Saturday, November 19, 2016

My Profession, My Self

For all his focus on bringing back our American jobs, President-elect Donald Trump is not considering my job.

Or the job of tens of thousands of English language teachers who are needed to meet the needs of literally millions of kids, teens, and adults in our communities.

Of course, I'm not on board with most of what Donald Trump says, does, or claims to stand for. Yet, I thought we would at least agree that jobs are important.

They are.

Nevertheless, Trump's inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, not to mention his proposed wall, immigration bans, changes to work/study visa programs, and promise to deport millions create a very real problem for my job.

I'm an English as a Second Language teacher. I serve my country (and my world) by teaching language skills and representing America as a place where freedom and equality are our guiding lights--not fear and intolerance.

If there are no immigrants, international students, or refugees, I'm out of the job, and that sucks. But I'm not looking for sympathy here. I want to keep my job not because it pays my bills, but because it represents my values and the society I want to live in. I could definitely do other types of work (it would sure pay better!), but I don't want to. I love my job, and I love the people I get to meet by being an English teacher. I value a diverse population of people, and I take pride in the America that welcomes people from other nations to work, study, and live in our country without feeling persecuted because of their passport, holy book, or skin color.

Students at the university in Thailand where I currently teach are worried that they won't be able to go on their work/study programs in the US next year, or they fear going to the US for any reason due to Trump's rhetoric about non-white, non-Christian, non-Americans. I'm embarrassed that my country is now associated with such hypocrisy. Outside of native peoples, in America, we are all descendants of immigrants, and in my family, my own step-father only recently attained American citizenship. He was born and raised in Germany, but moved to the US for an opportunity for the lifestyle he wanted. Immigrants are integral to what makes America great and competitive on the world stage in the first place.

I may not be saying anything new today, but what I'm saying is that English teachers must not stand for the growing movement of intolerance and hate in our country. We must be advocates for our students now more than ever. Politically, we must take action at the first signs of changes to visas that will limit bright scholars from joining the conversations at our universities. We must push for the US to do its part in the resettlement of refugees. The America that was once the most desirable place for foreign students to come is getting an unworthy reputation as a bullying, hateful place where foreigners are in danger.

That's not my America. My America values the contributions of people from around the world and welcomes people who believe America is still a land of opportunity.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Using Facebook Groups to Extend the Language Classroom

This photo of me is from a recent presentation with my colleague, Yuliya Speroff,
about using Facebook Groups in the classroom.

Check out our slides from Meliksah ELT Day 2015

From our abstract: 

ESOL Teachers are always looking for practical ways to facilitate communication withstudents and promote autonomous learning outside the classroom. Technology and the internet have opened myriad channels for communication and learning; however, today’s vast array of web 2.0 platforms (Dubravac, 2013) offer almost too many options for teachers. Moreover using multiple platforms for socializing and completing class work can create an unmanageable amount of separate accounts for students to check. To reach students easily, why not use a platform they are already familiar with and checking daily? Facebook offers a user interface that is simple, yet capable of many of the functions teachers want. Using a private Facebook group, teachers can easily post links to resources, multimedia homework assignments, and class reminders. Students receive notifications of posts from the teacher; and they can easily post videos and other multimedia back to the group, send messages to the teacher or to other students, and find new ways to participate in their classroom community. The extension from classroom to Facebook Group may help to promote autonomous learning and a sense of comradery in students who would otherwise depend on the teacher or coursebook as the only sources of input.

Want to ask a question about our presentation? Have a suggestion? Please leave a comment below, or feel free to join our Facebook Group for more info: Meliksah ELT Day 2015

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A better day

I'm writing to follow up on the gloom and doom from the last post. Today I proctored the final speaking exams for many of my students.

To be honest, I was proud of them. Despite the challenges they posed for me, I got to know some of them pretty well; and despite their behavior, I actually liked many of them.

Today I felt sad to see them go. I won't miss teaching them, but I will miss them somehow.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Teaching trials and moving on

It's been a month since my last post. I finally finished the fourth and final teaching quarter at Meliksah. The last quarter was by far the most difficult--in fact, there really is no comparison to any teaching challenge I've ever faced in the past.

I was assigned to teach the dreaded "repeater" sections of students who didn't pass the 3rd quarter. Some of them didn't pass because of proficiency, but most didn't pass because of attendance or motivation issues. While the lowest 2 repeater sections gave up almost immediately and started watching subtitled films instead of working in the course books, my sections were supposed to trudge on through the material that students had already seen the previous quarter. You can imagine that my students and I were not so thrilled to review the exact same material again.

