Tagged: random

While Editing: Semi-edited Rambles

I wrote the following in spurts over something like ten days. 

This is not a blog post.

I am really swamped with a project at the moment. This project requires me to be at the computer for long hours and it is not anything like a creative endeavor. Why the secrecy? No need, actually. I am editing 100s of pages of translated documents. Literally in original sense of the word. My former students are the translators and the documents from the government and are super dry. Sometimes I feel like writing something here or elsewhere but this cloud of editing hangs over me. I can’t bear to spend time on the computer without catching up on the endless pages that need to be edited. Also, when I am not editing I feel like I need to be as far away from the computer or at least working on the online course I am teaching. Poor me. Anyway, such is life, I suppose. In order to quell my creative impulses I have decided to share some scattered thoughts that occurred to me whilst editing. These thoughts came over a period of a few days and were written quickly in my “breaks” from editing. I hope they are least slightly of interest. Enjoy the ride and thanks for reading. I hope readers will understand if this post is not as tightly edited as it could be.

Sometimes I miss my previous job (well actually I guess it was 2 jobs ago) when I worked in a language school and I met and worked with a wide cross-section of society. I had retirees, cops, students, stay-at-home-moms, government officials, business-people, nuclear engineers, cooks and lots more. It was a nice chance to meet a variety of people and to also connect to Korea and Korean culture in a different way. I love my current job. I also feel nostalgic about working with and knowing people from various industries and walks of life.

One of the cops I taught in the job mentioned above  was part of one of the funniest things I have experienced in class. I brought my brother and his then girlfriend (now wife) to my class. The police officer was a kind, caring and sensitive man. He was quite good at English. He was inexperienced talking to non-Koreans and was largely self-taught. Coming to my class was one of the view times in his life he communicated with foreigners (or even did much communication in English at all) so he was excited to talk to my brother and his future wife. The comedy (and to be fair, uncomfortable feeling for me) came when he asked her, “How do you please your boyfriend?” She couldn’t respond without laughing as she couldn’t figure it was anything but a sexual question. His follow-up question of “How do you make your boyfriend happy?” didn’t sound much different or slow down the laughter. Some further clarification showed he meant something more like “How do you ensure a healthy relationship with your boyfriend?” There were lots of lessons for me as a teacher to learn from that experience and interaction. I can’t remember exactly what they are now, though.

I think I learned a lot in that job. Teaching nearly 30 hours a week with different groups and frequently teaching new courses and new groups was a good opportunity for professional development. The competitive nature of the place where evaluations were so important was silly, of course, but it also provide a baptism (or maybe trial?) by fire that was in some ways good motivation to work hard, even if it didn’t necessarily provide fantastic grounds for innovation and experimentation. Working with a wide variety of people in terms of experience (both life and teaching), knowledge, commitment and perspectives was also a great chance for professional development.

I am reminded of a line in “The Developing Teacher” that sometimes development is something that happens to us and a change in circumstances, context or responsibilities can provide many opportunities for development. Sorry for not digging out the exact quote, I can’t bear to do it with this editing in front of me. Well, if anyone asks politely for the quote in the comments I will gladly find and share it because I will have more time by then.

Even if the management was not always good or less than terrible in that job I was describing there were some great colleagues there and I learned a lot from them. My current thought, which might be controversial, is something like, “There is not much of a correlation between good management and opportunities for professional development.” My two most recent previous jobs (nice phrase!) could only be charitably described as not-very-well-run but I think I gained a lot from these experiences. In fact, I might go so far as to say the shittiness and shoddiness added to the professional development opportunities because I was granted plenty of chances to try stuff out that I might not otherwise have had in other, better run places. I wonder if this jives with the experience of others? I think most of the time as people seeking to develop professionally we seek out the well-run places but I am thinking there might be a lot of chances in poorly run places.Of course all this brings up questions about what I mean by well run. I am not really sure so I won’t even dive into it here.

light and tunnel

Insert your metaphor here. Photo by Blue Collar Photographer John Steele Used under a UCC license from: https://www.facebook.com/JohnSteelePhoto?fref=ts

In what is a completely new train of thought a few days after the previous I am wondering, what if we never taught students the present perfect tense? To my (American?) ears and eyes it seems to be quite overused. Would students, especially at beginner levels, be missing out too much If they just over used the simple past? Or even present simple. “I go to Canada three times in my life” is pretty comprehensible, isn’t it? As is “I went to Canada three times in my life.” Ohh well, these are the sorts of thoughts I have while editing. It is not hard to blame the English Grammar Industrial complex for such things.

