? Do you remember the moment you realized what it was about? Wasn’t it like an epiphany? Like everything you had heard so far, suddenly made sense? What was it that kept you going? That didn’t allow you to quit the moment it got so difficult? And who taught you? Did you teach yourself or did you have a good teacher? Did you by any chance have an exceptional teacher?

 

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

These were all the questions that came to my mind when I watched this beautiful video found on Vimeo. I suggest you watch the other ones too (MOVE and EAT) since I know you being the teacher you are, you are going to find hundreds of educational uses for them. As for here I am going to share one of my favourite learning experiences, one that was many years ago but is still as vivid inside me as then: Learning to fly, or to be more accurate to paraglide!

It was more than ten years ago that I went into paragliding and for a few years I was really immersed into it. I learned how to fly got my first level certificate and flew from Mt Olympus and Mt Voras here in Greece. I will never forget what it was like and I will never forget what  the learning experience either. The instructor was a very patient person who first and foremost taught us how to be safe. The fact that we have remained friends after all these years says something about the importance of the relationship. But what I most remember was my willingness to persist. I think this was what I learned best that period. That if you persist long enough then things become really simple. That if you keep running, you will take off. That if you don’t let the mountain scare you, you will fly over it!

I know I am not saying anything original, it’s in all the books about motivation, educational psychology and theories of learning: the people who are experts in something are just the people who had the persistence to do something long enough. Something like 10,000 hours is considered long enough. Of course I didn’t become an expert in paragliding. At some point I stopped practicing. I imagine that if I started again now I would need months to get to the same level. But the learning is here, it’s inside me. And every time one of my students says, “it’s too difficult miss”, or “I can’t do that teacher”, I remember. And I tell them: don’t stop now!

I would really love to hear your opinions here at the comments or even better in your blog. It seems that everyone is starting a challenge these days so this is mine: What was the most exceptional learning experience you ever had? What will you always remember? Let’s use this hashtag #learnchallenge

June 16, 2011
by annavarna
13 Comments

What’s your language personality?

Good morning people! This blog was a bit dormant lately but now is school is out there are no more excuses for me not to write. And the problem is not that we have run out of ideas. Quite the contrary, the ideas keep coming at all times. Nevertheless, I wasn’t able to find the time, the motivation or the inspiration to put them down. Let’s see if I can correct that now!

Today I am going to write about a topic that I have been thinking for some time now, probably for years. I am non native speaker of English. I learnt English in Greece and I have lived in an English speaking country for a short summer in 1998. (Manchester, I miss you). I have had a number or teachers from different countries, from the USA, from Canada, my personal favourite, a petite, super energetic Ms Tina from Australia, a couple of teachers from the UK. That is to say I have had a number of influences as far as accents are concerned. Many years ago, when I was a young, insecure teacher I was a bit self-conscious of my own accent. But now I have been emancipated and I feel confident about it. Well, you know, reading can do this to people…

What concerns me lately is not how I speak but what I say. Let me explain. All of us believe we have interesting personalities and naturally want to show these when we speak another language. It is actually a recurring problem when you teach adults: the fact that they have all these ideas they want to share and all they can say are a few elementary phrases. It’s pure frustration. And my question is this: IS there a time when our native language personalities come out when we speak a foreign language? I have been learning English for 31 years and sometimes I feel I am not as fluent as I would like. Words don’t come easy, especially the informal words, the idioms, the slang of the language, the jokes. Maybe because living where I live (in the middle of a valley, with minimum interaction with native speakers) my communication with foreign people are mostly written.

But I don’t think it is  personal matter only. I observed a huge difference in a teacher I know recently. She is a very experienced teacher, a well-read person, someone who keeps reading and developing. She is also a very lively person, with a sense of humour, someone you enjoy being with. She is a teacher trainer and usually she gives her presentations in English. For some reason she gave one of her latest presentations in Greek and it was like watching a metamorphosis going on. In Greek she was a much deeper person, with many layers, referring to common experiences and memories. I’m not sure if I can even begin to relay the experience but suddenly I realized that her English, no matter how fluent and grammatically correct was a bit sterile. And I immediately felt the same for myself.

As I’m writing this I realize that there are many implications for our teaching. How do you teach these elements of the language? I am also pretty sure that if I lived in an English speaking country for some time, these elements would come more naturally to me. But how do I simulate this situation in class? Is it really possible?  I would be more than delighted to read your opinions about this! Tell me also, do you feel the same when you speak a foreign language? And are there differences between languages? For me I can safely say that my “Spanish speaking” personality is closer to my “English speaking” personality.

