Ventures in Vocation – rants and prospects

As months keep flying by in 2017, I’ve found myself in exceptionally busy and challenging environments, so blogging – or rather, posting – fell behind a little. Writing has always been a different story altogether; I always reflect in writing but, lately, sharing those thoughts simply hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s time it did 🙂

For about eight years now, half of my teaching and learning time has been devoted to adult esp courses – focusing on tourism & services, real estate and my long-lasting love with legal English. The new year, however, arrived with an uplifting challenge: teen & young adult groups attending vocational schools – studying in tourism again & automotive technicians for a change – and quite a change, as to this day I couldn’t care less for cars and all. I did ponder whether I should take that up, and for a substantial amount of time; given though that it was two former students of mine who were now pursuing further expertise that their general knowledge of English wouldn’t cover, I said yes. A ‘yes’ that brought me face to face with an inadequacy I didn’t really care to modify and fill into at first, but which also massively annoyed me – it just didn’t sit well in me to abandon the effort. A ‘yes’ that suddenly multiplied the learner group – as those two former students brought the whole class from school with them.

What I didn’t know in the beginning was how much more annoyed I would become during the first couple of lessons. It was annoyance on a multi-level scale too, which made it even more difficult.
Having mainly focused on teenage learners for over a decade, the challenge wasn’t the group, but the subject. How could I sustain my own and the learners’ motivation working on something that does not interest me at all and on which I have next-to-nothing to work with?
Any hopes I might have had for at least some relevant material from official sources, i.e. the vocational school, were very quickly shattered, as the only thing those learners had in their hands was a set of photocopied mainstream elt coursebook pages with grammar rules. Here’s where my annoyance levels begin to go up:

  1. It’s a vocational school. You’re expected to have bibliography on relevant subjects for all your students.
  2. “Just learn the terms by heart. That’s all” – the answer the school English “teacher” gave to the students’ questions about learning how to do their job in an English-speaking environment. When I visited the school, he refused to see me – well, there you go.
  3. There are amazing, passionate and hardworking colleagues in public vocational schools. Shouldn’t there be a database of their produced material available to all students?

I wasn’t trying to avoid preparing material – it just shocked me to see that even though those students were expected to study and take exams on their subject, all the material provided was on general English and several levels below their competency – something common, as I’ve been since informed. We’re in 2017. I might have been too hopeful but having known how colleagues put their heart in teaching and produce materials, I expected those students – and their school teacher – to have access to it.

*rant over*

I decided to make it all interactive – I might have known nothing about cars, but I’ve been good at completing tasks 😉 Obviously, so are my students. We’ve been working our way through terminology and functional language on Car Mechanic Simulator – found through STEAM. The students are divided in five groups of three and each group “owns” a garage – myself and a couple of colleagues pose each week as customers 🙂 The groups are responsible for the smooth operations in their garage, appropriate task allocation and production of three weekly reports (Tasks Performed, Financial and Weekly prospects) as well as a monthly report from the “manager” (selected and appointed by the team members).

I’m not sad to say that I still have no interest in anything automotive – not in handing it, I mean, I’m quite happy to enjoy their service. I am, however, thrilled to admit that my students’ enthusiasm fires me up beyond expectation!
Even though I remain angry at the lack of care, of perspective and of prospect – as  those students are seeking a future away from here and who can blame them? – it’s our duty to pursue shifts in anything that does not work to our own and the future generations’ benefit.

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Just being there…#TeacherHub Discussions

It’s the first steps in March and things are on the whole going well. So well, it’s almost scary. There has been a lot of work and preparations in the background and it hit me once again that I haven’t posted for a very, very long time. I’ve been writing, yet not sharing. Somehow it seems I’m only just beginning to accept how much of a slow learner I am.

