Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lights! Camera! Action!

So I'm appearing in some videos. And they are cheesy! And they are pedantic! And I hope you love them! At the least, you can make fun of me for looking so ridiculous. But not nearly as ridiculous as I look in this picture here.
(So I wasn't exactly an ATTRACTIVE kid)

These videos are the beginning of a youtube series intended to train ESL professionals on some of the most basic tenets and practices in our field. It is my sincerest wish that you at least learn something while you make fun of me.

Here are the links:

P.S. Am I getting progressively fatter by video 4?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why I'm Going to Iraq: Don't Blame Me!

I'm discontinuing this blog for awhile. If you'd like to follow my sojourn to Iraq (yes, I'm going there next week for two months), then please come check out my blog at www.askmrlanguageperson.blogspot.com. Awesome. This week's post is entitled "Why I'm Going to Iraq: Don't Blame Me!

Keep me in your prayers. I admit I'm a little freaked out. And take care of my wife while I'm gone!!!!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Balancing Act

Balance can be such an impossible task. "Just take time for everything!" says someone who you are sure doesn't understand the intricacies of your life. "Slow down and smell the roses." Oh, is THAT what is wrong with me? I haven't smelled the roses? But you have a major project to get done and you are arguing with the copier to get it printed out and double sided in 42 packets, you have 3 emails to write to students for an assignment from last Monday, you have to assess new students in a placement test called the "John's test" for some reason, and you just forgot...you have a gift waiting to be picked up for Valentine's Day this weekend. So when someone calls you up and invites you to the Sun's basketball game tonight and you just can't, just CAN'T say yes, even though you really want to, then you think, "Man, my life is out of balance" (please replace "you" with "Shane" for added effect).

All of this is just theoretical, of course.

So balance is hard. But there are some areas where I think balance is the key to success. Here's a saying I like:

"It is achievement, not work, that makes people happy."

This may sound rather obvious, but I think many of us in our own lives don't get this concept. Achievement is what fuels people, not work. Industry alone, work alone, just isn't enough. I have known countless friends who work themselves to the bone and feel nothing but despair and loneliness. I know others who work hard and feel content and happy. How come? Well, I think we can start with the idea that what truly makes all the work worth it is if we actually value the work. Is it something we actually believe in? Does what you do make you feel like you are achieving in life, moving forward and progressing? Well, why the heck not?

And here is a related tangent. I like to think of setting one goal in my life that has nothing to do with teaching. Some sort of achievement that only me, myself, and I value. Maybe it is to join a choir, plant a garden, learn another language, or plan a trip with my family. It doesn't matter as long as I think it matters. But generally it is something concrete and finite. It is something I truly, truly want. And then, well, I work for it. I work for it because I know it is what I want. And when I accomplish it, it makes me feel warm and toasty all over (I know you know what I am talking about).

And the funny thing is, it helps me be a better teacher. When it all comes down to it, you can't teach a lie. You can only teach who you truly are. And when you have balance, true balance, you are at peace with what you are doing and how you are going about doing it. You might be taxed, you might be really burdened, but it is the good kind of burden, the burden that you yourself believe in. And that is a very good thing to come into the classroom with (not to mention outside of the classroom).

I see so many teachers work instead of achieve. I do it myself, all the time. But there are those rare times when I know that what I am doing has value to me, and then there is joy in the work. It makes it tolerable to me. I know I'm not just in some kind of mindless pursuit for money or to keep my head above water.

Because what I do matters. And that gives me the courage to stay balanced.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Gratitude Assignment

So I did this assignment for my ESL class in which they have to say how grateful they are for someone. Yeah. Gratitude. Thanksgiving. Pretty sappy, I know.

It started when I read a Guidepost's article that suggested that real writing often comes from the heart, and that writing to someone that you haven't really thanked can be, well, transformational. I liked the idea, but had little idea whether it would play to international students. Would they like speaking to people in this way? What if the person they chose didn't speak English?

The suggestion included reading the letter aloud to the person you haven't properly thanked. Predictably, my students chose to write to fathers, mothers, grandmothers, teachers, and friends. I asked them to write and speak in English, but if they chose, they would be able to also speak in their language so that we could send their "letters" in the correct language.

Lo and behold, they cried as they read them aloud, and I teared up more than once. I found that their writing was better, that they were more interested in the project, and that the students were enthusiastic (in general, we had a couple who couldn't get into the spirit of speaking so emotionally--and so I had them present the letters privately with me after class in a conference room). I'd recommend this activity to any educator looking to improve writing/speaking skills.