Looking forward to your contributions!

February 24, 2011
by annavarna
2 Comments

So you want to be a reporter?

I have never met Mark Andrews. But last year one weekend at the beginning of April we were both attending virtually the 1st ISTEK ELT conference in Istanbul and tweeting about it and then blogged about it, each one from our respective countries, him in Hungary and me in Greece. It was a fantastic experience: we weren’t there but we both felt  the electric atmosphere. I remember looking at photographs reading the posts in the various blogs, following the presentations all from my kitchen in Larissa. I was really envious for the people who were actually there and I promised myself that if I went to a conference the next year that would be it.

A few weeks after that I went to the IATEFL 2010 Harrogate conference, my first international conference, the first time I presented at such an audience, a magnificent experience all in all. But to be honest, maybe because I didn’t stay long, maybe because I wasn’t so well connected back then, the social part of the conference seemed to be somewhat lacking in comparison to Istanbul’s. So the desire to go to ISTEK never waned. Not only that but as the organizers kept informing us about the stunning line up of speakers, it kept getting bigger.

Forward one year later, December 2010. Proposals for Istanbul would open soon ( I kept pestering Burcu about that, so I had inside info) and I was stuck for ideas. No matter how many (thinking) hats I put on I wouldn’t come up with anything. But inspiration works in strange ways so during one long drive to Karditsa to attend a presentation of the Finnish Educational System,  I had the idea to suggest to our school advisor to make a proposal together. Before we arrived in Karditsa I had the first idea formed which we later developed and improved.

Forward to last Monday: a message from Burcu telling me that my video for the Roving Reporter Competition was one of the top three submitted, and it was up to the people now to decide who was going to go to the ISTEK as a reporter. ISTEK is going to cover expenses for the Roving Reporter and the Reporter will have to cover the conference, write, blog, or vlog, tweet from there to the best of their abilities.

I can’t begin to describe how happy I felt, how honoured, how enthusiastic! And the company was fantastic too! I don’t know Sabrina yet, I just discovered her blog, but to be in the same group as Mark, this is Serendipity if nothing else!

And another thing: a few hours ago Mark blogged his feelings about this competition. Personally I’m not very competitive, I am more for cooperation and if I could I would send all three of us to Istanbul. But he says something about this being like taking part in X-Factor or some other show like this that I want to comment on: Whenever I have watched programs of this kind I usually make fun of how all the participants are so touchy-feely and all for fair play, and so on an so forth. I never thought it was true. However, this is exactly how I feel about Mark: I like his video a lot and I am sure he would make a great roving reporter.

So if you want to help us go to Istanbul you can go to Burcu’s blog and vote for one of us. Vote with your heart and you mind, vote as you like, I am certain each one of us has something different to offer to the event and whatever choice you make is going to be for the best!

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February 19, 2011
by annavarna
7 Comments

Getting Connected feels Good

I was looking forward to this PD event which would take place here in Larissa. First of all because it had been sometime I hadn’t presented in any conference or something like it, and I’m sure practice makes best, but mainly because it would be a great chance to meet with colleagues from other areas, to connect with more teachers. Sometime I feel I am more connected to teachers I haven’t met because I interact daily with them than with teachers in my town. So it was a great occasion.

The day dawned bleak and rainy but it seemed that it didn’t prevent anyone from coming. My friends were worried that maybe being the first presenter, some people would come late and miss it but at 9.30 it was almost a full room and I was happy to see familiar faces, my special mentor among them, friends from bookcrossing, teachers I had worked with many years ago and hadn’t seen since.

I gave my presentation and I think it went quite well. I talked about the necessity of getting connected. If you are reading this blog it is possible that another presentation under this topic will seem superfluous. It may seem that I’m speaking to the already converted. But this isn’t the case in my country. In my school none of the teachers have twitter or facebook accounts and if they have they hardly use them for educational purposes. And this is an average provincial school. So I am certain the presentation was eye-opening for some and as they remarked during the break they felt more confident to try new tools now. Of course the result will show if it was really successful or not. You can see it here, in any case.

The highlight of it was the already famous video by Shelly Terrell and all the other great educators who participated. You can watch the video here and see the rest of Shelly’s amazing resources. Thanks a lot friend, you are a treasure and I’m really happy to have met you!