I keep going back to the posts on the blog, either because someone re-shares them or I happen to notice a “spike” in stats (thanks WordPress). And I can’t help but feel overwhelmed – not because of numbers, there are some 70 or so posts here – but because it’s a pretty weird feeling to see what you’ve actually been sharing. There’s always the urge of self-correction, but then again, each post represents a moment in time, how could anyone correct that? Though it is ultimately comforting to accept yourself exactly as you are, there is a constant self-doubt that emerges, somewhat unnoticed. Which is fine. We certainly know very little about the world around us and accepting that is a brilliant first step to becoming better.

Just a couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend – a heavily burdened friend who I hold very close to heart for a number of reasons – and he kept talking about his place in the world, how he sees no reason whatsoever to stand and talk and do. I couldn’t pinpoint what was actually bothering me; his desperation, his lack of confidence, or perhaps my own inadequacy in helping him. He mentioned my persistent, stubborn take on positivity and how he finds that impossible and all I could answer was that I’m positive because I have a choice, as we all do. This choice, however, is not something simple, and I have no recipes to make it happen. We cannot shape the choices of others, not if we care for them, in my view. Everyone deserves to go on their journey, see what they can see, ask when they want to know, be who they wish to be – we can be there for them, that’s all. And this conversation led me to thinking further about the learners trusted to me – do I do enough to give them the space to be themselves? In theory, yes. I don’t feel happy in the know-it-all teacher shoes. But is that enough?

Probably not. The idea that we know and they don’t is something puzzling to me. We all know things, from different perspectives perhaps, but at a given time we know and we won’t easily give up on what we know – why should we? Being open to suggestions and advice is a very different thing, it doesn’t challenge exactly what you know, but rather the way you perceive the things you know. The more these thoughts twirl in my head, the more I think basing lessons on the people I work with matters. Is that a revelation? Well, no. As an educator, what I find most significant is to sit quietly and guide when I can. It has nothing to do with what I see fits best, because most of the times I’m not sure what fits best. The day-to-day interactions depend on who I’m working with –  and I’m blessed with a variety.

That’s more or less what I shared in last week’s TeacherHub and was greeted with silence. Even though at first this silence appeared as an obstacle, as a wall I’d managed to build up between myself and our Hub, it turned out that similar thoughts were running through each of our heads – only we couldn’t put them to words. Looking around the room, I could see those same thoughts on my Hubbers faces and stances, so it felt more efficient, applicable and awesome to put each thought to action. Show each other what our vision or fear looks like.

Maybe we should set our minds on recording those meetings. I mean, it’s nearly impossible for me to portray in writing everything we have experienced. In brief, very – very – brief, here are some of our trails:

  • We need a certain amount of standing, sitting down and moving around during class, listed from less to most. The most responsive and productive seems to be the moving around, the involvement in each instance.
  • Listening is easy. Comprehending is difficult. Adjusting practice and material based on what we observed always involves the danger of becoming too leading. (Reflecting on balance is next month’s task).
  • Music is crucial to all of us. Let’s choose a playlist for class.
  • Learning to keep silent -or unlearning to dominate discussions – is a huge challenge. Let’s just let them talk.
  • Involve them. Yes, how? We all come into lesson with one issue or another, let’s use that. No, we can’t have pre-prepared material for every single topic. Yes, we can modify – it’s our plan, after all, and it might as well go out the window when we notice that one sparkle in their eyes.
  • Our presence means something. Usually something different from what we expect. Often something we fail to notice. Can we practise in this?

Those Hub meetings, I love. Just being there.

To all good things coming up #spreadthejoy

January 1st, 2017 – sounds nice!

People say that however the first day of the year finds you, that’s how the rest of the year will go. If I take this literally, I’ll be spending the whole of 2017 with a slight cold, surrounded by people I love and who love me back, over a table full of homemade foods and drinks and with a head bursting with ideas. If I’m more philosophical and take this in a less literal sense, still it’s the overwhelming feeling of love, homely warmth and curiosity that will dominate the year. I’m happy with either.

