From this Teacher’s Family

from teacher familyThe ‘From the Teacher’s Family’ issue is up over on the iTDi blog with posts from Rose Bard, Matt Shannon, and Ayat Tawel.  Each post is a story of what being a teacher does and means to our families.  They are posts filled with the joy that comes when our families know our jobs change lives.  They are also stories of the insecurity that comes with yearly contracts, the loneliness of waiting for a weekend when a partner doesn’t have to work, and the pain of sometimes feeling forgotten.

Each of the iTDi bloggers was given a list of 11 possible questions to use (or not use) during their interviews.  I thought I would simply share those questions here, in case any other writers might be interested in doing a similar post and were stuck for ideas.  But the other night, before going to sleep, my wife Mamico asked me if I would interview her.  I prepared two glasses with ice and took down the bottle of Japanese style whisky we sometimes sip when chatting late at night.  I must have pulled a strange face, because she said, “Don’t worry.  I don’t have much negative to say about you being a teacher.  I want you to know how I feel.”  So here are the 11 questions and Mamico’s answers, as well as the gratitude that comes from people I love and respect sharing their lives and thoughts with me.  Thank you Rose, Matt, Ayat and Mamico.

1) What are three good things about having a mother/sister/wife/daughter who is a teacher?

You’re always thinking about how to teach children.  So the way you interact with our daughter never changes  No matter what she asks you, you always try to give her a thoughtful and serious answer.  And if I ever have a question about English it’s really easy to ask you and I know I’ll get a good answer.  You also always have interesting stories to tell about your day at school.

2) Were there ever a moments in your life when you wished I wasn’t a teacher?

Well, for example, when Luca doesn’t understand something you sometimes try to explain it too well, in too much detail.  It’s kind of the opposite of the good part of you being a teacher.  You take about two steps too many and I’m sometimes thinking, ‘That’s enough, that’s enough, that’s enough.’

3) Was there ever a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher? 

Well, recently, we met one of your students at a music festival.  I remember you talking about that student last year and what a hard time he was having at school.  And during the music festival, while we were sitting together, he was such a kind, and thoughtful, and decent boy.  I thought that you must have had a very good influence on him.

4) How do you think me being a teacher has made life more complicated for you?

When something hard or bad is happening at work, and you are under a lot of stress, I’m thinking about what I can do for you.  A lot of times I realise there actually isn’t anything I can do.  I can just think, “Poor, poor, Kevin.”  It’s not really a problem for me.  But I sometimes feel uncomfortable because there’s not much I can do for you.

5) Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher? 

Oh yeah!  You are a natural born teacher.  You like teaching.  You like studying.  And you believe that people can change.  Even when your students are not ‘good’, you believe in them.

6) What other jobs do you think I could have done or should have done aside from teaching?

Aside from social worker?  Wait, let me think.  You are a very caring person, so you could probably be a nurse.  But you’re a little too forgetful to be a nurse, really.

7) Why do you think I became a teacher?

I think you became a teacher because you wanted to be in an environment where you could always be studying.  I think you wanted to have a job where continual studying would be useful to the work you were doing.

8) Why do you think I continue to be a teacher now?

Because you like your students and you really want them to grow.

9) How would our lives change is I stopped being a teacher tomorrow?

You would be depressed.  And we would be very poor.  But really, I think it would be so boring, for you and for me.

10) Do you have any message for teachers around the world who might read this post?

Thank you for the job you do.  Thank you for teaching and caring for the children and the adults who still believe in trying to improve and learn new things.  Oh, and thank you for being very kind to my husband.  I think he loves teaching because he knows he has the support of so many other teachers.

11) Do you have any message for other family members of teachers around the world?

Please listen to the stories of your family member’s students.  The more stories you hear of real students’ lives, the more you will want to support and cheer on the person who you love who is a teacher.  Actually, the more stories you hear of students, the more you will want to support all teachers.


Are these communicative language teaching activities?

Dorpsomroeper / Town-crier from Flickr's The Commons.

Dorpsomroeper / Town-crier from Flickr’s The Commons.

Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of cold medicine.  It makes me feel like someone stuffed a bag of marshmallows into my head…through my ears.  It is not an entirely unpleasant feeling.  But it has given everything around me a strange hue and left me slightly confused.  For example, I recently filled my mug up at the coffee machine and didn’t notice that the coffee bean hopper was empty until after I had taken a few sips of hot water.  Even worse, it has me wondering about the most basic aspects of language teaching.  For example, I seem to have lost my grasp of what communicative language teaching is.  According to Richards and Rogers’s Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, in the early 70s, British applied linguists, “saw the need to focus in language teaching on communicative proficiency rather than on mere mastery of structures. (p.153)”  So in came Wilkins Notional Syllabuses and the idea that the goal of language teaching should be communicative competence and teaching the four language skills in such a way as acknowledging, “the interdependence of language and communication. (p.155)”  All those words make sense to me.  Mostly.  And I’m even down with the idea that there is a strong and weak version of CLT in which the weak version is merely providing learners with the opportunity to use the L2 to engage in genuine communicative acts while the strong approach is more of a you-learn-language-by-using-it so if you create the right situations for students to engage in communication, they’ll learn the language.

I guess what I’m saying is that the components of CLT are all nicely labeled and taking up the space in my head between the cold medicine marshmallows.  But I’m going over my class notes for the past week and very much unable to decide which (if any) of the warm-up activities I ran in class are actually communicative in nature.  So I’m asking for your help.  I’m going to just give an outline of my first lesson warm-up activities for the week and ask if you would be so kind as to tell me if they are communicative language teaching or not.  Maybe even rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, in which 1 is definitely not communicative and 5 is super-communicative.

Monday, Activity 1, substitution table:  I wrote the following on the board:

  1. When I go to Tokyo, I always go to Disney Land.
  2. When I go to Tokyo, I ____________ go to _____________.
  3. When I go to _______, I ___________ go to _____________.
  4. When I _______ _________, I ___________ _________ _____________.
  5. When I _______ _________, I ___________ _________ _____________.
  6. When ____ ______ _______, _____ ___________ _________ _____________.
  7. When ____ ______ _______, _____ ___________ _________ _____________.

I then had the students turn their chairs around so they were looking not at the board, but at the nice wide windows looking out over Osaka.   I called on the first student.  He turned, looked at the board and started reading.  I asked him not to read from the board.  He memorized the first half of the sentence, turned away from the board and said what he could remember.  Then he turned back to the board, read the rest of the sentence, turned away from the board and said it.  I then said to the students, “Please write what T-Kun just said.”  And they did.  They also asked him to repeat the sentence.  Which he did.  Once everyone seemed finished, I said, “Are you all done?”  I glanced at some of the students notebooks, made a judgment and called on the next student in the row to say sentence 2.  We proceeded in this way until all the sentences had been said and students had written them in their notebooks.  The final sentence, which was said by a student who just came back from a study abroad trip, was, “When I was in New Zealand, I always had to speak English.”  The total activity took 15 minutes to complete.

Tuesday, Activity 2, substitution table, question form: I followed the same procedure as above, only the sentences on the board at the start of the activity were:

  1. When you study English, do you use your electronic dictionary?
  2. When you study ___________, do you use your ____________?
  3. When you _________ ___________, do you use ______  ____________ ?
  4. When you _________ ___________, do you use ______  ____________?
  5. When you _________ ___________, do you ______ ______  ____________?
  6. When you _________ ___________, do you _________ ______ ______?
  7. When _______ _________ ___________, do/does ______ ______  __________?
  8. When _______ _________ ___________, do/does ______ ______  __________?

The only difference was I asked students who created the sentence to ask if their classmates were finished and if they were, to call on any student to complete the next sentence.  If a student made an error in their sentence, I loaded the words onto my fingers to highlight where the mistake was and waited either for the student to self-correct or for another student to help provide the correct grammar.  The activity took 12 minutes to complete.  The student-created sentences were:

② When you study English, do you use a dictionary?
③ When you study Japanese, do you use your class notes?
④ When you listen to music, do you use an iPod?
⑤ When you take a shower, do you use hair rinse?
⑥ When you play basketball, do you use your basketball shoes?
⑦ When Yuki eats a steak, does he use a fork and knife?
⑧ When you are in a place you don’t know, do you say, “Where am I?”

