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Chronicle # 4: Reciting Affirmations

An Alternative Strategy to Build Students’ Self-confidence

I finally finished reading the book of Chris Ripple entitled, “The Gatekeepers.” It took me four months to finish it, but considering my lackadaisical attitude when it comes to reading for pleasure (talking about speed reading is my Achilles heel), I definitely consider this an achievement. While Gatekeepers mostly re-counts the experiences of former White House chiefs of staff to past US Presidents, surprisingly I encountered a gem of thought. A take-away which eventually made me ponder and later question myself regarding my teaching, and turn that wide-angle lens of self-evaluation squarely at you know who.

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What started my quest for redemption was the quote in the book from Erkshine Bowles who was the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. He says, “The key success as Chief of Staff is being empowered by the President.” While discussing topics on politics is absolutely out of bounds in my classroom to avoid controversy, this quote, however, seems to be appropriate when it comes to my role as a catalyst for change. Symbolically, in this case, I as the president (I know that is a mind bender but stay with me) and my students could be seen as the chief of staff. When I first read this quote, I couldn’t help but ask myself – Do I ever empower my students? How do I empower them? How do I build up their self-confidence? Can I and will I be a key to their success? I wonder how many educators have ever asked themselves the same questions.

I remember many of my students when they first came to my class admitted to me that they had enrolled in our ESL program because they wanted to speak English more fluently. Mind you, many of my students in my ESL classes are already successful professionals in their home country. I have lawyers, engineers, teachers, nurses, journalists, etc. However, I notice every time I turn to them to participate in our oral dialogue drills, the responses I often get is either a nervous laugh or complete silence. There’s something about oral communication that many people, especially our ESL learners find nerve-wracking. I suppose it has something to do with the fear of being ridiculed for using the wrong grammar or unintelligible pronunciation. In the Philippines, we actually have a word for it – nosebleed!

To address this concern, one instructional strategy that I employ in my classes is the recitation of affirmations. You may be wondering why affirmations. Well, the answer is simple. The opposite of doubt is faith. And, it is exactly what we need when we are confronted by self-doubt and insecurities. When we affirm ourselves, we renew our confidence by reminding ourselves who we really are and what we are made of. Of course, I am not the first one who has used this technique. As a matter of fact, I just borrowed the idea from my first mentor/trainer in the Philippines. Like many of us, he believes in the power of speech – the power of words, and I will never forget his favorite borrowed quote from Buddha, “What you think is what you become.” Thus, I instill the same idea in my students. Every time I see that they lose heart because of falling short of their self-imposed expectations, I share with them the famous quote of Napoleon Hill, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the body can achieve.”

Does it work?

I answer that question with a resounding maybe! I must say, it’s a work in progress. Like anything else, it is something that my students have to internalize and decide for themselves and own. I, as an instructor, serve just as a facilitator. However, I strongly believe that when I begin to trust my students’ capability, I encourage and empower them to engage and believe in their full potential. Hopefully, in this small way, I can bring out the best in my students and make a difference in their lives.

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“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 

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Chronicle # 3: A Broken Promise

When I graduated from my Master’s Program in 2016, I pledged not to go back to school anymore. I have studied for nearly 75 percent of my years here on terra firma (yes, I mean earth), and I told myself that was it – no more! Well, unless it is something that is light or for entertainment. For instance, photography or painting which I’m sure will give my right side of brain some excited stimuli. However, barely two years after my graduation, here I am back on the chain gang.

Recently the word “instructional design” has become a buzz word in the higher education.  Many of my colleagues from grad school have either found a job as an instructional designer or have started going back to school to study instructional design. I think it makes a lot of sense since technology is very much embedded in today’s workplace and lifestyle. It is, therefore, significant and beneficial that technology be incorporated as part of instruction and learning. That being said, many instructors are now taking advantage of technology to make their instruction not only meaningful but also enjoyable.

At present, I use Canvas which is a learning management tool to assist me in my instruction. I utilize it to aid me in my presentations, idea reinforcement, and assessments. At times I also use fun learning platforms such as kahoot and jeopardy to jazz things up and make my instruction even more interesting. Other than that, I am still a rookie. So, lured by the fee waiver that my college (employer) offers to its employees, I got myself sucked in and decided to go back to school – again.

