volume control

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I have been working with kids since I was 12 years old. Different experiences throughout my life triggered my “inner teacher,” though I never did pursue a teaching degree. I chose a more exciting and unconventional and international path for myself, but it never stopped from teaching.

Having the heart of a teacher, however, doesn’t not naturally include characteristics such as patience, compassion, gentleness, discernment and self-control. Anyone who has spent any time in the classroom knows that these traits are vital to cultivating a healthy and safe classroom environment. Without them, your hair turns gray, dark circles from under your eyes, and your voice goes hoarse at an early and premature age.

So over the many years, I have learned as many (possibly more) lessons as I have taught about not only teaching, but actually becoming a teacher. It’s bee a personal transformation, and this transformation took a surprising turn within the last year.

On September 10, 2017, I became a parent. 

I was instantly thrown into limbo. I came home from the classroom where I competently and confidently deal with 15 variations of learning styles and levels and emotional needs on a daily basis to possibly one of the most difficult and needy kids I had ever met. But this was nothing new! I deal with difficulty and neediness of all kinds at all levels and ages all day! But what I faced at home was very, very different. 

I had to make the emotional and mental move from teacher to parent.

This is not easy for a number of reasons, namely:

  1. Teachers are experts at management, routine, and control. Should anything disrupt this flow, certain steps are carried out that over time keep all the students in line. Running a family requires a much more stretchy and flexible version of this, where unpredictability and change are always being accounted for. 
  2. Teachers carry out discipline with relatively non-emotional methods. Since the level of familiarity with each student varies, it is very important to keep things objective and fair, holding each child to the same standards in order to maintain order. Let’s be honest, this is not how order is maintained at home. Discipline can get emotional, messy, and feel extremely unfair. 
  3. The teacher’s priority is the learning objective, whether it’s something abstract such as kindness or factual like state capitals. Learning objectives are measured, documented, and tracked to record the student’s academic growth. Learning objectives at home are not this cut and dry. In fact, it sometimes hard to believe anyone is learning anything when there is food on the floor, the TV is blaring obnoxiously high-pitched noises, and there are un-flushed specimens in the toilet. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

I began reading blogs and researching articles, as I am accustomed to do, and struggled with the conflict between my own expectations and standards and the reality of my new and sprouting relationship with my step-daughter, who, though she shared so much in common with my students, was not my student.

And that was key. My daughter was not one of my students. Yes, I would teach her things and show her how the world works and help her when she was stuck; but I would do all of that as her parent, not her teacher. 

There was a common thread of personal struggle as I transitioned from teacher to parent, however, and that struggle has been volume control.

Twice I have been confronted by educators for whom I had the utmost respect about raising my voice in the classroom. Yes, I am talking about yelling. I am notorious for letting my emotions get the best of me, and any teacher knows that this is possibly one of the “Achilles heels” of teaching. As a teacher, you need to earn and maintain the respect of your students. Losing your shit in the classroom is not how you do this. It’s not how you earn the respect of your kids at home, either.

So I found myself at that familiar and humbling position on my knees again when it came to my own volume abuse. I needed to change.

 

Yell Less, Love More. This is the name of a book I recently grabbed off the library shelves in the parenting section. It’s a 30-day guide that includes

  • 100 Alternatives to yelling
  • simply, daily steps to follow
  • honest stories to inspire

written by Sheila McCraith, mother to four boys. I got those bullet points right off the cover the of book.

Starting tomorrow, I am going to blog through this book over the next 30 days as my start to a new blogging season, because I definitely need to yell less and love more as a parent. 

Just as having the heart of a teacher doesn’t automatically make you the kind of person your students will love, having a minor in your care doesn’t automatically make you a parent. I am still becoming, and there is so much to learn. And I’m starting with volume control.

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On Writing: Let’s Talk About Outlines, aka TIME FOR A SHOUT OUT

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On my post for writers to post their questions, Victoria Crowley of VictoriaScotiaCrowley.com asked:

“Outlines. Let’s talk about outlines. How can outlines can be a useful tool for writing a book? And what’s the best way to use them?”

Outlines.

Outlines are like a warm heater in a cold cabin after coming in from the snow. They take a while to thaw you out, but once you get the hang of them, they warm up your fingers and gear you up to type all the way to the last page.

I love outlines. They keep this undiagnosed-ADHD author focused and super excited to move the story along.

Source: On Writing: Let’s Talk About Outlines

This year I’ve made it a point to be much more intentional about the INTERACTION side of blogging, the side I’ve never really had time for/didn’t prioritize. (Let’s be honest; there is always time for the priority.) That’s one of the reason I’ve launched READER APPRECIATION MONTH on my website, which is an opportunity for you – my reader! – to get a free gift! Click here to read more!

