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Chronicle # 6: My Time in the Pickle Barrel!

I went to work on Thursday to find out one of my classes would be observed by our instructional specialist. Surprise! Don’t worry, I am not in trouble. This is a routine observation. Maybe it was not also a BIG surprise as I was notified last month through an email that my class would soon be observed. The word “soon”, however, was vague. Other than the 6 weeks window indicated in the email, the date was unspecified.

As many of you are probably aware, a classroom observation is a formal or informal observation of one’s teaching while it is taking place in a classroom or other learning environment. In my college, it is usually conducted once a year by either one of our administrators or our instructional specialist. While the thought of it could initially make one feel edgy, it is really far less daunting than, say, a root canal procedure. If there’s one thing I might find worrisome about a classroom observation, it’s really just the uncertainty of the scheduling. After all, nobody would like to be observed during his/her most uninteresting classroom activities (e.g. giving a quiz, drafting a paragraph).  If one wants to showcase his/her greatest performance in order to win that “Oscar” (pay raise or promotion), definitely the classroom observation is the perfect time to put his/her best foot forward.

A classroom observation is very important. It is often used for a variety of purposes. The most common are: 1) to provide teachers with constructive feedback aimed at improving their classroom management and 2) an extension of formal job-performance evaluation. In my department, it is utilized for both purposes. Trying to maintain a high standard in our ELS program statewide, our administrators would like to ensure instructors’ high quality of instruction AT ALL TIMES. Thus, I suppose, it is the main reason why assigned observers conduct their class observation as a big surprise, if not just giving only a short notice.

Classroom Observation Checklist

Every school has its own comprehensive framework, agreed descriptors, and judgmental criteria when conducting a classroom observation. In our department, they are the following: 1) Demonstrates knowledge of subject matter; 2) Manages instruction effectively; 3) Stimulates interest in subject matter; 4) Encourages student participation; and, 5) Uses appropriate methods of instruction.

In all honesty, this approach is what I routinely attempt to achieve every day in my classroom. However, no matter how confident I feel in front of my students, still the idea of being observed by an administrator (who might give me a wanting evaluation which could eventually result in me being shown the door) puts me on pins and needles. I must admit, as part of my affirmation I constantly remind myself that other people’s perception about me is none of my business. Yet, on second thought, when it comes to my bread and butter, I allow this one exception to that axiom. Yes, I do care. I really, really do care!

The Groundwork

Since I received the email about the class observation, you might expect I have become very cautious and particular about my lesson planning. I wanted to make sure that I was checking all the boxes in the criteria base.

Besides carefully preparing my teaching materials, I also reinforced my effort by reminding myself to dress for success, multiplying my chance to superbly pull this one off. Knowing how my brain works, I recognize the ripple effect that good looks may translate to in my performance.  As Jason Statham beautifully puts it, and I quote, “Looking good and feeling good go hand in hand. I would humbly add doing good to make it a good trifecta. That being said, the past few weeks I incorporated a little bit of style in my outfits to go along with that bounce in my step, mischievous grin, and that twinkle in my eye.

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The Verdict 

Then came Thursday. I woke up at 3:00 A.M.  with a stomach bug disrupting my deep sleep. For hours I was tossing and turning in my bed. I almost decided to call in sick, but I toughed it out. I went through my morning routine and headed off to work. At 9 A.M. I started my first class, then trudged off to my next class at 11 A.M. As always, moving around helps me get distracted and forget whatever discomfort I am going through. The pain was intermittent, but eventually it subsided. Both classes went very well so much so I wished I had been observed in the morning. I went home, had lunch, took a short nap, and then got ready for my evening classes.

As it is my practice, I passed by the ELS office to check my mailbox before going to my classroom. As I entered the faculty office, I noticed that our instructional specialist was still at her workstation. I got suspicious, then curious, then hyper.  True enough, she was there to conduct an observation on my class – AT NIGHT!

Oh man, suddenly I felt my stomach churning; butterflies are free again. The stomach pain was back and was mounting a bigger attack, but there was no time to get sick this time. I said to myself “suck it up buttercup.”

I calmed myself down by starting conversations with my students who had started trickling in our classroom. I pretended to be all excited and happy to mask the growing revolution taking place in my tummy. Thankfully, my power ensemble gimmick helped me to hide my discomfort. Once I started my class, the churning eventually stopped, and before I knew it I was already oblivious to my observer in the back who was scrutinizing my performance. One hour swiftly passed and the ordeal was over.  I was so thankful I made it through without embarrassing myself (I am referring to getting sick).

I have no idea how I rated in my class observation, but I am sure I survived in no small part due to my dress for success trick, which helped me exude confidence and conceal the tennis match going on in my stomach. Thank God!

So, until next time when the verdict is read. Fingers crossed!