I had an interesting chat on social media one day about why we yanks “use present perfect wrong.” While this idea of wrong is the sort of prescriptivist bullshit up with which I will not put I thought it was quite interesting to think about how the history of immigration in the US might have influenced such things as the (non) use of the present perfect while our former colonial overlords would still tend to use it more.

In terms of present perfect usage, two classic examples for me are “The train has arrived at the station!”  and “Goshdarn it I’ve lost my keys.” Now, I can fully see why one might use the present perfect here I think I would be more likely to talk about simple past. “I lost my keys and I will leave it up to you to consider how much this event impacts the current moment, thanks.”

Time for a joke then? OK. The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

This talk of language somehow reminds me of a long, long, time ago in a country not so far away when I was doing editing on some English education materials. I didn’t always have a high opinion of the materials (read: sometimes I thought they were ridiculous). There were many laughable and saddening things in the material and I was always ready to pick holes in it (though, on balance it probably wasn’t quite as bad as I thought at the time. I remember laughing to myself (and hopefully not aloud) about some bullshit called the “Zero Conditional.” Only later did I realize it was actually a thing. If Mike sees mountains and mountains of nonsense he starts to think everything is nonsense too.

This language talk and the admission of my lack of knowledge of terminology reminds me of something else. What a windy road we are on here in this post. I don’t remember where I heard or read him say it (might have been his talk at IATEFL this year) but I think Hugh Dellar said something about how you never see presentations about language at conferences. That matches my experience very well. I wonder why this is the case. Would ELT folks feel weird learning about language or developing their English skills at a conference? Would presenters be intimidated?  I am not sure if I am talking about just those people known as native speakers or not. I don’t wish to suggest that grammar knowledge is the whole of language knowledge but a while back Alex Walsh wrote a very interesting (not to mention brave) post, “The Confessions of a Grammarphobic ELT” that I think is related.

Another idea from Hugh Dellar about conferences and this field that often finds its way to my mind is how you always find people at conferences at the front of the room telling the audience how telling and lecturing are bad without any apparent sense of irony or internal conflict. There seems to be a very strong belief that telling is bad. I think in many cases it might not be ideal but I think as always we need to make our decisions and not be swayed by thought leaders or group think. I think we should see more interpretive dance, art projects, and music related to the idea that teacher-fronted instruction is bad, for those are the only ways which could thoroughly convince me.

Yet another random thought that occurred to me as I race through this arduous editing task is about feedback. Outside of the editing game, I felt moments of myself wanting to give unsolicited feedback to friends, family and strangers this week. Perhaps I’m being habituated to such actions in a short time, assuming that everyone could benefit from my wisdom as much as those paying for my editing acumen. I need to re-read my post on suggestions. I mostly managed to resist the urges but this desire to give feedback in cases I don’t believe I usually would pushed me to think about what it means, if anything. Assuming it was related to the constant fixing and editing I was doing (which is a moderately sized assumption I think) made me wonder how much of our lives outside the classroom are shaped by our lives in it. I am thinking of a particular guy I know in Korea who strikes me as a nice guy but very much a blowhard. As I tried to be not overly dismissive of this fellow I theorized that he is just used to talking to people and is used to being the expert, or at least English expert in the room. What I found extremely grating might just be an extension of his classroom personality or persona. I dunno. This theory makes it slightly less bothersome but only slightly.

I just edited something that had the word omission and commission in it. The sentence was something about the commission double checking if something was omitted in the reports. Nonetheless it reminded me of this poem (read aloud here by the author).
This round of unwritten things is on me.

Till next time then.

I’ve just sent in the last of the editing. 

Update: I was just asked if I’d be interested in doing some more. Maybe I can find some guidance in this post from Fiona Mauchline

#ELTYAK: Talking EdTech with my students in Korea

On a random Wednesday at some point the last ten weeks I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do with a class of future interpreters, who are in the first year of a two year graduate program. As I was considering this question I saw an invitation to talk tech from eltjam. They listed some questions regarding tech use and I thought the questions might be a nice intro into discussions on autonomous learning and summer plans for improving English and technology in general. The good people at  eltjam listed 11 questions and before that there were some general discussion questions loosely focused on Sugata Mitra’s talk at IATEFL this year (and maybe the ensuing debate). Before starting with either set of discussion questions I cued up some Mitra with a few comprehension questions. It was starting to feel like a real planned lesson.

