Add some humor #30GoalsEDU

Little things. Of all the posts I have written for the 30Goals Challenge, this one will probably take up the most space.  Because, you see, happiness very often comes in small and unexpected fragments that build up to something greater. In the several different learning environments we step into each day, we are given the chance to draw happiness closer. It isn’t always easy, we might have to trick it into approaching us. I like, however, to think that there are little bits of joy everywhere and all we really have to do is help them come forward.

Laughter is the language of the soul

Younger learners are a tough crowd and that’s because they’re open and honest; unhindered by the do’s and dont’s which regulate our adult lives. Their happiness though, once achieved, cannot hide and is contagious beyond measure. I don’t get the chance to work much with young learners these days, but there have been so many memorable moments of laughter that I still carry with me (and hope they carry them too).

Whether it was a finger puppet appearing, determined to put a smile on everyone’s face, or the practice of adjectives and adverbs through a game, or even ‘being mum/dad’ for a day to share our understanding and feelings for our parents (an activity I love because it equally engages learners and their families). Or just being happy and sharing it.

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Step into the teen world and be prepared: laughing comes with rules, which are broken more often than not (but not by you), since teenagers have a unique kind of reasoning, a worldview of their own, a dogma cut in the shape of them. Time for me to admit teens are my favourite age group to work with, I guess.

The first time I walked into a class of teenagers, I felt very much a teenager myself still. Just because you feel like a teen though doesn’t mean you are. You cannot fake adolescence. At the moment of despair, of awkward and troubled sideways looks , humor is a powerful weapon and my best advice would be to immediately stop taking yourself too seriously; actually, do that anyway.

From starting a lesson with ”If you want to catch a squirrel just climb a tree and act like a nut” written on the board (I also printed that one and others on shirts actually, since tutoring led me to board-less environments), to giving assignments in emoticon & sticker language or by using Blabberize and other similar tools, to individual and group readings of ”The Dork Diaries” and ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid’‘, to acting out their favourite sitcom, to being determined to finish that level in the game despite the roars of laughter at your screaming when zombies appear from every corner of the screen. You are not supposed to be a clown, nor a comedian. But you should be open to fun the way they see it, it’s your best and most affordable chance in professional (and personal) development.

 

And what about adult learners? A whole different zone, where you are perceived as somewhat an equal, with similar routines, troubles and aspirations. Most of my adult students have described our lessons as some kind of therapy, a break in their usual days, and very often we spend some of our time together to discuss whatever has come up. It certainly helps them and I find it an excellent way to improve speaking skills. Little jokes and puns always find their way in and I was surprised once to hear one student say that ‘‘those funny lines every now and then make me feel like when I get an endorsement on LinkedIn; they don’t mean a lot but they make me feel better”. It is the laughter. Short or extended. We feel better when we laugh and we bond much more easily.

In an effort to keep that good feeling going, how about introducing a laughing competition at the start or the end of the lesson? Hard, but possible and only takes one to start it; then it spreads. Some random acts of fun also help. Inspired once last year by an overjoyed woman singing to herself on a bus, I walked into a class humming the tune of SpongeBob, only to be almost immediately joined by six professionals. You can’t plan these moments.

Above all, I find that using comedy clips in our teaching is truly powerful. Not only as an extension to our lesson, but as a lesson itself. From a single clip to full comedy shows, there is so much authentic material we can use to engage adult learners, to provoke thought, to encourage language to emerge. At the beginning of the year, I used a recent stand-up show in English with a class, put together by a Greek comedian living in the UK. What they related to was not the fact that she was Greek, but that she was honest. We reviewed, discussed, wrote about it. We discovered that our perception of language and lessons is not all that different from others and that there is really one culture of people in spite of stereotypes trying to prove otherwise. Later that month we arranged to visit Gazi Comedy Club to watch Katerina Vrana perform her stand-up. What I didn’t tell them, was that this time it would be in Greek. Can you guess the results of our comparative study afterwards?

