A New Dream for a New Year (with a side helping of gratitude)

A New Dream for a New Year (with a side helping of gratitude)I work at a private high school in Japan.  That means hustling for students.  There’s really no way around it.  Japan has had a negative rate of population growth since 2007.  Many public high schools are just trying to keep their doors open, which means accepting any student who applies.  So the pool of students who need/want to attend a private school, like the population in general, is decreasing every year.  Part of recruiting, at least at my school, means putting our current students out front and center and giving them the space to talk about what they like and don’t like about the school.  I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.  I don’t want my students to have to sell their school.  But, to give credit to my students, they are open and honest, share the good (classes are fun, the other students are very empathic, etc.) with the bad (the classwork can be too easy, there are very few clubs to join, etc) and seem to enjoy meeting the crop of potential first year students.

The last day of work this year, December 22, we had a school open house.  I ran a sample lesson, hoping to show the students some of the ways they’ll learn English if they come to C—— Osaka Campus.  During part of the sample lesson, we played a variation of a “tag” game called Zoom.  Zoom is originally a drinking game with it’s own very technical sounding and rather unhelpful Wikipedia entry.  It’s basically a game of tag using words and gestures instead of running around like mad and physically touching each other.

My simplified take on the rules of Zoom:

  • One student is “it”.  To pass being “it” to another student, they point and say the word “zoom!”
  • Once a new student has become “it” they can then point and say “zoom” to another student and hence pass on the “it”.
  • A student who has been “zoomed” and is going to be “it” actually has 3 choices:
  1. They can accept the zoom and pass it on to another student by pointing and saying, “Zoom.”
  2. They can return the “it” to the person who zoomed them by looking at and gesturing back to the zoomer and saying, “Schwartz.”
  3. They can reject being “it” entirely by holding up a hand, avoiding eye-contact with the person who zoomed them and saying, “profigliano.”

Like most drinking games, it’s not rocket science (although the Wikipedia page might make it seem as if it is). It’s just a series of actions difficult enough keep people making errors and hence steadily drinking.  But if you just change the words and modify some the gestures, you end up with a pretty good way to practice common chunks of language.  For example you could play the game making the following substitutions:

Zoom–> Have some

Shwartz–> You first

Profigliano–>No way/Come on/etc.

It also works pretty well with auxiliary verbs and various vocabulary which can be substituted for the underlined words in the examples:

Zoom–> Will you cook dinner?

Schwartz–> No, you should cook it.

Profigliano–> I can’t cook it.

The sample lesson during the open house went pretty well.  Most of the prospective students left the classroom laughing.  As I was moving chairs and desks back into the normal classroom position, Shi-kun, a first year student volunteer, helped me out.  Shi-kun is a baseball player.  He lifts weights after school and usually picks up two desks at a time.  He doesn’t talk much in class, but he’s quick to smile.  I asked him if he was going to be working at the ramen shop all winter vacation.  When he’s not playing sports or training, he puts in a lot of hours at his part time job.

We talked about his winter plans, about his boss at the ramen shop, a little baseball.  Like usual, he was picking up and setting down desks about twice as fast as me.  It was quiet for a while and then he said, “You know, I’ve been thinking maybe I could join the International Course next year.”  I set down my desk and stopped.  Shi-kun kept moving desks.  He was looking at the desks in his hands when he said, “I don’t know if I can keep up.  But recently, when I take your class, I’ve been thinking that it must be good to be a teacher.  It looks like so much fun to be in a classroom with a bunch of high school students and helping them talk in English.”  This was the longest I’d ever heard Shi-kun speak at one time.  We finished putting the desks back in place and Shin-kun said, “I want to be a teacher.  I want to be a high school English teacher.”

For a moment I just enjoyed it.  It was one of those moments when being a teacher meant living in a world of pure potential.  When simply speaking a dream turned it into a real possibility.  Then I told Shi-kun that I wanted nothing more than to help him become a high school teacher.  And that he didn’t have to worry about, “falling behind,” because the road to becoming a teacher was just that, a road, not a race.  And on this road, there was no behind to worry about.

