More Than Just A Story – An Interview with Dinçer Demir

Dinçer in action, doing a workshop

Another honour on my blog today – I have just interviewed a great teacher, very good friend, collaborator and my Turkish teacher, Dinçer Demir. It is such a wonderful interview, and yet again I have learned so much from him! Please watch him and all the amazing things he has to say about connecting, teaching and learning.

He and his teaching were also one of the things that inspired my plenary, The Human Touch, in March.

It all starts with a story…that becomes more stories and many, many more things! Thank you to Dinçer for finding this wonderful title for the interview.

Read his blog at http://www.dincerdemir.com/ 

Dinçer, çok teşekkür ederim!

On a PhD Journey from Turkey to Arizona – Interview with Osman Solmaz (@osmanaz)

Osman has presented both in national and international conferences
Osman has presented both in national and international conferences

I am thrilled to have an educator I admire very much on my blog, not only for his teaching and his sharing, but also for his studies and blogging as well! I would like to introduce you to Osman Solmaz – originally from Diyarbakır, Turkey – now in Tucson, Arizona for his PhD studies.

Vicky: Thanks so much for accepting my invitation for this interview, Osman!

Osman: Thank you for the offer! It is my pleasure to be part of this!

Vicky: Thank you so much – I admire you so much as an educator! My first question is that exactly, how did you decide to enter the world of education – has it always been a dream of yours?

Osman: I had (still have) an amazing teacher of English that helped me a lot to become who I am right now. I think the influence of the teachers like him affected my decision; because I have personally witnessed how a teacher can have a deep impact in the lives of his/her students. Besides, I have always had an interest in learning languages and foreign cultures. Even though I started learning English at high school, I loved the whole process of developing a competence to express myself in another language. I hope to help my students to enjoy this process and much more as much as I did.

Vicky: You are also contiuing your studies – you are doing a PhD in Second Language Acquisition & Teaching at the University of Arizona. How did you choose this specific program? How are you enjoying it so far?

Osman: Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) is an interdisciplinary doctoral program in which 17 different departments participate. So, when you are enrolled in a program like this, you have a chance to collaborate with almost 80 professors. Even though this rich variety of options can be challenging for students, the steps to take in your PhD quest in the program are clearly stated. Needless to say, it is one of the best programs in the country partly thanks to its unique nature. Therefore, SLAT was in my radar from the first day I came across the program on the web. It is my second year at the moment here and I have truly enjoyed the people, the program, classes, professors, and beautiful Southern Arizona so far. People in my program are really friendly and they make us feel like a family. For example, we have had a Halloween party few weeks ago and it was mostly for international students to experience the Halloween culture. We have a Thanksgiving dinner on the corner!

Vicky: Before Arizona, you were in your beautiful country, Turkey. Can you tell us what you were involved in while you were there?

Osman: I studied at the department of English Language Teaching at Dicle University in Diyarbakır (hometown), a historical and vibrant city in southeastern Turkey. After teaching English to adults in a private course and then high school students at a private school, I have lectured at the university for a couple of years before Arizona. While teaching at the department of foreign languages, I received my M.A. degree in Applied Linguistics / ELT from Dicle University. I hope to be back once I am done, but it is early to speak yet.

Osman and his students (English language teacher candidates) while reaching out to the students in a rural village as part of a community service project they developed together.
Osman and his students (English language teacher candidates) while reaching out to the students in a rural village as part of a community service project they developed together.

Vicky: You engage a lot in social media. How did you become involved in them, and how do you think they help educators?

Osman: When I posted my very first tweet, I had no idea how powerful this tool would eventually be. I must admit that I was very lucky to come across #eltchat which helped me grow up as a language teacher and introduced me to a great group of colleagues with similar interests. I think of the social media as a giant and efficient teachers’ room where educators are constantly in touch. Social media helps educators become better teachers since the engagement and activity on the ‘virtual teacher room’ help us be exposed to education-related news and materials all the time. I think this makes us become critically aware of the process of learning and teaching. In the meantime, social networking allows users to form friendship and give us some friends to chat and hug when we attend a conference, instead of just presenting and coming back home. The process of getting involved with potential conference participants starts long before than it used to be and I think it is great! Last but not least, I believe we all should try to understand the core promise of how a technological tool can assist us with our teaching. It is Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest today, but there may (and will) be different technologies in the future and we should prepare ourselves for them. Therefore, I am interested in researching the connection between technological tools and how we educators can make the most of it.