Things were bad. I felt like I had stepped into an alternate universe in which disrespecting and ignoring the teacher were normal behaviors, and a good day was one during which I only imagined strangling one student. Students would deliberately put headphones in when I was talking, flat out refuse to do activities, and in some cases, refuse to speak English to me. Students painted their nails, applied make up, played cell phone games, took selfies, sang along to the songs on their headphones, and even set up what looked to me to be a craps table using their books. Perhaps most annoying of all, many of my questions were not answered with words, but with this delightful gesture/noise. It's a very casual way to say "no" in Turkish, but it's really not appropriate for a teacher-student interaction, and definitely not appropriate to an open-ended question.
I cried in the classroom for the first time in my life.

These groups of students took me to a very dark place. For the first time in my life, I genuinely did not want to teach. I felt like my job was pointless. Honestly, I think my students were in a similar mode of apathy and ennui. The classroom atmosphere was heavy and dull--completely the opposite of how it usually feels.

Now that it's over, I can look back and see a few bright spots, but I was so relieved to finish my final hour on Friday. I'm usually sad on the last day of class, but not this time. It was a bad feeling for me. I want to like my students and help them and miss them when they're gone.

My colleagues and I had a great party last night to celebrate the end of the repeater classes, and I'm feeling much less toxic now. I'm ready to move on.

I'm looking forward to non-teaching time this summer to investigate my research interests in educational psychology and identity. I hope that I will feel refreshed and motivated now that I've survived such a difficult experience.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Open-mindedness, Tolerance, and Respect for Diversity

Yesterday I was confronted a very uncomfortable situation in my classroom.

I had students making xenophobic, insensitive, and ill-informed comments about people from other cultures.

Following a particularly offensive outburst from one student, I dismissed the class early. Tears welling up, I asked the lingering students to leave and get my teacher friends. I needed emotional support. I filed a report detailing the events and my supervisor has commended me for how I handled the situation. 

Following the incident, I have been reflecting deeply about my teaching philosophy and my personal philosophy as Jena Lynch. Being open-minded, tolerant, and respectful are at the core of who I am, and they are at the core of why I am a teacher. I have chosen a career that puts me in direct contact with people from hugely diverse backgrounds. I love learning about other cultures and people's experiences. Building relationships with people from other countries makes me feel like I have a place in the world. I feel most alive when I connect with someone who speaks a different language, who has a different background, or who is simply curious about the world we live in.

My philosophy has no place for hatred based on ignorance, closed mindedness, or lack of respect for humankind. My students' comments yesterday deeply hurt my feelings as a foreigner living in Turkey. Even though the comments were not about my country, the fact that my students were openly so disrespectful and hurtful was appalling to me.

Granted, at 19-years-old, many people aren't making their best decisions or saying the most intelligent things, but there is no excuse for the kind of behavior I witnessed. 

This incident brings me to the question: to what extent is it my job to teach tolerance in my language classroom? I get into the deepest muck when I question whether my values are somehow inherently right or better than those that my students portrayed. 

In the 21st century language classroom, I think my values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and respect for diversity are dead on. I think that part of teaching English as an international language is teaching respect, curiosity, and tolerance. People who interact with others must understand the impact of everything they say and do as a direct reflection of themselves, their country, and possibly even larger organized groups, like religious affiliations. I stuck to my belief yesterday that there is no place for hateful and ignorant speech in any classroom. 

If those students learn nothing from me about vocabulary or grammar, I hope they remember me as the teacher who could not tolerate a student's offensive comments about Iraqi people. That's a reputation I could live with.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Quarter 3 Highlights

Quarter three at Melik┼čah prep school tested my endurance. I had 5 different classes of students, each with 20 names and faces to remember. I'm sure many teachers out there are saying, "Yes, and...?"

I can appreciate the challenges of teachers of large classes and teachers with 100s of students to manage. I did manage to learn each student's name within the first 2 weeks, even with three Dilara's in one section.

Current ESL/EFL methodology encourages a communicative approach in which the learner is the center of the classroom. In my philosophy, this manifests as me trying to get to know each student, and tailoring my classroom activities to fit the class's personality. In fact, I often have particular students in mind when I create activities. I think the personalized attention I put into materials development is one reason that students respond to my lessons. As an example, one of my classes during the last quarter was super chatty. They also liked to talk about each other and give each other a hard time (in a joking way). I capitalized on this tendency to teach qualifier + comparative structures--For example, ______ is a lot taller than ______.  I created 7 sentence frames following the example pattern, but with different adjectives and the option to replace "a lot" with "a little." Students filled in the blanks with their classmates' names, and then we read them out loud. The sentences were often funny, and because students were talking about each other, they had real motivation to listen. The speakers also had great motivation to use correct grammar, because a correct "insult"has more impact than an incorrect one. We had a lot of fun with that activity!