If Shi-kun decides to be a teacher, he’ll be the third student of mine to become an English teacher.  Maybe that sounds like a boast.  I hope it doesn’t, because it isn’t meant to be.  The other two students of mine who became English teachers were meant to be English teachers long before I ever met them.  They became English teachers because they loved English and maybe not because of, but in spite of what I had done in my classroom.  But that’s not why Shi-kun wants to be an English teacher.  For Shin-kun, it isn’t English, or it isn’t just English.  It’s the act of working with students, of helping teenagers learn.  Part of that is because the students in his class are a little wild and know how to enjoy a role-play.  But a bigger part of it, I think, is that over the past year, teachers from all over the world have reached out and helped me be a better teacher, class by class, week by week.  A little bit of what they have shared with me, what makes them great teachers, has, maybe, found it’s way into my classroom, has translated itself into the “fun” of being, “in a class with a bunch of high school students.”  So this post is my way of saying thank you, thank you to all the teachers who have been there for me, have made 2012 the most personally and professionally satisfying year of teaching in my life.  Thank you for helping my classes to be the kind of place where a ramen slinging high school baseball player is willing to share a new dream for the new year.

Thank you (in no particular order):

Michael Griffin: for a gentle nudge to write stories for my students, being a role model for how to engage in a honest dialogue with myself, and a hundred thousand other things.

Josette LeBlanc: because now, as often as I can, I take the time to remember that unless my students feel safe and listened to, no language learning is going to happen in my classroom.

Rachel Roberts: for showing me how research really does connect up with the classroom, especially around reading and listening.

Gemma Lunn:  All of the material you have put up on the LOL is an inspiration.  I’ve used and recommended fortune tellers a handful of times alone.  And I will be using a station based teaching class to cram three lessons worth of fun into my next 45 minute International Course pre-course lesson.

Sophia Khan (@SophiaKhan4): for taking the time to help me wrap my head around some of the language teaching jargon that was getting in the way of teaching, and the chance to publish on lit in the classroom, and

Laura Phelps: for the best written blog around and reminding me that anything that happens in a class can be a source of laughter as well as worry.

Anne Hendler: for asking questions, for posting about things other than English because teachers who only talk/write about English are sure to run out of gas before the year is finished, and for the gift of the laughing journal.

Christopher Wilson: because sometimes I forgot why I blogged, but when I did, your blog was always there to remind me, with fresh ways to think about what it means to teach.

Alex Grevett: for the regular reminders that pronunciation is one of the other things that matter, even if I try mightily to forget that fact from time to time.

John Pfordresher: passion can’t exist in a vacuum, like fire, it needs oxygen to breathe.  Your blog and the ESL Learner Output Library have been a much needed dose of oxygen.

Vicky Loras: for reminding me how much I love poetry and being the glue that seems to hold the twitter universe together.

Leo Selivan: for the idea of highlighting chunks of language in a text, useful tips on using corpus, and keeping me think about words in use.

Mura Nava: for showing me how different and how similar it is to teach a group of Engineering students in France and my own experience teaching here in Japan (and that place hacking lesson plan was the bomb).

Kevin Giddens: because less can be so much more.

Tyson Seburn: for introducing me to the idea of reading circles, and getting me thinking about LGBT issues (which I hope has helped make my classroom a safer place to be for my students).

Barbara Sakamoto: for a million ideas that all remind me that what works for teaching children (generating interest, being genuine, caring) will work and is needed for teaching adults and giving our community the gift of a teaching village.

Sandy Millin: for a primer on Cuisenaire rods, rearranging your classroom and at least 2 great new ideas a week.

And of course

Chuck Sandy, John Fanselow, Steven Herder and the rest of the team over at iTDi for a chance to use my voice and listen to a world full of amazing teachers.

I’m sure I have forgotten people.  If I did, I hope no offense will be taken.  I thank every teacher, writer, educator and parent who has reached out to me this year.  I hope a poor memory on my part won’t get in the way of what is meant to be, while genuine, a far from perfect expression of gratitude.

27 thoughts on “A New Dream for a New Year (with a side helping of gratitude)

  1. Thank you for making me feel good, Kevin, both through this post and our previous interactions. 🙂 I enjoy reading stories like this–personal of students–as it reminds me to invest more time in talking to mine about their goals too, which I feel I don't do much of anymore (as I don't teach a 'conversation' class, so to speak). Sometimes I feel I don't know them very personally well at all. Sometimes I question whether I even should. I used to when we were closer in age. Some reflection to be had here…


  2. Hello KevinThis is such a moving story, about you and that student. Whatever happens with him you have left your important imprint, something which makes him think about taking his life to a new direction. It is very impressive!)I really like the way you remember and -most importantly! – put into practice the new ideas, think them over, reflect and just bring them to life in your own classrooms in your own way. This is something I dream to be doing more in 2013.Also I hope to become a more regular blog reader (but can't rely on myself here much, unfortunately..doing my best though..)Great post!All the very best in 2013!Ann