I am currently enrolled in a Graduate Certificate Program in Instructional Design. It is a 15-credit program which (hopefully) will provide me the knowledge I need to design, develop, facilitate, and evaluate instruction. I’ve just started my first term and yet I am already bombarded with reading assignments, as usual. That makes me wonder if I’ve made the right decision. Well, I guess I’ll never know until I try, right? Anyway, that’s the story of my brief but spectacular broken promise, which I am hoping will lead to a happy ending eventually.

“Promises were like laws; smart men knew when to break both.” – C.J. Hill, Slayers

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Special credit to Painting with a Twist

 


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Chronicle # 2: No Comprende

While I survived my first week of school (yey!), it’s just the beginning. I still have a long way ahead of me. As I mentioned in my first chronicle, this term is quite different from my past terms because I am teaching night classes for the first time. I would not characterize it as “difficult.” Teaching is teaching – regardless of any time schedule. However, since I also teach in the mornings on the same days I teach in the evenings, the demand of talking for 7 hours can be physically challenging. But, I am not complaining; I love my job!

So how did my first week go?

First week of school is usually the opportunity for the instructor to communicate clear expectations in the class. Immediately you have to set the tone on the first day of school. Experienced educators will tell you, “expectations are what you allow them to do, not what you say.” Thus, immediately setting a positive tone in your classroom is very important. First impressions lasts, so it is best to rememner that the first day of school as a microcosm of the coming year. It should represent who you are as an instructor and what you expect the classroom to be. In this regard, I feel quite confident that I did a good job.

This term I am teaching four ESL classes – three of which are quite large with 22 to 27 students in each class. Their countries of origin span from five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. I must admit, sometimes I enter my classroom and I feel like I am in the Tower of Bable. When my students all talk at the same time in their languages, which usually happens during our break, it is like listening to people speaking in tongues. It’s wild. United Nations wild!

That was my experience during the first week.

… And I assume I will continue to experience it until every student in my class understands that he/she needs to speak English while on the campus. While it is not too much of a challenge reminding my higher levels students, it can be a real struggle for beginning students with limited vocabulary to speak English all the time. So, how do we bridge the gap? How do we communicate when everyone speaks different languages?

Every ESL instructor has different teaching styles. Since, it is a spoken rule in our program to encourage students to speak only in English, it is then the responsibility of the instructor to explore different instructional methodologies to meet the students’ needs, and make their learning a valuable enriching experience. I know – it is easier said than done. In my case, I usually let my Spanish speaking students immediately aware not to get fooled easily by my Spanish sounding first name and “morena” skin tone. Each time they mistakenly speak to me in Spanish, my immediate response is “no comprende”, and instantly they stop – and laugh. I do the same thing to my other students who speak other languages, except that I do it with my “no comprende” facial expressions.

My “no comprende” is my go-to response; however, it is not anywhere near the ultimate solution to this vexing concern. This is one reality in language instruction that every instructor has to face and negotiate. So what do instructors do? When I was in graduate school, we debated the level of importance between vocabulary and grammar, and we unanimously agreed that the former is more substantial. That being said, a good place to start when teaching ESL, especially beginners, is to provide them with a plethora of vocabulary words and then teach them how to use these words in correct sentences. It is not going to be fast and easy. It may take some time and hard work, but believe me, hard work works! Oh what a sight to behold when the light bulb finally comes on.

So, that’s where I am right now in launching the courses I teach this term. As always, it is an exciting learning journey not only for my students but for me as well. As I have noted in my teaching philosophy: teaching is not only a profession or a career; it is also an opportunity to share life’s experiences. I have always believed that those who take the challenge of facilitating learning also benefit and receive an education in the process.

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“Of all the hardest jobs around, one of the hardest is being a good teacher.” -Maggie Gallagher

Thanks for reading and have a nice day!