We talked about the following questions as a whole group (four students and me) after students had discussed them in pairs. It was a mix of me interviewing people and nominating speakers and a more free flowing discussion.

  • Do you like working without a teacher?
  • Would you enjoy working in a small group with a computer (ie a SOLE)?
  • Would you like English help from my Mum (ie a grandma)?
  • When do you think your English improves most: in class or outside?

Students liked the word mum vs. mom, by the way. They thought it might be nice to talk to random grandmas they didn’t know but also wanted language and teaching experts. For their field as potential conference interpreters they pointed to history and culture as very important things and felt random grannies in the cloud could be helpful for this. They also liked the idea of potentially cheering up or giving company to someone. There was some concern that the elderly might talk in old-fashioned ways or might not pronounce things accurately or quickly enough. There was also the worry grandparents might not understand the students well. The consensus seemed to be that discussion partners in the cloud might be good as a supplement but not as the primary way of learning.

As a group they were largely pro-teacher (and not, I believe, because I was the person asking). They thought it was good to have someone devoted to the task of helping them learn. They placed a high value on trust and reliability and thought maybe a stranger wouldn’t have these things. They liked the idea of having experienced and trained teachers.

The students thought the ideas of SOLEs was okay and said they already do a lot of work on their own in groups and are quite capable of choosing tasks they need to do. My impression of their take on the SOLE idea was that it was nothing new or revolutionary and the impression I got was they felt “Of course students can get together to do tasks with the help of technology.”

They came back to the idea of a teacher being helpful and important, in order to keep students on task and to provide expert feedback. They said it is too easy to be distracted when working in small groups without tangible goals or tasks. They also suggested it is very nice to have a teacher around when they get stuck or misunderstand something. It is nice to know if you are on the right track, they said.

I mentioned distraction above and this was very much a key issue for the students. They were worried too many apps or too many sources or too much going on might distract them from their goals. I got the sense that doing and using lots of tools seemed a bit scattershot to them and they’d prefer to work with just a few quality things.

My students said they preferred and believed in a mix of in and out of class learning. Some of the tools they mentioned as most useful were online dictionaries and apps, TED talks, NPR podcasts, lectures from EBS, and newspapers online (with and without accompanied audio). They preferred things that had a connection to Korea but said this is not necessary. They said they don’t like to pay for apps or materials because there is so much out there for free and they can find the free or pirated versions quite easily.

I was curious about smartphones being used for studying here in the most wired country on earth and they said they didn’t do so very often and neither did their friends or siblings. Smartphones are mostly for fun. The main educational uses were podcasts and dictionaries. They said they didn’t know much about apps for learning English that were made outside of Korea. This matched with my perceptions about not so many Korean students using apps for improving their English.

They were also not so hot on the idea of social media for improving English. Many of them had Facebook before they were asked to make an account for another course. They didn’t seem to see the point of social media for improving their English. I took a few minutes and shared who I think Twitter could be super useful for students in their situation. I saw some nodding but I think this would take a bit of nudging (or devoting class time to it.)

I enjoyed the conversation and got a lot out of it. I hope and believe the students did too. It looked like they enjoyed hearing the strategies and tools their peers employ. The class flew by and at the end I asked the students to answer some of the other questions from eltjam. Their (occasionally edited just for clarity and flow) responses are below.

  1. Apart from textbooks, what do you use outside of class time to help you learn English?
    Ted Talks, Good Morning pops (app). 
    Sometimes novels or short stories or movie scripts/scenarios.
    Watch TED Talks and speeches and EBS World News. Recently Freakonomics.
    Radio, apps (Ipad), newspapers.
    EBS programs. 
  2. What technology do you use to learn English when you’re not in school?
    Smartphone apps and computer websites.
    Websites-google to find English texts.
    Apps-Podcast, TED, Umano, dictionaries.
    Websites-Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal. 