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I know (and people I’m close to know as well) that I’m held together mostly by serious bones and a couple of unnecessarily cynical ones; there are a couple of funny/silly ones though somewhere in that me-structure and those seem to be right at the foundations.

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Send Parents a Positive Message #30GoalsEDU

Who is it really that we teach? Sometimes it feels that it isn’t our students at all; we learn – or relearn, or unlearn – far more because of them, much more than we give to them.
If it were up to me, I’d start by teaching grandparents, then parents and leave youth for last. It doesn’t work that way though. Yet, we have to recognize that there is learning happening in our students’ environment as a whole, extreme learning.When our focus is on teaching someone a language, it seems we often take it as simply another task. We plan and organize our syllabus, we set timetables and announce our modus operandi to the parents. We might be assertive enough to escape without alterations, or too compliant and result in having nightmares about how this lesson will turn out. Or we could be somewhere in the middle and able to be both assertive and flexible.
Let’s shift focus. How about using language teaching to cultivate a culture of learning? No matter how demanding such a shift may sound, it provides us with something powerful: wholesome learners. And wholesome learners never stand alone. Apart from us as teachers, they have everyone else to learn from and teach to. Parents come first on this list. Parents are their, and our, constant.

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As every year, especially since freelancing and tutoring became my norm, my students’ parents reserve a very special place. There are the ones who for years have trusted me with their children, no questions asked. The ones who might ask a thing or two, but never interfere. And also the parents who are full of questions and demands, but who still put all their faith in me. I am truly grateful to know all of them.

Showing gratitude to parents is one thing. It’s something I do each day, not because I have to, but because I do, because it comes naturally. What really matters though is that this expression of gratitude is mutual.
I consider the need for teacher-parent meetings obvious. Not only in the class their children will be spending hours in, or in the room of the house reserved for lessons. Quality time happens elsewhere too, same as with learning. It takes shape both online and offline. What they need to know about the lessons, I send online. If they’re uncomfortable with that, I help them to be comfortable. We move forward together.
What they need to know about me, I share in person. Particularly when it comes to tutoring, whether face-to-face or online,  I try and bring all parents together for a coffee somewhere out. Exchanging views with other parents and me simultaneously builds up to the comprehension of what I do and why. Our relationship is not so much one of friendship, but one of mutual understanding.

Image Credits: pixgood.com

Image Credits: pixgood.com

It’s true that with some I’m almost a family member, mostly the ones that I have taught for a long time and through generations – starting with the parent-to-be, then the spouse, then the children. Or the other way around. In all cases, though, the warmth of gratitude just emanates from everything; the coffee prepared and waiting for me, the invitation to their table before an early or late lesson, the phone calls because they saw something that reminded them of me. Exactly what I do myself.
Above all, it’s the involvement in what we do during our learning. There has never been a student project without the family helping out. Never an assignment without parents being the first to see the result, before me even. And there has never been a moment when the parents aren’t informed of what we do and where it leads.
Not so long ago, while tutoring at a student’s house, I happened to pick up a piece of paper off the floor. It didn’t say much, just some notes and chores for the day; but giving it back to its owner unleashed an unexpected, but much needed, river-flow of thoughts. Sometimes we have to work more with the parents, so we can better understand their children. I’m grateful for that unexpected moment too, because it showed me how to overcome their child’s learning challenges.

It’s not about pursuing a relationship with the parents. If it is to happen, it will, regardless of how fatalistic almost this sounds. Being honest in all you do is really the key. Keep parents informed, from day one. Show them what you do, bring them in the learning world. Allow them their opinion, only be prepared to prove them wrong, if need be.
And thank them, every time. They have trusted you with their future. Do that on the spot, or through a text, through social media even. With my tutoring classes, I usually create ‘thank you’ boards – actual and virtual – and we always leave a note for mum and dad too. It’s part of our routine and it brings us all together.