And then it was time to attend other people’s sessions.

First  there was the presentation by Ms Vivi Hamilou about the project of creating a newspaper with her students. The fact that I had met Ms Hamilou in an eTwinning eTwinning event when I was an ambassador for eTwinning was another happy coincidence. Her project seemed beautiful and it showed that it was work made with enthusiasm and passion. You can find samples of her work at her blog here

The next presentation was by Mr Eleftherios Avramidis about a study that was conducted with 5th grade students in order to assess their writing strategies. The procedure and the outcomes of the study were interesting indeed and it’s always invigorating to see teachers wearing the researcher hat.

The presentation by Karditsa and Trikala School Advisor Ms Marina Kollatou on differentiated learning was one I had been looking forward. I had heard part of it and I wanted to see the whole, so this was a great chance. On top of that having to work with mixed ability classes every day and every hour in our school I was sure there would be some useful tips. She will soon put up the whole presentation on her blog too and you can benefit from it.

Next came what I thought was the best presentation of the event. It was by School Advisor in Achaia Ms Marianthi Kotadaki. This was a presentation of what we can do with You Tube in our lessons. It included samples of lesson plans and video clips with advertisements and how these can be exploited. It was a well rendered presentation, colourful and fresh. You can find more info about her work here.

The following presentation was a similar one as far as the topic, that is the use of video in the classroom but it was examined through a different point of view. It was a more theoretical presentation but it also included a sample of a video about the use of social media by teenagers.

The next presentation was by another two friends Ms Mintsidou and Ms Korpinurmi. The latter is an assistant teacher from Finland being hosted by the former in a Technical Vocational High School in Karditsa. Having worked in such a school or should I say having suffered for a year when I worked in such a school I was looking forward to listening to their presentation. And I was thrilled to see how many things they have achieved, how they try to engage this difficult target group and what great results they have! Just for working in such difficult environments you deserve a medal girls, let alone for doing all this great stuff you are doing!

The last piece of work was by Ms Apostolia Tsipra who is a primary school teacher in Karditsa. She was presenting part of her MA research related to innovation within innovation that is using a task based approach to train teachers.

The last part of the event was  short presentation of the Union that organized it. PEKADE is a Panhellenic teachers’ Union for teachers in State Education. It is an active union, organizing events like this all over Greece but also promoting English Language Teaching, publishing a quarterly magazine (Aspects Today) and in general doing its best to connect teachers of English and supporting them in their work.

So, overall it was a fantastic day for professional development, a day I connected with new people and refreshed some old connections. It was tiring all right but rewarding.

One last comment about the presentations in general: all of the people who gave presentations today had interesting things to share with us. They are passionate teachers who love what they are doing, kindred spirits, like-minded educators. My only objection is that they might have to work a bit on making a captivating powerpoint presentation. The fact that some of them were overloaded with information gave me the idea to prepare a webinar on how to present what you want to say in an aesthetically pleasing way. I’ll keep you posted!

For the people who attended my presentation and are looking for more resources I want to point them towards the video I mentioned during the session. If you are going to watch one educational video this week let it be this one. It is full of ideas and creative enthusiasm.

As for the #eltchat I mentioned in Twitter you can find all the info here. The quotation about “no shortcuts, no panaceas, no silver bullets in education is from the book by Diane Ravitch ” The Death and Life of the American School System”.

January 30, 2011
by annavarna
6 Comments

Beware of the teacher

This past week wasn’t particularly creative. What with being sick on Monday and Tuesday, and then trying to catch up the rest of the days. Having a kid sick at home didn’t help much either but now we are at the end of it and we are all OK, ready to embark on our new week tomorrow.

A highlight of the past week though was going to Karditsa on Wednesday after school, to attend a training session with other teachers of English in my area. We would have a guest lecturer from the USA so I was looking forward to it.

To be honest the presentation itself  (Teaching English to students who are deaf or hard of hearing) didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s not that the presenter didn’t know what to tell us because it was obvious he had a lot to say. But I think we somehow lost track of what he was saying because he was trying to answer questions from the audience at the same time, and then time flew and we had another presentation to watch and you know how it is: at the end of the session you don’t have a clear idea of what happened and why.  All in all I am not much wiser on how to teach English to people who are deaf or hard of hearing (and I happen to have a student like that in one of my classes and I often feel frustrated and fear I am not doing a good job with him), but there were other advantages and gains to be had from this session.