 


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Viable

Philippine Chronicle # 1: A Filipina Teaching in the USA

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Now that the holiday season is officially over, I am also officially back to work – physically that is – starting next week. However, if you work in the academe as I do, you know that instruction does not begin and end inside the classroom. Setting the tone while making a good impression from students on the first day of school can be difficult without careful preparation. Thus, I got busy. I started on lesson planning as soon as the ball dropped on January 1st. For the past few days, I have been preparing my materials for the courses assigned to me this Spring Term.

I will teach four courses this semester: 2 ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) intensive writing courses, and 2 ESOL non-intensive grammar/writing courses. While this is not the first time I will teach grammar and writing, what makes this semester quite interesting is two of my classes, the non-intensive, are scheduled in the evenings. Wish me luck, considering our nippy winter nights. Yes, I have to brace 8 cold weeks even in our brief Florida winter.

This will be my third year teaching college here in Florida, and some of you may be asking the same question I asked myself when I made the decision to pursue a teaching career here in the US: Is it easy to teach college in the US? I must admit, it was a long journey for me. I remember the first time I heard one of my students addressed me as “professor”, I looked at my student and asked her, “Are you talking to me?” As an immigrant, who once felt I had to prove myself even to get credentialed to teach preschoolers (I taught previously at summer camps and Montessori preschool), I felt both honored and humbled to be addressed with such hefty title. Flashbacks of hard work and sacrifices suddenly appeared in my mind. Then I cringed. I do not think there is really such thing as “easy” in life. Even those who have become instant millionaires through winning a lottery have shown persistence in their quest at some point in time. As a matter of fact, I agree with Theodore Isaac Rubin who beautifully phrased it, “…easy (only) comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.”

That being said, my answer to the question is it depends. I believe that successful teaching in the US is contingent on two important factors : 1) how prepared are you to tackle the job responsibilities, and 2) how much support do you have or get from the organization you are working for. For disclosure, I am not involved with any human resource department or hiring agency. Therefore, everything I discuss in this blog is solely my opinion based on my experience and observations. For no. 1 factor, I believe that some of the important qualifications in becoming a successful TESOL instructor/professor are: 1. education (preferred Master’s Degree in TESOL, Applied Linguistics, Foreign Language, or English); 2. teaching experience; 3. sensitivity to and understanding of cultural diversity; and, 4. personality and work values. For the latter, it is beyond your control. All you can do is to understand your organization more and be proactive.

Teaching in the US or anywhere else, in my opinion, is more complex than a teacher merely teaching a subject. There are other elements that are essential for this human experience of learning to be lasting. The abilities that help us to succeed in instruction include not only the ability to provide good content material. It is also important to render a positive environment and creative approach to make the lessons meaningful for our students’ lives. We have to remember that the end goal of education is not merely to teach a subject; it is to improve people’s lives. Oh yes, and make money too.

So, do I find my job easy? – Let’s just say, it is fulfilling!

“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on a cold iron.” – Horace Mann

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/viable/”>Viable</a&gt;

 


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Reaching for the Stars (Part II)

“You cannot live a positive life with a negative mind.” – Unknown

The Publication

I was checking my email sometime in January when I saw an interesting invitation from an international TESOL organization. It was an invitation to educators to submit entries for a book project – exactly what I was looking for in order to accomplish my goal to be published. It instantly caught my attention and made my excitatory neurotransmitters get going. I didn’t hesitate. I immediately acted on the invitation preparing my material (a lesson plan on teaching grammar), and before long I submitted it for consideration.

It was my first attempt to submit a material which was not intended for academic purposes – for a grade, to be specific. Thus, while a part of me was hoping for the best, the other part of me was getting ready for the worst. A week after I submitted my material, I received an acknowledgment receipt from the organization informing me that all entries would be considered for evaluation. I should receive another email sometime in June if my submission is accepted, the email explains.  The waiting time was indeed daunting. Winter swiftly passed, then spring, and summer. There was no email.