Many things happened in 2016 and I’m grateful for all of them, the good and the not-so-good. Nothing bad, really, except perhaps for a little sadness and disappointment in some people – but that’s common, we can’t keep everyone happy and certainly shouldn’t focus our energy on that, especially when it’s a lost case. Still, I’m grateful for that disappointment too – it’s remarkably liberating to know exactly where you stand and have no regrets, only great memories.

On with the good things!

2016 came to an end with the completion of small and bigger projects with my students – but more work and new sparkling ideas are to become a reality in the new year. More projects, more collaborations, more sharing; it’s what we’re here for!

The end of 2016 also saw the end to several of my courses, but instead of keeping the bittersweet feeling of that last lesson before December’s exams, I keep the joy of growing along those students over the years and the pride in their accomplishments. 2017 will find me sharing and exploring with different groups, more teens and young adults and much more within vocational and ESP contexts – I see this as a challenge to my creativity and hope for the best!

Apart from teaching, I’m also looking forward to as much learning as possible and there surely is a lot around to choose from (I think I’ll put together a list (!) of seminars, webinars and courses sometime soon).

Last, and certainly not least, travelling will also take up a great part of this new year – some for projects, some for conventions and some just because I love travelling! 

I won’t make any resolutions (because I usually break those, almost on principle 😊) but will express the hope that I’ll make it through seeing the good things, will have the patience to write about it all and will carry the feelings of this first day wherever 2017 finds me.

To great beginnings…#littlereflections

I can’t think of a better way to start the school year other than diving into the learning zone; and not just any learning zone, but the one where you’re surrounded and nudged forward by excellent colleagues. There were so many moments to keep from the Start-of-the-Year event in September that I’d need post after post to cover them – so, instead, a little info and reflection coming below; just to send those vibes out to the world.

 

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Anna Petala took us inside a story – a truly wonderful way of presenting grammar, while making it relevant and engaging for young learners. Kings, queens and royal pets, swords and tiaras, all binding together and leading to solid learning. The crafting part was also a personal highlight; making our own reminders 😉
(Find more information on their website Europoint and on their Facebook page here.)

 

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Gwyn Owen then unfolded the magic of emerging language, something I love exploring and try my best to make good use of in my classes too. There is so much passion, creativity and potential in each of our students, and as Gwyn made obvious through his captivating presentation, it doesn’t take much to move what happens ‘on the side’ right to the center of our learning environment. Effort, yes; altering teaching perceptions, yes; And all worth it.

 

And then it was time for me to game the whole thing a little more…
There’s something truly unique in sharing with fellow educators, especially when the idea shared doesn’t follow the mainstream patterns but introduces an alternative.
I felt somewhat apprehensive at first; game-based learning might be gaining more and more ground globally, yet it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and certainly raises numerous concerns – when you haven’t tried it  🙂
Some points I’ll be further reflecting on in follow-up posts:

  • It’s always best to keep the talking to the minimum and maximize the doing.  – Verified (again).
  • Show the results. It’s all about the learners and they are the ones with things to say. – Still stand by this.
  • Feedback form. Hmmm. Given that an overall feedback form is distributed, a specific one per workshop might be too much. – Choosing not to hand out my workshop feedback form felt strange. Should I have stayed on principle and given it?
    (You can have a look at my presentation on Slideshare)

A big thank you to the TESOL Greece Board and family, my fellow presenters and everyone who joined us for that lovely learning Sunday at Ionios School!
(and special thanks to our dear Matina Katseli for her lovely photos!)

 

Essentials for nomad teachers

“ΜΔταÎșÎżÎŒÎŻÎ¶Î”Îčς;”
There’s some Greek for “Are you moving house?”. And that’s the comment I received once from a friend, when I joined her for a rare, middle-of-the-day coffee. I remember looking puzzled, at her first and then at myself; and I found myself carrying a handbag on each shoulder, a smaller one hanging in the front and the laptop on my back. Judging by her wide-open eyes, my face must have looked equally burdened.

