Tag Archives: professional development

Doubting

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Image courtesy of Roo Reynolds

Hi. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. I’ve missed you. I hope you are all doing well. Me? I’ve been busy with new jobs, none of which are in the classroom. I’ve also joined the board of my local association for English language teachers and I’m co-chairing the next annual conference. But even in all of that busyness, I haven’t forgotten about you. Alas, you’ve probably moved on though.

Not being in the classroom for the past six months has been, well, interesting. I miss it. A lot. So if I miss it that much, how come I’m not teaching? Well, it has a lot to do with seniority and available positions. Needless to say, I’m itching to get back in there. Sort of.

To be honest, I’m going through one of THOSE times. You know, self-doubt and all. I hear from teachers in person and online and I begin to doubt my abilities. Those little whispers in my brain attempting to convince me that I’m not good enough, not smart enough for the job.

This may sound like a pity party. But it isn’t. Stick with me here. Continue reading Doubting

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Flooding

prairie wetland

Image courtesy of USFWSmidwest

It’s amazing what I can learn on my drive to work. This semester, I am working on two campuses which are about a thirty-minute drive from each other. During my daily commute, I listen to CBC Radio and I am always surprised how interesting some of these topics are. The other day they were interviewing a professor from the University of Saskatchewan regarding the flooding that was occurring in central Canada. He mentioned a study they had undertaken regarding the draining of prairie wetlands for farming and the effect this has had on spring and summer flooding. This study shows that this natural prairie watershed system was instrumental in dramatically reducing the flooding downstream. By allowing farmers to drain these small and seemingly insignificant ponds and marshes to provide more space for growing crops, water had no natural barrier and would eventually accumulate and overflow the natural banks, flooding farmland and municipalities downstream.

This got me thinking about teaching and how we are much like those individual farmers working on our small plots of land. Our actions, no matter how well intentioned, have an affect on our students and can cause problems further ‘downstream’. Continue reading Flooding

Fearing

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Image courtesy of Saspotato

Social media can be so cruel. Before Twitter, Facebook and the like, I was content in thinking that I knew something. I felt like I was actually pretty knowledgeable and was able to connect the dots to apply that information in a meaningful way. But then I joined Twitter and started blogging. Now, I feel that I don’t really know that much really. When I read what others write and even the short snippets provided in Tweets, I feel, well, pretty dumb actually. I don’t say this to gain pity, I am admitting it because I am starting to realize that this is somewhat of a gift. Continue reading Fearing

Building

words

Image courtesy of Taryn

A few days ago, I posted this ‘challenge’ on Twitter:

Project #444ELT: Helping ELT professionals connect with ELT research

  • Read 4 journal articles every week for 4 weeks (a total of 16 articles)
  • Each week, write a blog post that has:
    • a reference to each article
    • a short summary of each one
    • your remarks or thoughts on the content
    • a list of questions raised after reading each article.
  • Share your post on Twitter using the hashtag #444ELT
To be totally honest, I thought it might catch a few people, but instead the response via retweets and favourites has been really surprising. I mostly did this to keep myself accountable, but I was secretly hoping a few people might join in as well. It is a little different than a blog carnival in that the person joining in can do it at any time instead of setting a deadline. This is meant to be ongoing as a means to promote the use of ELT research in the classroom. By forcing yourself to participate in this short challenge, it is hoped that this will create a routine of sorts that will carry on throughout your career.

I decided to choose a theme for each week. This week’s theme revolves around vocabulary learning/acquisition and the use of intentional and incidental means. Each study is different in many ways, but the common thread shows amazing continuity in the results with some solid applications for the language classroom.