Besides reaching out to readers, I’m also getting more active in reading other blogs, blogs written both by followers and other bloggers out there. This includes a lot of things I’m just beginning to learn about, including leaving comments, liking posts, and even taking the time to allow readers to have a voice as well as promoting the writing of other bloggers!

I enjoy following authors, as being an author is an unshakeable ambition, and there is just so much to learn, read, and write! One of these authors I follow is Andrew Toy, and you can read all about him and follow him yourself on his site, http://www.adoptingjames.wordpress.com/.

Andrew reached out to his readers one day, inviting them to post a question about the writing process in the comments, questions he committed to addressing in individual blog posts. I asked about outlines, and that was what he addressed today! If that excerpt above intrigued you, read the whole thing by clicking HERE.

I took furious notes and was encouraged all over again about the DOABLE feat of writing a book. Thank you, Andrew, for the post, and to all the other bloggers out there in this community I’ve begun to explore. I hope to interact with more of you in days and blogs to come.

DON’T FORGET: JANUARY IS READER APPRECIATION MONTH! IF YOU ARE READING/FOLLOWING/SUBSCRIBED TO THIS BLOG, I WANT TO GIVE YOU A THANK YOU GIFT. CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW TO GET YOUR GIFT!

home sweet home

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It’s the age-old interrogative sentence that haunts all of at some point, no matter how physically far away we are from “home.” And where is home exactly?

Today in social studies, I warned my students that after the lesson they were going to want to leave America and travel the world for the rest of their lives. (Most of them are  more or less convinced I am from Taiwan (like literally of Taiwan blood), and they were rather shocked when I explained that I actually had roots right here in Washington and am, in fact, FROM America.) 

My lesson took them through a running tour of Taiwan, Mongolia, North Korea, & South Korea. I inspired them with time-lapse videos, geography videos, pictures, and horizon-broadening facts about each country. (I could tell the diversity of my presentation had everyone captivated; that’s a win in the teaching world!)

For me, this was actually the first time I had taught anyone about Taiwan. For years, I have been teaching people about America and the confusing and varying customs of the West and have even walked fellow-foreigners through the process of moving to Taiwan from their home country.

At first I was overwhelmed; where do I start, what do I say? But then the researcher mentality of an educator settled over me,  and the lesson I gave my students made me crazy homesick. And happy at the same time.

It felt like every part of me was glowing with unexplainable feeling as I showed them my home city of Taipei, the forever-long changing of the guard at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and the video of my dragon boat team’s championship race. My students were immediately enraptured by the beauty and all the people, their fascination being expressed through words like, “It’s pretty!” “Coool!” “I wanna move there!” “I wanna go visit you!”

 

Mission accomplished. The seed of world travel and exploration and expat living PLANTED. 

I was simultaneously overjoyed to teach them about something so integral to my life and yet also so fiercely gripped with nostalgia. 

And the whole thing had me thinking…

6 years ago, I was torn to be so far away from all the marriage, birth, and even death that my friends in the States were experiencing. I wanted to be with them still, but I knew I could only be in one place at a time and was learning to accept that.

Over 6 years down the road, I’m undergoing the same extent of emotion; but now all the friends and loved ones I so dearly miss are in Taiwan. I want to be with them, but I know I can only be in one place at at time and I am learning that it’s not easy to know where you’re supposed to be in life.

I could simplify this issue and say I have two homes now, but I’m no longer sure that’s entirely true, either.

Home….. bittersweet home. 

DON’T FORGET: JANUARY IS READER APPRECIATION MONTH! IF YOU ARE READING/FOLLOWING/SUBSCRIBED TO THIS BLOG, I WANT TO GIVE YOU A THANK YOU GIFT. CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW TO GET YOUR GIFT!

Why I love being a teacher in the 21st century

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I’ve been out of the classroom scene for 6 months, but now that I’ve jumped back in one thing is certain: I love teaching

 It’s so rejuvenating  to be reminded of what you love to do. The noise of the daily grind and pressure of tight schedules can drown out the song of the things we care about.

 I also happen to love technology, and this is why I love being a teacher in the 21st century.

You see, technology is a whole lot more than cool inventions. Technology has taken society to a whole new level of “speak,” “engage,” and “interact.” My generation takes online communication and photo uploads for granted, and some of us have even patiently walked our own parents through the maze of social networking and opening a facebook account.

Online anything is no longer a modern novelty and we expect an app for everything. Technology has become a way of life that all of us may pay for later, but for right now productivity is the priority.

And teaching in this age of technology is just fun.