Oh, and I wrote to a teacher in my past to give them an example. Here it is, a letter for Mrs. Leslie. And although I haven't read it to her in person yet, I think just putting this letter out in the blogosphere has some amount of power. It changes me to put it out there in the universe. It makes me know how special she is to me. Now isn't that interesting? Transformational, indeed.

Dear Professor Leslie,

I never told you how thankful I am that you taught me in 11th grade United States History. I wanted to let you know how important your class was to me and how it helped me to become a better person.

I remember how proud I was when I got a 60% or more on one of your tests (note: 60% was an A on a Mrs. Leslie test!) I studied hard to do my best and I remember how you would tell us that the tests you gave were college level. I learned how to study hard and how to be proud of my efforts. 62% never looked so good.

I also remember how you taught us to write a five-page paper every week. At first I thought it was crazy hard, but when I saw how you read and critiqued my papers, I tried my best to really think about the topics and found I enjoyed letting my mind imagine history. I even kept my essay that you graded on American transcendentalism. Above any class that I took in high school, your class prepared me most for the difficult assignments I would encounter in college.

I also remember that your clsas was different from other classes. Other teachers seemed to care more about their popularity and making classes easy for us. They were praised for letting students leave early or giving students time to just talk. But you seemed most interested in preparing us for our future contexts, and I remember thinking several times while in the college classroom how grateful I was that I had your class. I would never have been prepared for my freshman year at the university, and I would never have been able to get the grades I received in college.

In fact, I think I owe a great part of my professional career to you. I am now a teacher who tries to prepare international students for college. I help them to do exactly what you did for me. I am so thankful for what you did. You will always be very special to me.

Thank you so much again. I am not the same person I would otherwise have been, and now I have the joy of motivating others to excel as well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Assessing my funk

So, yeah, I guess I have been in a little bit of a funk. I don't know why or when it started, but I realized that at school I have been dreading a class. Not really a good thing for a teacher to hate your students, I think. And there is this one class that I can't stand. Man, they bug! And I dread going to class to see their slack-jawed lack of enthusiasm toward whatever I throw at them. And the harder I try, the more I get the feeling they are looking at me like I'm a total idiot. They just don't respond like normal people. They're just, well, lame. (yes, I said it, and I'm deeply ashamed).

Now let me preface this by saying that usually I'm quite spoiled. Students come to my class excited a lot, ready to learn, pencils in hand, jotting down notes as fast as I can speak. I'm spoiled. I'm really spoiled. Teaching international students who look to you as a link to the American world is truly the easiest teaching you'll find. They, how do I say it, need you so much. And so you throw them a lifeline and they grab it with intensity. It is awesome.

So this love my students have for learning, based on that sheer and dire necessity, is awesome. But a conversation class of mine has been nothing of the sort. They are listless, they don't respond quickly to the simplest of tasks. I ask students to take out a piece of paper. Two minutes later I'm still barking the same order. What the crap? Have I totally lost my teaching mojo? What is going on?

And it hits me today. It's not them at all. It is me. It is something that I have forgotten to do that I have known all along is important for a successful class. Probably no one needs to know the details of this teacher technique, so I'll just summarize by saying that I have recently sucked at assessing. By that I mean that I have been asking students to respond to assignments without giving specific detailed activities that allow them to respond appropriately and correctly. It is as if I had asked students to give me their best shot at a target, but then refused to give them an arrow to shoot with. And I'm left wondering: I've got the target, I've given them the bow. What is their DEAL?

So as happens so often with teaching, parenting, or life in general, I have gotten myself into a funk. And I have done it to myself by losing sight of an important idea. (I'm sure that hasn't happened to anyone else here, right?) I have lost sight of a particular principle while juggling dozens of others. The communicative activities have been good, the linguistic insight accurate, the cultural relevance sound, the varied activities...all my ducks have been in a row. Except for this one eensy-teensy duck that I just have let fall by the wayside ("Why?" you might ask if you are into boring details. Well, boring-question asker, it is because assessing takes up tons of time to do well and, frankly, I hate it).

So there you have it. I'm in a teaching funk! And I hadn't deliberately sought answers as to WHY my class sucked because I took the easy way out and assumed it was them.

No, I'm afraid not.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Watch Out for Personified Precipitation!

Owen lives in a whimsical world. It is filled with all the merriment and imagination of youth, and he has recently begun drawing pictures that have full blown, lengthy stories. His last picture/story involved a rainbow and raincloud that (if I understand correctly) teamed up to send mad scary rain on top of two aliens that fly in a helicopter boot (um...I don’t know either).

This perilous situation piqued my curiosity, especially since he described it with such violent ferocity. I thought for sure those aliens were in for it. So I asked him, with raised eyebrows, if it would all be okay for them in the end. His response?