So, without further delay, here is my first entry: Week one of #444ELT Continue reading Building

Growing

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Image courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli

One of the unique things about becoming a teenager in the Canadian province of Alberta is you can get your learner’s driving permit on your fourteenth birthday, and that is exactly what I did. Just as with most young people, the opportunity to move behind the wheel is a thrill and one that you can’t wait to do on you own. In order to obtain your learner’s permit, all you have to do is to pass the written part of the exam. I remember the first time behind the wheel. My dad took me to a remote parking lot in a empty city park and had me start and start in first gear (I learned to drive on a manual transmission car). I loved it, but I desperately wanted to get out on the road. That opportunity came weeks later and only around some residential streets. Then the big day came. My parents and I were going to be driving to another city about 3 hours away and my dad was going to let me drive the whole way. The day was overcast, but clear and the start of the journey was fairly uneventful. Slowly, my dad nodded off in the front seat while my mom clung tightly to the door handle in the back seat. Then it happened: construction. I had no idea what to do. There were people holding signs, orange cones all over the place, trucks moving in and out of traffic, and to make matters worse, gravel and rough roads. Meanwhile, my dad continued his afternoon nap. Eventually we made it through and on to our destination. Once we pulled over and stopped, I realized that my hands were cramping as I had been clinging so tightly to the steering wheel that my knuckles had turned pure white. I could hardly take my hands off of the wheel.

I learned a lot from that experience, but in hindsight, it would have been better for me to have read a bit more on the subject and possibly even practised it a bit in on a smaller scale. Also, it would have been nice to have someone with more experience guiding me along the way, pointing out potential problems along the way (sorry dad, I know you were tired and it all worked out in the end). This is what it was like for me as I was handed over my TESL certificate back in 1995. It was like someone had handed me my driver’s license without the process of a learner’s permit. Sure, I had had a practicum with an experienced trainer, but it was fairly short and couldn’t possibly have prepared me for what was to come next. Over the years, I have grown a great deal with a long way still to go. I thought I would share some of my thoughts about how I have learned to become a better teacher for my students.

So, you have your TESL certificate in hand, what’s next? To me, you are like a young tree that has been planted in the ground. Here are some things that can help you grow.

Continue reading Growing

Rebuking

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Image courtesy of J. E. Theriot

Okay, time for a confession. Despite what anyone might think, I’m not perfect (actually, anyone would be crazy to think that). I make plenty of mistakes on my own and I shouldn’t be digging around in anyone’s life. That being said, I felt it necessary to take some time to discuss a concern I have about how we are treating one another as professionals and simply as human beings. I’ve seen an alarming trend of being overly negative when responding to others online and even face to face. The media and entertainment certainly aren’t helping things either. It seems to me that we have lost a genuine respect for one another as fellow human beings. From internet trolls to late night talk shows, social media to general conversations, it seems that it has become acceptable, maybe even ‘cool’, to mock others or become highly critical of others who don’t think or do things the same way as we do. Even those who are calling on others to be more accepting of others become dismissive and negative towards those who might not feel the same way on certain issues. Do we have to agree with them? No, but we don’t need to be so insensitive and nasty.

Since this is a teaching blog and not meant to be a platform of more general topics, I want to bring this a little closer to home and focus on how we treat other teaching professionals who believe or think differently than we do. Continue reading Rebuking

Networking

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Image courtesy of Official GDC

Over the past weekend, I had the privilege of giving a session at the BC TEAL Lower Mainland Regional Conference in Vancouver, BC. I had a great time reconnecting with friends and colleagues, even if I was exhausted from my delated flight adventure involving long layovers in Toronto and Calgary and only four hours sleep.

The focus of my presentation was on creating a collaborative self-access library which included a bit of hands on practice with the things introduced. This is the same topic I gave at the TESL Ontario 2013 Conference in October with a number of changes made based on feedback given and my own thoughts about what went well and what didn’t. While it did go much better this time, there are still some things I would change if I do this presentation again.