“If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, then you do good.”– George St -Pierre

 

 

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Chronicle # 5: My Potential Teaching Persona

This week my class in Instructional Design (ID) discussed one’s teaching persona, which despite teaching for many years, I haven’t really thought about. I must admit, I find it very intriguing intellectually. As we explored the topic, Davis (2013) described it as “the way teachers present a certain self to their audience of students.” No teaching persona gets created overnight, of course. It is said that seasoned educators go through the process of tweaking and adapting their tone and body language overtime. Hmmm… very interesting!

As a face-to-face instructor, every now and then I hear snippets of comments from my students, which give me a glimpse of how am I perceived by my students. However, other than that, my teaching persona is something of a mystery to me. Since I haven’t been a virtual instructor yet (and my ID class is, of course, geared towards online teaching), for this week’s project, we were assigned to submit a paper on our potential learning persona. I thought some of my teacher friends/readers might relate, so I elected to share my project in this chronicle.

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First, as an ESL instructor teaching online, I should be mindful that my students are coming from a very diverse population: age, proficiency, educational attainment, economic status, and cultural backgrounds. Thus, I must be careful in the use of my language, albeit I am known as sometimes “humorous” in my face-to-face instruction. From the onset, I may have to devise a diplomatic demeanor to avoid being misinterpreted since gestures and facial expression now will be absent form of my schema. I must be poised by being tactful, defusing difficult situations, and building good relationships with my students. This I can demonstrate by being respectful and thoughtful in my language while still being firm, fair, and consistent in my instruction.

Second, I must also be cognizant of my students’ digital literacy, which from my experience may pose as a challenge to some of my students. Depending on what course and level I teach, I must be cautious not only in my instructional approach (use of synchronous vs asynchronous method), but also in my employment of other technology learning tools. I plan to demonstrate it by being sensitive to my students’ computer skills, as well as being selective to digital learning platforms appropriate for my students’ needs. For language learning, I believe simple but meaningful activities are the ideal approach, especially for the struggling beginning students.

I understand that this approach is easier said than done, but I plan for my students to remember me as a substantive instructor in terms of subject content, yet enjoyable, empathetic, and empowering of my students and vibrant in my delivery. In short, attending my online class would be like a Goldilocks-experience – not hard, not soft, but just right!   ***

“To teach is to learn again” – Oliver Wendell Holmes


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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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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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Reaching for the Stars

Early this year I got a little bit ambitious and decided to tackle three items in my bucket list, which I have very much looked forward to achieving. First, to attend a TESOL Conference outside the United States; second, to submit a TESOL material for publication; and third, to present in a TESOL conference locally. While all three may look modest in the eyes of experts and experienced practitioners in my field, to me these milestones were indeed monumental undertakings. The thought of them, even today, still sends a shiver down my spine. Despite the anxious feelings, however, I never thought of backing out. On the contrary, the more ill-at-ease I have become, the more I have persevered  to carry on. But, easier said than done, I must admit, it would be insincere to say that the question on how to pull this part of my bucket list off did not consume me. The truth is, it was quite the opposite.

Everything is up in the air until God puts His hands unto it…

The Conference

While it is not new to me to attend TESOL conferences locally, attending one abroad posed some challenges. For one, attending a conference always costs a price. In the case of my ambitious plan, not only did I have to pay for the registration expense, but I also had to shoulder the fees for airfare, hotel accommodation, local transportation, food and other miscellaneous items. I knew that if I wanted to carry on with my plan I had to coordinate some major mojo. The solution: using my earned per diem our adjunct professors are given for attending the Adjunct Academy Training sponsored by my college. Problem solved!

Well, not really. While I was able to find an answer for financial resources to support my plan, I still had to convince my husband that attending a conference abroad is reasonable. I honestly found it difficult to justify my rationale of travelling abroad for a conference, which I could very much attend locally. I needed a strong argument to win my case, especially if I have to convince my husband who is a very good detective. But, as they say, “if there is a will, there is a way.”

While researching online for TESOL Conferences slated in 2017, I saw one that was in the neighborhood – Canada. Although it’s only a 3.5 hour flight from Florida, it met the requirement of being out of the country. And, not only was it close, it comes with an extra incentive: the venue of the conference was at the Sheraton on the Falls in the beautiful Niagara Falls, which is one of the places to visit on our bucket list. The idea of attending a conference in Niagara Falls would mean checking off one more fun thing off our list. Bingo!  With all my cards laid down nicely on the table, my detective-husband was immediately swayed to give my plan a thumbs up.

So there it goes, six months after I orchestrated my ambitious plan to attend a TESOL conference abroad, my husband and I flew to Ontario to bring it to fruition.

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Here’s a link to our Canada trip: https://philippinehappinessandlove.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/bucket-list-checked.

to be continued…