Vicky: You also have a beautiful blog, idiolectica. I love how you incorporate various topics – apart from teaching, you have literature and recently you added a new category, Joys of Life. Can you let us know what inspired you for the name of the blog and what inspires you to write?

Osman, enjoying the beautiful Antelope Canyon in Arizona
Osman, enjoying the beautiful Antelope Canyon in Arizona

Osman: Thank you! I made up the word idiolectica! I haven’t personally seen that word anywhere. Idiolect is the unique linguistic system of an individual and –ica is “a collection of things that relate to a specific place, person etc.” (-ika in Ancient Greek). This makes me come up with the word idiolectica referring to the collection of things related to my own linguistic system. I chose this because I am thinking aloud in my blog and I like writing about the things I read and come across. In addition to that, my individual perspective is clearly reflected on all the blog posts (except guest posts). I think living in a foreign country, being enrolled in a graduate program far from home, having various interests, and surely reflecting on educational / linguistic / sociolinguistic issues are among the factors that make me write. It is definitely not a typical educator blog but I hope people like it and encourage me to continue writing. About Joys of Life, there are many small things in this life that can make us happy and happiness is most valuable when shared. That is why I started that category and I want to continue sharing the joys of life!

Vicky: That is so important and thank you for reminding us and helping us focus on all the great things in life! What would you like to tell all the educators who are reading your interview right now?

Osman: As teachers, we should have the desire, passion, and the knowledge to help our students become better learners. In order to achieve this, we must be great learners ourselves. Remembering our teachers being proud of us for being who we have become and students appreciating our efforts help a lot along the way.

Vicky: That is an amazing statement to close our talk. Thank you so much for this interview and I hope we meet up in person soon!

Osman: I thank you for helping educators meet educators through those great interviews and I am sure we will meet in one of the language-related events very soon!

Reflections by Student Tutors Voluntarily Working for Yeditepe University Writing Center

A session at the Writing Center office
A session at the Writing Center office

About two months ago, I had a guest post on my blog from two student tutors from Yeditepe University. Here is a part two from a whole group of lovely student tutors, reflecting on the Writing Center they take part in, under the guidance of their professor, Ece Sevgi. A huge thank you – Çok teşekkürler to: Ece Sevgi, Şafak Ezgi Özel, Seçil Uygungil, Eda Demirci, Merve Karaca, Deniz Aryay and Ş. Ceren Cessur!

Here they are:

“Actually, being a part of the Writing Center was not a “decision”; it was just one of the most important coincidences of my life.  I was taking a course from Ece Sevgi, and she announced that she needed about ten students to hang posters for the announcements of the workshops prepared by the Writing Center. Later, she made another announcement saying she was looking for student tutors to do peer-tutoring. After a training period, I started working as a student tutor, and I think it is a great experience for me to develop my skills in teaching. I learned a lot about the ELT world during this process because I was introduced to many big names at ELT conferences, practiced teaching how to write essays through one-on-one sessions with my peers,  prepared workshops, and  learned how to write better articles. Now I feel ready to become an English teacher even though I haven’t graduated yet because I have learned that experience and self-confidence are the most important parts of this job.”

Şafak Ezgi Özel

“I started working at the Writing Center in Spring 2012, and then Ece Sevgi wanted us to participate in IATEFL 2012 to assist the conference organizers. I really enjoyed being a part of that organization, but when she said that they were also looking for tutors to help students in their academic essays, I was not sure about whether I could manage it or not. However, I realized that I could really like being a tutor after working with my first students from the psychology department. Apart from our students, we also found an opportunity to improve ourselves in our fields. I think, my turning point in my career is probably the Writing Center. I always had wonderful teachers showing my way, but I guess Ece Sevgi is one of the most important ones.”