    Googling, dictionary apps, EBS program, NPR, podcasts. 
  3. Why do you use them?
    Because they are more interesting than textbooks and more practical.
    Because speakers normally use good English. Basically I believe their English is good enough for me to learn grammar, words, and also for me to memorize because they are publicly giving a speech.
    The two websites (Huffpo and WSJ) provide both Korean and English scripts.
    Podcasts are good for listening to fun programs for free.
    TED is good for learning the structure of speeches and various information from various fields.
    They are reliable and I can access them any time. 
  4. How do you know if they are helping you learn?
    I don’t know exactly but friends’ or teachers’ positive comments are helpful.
    I sometimes find myself using the expressions I picked up.
    I can learn various expressions and use them in interpretation.
    Because Native Speakers teach or speak and the teachers are qualified and professional. I learn new expressions.  
  5. Do you use them in class?  What technology do you use in class?
    Oxford Dictionary (English-English), Nave Dictionary (English-Korean), Google Search (to find out appropriate collocations).
    Yes, we use Ted Talks sometimes and googling for translation.
    Yes, WSJ, dictionary and TED apps.
    English dictionary app or googling. 
  6. What language is your phone and things like Facebook set to?
  7. What do you think about using technology in class?
    If properly used it would be very helpful but if too much is used it will distract you.
    I think it’s necessary sometimes. Since we are learning interpretation skills, we need more practice rather than apps in class.
    Sometimes good but usually some PowerPoint or screens make my eyes tired. I have to protect my eyes. And they are boring. 
  8. What English skills do you think technology can help you with?
    Listening. I often listen to TedTalks but I think face-to-face conversation is better to improve one’s speaking skills.
    Fluency and vocabulary (through dictionaries).
    Listening (especially through TED and NPR). 
  9. Would you like to do homework, or communicate with your class, on the train home?
    Yes. While commuting I listen to podcasts (Good morning pops app) or read some English materials.
    Yes, but not online. Face-to-face.
    I drive so I can’t do homework in my car.
    Class is enough. After class I have to review on my own. 
  10. Do you study English outside of class with other students?  If so, do you use any technology to do this?
    Yes, searching for materials and listening to dialogues or speeches.
    Skype and KakaoTalk.
    Yes, I use an Ipad to practice interpretation.
    Yes. Listening to TED or speeches together. 
  11. Is there anything you want to do with technology and learning English, but can’t?
    With technology including Skype or Facetime I can talk or converse with someone who speaks English. So, technically, I can. But, in fact, I can’t because I don’t have enough time.
    I don’t know what I need. If there is a cool app I would use it.
    No, I have a lot of stuff I have to study. 

It seems that their answers clearly show their specific interests, goals and challenges but I hope their answers are helpful on a more general level too. Thanks very much for reading. Please be sure to see the follow up post on eltjam about what students want from edtech. If you have any questions you’d like me to ask my students in the fall I will more than likely be happy to do so.



Sorry for judging

The picture is still vivid in my mind, as is the emotion I felt when I saw it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was an experienced teacher (and one I was officially and tacitly expected to model myself after) doing this kind of shit. I was at my desk and he was in the middle of the room, at the Director’s Desk, with the folder of grades for the term in front of him. As he entered the scores you could see him thinking about what to enter. He had that sort of looking-up-and-to-the-right-and-making-things-up-as-he-went-along  look. It was like I could see him matching the students to the score that he was creating right then and there on the spot.