I then had students circle the three questions they wanted to practice, form pairs, and ask their partner their questions and answer their partner’s questions.  They could use their notes from the previous class if they wanted to help formulate an answer.  But they were not allowed to read directly from their notes.  After 3 minutes of practice, they recorded their conversations on their cell-phones.  For homework they transcribed the conversations and compared them with their notes, making any corrections as necessary.

Wednesday, Activity 3, structured pair work with substitution tables: I wrote the following adjacency pair dialogue substitution table on the board:

  • A: When you go to Tokyo, you go to Disneyland, don’t you?
  • B: I always go to Disneyland when I go to Tokyo.
  • A: When you go to _____, you ____________, don’t you?
  • B: I ___________ _____________ when I go to __________.
  • A: When you ________ _____, you ____________, don’t you?
  • B: I ___________ _____________ when I ______ __________.
  • A: When you ________ _____, you ____________, don’t you?
  • B: I ___________ _____________ when I ______ __________.
  • A: When _______ __________, _______ ____________, don’t/doesn’t _______?
  • B: _______ ___________ _____________ when ______ ______ __________.
  • A: When _______ __________, _______ ____________, don’t/doesn’t _______?
  • B: _______ ___________ _____________ when ______ ______ __________.

I moved the desks from one side of the room to create some free space.  Then I asked for two volunteers to come and stand at the side of the room.  They read the sentences from the board silently, looked at each other, and then said the dialogue.  When they finished, they directed the students to write what they had said.  The verbally checked to make sure that all the students were finished.  Then they picked two students to take their place.  Students produced the following adjacency pair dialogues:

  • A: When you go to the convenience store, you buy fried chicken, don’t you?
  • B: I sometimes buy fried chicken when I go to the convenience store.
  • A: When you go to driving school, you take motorcycle lessons, don’t you?
  • B: I don’t go to driving school yet.
  • A: When you go to the music store, you play the guitar, don’t you?
  • B: I sometimes buy fried chicken when I go to the convenience store.
  • A: When Yuki goes to school, he always talks to Kokolo, doesn’t he?
  • B: He always talks with all his friends when he goes to school.
  • A: When Scott studies Japanese, Kevin always helps him, doesn’t he?
  • B: Kevin sometimes helps Scott when he studies Japanese.

This time I did not correct the students.  On three occasions, other students in the class corrected errors.  I remained near the whiteboard and watched and took notes.  This part of the activity took 17 minutes.  Once again students circled the three conversations they wanted to practice and formed pairs.  The A-role sentences remained the same, but most of the students changed the B-role so it expressed their own situation or opinion.  They recorded after 3 minutes of practice and brought in the corrected transcripts for homework.

Thursday, Activity 4, mini-dialogue writing: I wrote the following dialogue on the board:

  • A: My mother always makes curry when she has to work overtime.
  • B: You’re mother’s curry is delicious, isn’t it?
  • A: Not really.

I directed students to form pairs and write their own dialogue.  The could use their notes from previous classes.  They had seven minutes to write their dialogues.  Then they presented their dialogues in the same style as the previous day, directing students to write, checking that all the students were finished, and picking the next pair of students.  These are some of the dialogues students produced:

A: I always study English when I don’t have to work.
B: English is difficult, isn’t it?
A: Yes, it’s difficult.

A: I always study through the night when I have to take a test.
B: High school tests are difficult, aren’t they?
A: Yes, they’re really difficult.

A: I am always careful not to slip when I have to wash the bathtub.
B: Washing a bathtub is dangerous, isn’t it?
A: Yes, it’s very dangerous.

Once this part of the activity was finished, students formed two lines across the back of the class.  Students in the left line took on the A-role and could say the first line of the dialogue of their chosing.  The B-role responded appropriately.  Once all the students finished, the students in the left-side line all moved one place to the left and practiced again with a new partner.  Both the A-role students and the B-role students made many changes to the dialogues during the practice.  They were not instructed to do so.

Friday, Activity 5, mini-dialogue writing: I wrote the following outline of a dialogue on the board:

Japanese Teenager: When we eat lunch, we _______________________.
Foreign teenager: ________________________________________________.

I asked the class to complete the Japanese Teenager-role sentence.  They completed it with, “When we eat lunch, we eat a lunch box made by ourselves or our mothers.”