Seçil Uygungil

“… The moment I entered there, I felt that I could be helpful to others even though I was still a student. Thanks to this program, other students who are also our friends, learned from us, and in return we’ve learned from them since we gained experience in teaching. This program proved us that textbooks, lectures, and teachers were not the only sources to receive information, and we realized that we could learn from each other as well. With the help of this program, we understood the importance of team work once again. The Writing Center opened many doors to all of us. It was not only about the student tutor program; it went beyond that point and improved all of us. I believe with this experience and good memories, these moments will be one of the best moments of my university experience.”

Eda Demirci

When I first heard of the Writing Center and the Student Tutor program, I was in the first year of my university life, just trying to get used to being a university student, and I did not know which path I should follow to become a good teacher. Ece Sevgi told us about tutoring as a student and learning from each other with this program. I think the most important and valuable contribution of this program for me is gaining experience in the ELT field by working with our peers and learning from all the mistakes through the tutoring process. I have also learnt a lot by giving sessions about academic writing in the workshop weeks of the Writing Center, which has changed my perspective and personality from a shy and stressful person when in front of people to the one who is more confident and open to improvement as a life-long learner.

Merve Karaca

“I was getting feedback on my essay when I first learned about the student tutor program, and the first thing that occurred to me was “Oh my God!”.  Being very straightforward indeed, I assume it can briefly summarize the importance of this opportunity in our lives. The Writing Center allowed me to feel like a teacher after only a semester spent on this field, which made me realize how accurate my choice was. We were not only helping our friends, but also learning to teach. I believe, this is a chance which won’t happen often, and I’m more than glad to be a part of this family. I have enhanced my writing, my English in general, and obviously obtained new skills such as being more attentive and patient. The Writing Center has opened a new path ahead of me, and I’m tremendously thankful to everyone who made this possible.”

Deniz Aryay

“… Ece Sevgi, who was my instructor for the Academic Writing course at Yeditepe University, changed my perception about making mistakes. I was visiting the Writing Center to get one-on-one feedback. Then, I learned that we, as students, also have the right to work at the Writing Center as student tutors to help our fellow friends to improve their writing skills. When I became a member of the Writing Center, I learned how to conduct a conversation on a professional basis and I realized that the instructors were far more interested in our development than we thought. I can voluntarily help in the establishment of a Writing Center for the school that I will be working at in the future. If you ask whether or not I would want my students to work there, my answer is “yes”.

Ş. Ceren Cessur

Interviews with Three New Bloggers for My Three Years of Blogging – Number Two: Güven Çağdaş Gündoğdu

Güven Çağdaş Gündoğdu
Güven Çağdaş Gündoğdu

My second special guest for this three-year celebration is another educator from Turkey, Güven Çağdaş Gündoğdu, who has an amazing blog where he does a lot of reflecting and always makes me think. Visit his blog TeachersReflect at http://teachersreflect.wordpress.com/   Congratulations to Güven, who has been nominated for an Edublog award in his first year of blogging!

Vicky: Güven, thanks so much for accepting to give me this interview for the celebration of three new bloggers and the third birthday of my blog!

Güven: It is an honour for me to be presented with this opportunity, Vicky. You have always been a source of inspiration for me; I’m so glad that I am interviewed by you for such a special occasion.

Vicky: Thank you so much, Güven! It goes both ways, I am happy to have you on the blog. Can you tell our readers a few things about yourself and what you do?

Güven: Well, it has been 11 years since I got my BA in English Language Teaching and I have been working at Anadolu University School of Foreign Languages for the past 8 years. I had a chance to work at Middle East Technical University for some time when I first finished university before I got a job at my current institution. I must say I also worked in the exports division of an international firm as a representative after leaving Middle East Technical University.

Vicky: How did you decide to become an educator?

Güven: Honestly, I had never thought I would be a teacher even though I studied ELT. However, I began to like it as I taught my first group of students in a language school before graduation. They were a class of very young learners, and they made me decide to be a teacher because I really loved it when I saw the joy and excitement of learning in their eyes.

Vicky: You teach in university. What department do you teach in? What do you enjoy the most working in academia?

