In Reverse #firsttimeteaching

Let’s get back to challenges…I’ll start with this one, coming from my dear friend Dora, who invited us to share our first time teaching a class. It was such a joy going back to remember that first time, what led me to it, what it meant to me and those students – friends, actually, learners riding the same wave with me.


 

community-roundtable

There are some ideas that can take us further than we could ever imagine.

When you’re seventeen, you really don’t know much, but it feels as if you know everything, you say and do things with ease, you feel fired up by literally the tiniest spec of anything. In 1999, I was volunteering for my local youth club and, having experienced the wonders of community as a child, it was only natural I would be getting more actively involved in it all. It was supposed to be a general, relaxed discussion on the club’s future projects; however, all of us involved felt we were part of a great family, and families are often called to make important decisions. There was one thing I loved (and still love) dearly, languages. So my suggestion as a future project was language courses, starting with English. Get a teacher to design, organize and give our members an amazing educational experience. I didn’t expect an approval. I didn’t expect to be asked to do it myself, as finances were unfortunately scarce if not non-existent. I didn’t even expect that I would say yes. But I did. And that’s how it all began.

I realized very quickly that I had no idea how to do this. I absolutely adored English, yes, I had already passed my C2 exam three years earlier, yes, but teaching my cousins and friends was really very different. The only thing I could think of was asking my own English teacher for help. He awarded me with a strange, indefinable look, the urge to consider this decision carefully and a pile of books. Grammar, Course Design, Language Study, Poems, Prose and Satire. ‘Where should I start?’, I asked. ‘With being happy about it all’, he replied. And I was.

During the four months of preparing everything, I didn’t spend much time with friends and family. My companions were Adler, Lynch and Bailey, Larsen & Freeman, Thornbury, O’Connor, Avery & Ehrlich, Yule, Short and Lederer. It was my teacher’s selection, and I remember thinking ‘my, he’s obsessed with grammar! At least I get some literature’. I made plans for the whole course and my teacher reviewed them. I presented them to the club’s Board and they approved them. We were to begin that October. There had been a lot of interest, mostly from members my age and a little bit older, so we would be having three classes.

Nothing prepares you for a class. You can have all the plans in the world, design them to the last detail, the last second to be used, still you’re not 100% ready. And that’s a good thing. It is people you’re dealing with and that is the most significant part of teaching. I was so nervous before I went into the room, knowing that thirty-five people were waiting for me. When I walked in, though, it was obvious that there were thirty-five friends waiting. How do you start? With a deep breath and a big smile. I used about 40% of my plans for that first lesson. I wanted to share my love for the language, its potential and that’s what they wanted too. Perhaps I was lucky, I’m not sure. We went through the alphabet, common words and expressions they wanted to know and use, we talked about why we were there and what we hoped for. It could be defined as a conversation class. I could label those classes in many different ways, now that I know what they were and what was happening during the three years the project lasted.

Three years down the line, I got my first qualification as a foreign language teacher and though I had chosen to study Pre-School and then Primary Education first instead of English Literature, language teaching was just what it was going to be for me. Again, it was the sharing and the potential that fascinated me. Working on the roots, working with what matters – and that will always be guiding people to their future – can happen in any language. In fact, language being our common root makes everything so much more essential and wonderful.

I have made many mistakes along the way. Working in reverse, I like to call it. You do, you get feedback, you rethink, redefine and rework. You aim for the best, you train more and further and you keep making mistakes. You bring the world in, you use yourself, you make your students part of it. You can pile up degrees, certificates and skills but remember to work with the ones you’re teaching because they teach you in turn.

My initial thought was to dedicate this post to those first students, but we are still in contact and we know what it meant to us. I’ll dedicate it to Roger; the teacher who showed me that what teachers say is not gospel, but what they do stays with you forever.