  3. Hi Chris,Thanks for leaving a comment. And thanks for ELT Squared. If it hadn't been for your blog, I wouldn't have made my first video post, would have missed out on revisiting some of the best ELT blogs on the net, and would have never ever thought of feature creep as an ELT issue. And when I look back over that list of names (and a half dozen I now realize I have indeed left out), I find myself shaking my head in disbelief. I wonder if there is any other profession where people are so giving of their time? The longer I teach, the more I realize how lucky I am to have found this profession. Thanks again,Kevin


  4. Hi Tyson,Glad to post had some feel good energy in it. Depending on the time of year, a big chunk of my free time at work is taken up with chatting with students about their future plans. It's pretty much expected that I'll help students look for, apply to, and successfully pass the entrance exam of appropriate universities. I wonder if taking that time to focus exclusively on classes would end up leading to more or less effective teaching? It's always interesting to engage with you and other teachers in different learning/teaching environments. Looking forward to following along and joining in on the 4C conversation.Kevin


  5. Ann,Thanks for the comment and for being the first person to have jumped onto my thoughtlessly forgotten list. It was great getting to participate in "Breaking Rules" with you. And I've enjoyed your iTDi forum and blog post. I'm always happy to give something new a go in my class. No matter how big a train wreck it turns into, it's definitely better than boredom. And through Breaking Rules and reading your blog, I'm pretty sure you are on the "give it a try" team. Looking forward to 2013 and the chance to interact with you on Twitter, iTDi, and in blogs and add to my basket of new stuff to try out in my class.Kevin


  6. Dear Kevin,When I read about the interaction between you and Shi-kun, tears came to my eyes. What a miraculous feeling that must be. Thank you so much for telling us that story. TRuly inspiring.I thank you also for being in my life this past year. Not only have you shared your home, but through your blog and your tweets you have shared with me countless moments of inspiration, laughter, creativity and curiosity. In gratitude,Josette


  7. Dear Kevin,I smiled throughout the time I read your post above. Such a thoughtful and sensitive writing piece to start the new year. I think one of those special private moments that we share with our students are those moments that leave a mark in our hearts. It's really tough to describe this in words.I'm so glad to be connected to you this year. Looking forward to a wonderful 2013. :)Ratna


  8. Kevin, Once again you are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing stories of your students. They are so lucky to have a teacher who cares. Thank you also for your words. I know I have not been the only one of our community who is completely floored by how much this year has impacted (and changed) our lives. I have no words to express the gratitude and amazement I feel when I think about the very community you wrote about. This New Year's Eve I will raise a glass to all of you, with wishes for more laughter and learning in the coming year.Anne


  9. Josette,As Shi-kun was struggling to let me know what he was thinking, I found myself wanting to jump in, to urge him to join the International Course, to go for it and be a teacher, to say just about anything to make him feel safe. But I didn't. I just took a step back and gave him (I hope) the space he needed to say what he had to say. One of the first Twitter interactions I think you and I had was about listening. You even pointed me to some links on developing listening skills. It was one of the things I've been working on this year. Watching Shi-kun find the courage to say he wanted to be a teacher was an amazing moment for me. One of the best I've ever had In a classroom. And the fact that it was just a first step, that all the real work starts from here, doesn't diminish how I feel. I am so sure that one year ago, there would have not been the space, the oxygen for Shi-kun to say what he was hoping to say. Part of that was believing in my student and knowing he would find the words he needed. Another part was knowing I have you and the rest of our PLN with me–a world of experience–so there is no need to rush, no need to say something just to have something to say right now. Knowing you are there, ready to listen to me, makes it easier to listen to my students. For a year of gifts, thanks,Kevin


  10. Ratna,Can it really only be a few months since I was lucky enough to meet you on iTDi? I remember reading your guest post on seeing your classroom and feeling like I had stepped right into your class, was looking at your students with your eyes. It was an amazing read. Since then, through iTDi and Twitter, that feeling that you have an extraordinary relationship with your students has only grown. For the past two months or so, I haven't done much more than lurk, but I'm so glad to have met you before the year ended and can't wait to see what's waiting for us in 2013. Kevin


  11. Anne!Is your hand recovered? I know I'm a month or so behind the times here, so when I think of you, I invariably worry you still have an injured hand. which feels like a strange way to reply to your comment which left me dazed and thinking back on the year. it truly was a year of unusual blessings. One of the most unexpected and most enriching came from you and the other teachers in Korea who have become the very heart of something spectacular taking shape in the ELT world. I've got a glass in my hand. Cheers, Anne. And here is to 2013. May it further the promise and gifts of 2012. Kevin