Almost all the turning points in my life have suddenly clicked in my head because of someone’s comment. I’ve said it before and still swear by it, thought bouncing is the best thing ever. It’s slightly worrying that it didn’t occur to me I might have been burdening both my body and my mind, but the truth is I very often forget to check if I’m ok. Thankfully, the energies of this universe usually send a reminder.

In the few seconds it took to reply with a No!, a laugh and a “let’s have that coffee” to the question above, my brain nearly exploded with further questions.
Do I look horribly tired?
Why am I carrying all these?
Do I need them?
Where am I going to put them now?
Does she think I’m crazy?
Did I make the right choice in working on my own?
But we were having coffee, and all I really wanted was to sit back and enjoy.

Later that day, I made it home and put all those handbags in line in front of me. Right, what’s in here? Unsurprisingly, a whole bunch of unnecessary, but self-reassuring, stuff; from books and printed materials to all stationary known to man. I counted twenty pencils and fifteen erasers in there, and it hit me, very acutely, that I was somehow trying to compensate for not being a school. As if that’s what mattered in the lesson, having enough pencils and erasers or countless sheets – in case of extreme-writing, perhaps? Or as if you need a specifically set amount of books, notepads and walls to actually learn.
So I started removing, while asking myself, what is it you want to do? Teach and learn. Good. Let’s make this work, Miss Nomad.
I can’t put to words how liberating this process was.
When it was all done, I was basically left with two pencils, a green pen, an eraser, a notepad, my GoogleDrive and myself.

Admittedly, ourselves is the most important part of our kit. I sometimes miss my days in schools, where there was my own cupboard with all my things in one place, yet, thinking about it, what I miss is that superficial feeling of security, not the stuff or the cupboards. These days, lessons find me everywhere, in living-rooms and kitchens, in offices, in parks, online more and more altogether and in a few school premises. Is that the definition of the nomad teacher? Maybe it is. All I know is that it works for me. The lessons where you mainly bring yourself in and work with what you have in front of you. That’s what makes me happy and that’s what I try and do.

So yes, I need those two-three little things, and, stationary and tech aside, this “self” needs a couple of more things while on the move – we all do. I need a book to read in transit, a wallet and headphones. And a make-up/first-aid kit (that’s the girly side, I tend to have those even if I never use them). Other than that, though, I make more effort on keeping the self in a good place; it doesn’t always work, but at least there is effort on my part (she says to herself), and it includes:

-starting the day with Greek coffee and a smile, no matter what
-choosing shoes for the day

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-writing what comes out of my head
-keeping ears, eyes and soul open
-Did I just make a list? I think I did 🙂 –

We all have different ways to keep us forward. What’s yours? (yes, an open invitation to everyone to share)

 

TeacherHub discussions #FreelancerDiary

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Third year in freelance teaching…it’s a little overwhelming, I guess, but on the whole the rewards have been multiple and coming from unexpected turns of time –  which means I’ve found myself experiencing good, only taking a lot of time to realize it. Yes, everything remains uncertain, after all I live in a country where we all float in doubt and it’s only a weird, idealistic persistence that keeps me here still, along with some family obligations.

Those words there on the left seemed quite appropriate in my case, I did make that decision a few years back. Given that nothing was as it should be, it felt the time was right to do what I wanted and see where it led me. And it led to more openness, exploration and a reaffirmation of my main approach to learning and teaching: community. There are things we can achieve on our own, because we wish to pursue them, because we love them, because they mean something to us – but finding another, or many others, who share that love and meaning is an incomparable feeling. Since my first days in education – those non-official, teenage takes on teaching – the world around made all the difference and showed the way to how things would develop, even if I wasn’t experienced enough to see it back then. With great big gaps in community presence through the years, as alone time equally means a lot personally, I’ve come to realize that in our connection with others there are simply choices we make and their consequences. Extending this thought on what we commonly refer to as a PLN, it seems that we sometimes count numbers instead of quality moments – we’ve all probably done that at some point; we chose to do so. Yet, community stands as we do. We might not match with everyone but there is always something we can learn and something we can share.