I think the most interesting thing that kept coming up was a different mentality to education. Some of the issues that emerged were the organization of Special Education in the US, the involvement of parents (and how militant they are as Mr Miller mentioned), professional development, attitudes of teachers in schools and how Special Education teachers may feel isolated from their “regular” education colleagues. Mr Miller didn’t paint a perfect picture of American education. He expressed his worry that in the pursuit of better results in international assessment charts such as the PISA tests, authorities seem to miss the bigger picture and become irrelevant by cutting recess and physical education.

But while we were discussing all these things I couldn’t help comparing with our own situation. “You can’t compare Greek education with the US one” people are telling me, OK, I know the US is sooooo much bigger than Greece, so much richer, and many other things so much more. But maybe it became like that because on Election Day their teachers are doing Professional Development and they don’t miss four days (like we did this year on Election Week).  Or maybe it’s because they don’t spend all their resources trying to come to negotiations with Physical Education teachers who are paid for being idle in some areas while in some other areas, in the centre of Athens for goodness sake, there aren’t any of them. I don’t know, I’m just saying…

I struggled a lot to write this piece. Not because it is such a great piece of writing but because there are so many issues that keep coming up whenever I sit down to write about education in my country. Every single day there is a challenge I have to deal with and I am not talking about what happens in my classroom. These are beautiful challenges that I am looking forward to. I am talking about the other ones that come up in the staff room, about “little” breaches of the law that happen so often that come to pass as accepted. But I read this wonderful piece by an intrepid teacher and because I want to be INTREPID too, here it is.

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I’m just posting a photo of students’ work, because this is what I’m proud of and what keeps me going every day!

January 19, 2011
by annavarna
1 Comment

Come together!

I read a wonderful piece on how to become a better blogger by Natasa, and another one on how to save energy when teaching and when writing by James. So I’m going to write a short post on why working WITH somebody can mean so much.

There’s power in numbers. I’m not saying anything new, we all know why it is good to cooperate, we try to teach it to our students, we try to involve them in group activities or pairwork but what do WE do as teachers to show them we believe in it? Do we cooperate inside our schools? How many of us are actually involved in a collaborative project inside our school?

My story is this: Since last year when I first found out about an ELT conference in Istanbul, Turkey and tasting its magnificent atmosphere despite being thousands of miles away, I wanted to take part and go there this year. It was a goal for 2011. I had been thinking about what to present in this conference but it seems I had something like a presenter’s block and I couldn’t come up with a good idea. This lack of inspiration was demoralizing and as time went by it kept getting worse.

But then one day, I was in the car with the person we will call my mentor from now on, and I tentatively asked if she would be interested in doing this with me. She was enthusiastic of course, being the open-minded person that she is, and from then on I can tell you it was rollercoaster of ideas! I was amazed at how while talking with her, new ideas kept springing up in my mind. We were discussing general education issues and then something new popped up, I could almost see the ideas floating in the car just like in cartoon films !

So we agreed about a basic idea about a month ago and recently we decided to sit down and work more specifically on it and come up with a decent proposal. My lack of inspiration was keeping me low. On Sunday, we had scheduled a meeting and while I was getting dressed to meet her I had another idea! Today, on our third meeting things cleared up even more and I am back on track, I think I’ve regained my creativity and boy, does it feel good!

But in order to make it more useful for you I think I have realized why this cooperation has worked so much for me:

1.       My mentor, is a person whose work I admire and respect. She has more experience than me, has done things I would like to do in the future and is a sound role model for me.

2.       My mentor is more theoretically educated than me, which gives me a good anchor, when I get away with my crazy ideas she always asks me the right questions: “Why do you want to do this, what is your aim and what are your objectives?”

3.       My mentor is very open minded and encouraging and I feel safe with her, even to make mistakes, even to say things that might not work out in the end. The fact that I can teach her some things too makes me feel equal and not at all insecure.

4.       Because of all these things, even scheduling an appointment with her, be it face to face or Skype or calling each other, puts me in the right frame of mind and brings back my creativity.

5.       The fact that she is a person whose whole attitude to life agrees with mine helps me to connect even more with her, to bond and be inspired by her example  and persuade myself that everything is possible.

All in all I am so excited I have met this person and our professional relationship is evolving as time goes by that I can’t help but advertise this kind of situation. Go out there and find a person that will inspire you and motivate you to work better, be it a colleague, a school advisor or a friend with similar interests. The difference will be huge.

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