I then asked them to form pairs and write out a dialogue in which a Japanese teenager and a foreign teenager were discussing school life.  Students wrote the following sentences:

JT: When we were junior high school students, we couldn’t get part time jobs.
JT: When we go to school, we always have to wear a uniform.
JT: When we were elementary school students, we had to walk to school in groups.
JT: When we communicate with our friends, we always use LINE or Twitter.

While students were writing these sentences, they asked me for help in writing the foreign teenager role line.  I told them that instead of helping them, I would Tweet and post to FaceBook what they had written and see if we could get some responses from people in other places in the world.

As they were working on more sentences, the following responses, which I wrote up on the board as they were received, came in over FaceBook and Twitter (and a very special thanks to all the teachers who contacted with my class during this activity):

From Sandy Millin, an English language teacher from the UK who works in Sevastopol, Ukraine:

    • I had to wear a school uniform at school in the UK. I wore it until 16. For 16-18, it was office wear.
    • When I was at primary school in the UK, my dad drove me to school every day, but I wish we’d walked!
    • My lunch at secondary school was ‘school dinners’ cooked in the school kitchens. Too many chips!

From Lynn, a school counselor in Michigan, America:

    • Most high school students at our school buy hot lunches from the school cafeteria.
    • The students in most public schools wear mostly what they want, as long as it covers their bodies well enough!
    • Some of our high school students walk to school, if they live close enough to school. Some take the school bus. Many of our students have their own cars and drive themselves, or ride with a friend.
    • The kids usually communicate using Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat.

From Tyson Seburn, a university instructor in Canada:

    • Depending on age, but usually from high school on, we buy lunch in the school cafeteria, though some bring lunches.
    • Unless it’s a private school, usually we wear what we want to school.
    • Most elementary kids are driven to school these days, either by their parents or school bus.
    • I don’t know how kids communicate with each other these days.

From Rose Bard, a junior high school and high school English teacher in Brazil:

    • In Brazil students go to school in the morning from 7:30 a.m. to 11:45 or in the afternoon from 1:15 to 5:30 pm. They study for 4 hours only. They have 1 fifteen-minute break a day. During the break, students can eat a snack.  In a private school, the students have to buy the snack themselves. In a public school, the school gives the students a snack.
    • When we go to school, we have to wear school uniforms, too.
    • When I was in elementary school I remember walking to school in a group. I still see groups of students coming and going home together.
    • When students communicate nowadays, it seems to be through Snapchat. Facebook and Twitter used to be pretty popular among teens. I heard that Whatsapp is also kind of popular, and Instagram too for photos they want to keep online.

From Malu Sciamarelli, a children’s English teacher and Business English trainer in São Paulo

I’m talking about São Paulo, in the southwest part of the country.

  • When we eat lunch, we buy it in the school cafeteria.
  • When we go to school, we have to wear school uniforms.
  • We are always driven to school.
  • When we communicate with our friends, we generally use WhatsApp.

From Marcos Benevides, a language teacher and materials writer who lives in Japan, but grew up in Canada:

I lived in a suburb of Toronto. I went to public schools there.

  • I walked to school with friends.
  • There were no uniforms in my school.
  • We all brought our own lunches until high school. In High School, we would either buy lunch at the school cafeteria, or walk across the street to one of several restaurants and burger shops.

The students read the responses as I wrote them up and checked with one another as to the meaning.  They were very much wrapped up in the excitement of the moment.  Once all the sentences were on the board, I asked them to use the sentences as a base to complete their dialogues.  They then presented their dialogues and practiced them in a similar manner to the previous days.  This days warm-up took a total of 100 minutes and was very much not a warm up.

A very inconclusive conclusion

So there it is, one week of warm-up (and one not so warm-up) activities.  If you managed to stick with me this far, thank you.  At 2538 words, this is the longest and perhaps most self-indulgent post I have ever written.  Still I’m glad to have had a chance to write up these activities and get my cold-medicine addled thoughts in a bit better order.  But even though it is all written out, I still find myself lost as to which activities might be considered communicative language teaching and which not so much.  So I do hope you will take an extra minute and maybe leave a comment about one of the activities, giving it a score of 1 to 5 on it’s communicative-language-teaching-ishness.  Because is would certainly ease my marshmallow-worried mind.