Güven: I teach in the Basic English Department, which means I work with young adults at a range of levels from A to B 2.2. It is quite a challenge because students come straight to our school prior to their actual departments, and they must reach B 2.2 level even if they mostly come as complete beginners before they can study their majors.

Although it is a big challenge, I love it because I meet new students every 8 weeks. Each new group teaches me something new, and I do my best to adapt myself to teaching at changing levels. It may sound strange, but I feel it helps me develop more as a teacher for each group has different needs.

Besides, I am in charge of a unit of 10 teachers, and I am responsible for organizing their classes, materials, and maintaining their motivation at times. I sometimes feel tired, but it is amazing to exchange ideas and tips with my unit. It surely teaches me a load of things.

And the best thing about working in a university is I have access to any source that I need. Anadolu University really has it all from software to hardware available for use, which is something every language teacher dreams about. We are also supported extensively by the board of management for professional development.

Vicky: You are active on Twitter, connecting to many educators. How does this reflect in your work?

Güven in action
Güven in action

Güven: My Twitter experience keeps me up to date with latest information about teaching. This is an important factor for self-development for me. Whenever I learn something new, I try to put it into practice, and I can create a difference in my classes. Doing it helps my students grow more enthusiastic about learning, which in the end gets them to like English.

Secondly, I have known many new people thanks to Twitter, and this has given me a good range of personal learning network. It is due to my PLN that I can always seek advice from great professionals and find solutions to problems that I might encounter.

Most importantly, I have you as one of those great people whose work always inspires me. It was made possible by Twitter.

Vicky: Thank you so much for your kind words, Güven! I really appreciate it. We are connected, but there are many people in education who would like to move beyond the staffroom and are a bit wary of social media. What would you advise them?

Güven: I would say there is nothing to worry about. Social media is magical and it makes wonders in one’s life. Personal experience is the evidence that social media transforms teachers into facilitators and sharers.

Any teacher who wishes to be a part of this magical medium can do it easily. All they need to have is the desire to exchange ideas. It is also good to see that nobody judges nobody, and everybody feels responsible for the learning of others. It should be clear to those who are wary of the social media that once they are in, they will never want to be out because it is a whole different world with countless opportunities for professional development.

Above all, what is there to lose?

Vicky: I completely agree! Let’s go back to your teaching. Can you share one of the highlights in your teaching so far?

Güven: Last year, I volunteered to teach a group of students who were to repeat A level for the fourth time. A lot of colleagues thought I was crazy because they believed those students kept failing due to lack of interest or laziness. However, I believed that those students lacked motivation and guidance.

There were 21 students in the class, and they had lost all hope to pass to the next level. At least they said so. But I told them that we could change things around if they put aside their prejudice and retain that last bit of hope they had as they were there for another try. I also promised them that they would never walk alone, and I would always be ready for assistance outside class hours as well.

By the end of the module (after 8 weeks), those students were able to communicate in English. Even the director of the school witnessed that when she visited one of our lessons on special request from the students. The word she used to describe the class was Impressive.

18 of those 21 students sat for the end of module exam because 3 of them had decided to go to another university, and all those who took the exam passed. This is one thing I will always remember with a smile on my face, and my colleagues now think that I was not crazy when I volunteered to teach those students. They understand that impossible is nothing.

Vicky: That’s amazing! We can see your enthusiasm in your blog posts as well. You are a new blogger with new and fresh ideas. What inspired you to enter the world of blogging?

Güven: A master of teacher education and motivation, Tony Gurr, got me into the world of blogging. One day I was lucky enough to attend a presentation about reflective teaching by him, and I was fascinated. The very next day, I wrote my first reflection ever on the lesson of the day and shared it Tony. He loved it and encouraged me to write more.

As I did that, I became more aware of myself, thus revising and changing certain points about my teaching practices. That being the case, I decided to share my experiences with the world as was advised by Tony and Aysun Güneş, already well-established bloggers.

Do I regret that? Definitely not!

Vicky: In your first year of blogging, you have been nominated for an Edublog award! Congratulations! Can you describe how you felt when you found out?