I was aghast. I was something close to disgusted. I was shocked.
Most of all, though, I was feeling superior.
How could I, the guy with a fucking spreadsheet full of scores dutifully compiled throughout the term, be asked to follow this guy as a model?  It was shocking and unprofessional. It was not fair and it was not right.
18 months later I did a similar thing.
I am not exactly proud of it, but I could see how such a thing could happen (especially, in fairness, in a place like this where grades didn’t matter at all or mean anything). I have been in this TESOL racket for 15 years and I have seen a lot and I have judged more than my fair share. In this post, I’d like to share some things I have judged in the past but now don’t have such a big problem with. I’d also like to retroactively apologize to those I judged for such things. Better late than never. Sorry. Below are some of the things that drew my judgment and ire but I have since decided might not be so horrible or at least think the perpetrators might have some solid reasons for doing.
Saying “That’s not my job.” 
I am not sure exactly why this bothered me so but it did. I think I had deeply ingrained beliefs about hardworkers and teamplayers being needed and wanted in the workplace. When I was younger I heard lots of teachers say this to what seemed to me like reasonable requests from admin. I thought the teachers were out of line and I thought it was unprofessional. You know, just do what you are asked and move on. I have surely changed my mind on this. I think people are hired to do the job they are hired to do and anything more than that is a new conversation and a new negotiation and a new agreement. I think it can be an extremely slippery slope when additional responsibilities are added without further payment or a decrease in other responsibilities and I think English teachers need to be aware of this. I am not saying we need to be recalcitrant but rather cognizant of the potential for increasing burdens without compensation. Inches can turn into miles if we are not careful and I think these teachers were aware of this and their actions and words made sense.
(I’d also note that sometimes it is easier and better to just do the thing and move on)
Making (to my eyes and brain) horrible materials/plans etc. 
In the past, when I was in a new jobs, I was very critical of lesson plans and materials and things that were passed down to me from previous teachers. I think part of it was the feeling I’d be expected to use something made by someone else that might not work for me. There was probably the ego and “I can do better” attitude at play here as well. With more experience I can see maybe the materials they passed down were not the best stuff or were not exactly what they’d used. I think it is hard to judge such things by just how they look in my hand or on my screen months after the fact.  A very intricate backstory is a possibiltiy with materials and maybe teachers were in a neguices-type situation and just passed along any old thing and figured the next teacher/sucker can sort it out on their own. After all, many things are shyte for a reason. 
Using (to my eyes and brain) horrible materials/plans etc. 
Sometimes it is out of the teacher’s hands and they are not responsible for the choosing of materials. It is really that simple. Previously, I was quick to make the super judgmental decision that any teacher who was using Interchange was obviously an inferior teacher. Hopefully,  now with some more perspective, I can see there might be a whole host of reasons teachers might be using Interchange that have nothing to do with their intelligence, character, or suitability as a professional.
Going to a conference but not attending sessions from others  
I did this a few weeks ago. Yikes. When I saw this move from a few people 5 years ago I thought it was rude, egocentric and telling. I thought it conveyed a message of, “I have learned all I need to know” and don’t need to learn from you people, but come to my session please.” Having been guilty of this sin very recently I can see there are a variety of possible reasons for this and it doesn’t necessarily imply a massive ego or disdain for others in the field.
That is my list for now, though I believe there might be more I could add.  What do you think? Are these deplorable? Have you changed your tune on any of these or any similar things? What used to cause you to wear your judgy pants but doesn’t do so any longer?

David and Me

It was autumn 2008 and I was a young, fresh faced new MATESOL student. I was working in a job that I enjoyed at a “unigwon” in Seoul. I was teaching adults and college students in an intensive English program. There were many issues with the job and the program (which have been detailed at times on this blog) but on the whole I loved the job and loved working with adults and young adults. I was attending my first K0TESOL conference in a long time. I had just accosted met Scott Thornbury. I was feeling extremely enthusiastic about the field and my place in it. Then I saw David Graddol’s plenary and suddenly I was feeling less excited. I was downright nervous. My feelings were more along the lines of “What in the hell have I gotten myself into?” In the talk there was a lot of talk about demographics and probably even demography. There were charts. Lotsa charts. There was doom and gloom and a lack of hope, from what I recall. I remember thinking, “This is a sinking ship. Why would you get an MA in a field that will evaporate before your very eyes? This is just your  first term. Maybe you can consider this a sunk cost and escape while there is still time and still hope. This whole TESOL game is rigged and the peak is coming in 2010. That is awfully soon. Abort the mission! Get out while you can!” In the aftermath of Graddol’s talk I was seriously reconsidering my choice to get more deeply involved in the industry. It was as hilarious as it was shocking to me. How did I manage to not know that the field was crumbling? How did I not do the required research before diving headfirst into this MA? I remember thinking, “Really, Mike, you didn’t think to check on this stuff?”

2008-Poster-cropped (1)

A poster from the event that served as my introduction to David Graddol.

A week or after the conference I saw a chat between Mssrs. Thornbury and Graddol in which perhaps some of my fears were allayed a bit.  Graddol said he didn’t have much fear for those just starting out. He said that English teachers have always been changing and adapting and “English teachers have to be constantly transforming themselves and  reinventing themselves.”  The whole video of this discussion/interview is less than 3 minutes and is worth a look in my humble and not so scared opinion. It’s right here. Watch it.

Even if my fears were slightly assuaged, Graddol’s talk at K0TESOL had a big impact on me. To give one example, it actually gave me a bit of a push to get into teacher training. My thinking was if jobs figure to dry up teaching English to adults there will be more jobs training teachers  of younger learners (for a time at least). Watching his talk gave me the necessary nudge to pursue something I had been thinking about for a while. Perhaps I took his exhortation to transform to heart. By spring 2009 I was working as a teacher trainer full time. I was also immersed in English Next, a (free!!) book from Graddol (commissioned by the British Council) all about the trends of English all around the world. It is from 2006 and is thus a bit out of date in such a rapidly changing area but I still think it is worth a read or at least a flip through.