 

 

Advertisements

Rethinking Teaching with #iTDi – Reflections

How often do you find yourself in a learning space? Aside from your classroom, I mean. I took last month’s Advanced Course with John Fanselow, and many wonderful fellow explorers, on iTDi and found myself right there, in the learning zone. The invitation to Rethink usually works for me and it worked this time too. Even though I decided to join the course just before it started, even though I took my time with it, it was the right choice and I’m so happy I did.

On with the discoveries…

In the crust of things

Teaching grammar and vocabulary separately really doesn’t make much sense, and making it work in our classes can be challenging for several reasons. The teaching context and the learning culture of ourselves and our students play a big part. As teachers, most of us have learned to abide by certain rules, which very often transform into routines we shape our students into. Some students, depending on the culture, expect those routines, even. Our own language awareness and training are vital.
Working through the course, two things got me (re)thinking about how I teach: 1. the alternative suggestions and 2. John Fanselow’s frequent silence, which encouraged our own thoughts to form and interaction among participants to take place. I actually wrote down ‘silent way-skip the rods’ in my notes (yes, I keep notes on anything I do). I’m rethinking that note now.
I’ve had the opportunity to explore the various activities suggested during the course with different level students and in different contexts. I felt lucky to have such a variety to work with as a teacher, since teaching for me is not confined within a class or a school; it happens indoors and outdoors, with teens, with young adults, with university students, with professionals. What made an impression on me were the common elements in each of these teaching opportunities: student resourcefulness, interaction and collaboration – the teacher observing, offering assistance where necessary and assessing. Whether it was an original text we were using or a very specific piece for exam preparation, the results were more or less the same. And why do I keep writing third or sometimes fourth in the line of activities when it can offer so much right from the beginning? My own perception and possibly fear of burdening my students, which just wasn’t the case, they were all quite comfortable to listen, think, read, write and talk, regardless of which came first.

On observing myself

-Time is what it is, what it has been appointed to be. Becoming obsessed with it, as I often do, gets you nowhere. There is time for everything you want to do, everything your students would like to do, for everything you are supposed to do together. It takes some planning and some experience, true. It also takes some open-mindedness and willingness to make things work. Even as I signed up for the course I kept thinking that my time was limited, that I wouldn’t be able to follow. Obviously, I got that wrong. So accept time, plan better and move forward.
-I appreciate theories when I can do something with them. Having a series of activities I could plan around, use and observe in action was refreshing and essential. Having the opportunity to then go back, share what I observed, thought and felt and get feedback, made all the difference.
-Strive even more for student independence. The notion that teachers are mighty know-it-all’s has never found me in agreement. Since my first day in a class I’ve been a motivator, a guide, an observer. I think it’s partly because of that approach that I altered and extended coursebook activities when I was obliged to use them and why authentic material and no material became my main tools in later years. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with coursebooks, not all of them at least. A lot of work goes into them and they serve their purpose often. If I’m not comfortable with my material, however, why should my students be comfortable in learning with me? When they feel at ease, when they know that lessons happen for all of us involved to achieve something, students are open to exploration and they soon realise that learning is an ongoing, lifelong task each of us goes through. Using them, their own experiences and background, can unlock the door to exceptional lessons that a textbook cannot plan or deliver.
-Working and learning within a community is the greatest experience. I didn’t comment on everything other participants wrote in the discussion forum, but I read and reread all contributions and there was so much to keep from each. There is a certain quality in the variety of personalities and teaching contexts and a heart-warming beauty in interactions with all of them. Something difficult to find elsewhere.

In spite of my initial thoughts, I followed and still follow everything, lived exciting moments with my students, learned and practiced so much,  broke the circle of routine and feel really proud to have received this:

Christina_Chorianopoulou

 

Had I not been so fixated on time or the supposed lack of it, I would have gone for (and I’d like to think would have got) a Certificate with Accomplishment. Well, that’s for the next course(s), as iTDi have an amazing series planned for the months to come.

A big thank you to the iTDi family (and faculty) for making this happen, and especially to John Fanselow and my fellow learners.