And though this post might so far seem too general or irrelevant, it actually came to be because of a recent discussion with a younger colleague, a passionate educator I used to teach about seven years ago, who came to my learning hub with enthusiasm but also complaints.

For the sake of ease (and against my innate aversion towards list-y things), here’s roughly what she brought to us:

  1. “I keep hearing and seeing the same things going around. Nothing new, nothing original. The same activity, just shown in a different way. And how can I choose between the common and the not-really-new-but-almost?”
  2. “It seems that other teachers are against me, even hate me, for whatever reason. Every time I try to discuss a practice, an idea, or something I’d like to do, most [of other teachers] either say ‘oh, we’ve done that’ or ‘it’ll never work’ and then I see them using my idea with their classes.”
  3. “There are personal comments too. I mean, I found out that another teacher spoke badly about me to our DoS and some of the parents, one of the parents told me. How do you deal with that?”
  4. “What can I do when I’ve seen there might be some learning disability in a student, but my DoS says to not mention anything because it will upset the parents?”

Oh my. I really have no idea how a trainer would approach these; I’m only a sharer, simply another teacher there to listen and perhaps give a little bit of thought and insight. Still, I’ve been through all this before and, in a way, it was refreshing to revisit those scenarios – well, facts.
Keeping the group sentiment aside (a group of seven language teachers in their mid-twenties who immediately protested against all the above-mentioned points), it felt like certain things needed to be clarified first.

Originality.
How many things can we truly call “original” these days? It seems to me that it’s the approach, not the activity, which holds the essence of innovation. We are not necessarily doing new things, yet we have the chance of doing them our way, and our way can certainly be original. Getting to that point, however, might take a second or a lifetime.

The “bad mouth-ers”
From the moment you put an idea out there – whether in person, online, on the phone, or whatever other means of sharing there is – it’s up for the taking. And it should be. Exactly because originality isn’t a given anymore, your take on something might be helpful to someone at the far ends of this world. Yes, you could monetize on it. If that’s your goal, don’t share it freely. If you don’t want others claiming it for their own, don’t share it freely. It’s up to you.
When it comes to personal comments, a huge debate lurks in the background. Being me – i.e. someone who believes in asking, doing and having hands-on experience – a) don’t believe everything you hear and b) don’t dismiss someone without a discussion on the matter at hand. Nobody needs a drama and we all have better things to do, yet if something is bothering us, it should be addressed.

“Director’s cut”
From the first moment A. started sharing, my thoughts were “there’s clearly no support there’. That DoS has failed in keeping the team going. Unfortunate, but common. Especially when talking about franchise schools – and A. works for one of the most well-known ones here in Athens – where what matters is keeping the royalties and name going, rather than making learning happen. Two points to make, out of personal experience:
When the DoS doesn’t hold one-one teacher sessions regarding feedback and conduct, there’s a problem.
When the DoS tells you to be quiet about anything concerning your learners, there’s a problem.
And that problem isn’t yours, the teacher’s, but it is you who has to deal with it and make it either stop or find your way out of there.

Again, that’s just my take on things. It’s what I shared in our little TeachersHub, and which was received with a slight surprise as I’m rarely openly assertive. That meeting has a few follow-ups to go through before it’s considered covered and closed.

I’d love further ideas, as always, and if you’d like, TeachersHub is open to all -just let me know if you’d like to come join us!

And just to loop it round my – vague, admittedly  – theme, this freelancer doesn’t have all the answers, she only has a thing or two to say about getting yourself out in the teaching world; we need effective training, clear objectives and steel-like patience to pull this through. But together, we’ll make it happen.

Game it!

I might be away on project work, but great things are in store and just wanted to share the excitement 🙂

So here’s a little preview…until the end of September when I’ll be meeting & sharing with excellent educators at the TESOL Greece Start-of-the-Year event!