I hadn’t really thought about Graddol all that much for a few years (though of course some of the ideas and stats and charts came to mind from time to time) until this year.  Suddenly, there he was back in my life and on my radar. He gave big plenary/keynote type-talks at both TESOL and IATEFL this year. There was a #KELTchat on Tuesday discussing these recent talks. The preview for the chat (which has lots of good links including links to the talks themselves) is here and a Storified collection of the 12 hour (!) chat is here. I think the chat offers a nice variety of thoughts, questions, worries, wonders, explanations, beliefs, prognostications, and links.

Though my initial encounter with Graddol was one of trepidation I have to say that now seeing his charts and his ideas are like meeting an old friend. An old friend that when I see him, memories of a different and more emotional time come flooding in. I thank you very much for reading and I hope it was as interesting for you to read as it was for me to reminisce about. For now and perhaps looking ahead maybe I *should go ahead check out his book about profiling English in China.

English Teaching Knowledge

There are a good many ideas out there about what it takes to be a good English teacher and I’d like to share some of them here.
How can anyone just point out the important factors in teaching English in just a few hundred words?
I’m not sure if this can be done as I intended it to be but I will try.
Student-centered learning is key. Many T’s are all about the TTT (teacher talking time) which should be reduced. Aim for 20%.
I+1  is also an incredibly important factor. We need to make sure all our lessons are pitched at this level.
Students work better when their affective filters are reduced. This is something teachers need to be concerned with.
Teachers also need to be sure they are empowering students. Students work better and learn more when they are empowered.
Of course, just doing the above is not enough. Lessons need to be planned appropriately. Proper scaffolding at each stage!
The stages of the lesson need to follow the correct frameworks and have the interaction appropriately planned for each section.
All the above is important but doesn’t really mean anything if we are not eliciting creativity from students, which we should do.
Let’s be clear, in the 21st century it is the responsibility of teachers of all subjects to foster creativity in all students.
But we need to be sure to consider students’ different learning styles and multiple intelligences or it will all be for naught.
Unless we create lessons that match the unique needs of all our learners we will be wasting our time and theirs.
Learners are all different. Our lessons need to match their styles and intelligences plus wants and needs and moods and more.
Learner’s needs must be considered and we must also ensure that we are developing their critical thinking skills. This is a must.
Students need to be given tools to succeed in the modern era. We should remember most of our students are digital natives.
However we do it, as teachers we need to be sure that we do and remember everything listed above and make them a priority.
I hope and believe I have offered some useful ideas and starting points here. 
hough, if all the above fails you can just flip the classroom or employ gamification.

Exclusive: Journal of a first day teacher trainer

January 5, 2009

Wow. What a crazy day. We had orientation in the morning and then we did level testing from 9:30. There was a bit of confusion about the rooms and stuff like that but in the end everything worked out. It took students a bit longer to get started on the task that we set for them, but it was OK. They generally spoke in English and worked on the questions that we gave them. I noticed that most groups took a few minutes to get to know each other. This makes perfect sense. I would never just start talking to random people about how I teach writing or listening without getting to know them first. It is possible that these teachers might not have spoken much English in a very long time. I think it took them some time to get warmed up.

I met my first class in the afternoon. They were really great. I felt like the lesson went pretty well. There were of course, some problems. The first was that the room was absolutely freezing. One teacher said that she didn’t want to sit down. That was when I felt like it was really cold. I wonder if I should have checked on another room or something like that immediately. I think that I was a bit stubborn and just wanted to get the lesson started. The course is classroom management so I hoped that I could give students an example of how to roll with the punches. I thought that once everyone came in and starting talking and working that the body heat would warm things up. I was, as always, hot. More hot than usual because I was wearing a sports coat and I was moving around a lot. Right when I was making a point about why I never say, “What is your hobby?” an office staff member came in and asked us to move. I felt like I did a pretty good job to continue with the lesson with all the interruptions and confusion. I think that the students are quite strong at English but they need a bit of help using English in the classroom. I thought that the students were really good and that they got a lot out of my class. I told the students that I hoped that this class would be the most practical and the most useful for when they start teaching again in Feb (March?). I really believe that. I have a feeling that it will be a really good week.