Here are three reasons teaching in the 21st century is so awesome:

Your students understand all your hashtag jokes. If Johnny with the attention deficit disorder is looking bored, hashtag boredom. (Hashtag is a verb!) NOT guaranteed to work every time, but you get the idea. As an experiment, I wrote # on the white board and asked my students what they saw and the instant response was hashtag. #hashtag

Kids no longer blink twice (or at all for that matter!) at touch screens and iPads and tablets and instinctively know what to do if you hand them one. You can actually trust kids with your fancy devices, especially if they’re already in education mode! I find it fascinating how the way we access the world continues to evolve as technology progresses, and as a teacher I get to witness this change firsthand.

Researching is fun. Sending a kid on an online mission is like sending a kid on a treasure hunt. “Google” is already embedded in their minds as a verb. It’s an actual place where you can find anything. And it lets them practice their typing skills! Since most homes now have internet access, an online assignment can be the key to getting students excited about their homework.

For me, teaching and technology is a match made in educational heaven. And I really am happy to be teaching again. It’s not for forever! But for now, I love it.

 #technology #teaching #21stcentury #students #love #hashtag

Tears… and frustration

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I made a student cry in class the other week. I didn’t feel good about it at ALL.

This student has been a particularly frustrating case for me all year, and it’s not his fault. But unfortunately, as a crappy English teacher, I sometimes make it out to be that way.

I felt so awful and even more frustrated with myself as soon as I saw the tears well up in his eyes. I wanted to cry out of sheer frustration. I was running (am running) out of teaching juice – I was at a loss for all ideas or innovative methods that could have inspired understanding in this kid’s mind. I immediately changed the student’s task and relieved him of the dreaded writing assignment he couldn’t seem to complete correctly.

He needed a fresh start. I needed a fresh start. We both needed a change of scenery, and that is so true in most of life’s frustrating situations.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to give myself an outlet for a rather large portion of my life the last four years: teaching English. After 4 years of working for a WONDERFUL institution who has done nothing but take care of me and cater to the needs of my cultural differences and expectations, it’s time for a fresh start. 

No, I’m not going to stop teaching altogether. Unfortunately, I still can’t do that yet. I’m simply going to take up a different teaching position that requires less hours, less innovation and less initiative in the teaching process. I’ve faced many challenges in the classroom that have taught me so much about myself and human nature. It’s now time to simply teach for a smaller school with less administrative responsibilities and required meetings. If I don’t give myself a fresh start now, it will just be another year of tears and frustration.

I LOVE KIDS. I EVEN LOVE TEACHING. I simply need to put myself back in a place where I enjoy it again.

Teacher, I know!

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The possibly two most frustrating and refreshing words in the industry of education are I KNOWPut together, these words can create a rather powerful sentence. A very short sentence (V.S.S., as my high school English teacher taught me – Thank you, Mrs. Tyner!).  This V.S.S. can mean two very different things in the classroom. One, your student actually gets it for once. Two, your student is being a smart alec.

The latter has been my more common experience. However, when a student actually does get it…my world changes.

Today, I administer the Final Exam of the semester. Upon grading these tests, it doesn’t take long to sort out the academic wheat from the chaff. However, though I am forced to organize my students’ English abilities according to the institution’s standard, high scores aren’t always coming from the best attitudes in class. They’re simply coming from the students WHO KNOW.

One of my level 3 students took 2nd place in the Speech Contest this year. The school I currently work at alternates every year between Spelling Bee and Speech Contest, which keeps the events fresh and competition among students even, as not every student is a speller and not every student is a public speaker. His name is Tsung-Han, and I’ve known this kid since he was in Level 1, when I was also his teacher. He did his speech about Legos, and delivered it with so much personality and confidence that other kids in the school were quoting him! Those are the students who get it, and those are the students who make a teacher proud. 

Tsung-Hang’s test scores? Low at best. According to the educational standards of Taiwan’s society, they’re low. According to the American school system, he would simply be ranked as an average student. But this kid has gone from misspelling every word to getting a 100% on a spelling quiz. His performance in grammar and vocabulary has surprised even him. I’ve coached him in grammar, in hopes of seeing him rank a little bit higher on the academic ladder. But I didn’t coach him in the gestures and voice inflections and  funny noises that put him and and his speech up on top of the performance ladder.

Those talents and his motivation to win came from a heart WHO KNOWS what it takes, WHO KNOWS what is important and who has been told, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Because THAT is what every students should know. 

So next time a students says, “Teacher, I know!” ask her exactly what it is she knows.