I slowly lost hope. Thankfully, I was teaching two ESL courses during the Summer Term. Between preparing lesson plans and attending classes, I had very little time to pay attention to the ego deflating pain of rejection. Plus, I must admit, after going through my share of life’s bumps and bruises, ups and downs, I realized in the grand scheme of things,  it’s absurd to take everything personally. Maturity has taught me that being rejected in one book project doesn’t necessarily equate failure on my part. It may simply be that my entry was not what the project was looking for, and it has nothing to do with my work at all. That notion has helped me to heal from my disappointments easily and move on in life unscathed thankfully. Remember, don’t sweat the small stuff or anything you have no control over.

Time marched on so fast and before I knew it, it was my birthday. My husband is the king of surprises. With his wit and creativity, he always has his way of making my birthday special, and I was excited to see what he had in-stored for me this time. We planned to have lunch after my work to celebrate my special day.  I was heading to the door from my last class when I decided to quickly fire up my phone and browse my email. Along with unsolicited marketing email I usually receive, a familiar name immediately caught my attention. I couldn’t help smiling. It’s from the TESOL organization where I submitted my entry. It looks like there was a delay in finalizing their decision, but, as they always say, “it’s better late than never.”

So, to cut the story short, the organization accepted my entry for publication, and I couldn’t be happier.  What a birthday gift it was! I was informed that the book would be out early next year.

 

“There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.” -Unknown

The Presentation

If writing is my husband’s cup of tea (self-anointed the Superlative Man), making presentations is what I consider my forte.  After all, teaching and presenting seem to be congruent. As an educator, I love talking to people – to my students specifically – and talking about ideas. Presenting in a conference should be no problem, you may think. But, that was not the case.

First, presenting in a TESOL conference would mean presenting to the experts in my field, my peers. These are people who have been in the business long before me, and therefore, have much more experience. Second, most topics presented in a conference are hopefully new ideas, often than not recently found research that would make a difference in today’s pedagogical approach. Curiously, facing “giants” in my field did not really cause the butterflies in my stomach to go ballistic; it was the idea of what to present or lack thereof that blew my mind.

I told myself that if I have to present an idea, it should be something that is close to my heart. Something I can speak with passion and confidence. And, for a few months, that had become an elusive conundrum for me.

It was not until November when a friend and colleague at work (a homie as I fondly refer to) came to my rescue. It just so happened the Central Florida TESOL was scheduled to convene a mini-conference, and all members mostly instructors from Central Florida were invited to submit a proposal for presentation. My “homie” had presented before at the state level, and she was persistent that I should do it this time for the experience and the oh so fulfilling exposure/resume enhancer quotation. But, again, I went back to my dilemma – what topic would I present?

Fast-forward – this semester our dean had assigned me to teach an elective of my choice. Since I’ve been a member of the Toastmaster’s Club for years, I thought of creating a course on Impromptu Speaking. I was so excited about the idea that I incorporated a lot of interesting activities in my class, including the recitation of affirmations. I was  overwhelmed by my students’ encouraging response, which I shared enthusiastically with my homie. The course seemed to be a net positive for my students so much so that they felt dejected when the term came to an end. So predictably after we ended the first term, I was happily astounded to see them back in my class for another bite at the apple.

All the while my mind was imagining for a new far out instructional idea to present, my homie had provided me the metaphorical lightning bolt that made me realize that what I might be looking for was all along right in front of me. And, she was right.

That same week I braced myself and submitted a proposal on the topic “Alternative Strategies to Enhance ELLs Impromptu Speaking Skills.” My proposal was immediately   approved by the organizing committee. What followed was a week of preparation for my materials. Then came the big day. While I was in pins and needles a few minutes before I faced the “giants” in my field (my mentors and colleagues at work included), I did succeed in checking off the last item on my list. I felt so proud of myself!

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“What our mind can conceive and believe, our body can achieve.” – N. Hill


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Wanted Teachers!