One interesting thing that happened in the class was when I was talking about syllables. I always focus students’ attention on syllables because I think it is an important thing to think about when speaking English. I know that lots of Korean students have problems with this and I think that a bit of a focus early on would help students speak English better. Anyway, I was introducing the question, “How many syllables are there in ____?” and one teacher commented that her students would not know this word or question. I wondered why not. I told her that I felt that teachers should teach this and that it should be the teacher’s responsibility to make sure students know it. I hope that I was not too aggressive with my answer because it was the first class. Her question and point was a very good one and I think that these are the kind of issues that we will explore in the coming weeks.

Another interesting thing happened in my second class of the day. I was asking students for possible rules for the classroom and one teacher said, “no microphones.” I think she must have confused my question because she was answering about rules for teachers in her school. She said that her principal says that microphones are not allowed in the classrooms because they are too noisy and distract other people. I had never thought of microphones in the classroom. Actually they kind of teased me because my voice is so loud and they said that I don’t need a microphone. After the student mentioned microphones the other teachers really sprung into life. An older guy said that she was young and that she needed to train her voice(vocal cords). A few other people disagreed with him and one woman said that talking too much makes her voice husky. She asked me how I manage to talk so loudly and have so much energy for such a long time. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to include some theory. I mentioned that my classes are usually quite student-centered and that I try not to talk for more than 5 minutes of a 50 minute lesson. I got the feeling that they believed me but that they thought it was not really practical for their current situations. After this a bit of a free discussion broke out and teachers were talking about their experiences and situations. Not bad for the first day!

The day is nearly finished and I am ready for bed. I am really excited about this course and I think that I will be able to help these teachers a lot and that it will be a good experience for everyone involved.

I guess that is all for now.


My first day training
(Teaching math for some reason)

2014 Thoughts 

The above is my words written just about 5 years ago.
(I made 3 minor changes including editing out a name, adding a comma and fixing a typo)

The word “student” and not “trainee”or”participant” jumped out at me. C’mon Mike, knowing the lingo is part of playing the part. Rookie mistake. Well, in fairness, it was your first rodeo.

It is interesting to note how much talk there was of organization type things and room temperature as compared to actual classroom choices and happenings.

I enjoyed some of the moments of description there. I would have loved to see even more but since it is the first one, I’ll let it go.

I felt like there was a bit of cheerleading, expectation setting, and excuse making there which I think relates to this being shared with participants (which I talk more about below). “I am really excited about this course and I think that I will be able to help these teachers a lot and that it will be a good experience for everyone involved’ is a pretty confident line from a first day trainer, in my view.

I liked the aspect of bringing the “practical for the participants’ contexts” question to the forefront. I am glad to see this was on my mind from the start and that I gave some room for not everything to fit so nicely into participants’ contexts either.

One thing I have been thinking about for a while is how I chose to share these entries with course participants.I think this idea has some good and some potentially not-so-good points. I think it could be good as a model. I mean model in two ways:

a) as a model in the sense of, “Hey look, my trainer is keeping a reflective journal too. Maybe he really values this process and is not just asking us to do this crap for the sake of it.”

b) as a model in the sense of, “Oh this is one way to reflect, thanks for sharing it with me, trainer.” I am not convinced this particular sample was great or even passable in that regard but I think the idea has some potential.

I think the other side of sharing these journal entries with participants is that it could potentially (and in fact did) turn more into a line of communication between me and the participants that chose to read the journal. I think this could potentially (and in fact did) detract from the reflection aspect. I believe changing or adding the audience  limited what I felt comfortable sharing or writing about. I also fell into what I now consider a trap of using the journal as my mouthpiece for addressing issues within the group. I recall one particular journal entry in which I pouted a bit about participants’  behavior and what I perceived as a lack of respect. I don’t think my shared journal was an appropriate place for such sharing. This is in part because I wasn’t sure that everyone was reading it and especially because by focusing on what I perceived as rude behavior from participants and chastising them in this backdoor way I got away from the reflective aspect and into something else. I don’t want to say that having such a channel of communication is automatically a bad idea, just that it can be confusing about what the purpose of such a document and habit is. So, for me, I’d like to be more clear on what the purpose of such journals are and what I’d hope the readers can get out of reading them.

I guess that is all for now.
Thanks for reading.