Güven: When I first found out, I felt over the moon! It was both surprising and exciting. I had never imagined it could happen because I know there is some really serious stuff out there on the blogosphere. Being one of the nominees is great news for it shows that my work is recognized and appreciated, which means that I am doing a good job as a blogger, too. It is also an extra responsibility as it means that I have to improve my style more and more, and I love that responsibility!

Thank you so much for this interview, Güven and my warmest wishes to you!

Interviews with Three New Bloggers for My Three Years of Blogging – Number One: Dinçer Demir

Dinçer Demir
Dinçer Demir in Bartın, his hometown

December 10th is my third blog birthday! I decided to pay a tribute to three new bloggers, to celebrate my three years of blogging! First of the three, Dinçer Demir – an educator from Turkey, that I was fortunate to meet in person last weekend at the YTU 1st ELT Conference.

Dinçer blogs at: http://www.dincerdemir.com/

Vicky: Dinçer, thanks so much for accepting to give me this interview for the celebration of three new bloggers and the third birthday of my blog!

Dinçer: You are welcome Vicky. Actually I want to thank you because it is an honor for me to have an interview on the special anniversary of your blog.

Vicky: It’s an honour to have you on the blog. Can you tell us a few things about yourself and your work?

Dinçer: I am a 27-year-old teacher, who has been teaching for more than 5 years. I am from Turkey and I live and work in İstanbul.  I am teaching English to both young learners and teenagers. In addition to these, I have had experiences of teaching English for communication to adult learners.

Vicky: How did you decide to pursue a career in education?

Dinçer: At the very early stages of my education career, I was not so sure if I wanted to be an educator. During university, I started to discover myself and my skills and I thought that this was my job. Today I see that I was right. I feel like I was born to be an educator, because I enjoy teaching, I like being part of a changing process, I like learning. So I can easily say that I don’t work, I do my hobby.

Vicky: That is great! You teach primary school children. What do you enjoy the most working with these ages?

Dinçer: In my opinion, teaching young learners is more difficult than teaching adults. What makes a teacher tired is classroom management and keeping students engaged.  However, my experience shows that young learners learn easier and faster. As a teacher, you can be more motivated with them when you get results quickly.

Vicky: You are active both on Twitter and Facebook, connecting to many educators. How does this reflect in your work?

Presenting in İstanbul
Presenting in İstanbul

Dinçer:  You are right. I am an active social media user. At the beginning of my social media life, I used to use it just to socialize. However, I use these tools to learn and share, especially Twitter. Thanks to Twitter, I have broadened my vision, I have realized different points of views, I have seen many best practices.  To sum up, it has changed my way of teaching and learning.

Vicky: There are several educators who would like to connect with other educators, but are a bit wary of social media. What would you advise them?

Dinçer:  It is impossible not to grant them right.  But every field may be a bit risky if it is not used accordingly. I want to highlight that especially Twitter (not Facebook, because it may include much private content) is a great tool to refresh themselves and enter into a huge sharing world. Maybe they can be more careful about who they follow and who follows them and they had better not share private information about themselves.

Vicky: Can you share one of the best moments in your teaching so far?

Dinçer's students in the play, in the town of Şanlıurfa
Dinçer’s students in the play, in the town of Şanlıurfa

Dinçer:  There are lots of them, of course. It is hard to choose. If I have to choose one, I prefer a theatre event in Şanlıurfa (in the south east of Turkey). I was doing my military service in Şanlıurfa as a teacher. I was teaching 4th grade. The city is not one of the most developed cities of Turkey. But we, me and my students, managed to perform Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (in English) in spite of inadequate opportunities. Their effort was unforgettable for me.

Vicky: You are a new blogger with new and fresh ideas. What inspired you to enter the world of blogging?

Dinçer: My first serious attempt at e-learning was an online TESOL Certificate Course.  After I had completed the course, I liked e-learning. Afterwards, I have started to search about this and I have found lots of great inspiring blogs. So I have been a blog reader and follower for a long while. Finally I thought that I was ready to make a start on blogging and I did.

As long as you keep blogging, that means you keep learning. The idea of learning forever inspired me for this.

Vicky: Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Dinçer and I wish you all the best!

Dinçer: Happy for this, thanks a lot, dear Vicky.