The Oath

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Higher-level English students should know better, and I’m sick and tired of my Level 3 class and their unnecessary Chinese. It’s just lazy or rebellious, and I don’t approve of either of those behaviors. So I showed them how serious I was today. I made them take an oath, and English-speaking oath.

I lined up all of my students outside and stood at the door with thick children’s dictionary in my hands. Each student had to lay their right hand on the dictionary and repeat these words after me:

“I, ________, hereby swear that I will only speak English in this classroom.”

The jokesters were sent to the back of the line until they took it seriously. There was definitely a higher sense of awareness about the language being spoken in the classroom after that. I think I may have them do a written oath that they all sign. This would be displayed on the wall and a memo about it would go home to all the parents.

It’s funny, because I have swiveled back and forth between a liberal and staunch position about Chinese in the classroom. It literally comes in mood swings for me. And this semester, I’m in an English mood! A staunch and strict one at that!

On a lighter note, I went in to work early today for a lunch meeting with the cram school’s CEO. It was a good meeting. The branch I work at is on overhaul this semester because from the business side of things numbers aren’t looking too hot. So we’re all working together to improve the situation. I really appreciate being a part of this process and am finding myself putting in more work than I would on a normal day. There’s something extremely gratifying about working for a company that calls upon their employees in times of trouble. I’m not  dispensable; we’re actually all significant pieces of a puzzle that make this whole machine run forward.

BigByte definitely gets the nomination for the morale-boosting award.

Enforcing an English-only policy in my classroom even when I myself have to fight the Chinese that’s become so naturally for me to say makes me think of parenting. (Parents, please correct me if I’m wrong!) In spite of the complaints and sassy attitudes of the children, and as annoying as that can be to put up with for the adult, there IS a reason for all of it. This is where the role of age enters the stage: the adult sees what the child does not.

So I will continue to be staunch and strict about English being the only language spoken in my classroom. Because I see what my students do not (the meetings, the money, the parent-school relations, the project planning, the curriculum and test writing). They just wouldn’t get it. And that’s OK, because they’re freaking kids!

Teacher’s Block

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writers-block-blog

ummmmmmmmmmmmm

You know you have teacher’s block when…

…student reports were due 12 hours ago and you’re still staring at the blank spaces on your computer screen with absolutely no motivation to type ANYTHING.

…the vocabulary words you’re required to teach that week BORE you.

…there’s a stack of unmarked test papers on your desk that needed to be marked last week.

…you find it more entertaining to put all the students in time out rather than teach them anything.

…you don’t bother explaining the question to the poor kid so you just continually send him back to his desk to correct his mistakes until he finally copies another student’s work and returns with the correct answer.

…class started 5 minutes ago, and you’re still sitting on the toilet. Not because you need to. But because the bathroom stall is the only safe and peaceful place right now.

…you’re calling ALL OF YOUR STUDENTS by the wrong name.

…you waste class time arguing with your students about fat people and exercise and spending money.

…you hand over white board (or chalkboard) and white board marker (or chalk) to your smartest student and tell the kids to play Hangman. You  watch them play this ALL period.

…you’re starting class 5 minutes late and dismissing class 5 minutes early.

The best thing about teacher’s block? It’s never a problem on the weekends. Or during vacation. Or on days off. And THAT is a beautiful thing.

“Teacher, he used me!”

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In the Chinese language, the verb used when they are pushed or bumped into or physically bothered by other people gets translated into English as the word use. As a result, the native English speaker is initially confused upon hearing the sentence, “He used me!” This kind of things happens all the time when moving back and forth between different languages, as humans struggle to learn and translate foreign tongues. In some circles, this specific phenomenon between Chinese and English has been labeled “Chinglish.” It’s the combination of Chinese grammar and English words.

This has everything to do with the classroom, especially my classroom. At my cram school, “Chinglish” is an actual section of our curriculum. We pull specific phrases that are common to ESL learners in Taiwan and teach students how to say it with correct English grammar. “He used me!” is one such phrase.

But my point today is not to unpack the linguistic mysteries of ESL phrasing and Chinglish, as interesting as that may be. My point today is not expound upon the complex cruelties of elementary social dynamics in the classroom. I will do this by examining an event that happend in my classroom today.

I decided to be not just an awesome teacher this week, but a super awesome teacher. I ended up purchasing trendy prizes for my kids, and by trendy I’m talking ANGRY BIRD trendy. My students LOVE angry birds. As an adult statement against their childish trends, I have verbally declared in front of my students that I do not have the angry bird game and that angry birds are dumb and not welcome in my classroom. Almost all other English teachers I’ve talked to have taken the opposite approach.

This kind of thing has no place in my classroom when space is already being occupied by an angry teacher. I show my kids angry!