[A bit of background on the course: The participants were Korean high school teachers who were on the course for 3 weeks of their winter vacation. There were 6 trainers and 6 strands. Mine was about classroom management as I mentioned. There was also the aspect of working in English and trying to improve English which in my view got away from the training aspect a bit. I am not sure if this makes things any clearer but I thought I’d try)

Maine can learn a lot from North Dakota

It has recently come to my attention that Maine, my favorite state, is near the bottom of all states in the US in terms of average SAT scores. Based on the 2010 scores, some have even taken to calling Maine “The Dumbest State.”

Maine is no longer at the very bottom of the list, but it is not quite time to remove the dunce cap just yet. On the 2013 SAT results, Maine was ranked 3rd from last so we can assume that Maine is now the 3rd dumbest state. Delaware is now dumbest based on the 2013 SAT scores. North Dakota is near the top (2nd immediately after Illinois).  Just like Asian [sic] has a lot to learn from the Philippines about English education, Maine, Delaware and other US states have a lot to learn from North Dakota. So, what is the secret to North Dakota’s success?

When people think about North Dakota they might tend to think of a rural and sparsely populated state which produces a great deal of agricultural products. According to statistics, they’d surely be right. Despite the recent oil boom there farming is still the main industry. Something else that might not be overly surprising is North Dakota being the least visited state in the union. I can’t help but think that Maine’s attempts to paint itself as “Vacationland” and to draw in tourists is hurting students. Perhaps Maine’s students are distracted by the tales of all those from away and they cannot concentrate on their studies. I am not suggesting that Maine destroy its natural beauty, but rather just suggesting that it not focus so much on increasing tourism, which might distract students.


Pemaquid Pt. Lighthouse– A background cause of Maine’s academic troubles?
via http://www.familyvacagetaway.com/parks-history-and-museums.html

North Dakota is also a very religious state. In addition to having more churches per capita than other states, the Peace Garden State also has a higher percentage of church goers than any other state. This might mean that these god fearing folks put in the time to study and learn self discipline from church. Maybe their study of the Bible spills over into their study of other subjects. Perhaps Maine needs to stop importing so many godless liberals from other states and start following North Dakota’s lead.

Another example of the superlative nature of North Dakota can be seen in the fact the world’s largest hamburger was eaten there. The burger weighed 3,591 pounds and fed more than 8,000 people. This shows the coordination and collaboration required to train students for the highly competitive work environment of the 21st century. Kudos to the Roughrider state. Roger Maris would surely be proud. Maybe Maine could follow suit and could organize the world’s largest lobster sandwich or something like that. This might show Maine is committed to nurturing the talents of its youth.


Roger Maris in 1961

Above, I have tried to point out three of the keys to North Dakota’s success in the academic arena. There are likely other possibilities and trying to isolate these is something that might warrant future research. I hope I have provided states like Maine that are lagging behind with some tangible ideas that might help alleviate their academic woes. Best of luck to Maine and all the other states which should be trying to emulate North Dakota.

Extras and notes: 

  •  I am equally as troubled that South Korea, the nation where I reside, is similar in average TOEFL scores to North Korea.
  • I mean no offense to any of the states or countries listed here
    (or to the people involved in education in these places either).
  • Please note I knew next to nothing about North Dakota before some googling for this post. I still don’t know much at all.
  • The random North Dakota facts were from here.
  • I realize this is utter bullshit, thanks.
  • If you are (somehow) not convinced by my reasons for North Dakota’s dominance above and you’d like to see some thoughts on “Why the Midwest rules on the SAT” you can click here for a piece in the New York Times from 2009.  You might also note that the SAT is mandatory for Maine’s high school juniors.
  • I linked to it above but this article (“What Asian [sic] Can Learn From Philippines about English Education”) is crap. I was ready to ignore it because there is plenty of crap out there in this world.
    The part that finally motivated me to write this post was about how it seemed lamentable that Korea scrapped its Japanese language learning in 1945 as though there were no other possible reasons than folly for this decision.
  • I don’t wish to gloss over the real education issues that might be facing the great state of Maine or other states.
  • I am very pleased with the lack of Fargo, or “Fargo Rock City” references here.
    Good for me.
  • I am also happy with myself for making a late decision not to try to equate North Dakota’s status of being ranked as the worst state for women to its high test scores.
  • This image has been flowing around the internets. It is most excellent.
    (It might be from here originally)


    Organic Foods Cause Autism?