Hello there. I see that you’re reading my blog again, welcome. Come with me as we go on a short journey through the tides of teaching.
I have considered my time at SIT as an integral part in wide vast ocean of teaching. As I continue to navigate a smooth path towards deeper waters, I imagine myself holding a floating device very closely and every once a while losing grip as the water slips between my fingers. But just as I start to fall, I quickly regain my grip. Eventually, the tides calm and I stop fighting with the floating device and just sink into it. I let my body take the form of the plastic and I move with the waves like a bird gliding in the sky. As I move my mind drifts and I fall into a state of suspended calm. Then something brushes against my foot and I am immediately startled. I almost jump out of my skin as I scramble to survey my surroundings but I all I see is water, calm water. So I continue to glide through the water until I see the waves forming ahead. My heart starts beating faster. I swim towards the waves. I’m going to catch them. When I see the wave approaching and growing taller and taller, I stop look right at it and wait. I smile, get ready and laugh and as the wave propels my body forward. There is something about the water that sooths my soul and excites every inch of my body all at once. Hours could pass with me and the ocean and I would feel completely content. Peace
The classroom is my haven. I’m always nervous or anxious when I first enter and dip my foot in waiting to observe my students behavior, attitudes and level of engagement. This time around I have let go of my floating device and swam towards the wave. I have used my active listening skills to adjust my lessons midway through and have been mindful of the ever changing flow within the classroom. I have learned to adjust without losing balance or focus of the overall objective. I have allowed myself to enjoy the process and thus my classroom has become a bit more like a learning community. I let myself sink into my teaching style and thus I can smile when things go awry. A challenge in the classroom makes it more dynamic and alive it makes my interaction with my students real and not scripted or checks from my lesson plan. I am scratching the surface on deeper learning and using suggestopedia in the classroom. I have a much better understanding of the idea and now I am putting it into practice. I love my classroom and the calm water and waves that encompass it!
The past year I have really dedicated my time to improving my French in particular my listening, reading and writing skills. I have found a multitude of activities that will keep me engaged and lead to measurable improvement. However, in the midst of my learning I have noticed quite a bit about my learning preferences. Although I enjoy learning about social justice and geopolitics in my L1, it is a strain to focus on these topics in French. Despite my ability to listen to the news and understand the gist, I truly struggle with comprehension questions. I also feel that the questions and the directions are vague and unclear. Thus, I find myself confused and discouraged from the start of the listening or reading comprehension exercises. These are the types of exercises that I do two or three times a week, right after I feel completely relaxed. When I work on my listening skills and want to be entertained, I watch a YouTube actress named Natoo, Le Petit Nicolas and a Netflix series called Au Service de la France. In all of these scenarios the environment and my general mindset plays a large role in my ability to focus, hear and understand the words. When I attempt to watch or listen to French and I am under distress it’s as if I am a student in a classroom on Charlie Brown. I literally hear “womp womp womp”. I think the environment and clarity is even more important when learners are taking exams. Recently, I took a proficiency test to assess my reading and listening skills. Although I felt prepared and thoroughly relaxed, I was still tense and drained by the last 45 minutes of the exam. After completing these two separate two hour exams I felt like my head was going to explode, I was extremely tense and I found it difficult to concentrate.
All of these experiences have helped me put things into perspective. I understand a bit more when my upper intermediate students say they understand the news but they find it hard to articulate their response in an intelligent manner. There have been several instances when students have noted that they feel like different people based on the language they are speaking. And despite their ability to understand English, there is still something blocking them from simply being able to engage in a conversation (fluency). Students have told me that being in an environment which requires them to communicate in their L2 leads to a sense of limitation and a stifled sense of self. Regardless of where I teach, I have noticed that students seem to turn into zombies after an hour of class and about twenty five minutes before the class ends. It’s as if I am watching mannequins stare at me and wait for me to give them the answer that I pose to the class. However, I think it’s the natural response to stress and exercise of the “brain muscles” in a language class.