“Yeah, they have wipers.”

Here is a recent picture/story. I won’t waste time telling you what's going on. Why don’t you let yourselves imagine what wonders lay within? Just watch out for alien helicopter boots. Those will get you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Praise to the Man

When I turned 25 I had this thought (stupid brain). It crept on me slowly, descending with some sort of cosmic force that made me shudder. If it were a voice, it was an unpleasant one, said in a whisper, and full of spiteful glee.

“You’re an adult!”

It was hard for me to believe, but there it was. I tried to ignore this fact, but as I chewed the flavor of the phrase, the more I knew it to be the truth. I had just finished a master’s degree and was working full time at a language school. I was the director of curriculum and development, I had a staff of 20 teachers, and I was part of the largest private ESL school in several states. So, yes, I think there was evidence to support this “adult” hypothesis of mine.

But so much evidence to the contrary! I was living with college roommates whose diets consisted of delivery pizza and weight gainer, and I had just left an apartment complex where I had a freshman roommate. So, yeah, I thought, I’m still a kid.

My brain then countered by suggesting that this freshman roommate of mine, my proof that I was still young, was also my linguistics student in a class I taught at Brigham Young University (he got an A). Sigh. I am an old man stuck in the college atmosphere. It depressed me.

And this is why I moved out of college dormitories and found a new roommate in Brennon Davies. I found an apartment complex far from other apartments I had frequented and simply signed up. He and I were placed together out of sheer circumstance, although we both supposed that management placed us together because we were both, as far as the median age of Provo, Utah is concerned, “OLD.”

Brennon and I would be roommates for more than 7 years. Wow. I would buy my first condo and invite him to stay with me (sorry about the train, Brennon), and then would find a three-level condo just a year and a half later. Having someone closer to my age was a comfort, but I admit that dating when you are several years older than most is frustrating. Brennon and I were kings at sharing such frustrations, and I dated my brains out. For years. I’m not proud of this, but there it is. Dated all kinds of girls. And in turn, I was all kinds of men. Sometimes I was gallant. Sometimes I was shallow. Sometimes I needed to offer apologies for being less than I should. Sometimes I stood up for myself and for others. And through it all, Brennon and I would speak about it. If anyone knows my dating travelogue, it’s Mr. Brennon Scott Davies. Poor sap.

Brennon’s travelogue, by the way, throughout my entire 7-year run, was pretty much non-existent. He’d go on the occasional date, but not generally more than that. We would spend some time discussing the reasons for this, but ultimately, it seemed to me that the guy just wasn’t picking the bat up off his shoulder, and I would tell him so.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the rodeo. I found a beautiful woman outside of Provo who happened to have three kids from a previous marriage--now THAT’s thinking outside the box. (Yes, Provo, you’re a box). And I got married. And, as a result, left Brennon to fend for himself. I felt bad. I even felt a little guilty. Shoot. I still feel guilty just writing this.

We spoke about a year later when he visited his old/my new hometown in Mesa, Arizona, and we chatted at a Wendy’s. What a difference a year makes. He had been dating a girl, was now dating another, and was unsure if that relationship was one that would last. He seemed a different person. He was, well, a lot more like I was. He was taking swings, being different people. Trying his brains out. It was all rather surprising and shocking. It couldn’t be the same guy! And then my brain gave me another thought. Stupid brain.

I think I held him back.

In all our discussions about what Brennon should do, one that I never fully realized is that I might be crimping his style. I was gregarious, a little brash, always talking to those who visited our apartment, whether he was interested in those who came to visit or not. I was the owner of the property, the guy who would sing a song, the guy who loved to talk and take over a conversation. He and I had always discussed how the other roommates were always going after the girl he was interested in, but what I think is more true, is that I demanded to be the alpha male of the apartment, which made it impossible for him to show off all his own awesome. I was a big ‘ol butinsky. And yes, the more I chew on this, the truer it becomes. It doesn't escape me that even in this post, which is supposed to be about one of my closest friends, I mostly prattle on about me. So let me at least end this right. Ahem.

Here is a tribute to Brennon Davies, who has a lot of awesome all on his own. Musician, friend, and the man who has listened more to me than anyone rightfully should. For your sheer endurance and long-suffering, I praise you! Here’s to a man who dedicated himself to the gym and lived off of Subway sandwiches for three years. Here’s to a man who was determined to lose 100 pounds and so he did. Here’s to the man who convinced me to grow the only beard I’ll ever grow. Here’s to a man who knows how to appreciate the grandeur of mountains, the beauty of a storm, and the splendor of a winter skyline.

And I totally want to hear about your engagement. Give me a call. Maybe I’ll listen for a change.