The past quarter had some challenges reminiscent of the struggles I endured during my first weeks at this program. Among the most challenging aspects for me is getting students to be quiet and pay attention, especially following group work. Switching the lights on and off, clapping, and even using my lifeguard voice barely had an impact. In a short class period with lots to cover, the time lost trying to get students back to attention really adds up.

Despite some of the ongoing classroom management issues, I found success in vocabulary instruction with the help of PowerPoint and Google images. For each set of new vocabulary, I made a PowerPoint slideshow in which the first slide had an image related to one of the new words and the following slide had the picture and a meaningful sentence including the new word. I found that the pictures helped students recall the words, and the sentences helped reinforce how to use the word correctly. We reviewed these shows at the beginning of nearly ever class hour, and I felt that students were able to bring these words into their productive vocabulary more quickly due to the repetition. In addition, I printed the pictures and sentences on separate papers and then gave each student either a sentence or a picture. Working with their classmates, they had to find the appropriate matches and sit together. I found this to be an effective get-out-of-your-seat activity to introduce the new vocabulary in a communicative way. Students were mostly able to find the matches on their own, which I assume is more valuable to learning than simply absorbing the teacher's explanation passively.

Overall, a successful quarter, even if I did often feel zapped for energy. I blame that on the springtime weather tease: warm and sunny followed by snowstorm and wind.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Resume and Teaching Philosophy

My resume as of February 2015

I am an English as a second language (ESL) teacher by training, but at least half of my teaching experience has been in the university composition classroom. These two general contexts have informed my teaching-philosophy about how to approach a diverse group of students with varying needs and preferences.

Regardless of students’ language proficiency, my most important goal is to see students engage with the material. I’ve seen that careful planning, coupled with enthusiasm, creates a safe, yet dynamic and enjoyable, atmosphere for engagement and learning. My ultimate goal as a teacher is that students will apply what they learn in my class to other areas of their lives. The best compliment is a former student recounting how something we learned in my class helped her with a later assignment.

Creating a space where students feel comfortable to try (and sometimes fail) is essential for me as a language and writing teacher. My students need support from me and from each other in order to take risks, learn, and ultimately gain proficiency. During every class, I try to check in with each student, even if only during an attendance question. It’s important to me that I treat my students with respect and curiosity. In my assignments and grading, I always try to set my students up for success through well-planned prompts, but I believe that students deserve a second chance.

Another way I set students up for success is through lesson-planning. Lesson plans should account for course objectives, student needs, and learning preferences. Working to meet course objectives is the top priority as a classroom teacher. Ultimately, students will be tested on these objectives, and will need the information and skills developed in the course to be successful at higher levels. Beyond objectives, accounting for student needs, at a class and individual level has yielded positive results for me. Personalizing material for students can help them connect and engage on a much deeper level. In addition, being responsive to student questions and concerns builds trust and contributes to the safe atmosphere I provide. To account for students’ learning preferences, I try to vary the mode and method of instruction from class to class. For example, teaching vocabulary through student-created actions (or skits) adds a dimension of physicality that may help the new words stick for some learners. On the other hand, drawing a picture to represent the new word may help other students connect new knowledge to existing knowledge. Through experimentation, students develop a repertoire of strategies that they can take with them to other classes and beyond.

Teaching students strategies for learning is an effective use of teacher time. I believe that by teaching strategies alongside content, I am building not only knowledge for now, but skills for later. For example, I identify and teach strategies for decoding new words based on prefixes, suffixes and stems. I also post various strategies in the classroom or online as a reminder to students throughout the semester. The critical part of strategy instruction is to acknowledge the individual differences in student preference, as well as the sometimes slow process of working a strategy into one’s routine. Building a repertoire of strategies helps students feel supported and prepared for assignments and assessments in class, and also in future tasks.

My favorite teachers have been dynamic and alive in front of the class. I believe that the best way to get energy from my students is to give them energy. I am comfortable to be animated, enthusiastic, and spontaneous in front of students because it results in animation, enthusiasm and spontaneity from them. The dynamic classroom has clear goals to achieve, but may diverge from the lesson plan depending on how students respond to the material. Comprehension checks and participation are important elements of my classroom. I try to plan partner and group work, along with individual reflection, into every lesson. I believe that the human elements of the classroom, such as teacher attitude, student interaction, and capitalizing on unplanned learning opportunities make all the difference in terms of student engagement.

Overall, student engagement, long-term learning, and creating a positive environment are some of my top priorities in the classroom. During every lesson, these core elements of my teaching philosophy influence both what I plan and how I think on my feet. I believe that these elements have contributed to my success as a teacher.