Yesterday I attended a job fair here in Florida – my very first one. I already expected that there would be a lot of job applicants from different counties; however, what I didn’t anticipate was that it would be jammed packed like a movie premiere of Star Wars. I had to line up for 30-45 minutes just to get to the registration table. And mind you, the registration table was manned by at least 10 staff members to accommodate all the hopeful applicants. Almost everyone who came to the fair was dressed professionally for the occasion. Many, despite the sweltering Florida heat, wore business suits or at least smart casuals. I also spotted a few women all dolled up and wearing towering high heels and even stilettos. I guess that was understandable. On an occasion like this, I truly believe that professional appearance which exudes one’s self-confidence can make a lot of difference. However, a word of caution on makeup: if applying makeup is not your strength, go slowly with your color selection and application. Remember this is a job fair not a Halloween party. Since I am also not big on makeup, I intentionally just applied my favorite lipstick and mascara for a hint of color. With those two, I know I can’t go wrong.

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Warming up the bench!

The job fair was held in a local high school campus. Upon my arrival, I was immediately ushered to the entrance where a staff person asked job applicants to line up for clearance. When I heard her instructions, the first thing that came to my mind was a security protocol. Silly me! I forgot this is not the Philippines, where bags are checked before entering an important establishment (although I do see that changing in the U.S.). Approaching the registration table, I finally discovered that “clearance” refers to the teacher’s certification/s. That is another important lesson to remember. Don’t forget to bring your credentials when you attend a job fair because you never know what employers will ask or require. Thankfully, I brought my portfolio with me, which saved my day.

Once inside the venue, I was amazed by the number of tables representing schools/employers looking to hire teachers. It was like the proverbial beehive with bees swarming everywhere. I couldn’t even comprehend the magnitude of the crowd. It was more like a county fair instead of a job fair. There were employers-applicants’ introductions, inquiries, interviews, and actual hiring all in one stop shopping. With the size of this crowd, and if all are qualified, I am sure Florida will be prepared for teachers for the next school year.

It didn’t take long before I accomplished my mission. On my way back to the car, I realized that the notion of “job shortages” sometimes may be subjective. This job fair proves that indeed there are jobs available, especially if you are focused in your search. The only question is, are you credentialed and skilled for the job vacancies? If your answer is no, then you surely have some work to do. However, if your answer is a reverberating YES, then there’s no doubt that you have a chance to be successfully hired. It may be just a matter of time…

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. –Walt Disney


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Challenges are Challenging

Do you remember my LFBG Challenge in 2015? Those who are following my blogs, of course, know that it eventually succumbed to an unfortunate crash and burn halfway to the finish line. However, in fairness, although I came up short in completing that challenge, I can honestly say that I successfully scored several opportunities for growth that year.

Then the calendar flipped over to a new year, and just early this year I agreed to my friend’s photo challenge. The idea was to support each other in our quest to hone our skills in photography. When we launched our challenge, we were the embodiment of persistence. Every week we deliberately assigned themes and excitedly exchanged images we had taken. I thought it was fun as I was constantly creating opportunities to go out to take pictures. However, things have changed. My friend’s schedule became demanding and our challenges slowly died a natural death. So sad!

The early demise of our photo challenge didn’t stop me from taking pictures, however. As a matter of fact, I’m up for another challenge. This time with another friend whom I am going to refer to in this blog as Ms. D to protect her privacy. I am more optimistic that this challenge will survive the test of time as Ms. D has shown consistency over the years we have known each other.

Ms. D and I share a lot of commonalities. Like me, she is also married to a foreigner and now residing abroad. Our friendship was further solidified during the time we were both juggling graduate school while simultaneously playing our role as housewives, plus motherhood in her case. You may remember that I documented in this blog some of my struggles while I was attending my program. I remember Ms. D and I exchanged stories about sleepless nights and extreme fatigue, which, of course, was commonplace in graduate school. It was tough, and I couldn’t believe we both survived and made it through. That is the heart of this new challenge we have just created. Now that we have both graduated and currently working in our chosen fields, we have decided to go for our glamour challenge. Gone are the days of “no-comb-days”, conjuring up images of bed head bouffant. For the next fifty-two weeks, we will celebrate success through glamour (for whatever that means). We will digitize it by exchanging one captured image each week. Will we push through, or will we fade away? Come and join us and see how far this challenge will endure…

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Hang in there!

“Challenges are what makes like challenging and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine