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.
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)
It is the last week of August as well as the last week of vacation for me. At this time next week I will be frantically scurrying around as I prepare for the first lesson in a course I have never taught before.
This week is also the last week of an on and offline (I think the kids are calling this a hybrid) course that I have been working on since January. We are finishing up the 26th of 26 weeks online (the course included 2 super intensive weeks in the winter and 2 super intensive weeks in the summer). As is often the case, my feelings could mostly be described as bittersweet. This feeling might be massed because it looks like it will be the last time for me to run this course and I have been working on it since 2009. The main focus of the course is helping experienced Korean public school teachers be better helpers of other teachers in their schools. A main emphasis is on observation and feedback but we also focus on leadership, being a resource in schools, planning and delivering workshops and helping other teachers with lesson planning. Sometimes this higher meta level of thinking and focus can be a bit daunting and confusing for course participants, some of whom are at first much more interested in adding to their activity stockpile as teachers than they are in thinking about how to help and work with other teachers.
At times on the course it can be confusing to determine where we are and what “level” we are thinking and talking about. I like to use the idea of “hats” to help make this distinction clearer (although to be fair it can make things more confusing at first). For example, we might do an activity where participants act as students and then they think about this might apply to their teaching. This is what we might call thinking with their “Teacher Hat” on. They might have experienced the lesson with their “Student Hat” on but when we start talking about how to apply it to their teaching back at school they are most certainly wearing their teaching hat. I hope this makes sense. Other hats that we consider and wear on the course are “Teacher Helper” (we actually have another word for it but I’d prefer to keep things as simple as possible here) and “Human Hat.” The teacher helper hat speaks to the aspect of helping other teachers and the human hat is about themselves as a person or as a member of the group. An example of this might be something like active listening (which could of course be a teacher helper hat situation as well). Among the main teacher helper areas are observation and feedback and coaching.
Why am I telling you all about these accessories? Well, since the course is winding down we trainers thought it would be a good idea to share some resources with the participants (actually we wanted to do it earlier, but time was not always on our side.) In thinking about what to share and how to share it we decided to share resources from three areas/levels of headgear: human, teacher, teacher helper. So, below I am sharing some of the resources that came to mind for these areas. I would very much welcome any suggestions or additions to the list(s).
Resources for humans
This is probably the area I am least comfortable recommending things, even though it has been remarked that saying “human” much more often than the average English speaking human is part of my idiolect. As I see it, in terms of the resources to be shared in this section, the human hat could just be something interesting or useful for us as people and in this case might be things that help us work better with others or know more about the world and our place in it.
- I have a feeling that another trainer will share the Ted Talks page. I have recently discovered there are podcasts as well from the good people at NPR. It is very tough to mention NPR without mentioning the excellent This American Life Podcast. (Credit to Kevin Giddens for insisting that I listen to this a while back.)
- I can’t really mention podcasts without mentioning the Freakonomics Podcast.
- I have really enjoyed books by Chip and
DaleDave Heath. These include Decisive, Switch, and Made to Stick.
“Decisive” is about how to make better choices in life and work.
“Switch” is about making changes when it seems difficult.
“Made to Stick” is about communicating ideas and how some of them tend to, umm, stick and stay in our minds while others seem to fly away immediately.
I just now noticed the author’s page has a variety of extra resources. While these books seem to be written with business people in mind I think there are very clear links to teaching.
Resources for teachers
- Blogs. Duh.
Perhaps I need to think a bit about which blogs to recommend.
- Twitter. Of course. Including #KELTchat and #ELTchat
I think I would also specifically recommend the #KELTchat Facebook group for those that are not on or interested in Twitter.
- “Understanding Teaching Through Learning” by Josh Kurzweil is always a favorite recommendation.
(It might be difficult to find but it can be done)
- Another book that might be a little difficult to track down but I hope all English teachers in Korea could read is “The Tale that Wags” by Tim Murphey. Here is an interview with the author.
(Readers in Korea: I have a copy of this book. It is currently being loaned out. Anne is next on the list. After her, you could be next. Just let us here at the Griffin lending library know. Charges may apply)
Resources for teacher helpers
- I wasn’t completely sure if I should put this one in the Teacher section or teacher helper section but I was sure I needed to include it. I think “Professional Development for Language Teachers” by Jack Richards and Tom Farrell is a really nice start which offers an overview on a lot of issues (like workshops, journaling, peer observation, team teaching, peer coaching and action research.)
- Although I (unfortunately) never mentioned the book specifically to participants “Contrasting Conversations” by John Fanselow was a very useful resource.
The same Dr. Fanselow has led courses over on #iTDi.
- Another book I have found quite helpful when thinking and talking about Observation and Feedback is “Classroom Observation Tasks” by Ruth Wajnryb.
- A book we used on the course at times was “Tasks for Teacher Education” which served its purpose (although an update would be quite welcome).
- Scott Thornbury’s An A-Z of ELT is always nice to have on the bookshelf as well.
And I could imagine Big Questions in ELT being a handy resource for leading discussions, too.
Some more books that were quite helpful as a trainer on the course are as follows.
- “Trainer Development” by Tony Wright and Rod Bolitho.
- “Mentor Courses: A resource book for trainer-trainers” by Angi Malderez and Caroline Bodoczky.
- “New Ways in Teacher Education” (edited by Donald Freeman and Steve Cornwell) was also an extremely useful book to have around.