Step One – Around & About Freelancing

Dreams & Ambitions, Greece

*image credits: Dimitris Primalis, for ELTPics

 

It’s hard sometimes, to begin. It’s even harder to begin again. And very often you don’t even know where to begin. You must do so, though; for all that is expected of you, for all that you can do and give and above all, for yourself. For everything that you can learn and achieve. You can take small steps, you can try a long jump, you could even fly forward. But you must.

Two years ago almost, I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life; and having been ‘at work’ ever since I was fifteen, that was quite the strike. Things hadn’t been going well anyway, the absence of my DoS should have been a clue,  not being paid properly, on time, or at all should have been signs, but I clearly wasn’t paying attention. I was in the almighty comfort zone. Exactly the point where things decide to hit you, and they hit hard. And, in any case, no matter what goes on behind the scenes, I would never just get up and leave my kids behind. I think it’s exactly that trait we teachers have that makes us vulnerable. We’re fierce when it comes to doing the right thing for our students, but we’re much more lax when it comes to what is right for ourselves.

A step, I thought, I need to take a step forward. How hard can a step be? The problem there was not so much the step, but the direction in which it should be taken. The word ‘safety’ kept appearing around me, because we didn’t just sprout from the ground, there’s family, there’s friends, there’s a whole world around us. And I gave that word some thought. Are we ever safe? My answer was simply ‘no’. We might think we are, it might feel as if we are, but we are not. Because we (thankfully, in my view) don’t have a say in every single thing. Because our work depends largely on people and people, as wonderful as they might be, always find a way to surprise us.

I kept options open. And it was quite a sad moment when I realized that in my crisis-driven country, education was the last thing on people’s minds. Education in its proper sense I mean, not the certificate-hunting culture that has always stood strong. The education that takes you forward, that broadens your mind, that makes you active. I turned stubborn. There was no reason to work for anyone who didn’t agree with me. No reason at all to be employed and paid if I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Suddenly, the world came together and all was clear. We can do what is good, what is right, even if there’s only one person there to listen to us. And good and right things have the tendency to multiply, remember that.

BeOpen

The rest of the world stepped in the scene. All the things that had happened up until my first day as a freelance teacher came together. Both the good and the bad. Everything that you call part of you, your life, can give you the opportunity to teach yourself and others. Yes, you need to keep yourself open to everything. You need to see whatever comes your way as a chance to learn and stand ready to share what you have learned. You’re certainly not always right, so listen, ask and talk things through.

When the freelance ‘me’ came to be, I felt totally unsafe. And that was liberating. We can’t know everything, but we can try it all and see where it takes us. I still don’t feel safe most of the times, but I refuse to stop. Because I’ve seen first hand that we can make a difference, even if it’s only in ourselves; which it isn’t, trust me.

You can start at any given time. You can restart, as well. I started again by doing the exact opposite of what I used to do, but there’s no rule. Just decide and keep going. Keep open, first to yourself and then to others. Only good things can come out of that.

From a step, that could be a leap, but turned into a magic carpet ride. There’s more to come.

#30GoalsEDU – Be someone’s champion

A goal that I’m so happy to have seen and taken time to work my way through…

Anastasia and I met online a bit less that a year ago, through the iTDi MOOC on WiZIQ last August, and ever since there have been so many wonderful connecting moments, chats, collaboration, exchange of ideas and practices.

I don’t know where to begin, honestly…an amazing colleague, an inspiring and resourceful educator, the mum to an angel – who just happens to destroy headphones!- someone I admire immensely for her patience and persistence to do her best, and so much more, in a state school (and big thanks to her school principal for equal persistence and understanding) .

Our work is so different in context but so similar in the roots of it all. She lives and works in Amaliada and blogs here  about all the great things she does for and with her students.

Enough from me.

Here are her insights, her vision, relate and feel inspired! It’s what true champions are made of.

AnastasiaPistopoulou