Therefore, I have tried to implement very small but hopefully helpful changes to my lesson. I try to start or end my class with a song that the students have selected. I attempt to play this song throughout the week so the students can notice the rhythm and stress of the words and sentences. In addition, students can here intonation and pronunciation and eventually (with upper intermediate or advanced learners) we can have a larger discussion about the meaning of the song or the feeling that it evokes in the students. I think that music is a nice way to appeal to multiple senses and inadvertent way to help students focus. I also like to play funny clips from different shows. These clips are easy ways to review idioms, phrasal verbs, tag questions, common expressions, greetings etc. In addition, it’s a nice segue into a writing or speaking activity. Another activity I have added is the use of ambient music or other instrumental music and drawing activities via desuggestopedia . I tend to incorporate this about halfway through the class or after we complete a more intensive grammar/listening activity it really seems to help the students relax.
I think that the day to day hustle and bustle of life barely leaves time for reflection and noticing the small but truly significant things. Once the alarm rings on Monday morning most people jump out of bed and start a non-stop routine which continues until Friday or Saturday afternoon. This leaves virtually no time to reflect on one’s day or simply inhale and exhale deeply just long enough to feel the warmth of the sun. We scatter through the morning, to tensely sit in rush hour traffic and start the workday being mindful of the laborious and elaborate schedule. However, in the midst of this mad hatter routine I often forget to listen, notice and reflect. These are the elements of this program which I appreciate the most. Over time I have slowly found ways to practice these skills in the classroom and include them in the lessons. I am more attuned to the students’ level of fluency, pronunciation errors, areas of interest and interaction patterns within the classroom; thus, I am able to adjust the flow of the class accordingly. I think my students appreciate these periods of the lessons when they are not required to speak but simply slow down the learning process. As a result they can observe their classmates or their surrounding, they can write about the listening process in their L2 or close their eyes sink into their seat and actively listen to a story in their L2. As I learn techniques and find ways to use them, I incorporate them in my lessons and encourage my students to use them as well. Overall, these simple ideas have made me feel more relaxed, confident and grounded in the classroom. In a sense any classroom becomes my classroom because I have moved from the well rehearsed actress to the producer of my own series.
I think my face to face encounters with my peers in the MA SIT graduate program were very informal compared to my online experiences with my peers. When I spoke face to face with my peers I was able to form a connection and a bond because I could see their facial expressions and simply be in their presence. In addition, I was able to spend time with them chatting about personal and professional life and the varying ways they overlap or intertwine. However, working online has been much more formal. I think because there is written documentation to show what was discussed. Also I view writing for professional or educational reasons as a very standard task in which I stay very much focused on completing the task in the most efficient and appropriate manner. Thus, I steer away from the idea of painting a picture with words or evoking certain feelings. These types of writing activities are usually void of emotions and rousing adjectives, instead they simply answer the question at hand.
Many people find communication through writing as a distant and less intimate form of communication. However, since I am an individual of few words I think of writing for pleasure as a form of artwork that is filled with hidden meanings and my most passionate form of expression. A story can take on a life of its own and spread to people near and far. A story has endless power because you can read it over and over and the significance changes just as life changes. In many instances I am not able to reflect on my spoken encounters with individuals until I take the time to write down my thoughts and feelings. Writing slows down the process and it forces people to take a deeper glance at things. It is my preferred style of learning because my thoughts catch up to my fingers and are forever embodied in my words.
Today I am going for it…again. I am deciding to follow my heart and pursue my passion, even if it leaves me temporarily broke and jobless. But the invigorating feeling of writing is so worth it. The thrill and challenge of pursuing a business endeavor is such a magical feeling. It’s like I rediscovered my long lost, deeply hidden joy. Almost afraid to fully embrace it because it seems as though it could slip out of my fingers at any moment. But I’m placing all my faith and all my hope in this. I’m daring today, i’m daring again..