  12. Thank you for sharing such a heart-warming story. I hope that Shi-kun achieves his dream, and I am sure you had more than a little to do with him forming that dream. Thank you, too, for including me on such a great list of people. Your blog has been one of the most thought-provoking I have read this year, and one I constantly return to. I'm hoping to try out more of your ideas in 2013.Have a great year!Sandy


  13. Sandy,When I started to write my blog and tried to clearly write up activities I had done with my students, your blog posts were one of my role models. It's really humbling to think I'm able to somehow return the favor in some small way. I'm not sure what Shi will decide to do, but I'm sure, in a way I never was before, that just taking that first step is a very important victory for him (and me). Thanks for your support, your great classroom ideas, and your comment. Wishing you the best in 2013. Kevin.


  14. HI Kevin,Enjoyed every line of it. 🙂 Tks for writing such a wonderful post, celebrating life and people. I look forward to continue engaging in interesting dialogues and reflections with you and all the great teachers I have connected online through next year. Tks again. Rosie.


  15. Mr Stein, Thanks for the mention. Much more importantly thanks for the powerful story and all the powerful stories that you have shared during the year. Much more importantly, thanks for the laughter, insights and support throughout the year. I will never forget the day I found your blog. (You had linked to mine on your sidebar I think. You were probably the first person to do this, so I had to check out your blog.** I added you on twitter and then next thing you know we are having whiskey at your house!) Thanks for everything and I am excited to see what 2013 will bring for you as well as the rest of this great group we are a part of. Honored that a schmuck like me could be part of it all. Regards, Mike **I was immediately floored by your blog and have continued to be ever since. Amazing stuff.


  16. Hi Rose,Thanks for the comment and for the being such an active and insightful member of my PLN. 2013 is the year, I hope, when I find the time and the courage to become the kind of activist teacher who worries about how to make change outside of the classroom as well as inside. “It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.” ― Paulo FreireYour energy and positive presence in my PLN is a constant reminder of what it means to denounce fatalism, to embrace the transformative power of our students and fellow teachers. Kevin


  17. Hi Mike,The feeling of immediate floordom was totally mutual. What a stroke of dumb luck to have found your blog when I did. Much more importantly, living in Japan, I am often stranded and feel a deep need to connect back up with my Jewish heritage. Your frequent use of Yiddish has been like a kind of spiritual nurturance for me. But even much much more importantly, I can write a bunch of nonsense like this, and I know that you know it is a genuine expression of gratitude for everything you've been a part of in my 2012. Thanks brother. See you in 2013.


  18. I am so glad that my use of Yiddish has been noted and appreciated. I am hoping to beef up my options in the coming year. Just an hour ago I was thinking about busting out some Yiddish on some facebook status update madlibs challenge. Anyway I digress but you still have comments in the queue till you respond to this.


  19. I highly recommend "The Joys of Yiddish" by Leo Rosten. It has a choice spot on my bookshelf and would come in handy for such things as fill in the blank Facebook wall posts as well as paying timely compliments and of course the occasionally necessary put down. Last time I checked there were 13 alternatives for schmuck alone. Hope you find this information useful. The book is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Joys-Yiddish-Leo-Rosten/dp/067172813X or better yet, perhaps I will just mail it to you and join in the book giveaway fun.


  20. Hi Kevin,This post has been on the kept unread list of my blog for weeks. I can only apologize for not returning your kind gesture of gratitude earlier.As those above me have already said, it's an honour to be included on a list of such incredible people (not just teachers). I've learnt a whole lot from blogging and reading this year, and the people who have helped you, unsurprisingly, have inspired me too.Throughout this year your comments and support for my ideas has been a source of great encouragement in writing the blog, and it's heartening to know that some of my creations have made it to Japan (you should know that plenty of yours made it to Korea too). Thank you.Wishing you more moments like the one in your story in 2013.Alex


  21. Hi Janet,It's sometimes very easy to lose sight of just how we do influence our students. One of the best things about keeping a blog is just sitting down and thinking about what students have said to me over the course of a week. The other fantastic thing is seeing how those words can spread out to the larger teaching community. Thanks for the comment and the many fantastic lesson ideas on your own blog.Kevin


  22. Hi Alex,Thanks for the comment and for a regular dose of pron ideas. I'm very gald to know that some of what I've shared here has also been useful. It's amazing how a blog post turns into a dialogue through the comments. I'm still boggled to think about the teachers who take the time to give their feedback on the things I put up here. As a follow on, the comment section of your blog is one of the most engaging, I think, in ELT blogging. Looking very forward to what 2013 has to bring.Kevin


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