Over the years, and even as recent as a couple of weeks ago, I have heard people complain about people who go to different conferences to give the same presentations to pad their resumes and build their ‘fame’ as an ELT professional. I understand this concern, but I feel that is a very shallow, narrow view of why people give conference sessions. Continue reading Networking

Watching

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Image still from the movie Entre les murs

This weekend, I made the exceedingly long journey to Vancouver for the BC TEAL Lower Mainland Regional Conference. I had a great time and I will certainly blog about that soon, but that isn’t the purpose of my post today. On the plane back from the conference, I watched the movie Entre les murs, an intriguing movie about a teacher and his middle school class in Paris. Even though I am not a K-12 teacher, I found it to be a fascinating and quite convincingly realistic voyage through a typical school year. I think the thing that caught my attention the most was that I felt like it wasn’t contrived, a  compelling story without the need of a storyline. Unlike many of films on schools put out by Hollywood, this story didn’t have a hero or villain, blatant agenda or mountain top experience. Instead, this story left me with more questions than answers. In the end, I didn’t find myself really liking or detesting either the teacher or the students. I felt a variety of emotions throughout the film, but none stayed consistent. Instead, it got me thinking about my classroom, my approaches to teaching and how I can learn from this situation. Here are my somewhat scattered thoughts: Continue reading Watching

Bridging

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Image courtesy of Jeff Fenton

In January, I moved across Canada to start work as an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) instructor for a university in Northern Ontario. The program was still really new and had, and is still having, a difficult time bringing in new teachers. It isn’t that the school wants to bring in outsiders, but the lack of local, professionally-trained teachers is posing a real problem. There is a push from the university to raise up teachers from within the local area through the creation of a teacher training program.

The TESL certificate program was in the design phase when I arrived and in April, I was a approached about possibly designing the material for the program as well as teach it. At the time, I was the only one who was qualified to run the program under the guidelines set out by TESL Canada. Full confession here, I hadn’t even considered being a teacher trainer, let alone help design a run a full program, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. May rolled around and I found myself on my first day standing in front a group of eager students waiting for the class to start. It hit me. Here I was about to teach others on what it means to teach. Me. I started to think, “What am I doing? These people think I actually know what I am talking about”.

The course set off on its five-week journey followed by a seemingly endless stream of practicums. It was during my observation times that I noticed students making similar ‘errors’ (or as I would define them, anyway) which we had covered in class. I couldn’t figure it out. Why was there such an issue with these things and not in other areas? What did I do wrong? How could I avoid this in the future? I started to reflect on my own first few months as a novice teacher and realized that I had made a number of those same choices even though my instructor had covered them. The problem was not in the instruction, but in the implementation. Bridging the gap from training to teaching was more difficult than I had anticipated. Continue reading Bridging

Mentoring

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Image courtesy of Christoph Rupprecht

Today marks the beginning of another week of TESL practicum observations for me. While I have enjoyed watching these new ESL teachers starting off their journey, I have to say I am a getting a bit tired. I realize that this is an important step for these trainees, but I feel like this is taking a whole lot more out of me than I had anticipated. It is funny considering that I’m not the one doing the lesson preparation and having to teach the class. I am not entirely sure why it takes so much of my energy, but I think I have a partial reason. I think it is because I care about helping them.

Long ago, I was in their shoes. I remember being that energetic, enthusiastic, nervous-to-the-core, rough-around-the-edges teacher in training. I distinctly remember the disaster of my first class and the not-so-interesting second class. But what I remember the most was the support I received from my TESL instructor, Gail Tiessen. I am so thankful for her. She was kind, firm, direct, and quick to help. Her comments kept me going, thinking, and improving. I am happy to still call her my mentor.

Yesterday, I was in church and the pastor was using the analogy of a pair of oxen being yoked together to work the fields. These oxen would not be able to finish the work on their own. Also, young oxen might not know what is expected of them without the support and guidance of the more experienced oxen by their side. The yoke isn’t there to punish them, or to say they can’t do it, it is there to give them support and guidance.

This analogy got me thinking about how we support and mentor those who don’t have the same amount of experience as ourselves. Continue reading Mentoring