This kind of thing has no place in my classroom when space is already being occupied by an angry teacher. I show my kids angry!

The trendy purchases I made during a minor change of heart included the red angry bird, the green angry bird and the black angry bird (if I remember correctly). The fourth purchase was this heart shaped little zip-up bag decorated with an adorably abstract Japanese cartoon saying in English, “Stay away from my puppy.” I went trendy. 

I made it luck of the draw. At the end of class, all 7 of my level 1 student’s names were dropped into a can. I had level 3 students draw names and read them aloud. The first winner got first pick. My four lucky students were Duncan, John, Dora, and Tiffany. Duncan is the youngest student, and also the slowest, and all last semester was actually quite the ordeal being his teacher, as academics and socials weren’t always treating him so well. In fact, he gets rather picked on by the other students and all the girls avoid him at all costs unless they get something out of the deal. I hear deals being made all time like “I’ll let you be my friend if…”

I’ve sent many a student into the time out chair in Duncan’s defense, but I haven’t held back on Duncan, either. All these kids have so much to learn about civilly interacting with the environment. But at the end of my day, I was pleased that Duncan was a winner. He dressed up as an angry bird for Halloween!

So I was quite confused when I saw an angry bird-less Duncan walk out of my classroom.

“Duncan, where is your angry bird?”

“I gave it to Gina.”

“Why!!!???”

“Because she want.”

“Duncan! You won that! That was yours! You should not have done that. You are TOO nice to Gina.”

Gina actually happens to be the younger sister of another student who was in my class two years in a row. She’s leader of the female pack and a much harder character than her older sister. She wields a fierce social influence upon all the girls, and all the boys want to be her friend. She’s sharp, too, but she can oh, so cold. When Duncan told me he gave his angry bird to Gina, I knew exactly what kind of deal had been made.

Gina and her sister are two of the students who stay at the school pretty late waiting for their parents to come pick them up, so she’s always there while I’m teaching my junior high class on Friday nights. Before class started, I found Gina and gave her a piece of my mind.

“Gina, I am not happy that Duncan gave you his angry bird. Why did you ask him for it. You can never be mean to him again! You used him.”

“No-”

“Yes! That is what using someone is in English! You used him You know how he is, and so you asked him for his angry bird and he gave it to you because he wants to be your friend. Now, he thinks you are his friend. So, Gina, you always have to be nice to him and sit next to him [at this, Gina cringed a little] because he gave you his angry bird. You used him!”

Gina’s look assured me she understood. For better or for worse, I stay extremely in tune with the social drama of certain students and interfere quite often. The students realize I know exactly what is going on. I see through their games.

“Do you understand? You better give it back to him if you are not going to be nice to him for now on.”

Later, Gina came to find me. “Teacher, what if I gave it to you and you can give it back to Duncan?”

“No, you must give it to him yourself.”

I’m extremely curious as to what the ownership of that particular angry bird (I forget which color) will be next week. Very curious. Something tells me it will change. 

I will not tolerate these subtle behaviors that lead to the mountain of bullying students are too cowardly to stand up to. I will strike down the ring leaders, and I will do it as their TEACHER. Fortunately, in Taiwan, teachers still do have power.

Child Labor

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I’m not a mute or subtle person by any means, so when my dragon boat shoulder (I’m a left sider, so my left shoulder takes the biggest hit) suddenly became mega tight and mega painful, my students noticed. And they heard me verbalize my need for a sledge hammer to just ram right through my shoulder. I even started getting physical about my dilemma, stretching and massaging – trying to relieve the pain. The hammer was going to be the only effective solution.

That hammer became the skillful little fists of every single one of my level 3 students.

The greatest part about the whole ordeal is that I never once made an actual request. The first student to finish his quiz simply came up to have me check it, which is normal classroom procedure, and asked, “Where, Teacher?” I placed my index finger on the spot, and he started hammering.

I literally said to the first student, you need to be strong. STRONGER!

The students ended up developing and sustaining a rather effective “hammering” system. The quiz I was currently checking was the student that was currently hammering. It also became an incentive to finish that quiz. Some of those children were GOOD! Their blows were making these sounds that felt pretty professional. At one point, I was getting simultaneous hammer and massage action.

All my kids got a kick out of it and seemed to enjoy inflicting pain upon me. Yet they understood that I invited this “pain,” so I would even get apologies every now and then when a student felt she might have struck me too hard. I said at one point that I hope they do this for their parents, because it felt AMAZING. Most of them do!

The result of all this free child labor? A much looser shoulder. It was now sore, of course, but the sudden tightness was gone. It was one of the best class periods EVER.