An Amazing Argentinian Teacher and Class – An Interview with Fabiana Casella (@FLCasella)

Fabiana is a wonderful educator based in Buenos Aires, Argetina. I connected with her on social media in 2013 and am so happy to see all the great things she does, which she speaks about in this interview. She blogs at http://all4efl.blogspot.com.ar/

Vicky: Fabiana, I first connected to you online a few months ago on Facebook, and have been following you and your lovely class ever since!

Fabiana: Yes, you’re right, Vicky! I feel honored you have been following me!

Vicky: The honour is all mine, Fabiana! I learn so much from you. My first question is, how did you become an educator, Fabiana?

Fabiana: Well, when I was in High School I wanted to be a History teacher and a lawyer. Later, I realized I had to study something connected with the foreign language I was studying so, I thought of the possibility of becoming an EFL teacher.

Vicky: Wow, a lawyer – me too! Thankfully, for the world of ELT, you became a teacher : ) Can you tell us a few things about your students? What ages they are, what sort of projects you engage in with them?

Fabiana: I have always taught teenagers. I used to teach children and adults too, but my schedule is tight for I am a full-time mom. Right now, I am only teaching 13-14 and 17-18. Projects? Well, I had done crazy, but creative things in the past, that is to say late 80s when I started teaching, such as make my students read and record a whole play called “Murder At Walton, Hall” on video (VHS) where they performed like real actors and actresses! They had to study the script, adapt it or abridge it and simply… act! It certainly was a lot of fun for them, for the class and  very rewarding and satisfying for all of us! Those that would not want to make a video, they made a picture story book with real photographs: they would dress up, take pictures and publish the “book” with narration and dialogs as in comic magazines. Some other projects were a little more complex and tough:my advanced students made documentary videos on the life of relevant people in the world: Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa or Ghandi. They studied the biographies by heart, sat in front of a camera and started talking.

Nowadays, everything is more digital: with my advanced Senior group I started commenting the news by reading Twitter, BBC World, CNN, NY Times, The Salisbury Post, Charlotte Observer and Buenos Aires Herald. There is something I truly value and it is the student’s self motivation and I try to promote and never let it die. The students you see in the photo below, traveled to Washington, DC and New York to attend the Global Young Leaders’ Youth Conference. They interacted with youngsters from all around the Globe and when they came back home they shared their amazing experiences with all of us. One afternoon, one of the boys got a voice message from a friend from Saudi Arabia telling all his international friends about the conflict in Syria. It was wonderful to listen to the girl and after that, discuss the topic all together.

Fabiana's students : )

Fabiana’s students : )

Last year, we worked on two projects: Alcohol Awareness-Underage Drinking  and Cyberbullying-Bullying-Digital Citizenship which was a real success, as my students participated actively in video, audio and images: in class and at home. A lot of reflection and comments in a foreign language was not an easy task, but they were fantastic.

alcohol awareness fabiana

Fabiana and her students’ project on alcohol awareness

Fabiana and her students' project on Cyberbullying

Fabiana and her students’ project on Cyberbullying

My pre-Intermediate group participated in a project called “We Are On The Air”, which is an idea of a fabulous, Facebook friend and colleague an EFL teacher from Greece called Theodora Papapanagiotou. The students made videos about the area where they live and what they do. The idea is to show a bit of our city, Buenos Aires as well as some others around the world which she will include in her lecture at TESOL Greece this current year.

Theodora and Fabiana's project We Are on the Air!

Theodora and Fabiana’s project We Are on the Air!

I believe English Language Learners need to speak the language at all times that is why I devote some part of my class to talk about updated news, like reading the newspaper in English, commenting on anything they read which they find interesting and doing vocabulary research. Last year, I also started a sort of flipping class using Edmodo, where I post varied types of tasks for them to do at home to be commented in class: Monday Morning News Update was We usually talk about the news the first minutes of the class: I feel my students need to be exposed to real content and have as much speaking practice as possible. Reading and listening make you a better writer and speaker.

It is some extra work for me and for the students, but in the long run we both benefit from it, especially THEM who are the ones that matter.

Vicky: I absolutely love what you are doing and have done with the kids, fabiana – it is all about discussing values and life as well, not only teaching the language and you do that very well. You also use culture a lot in your classes. Can you tell us how you do that?

Fabiana: Buenos Aires is a melting pot, so maybe because of that, I have always been multicultural, and have never feared to learn from some other cultures. I taught in the United States for six years as an international and cultural exchange teacher so I would say, that was the key point in my career as a teacher. It opened my mind more than it had been before, and made me see things from different points of view. I interacted with people from all the continents and  cultures which certainly gave me a lot of experience. I participated in fairs where we showed typical objects, traditions, music, videos, pictures, magazines from Argentina. We even took virtual trips to my country Since I came back to Argentina, I have worked at the same small private school, Colegio Canadá or Canada School, where its owners and administrators have always had a plan in mind: to be part of international projects: sports tours and exchange trips to English speaking countries, teach English as a foreign language intensively, make students sit for International Examinations, sing the Canadian Anthem or become acquainted with the History and Geography of English Speaking Countries. We do a lot of cross-cultural activities, I mean, if the Social Studies teacher is teaching The Tudors, we read about them in English, make posters to decorate the classroom, crossword puzzles, trivia and other activities online.

It is a tradition to celebrate Canada Day all around the school, this past year my students made posters, flags and sang the Anthem on video. Later, I decided to publish everything on a Padlet wall: http://padlet.com/wall/qlsb3wfv9t

Canada Day with Fabiana and her students!

Canada Day with Fabiana and her students!

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

Fabiana: Honestly, I was really reluctant to expose myself online. About two years ago one of my best friends and colleagues and my friends in the USA convinced me to open an account on Facebook for me to be connected with other educators and keep in touch with them, respectively. Then, I became a sort of addict, browsed every education group and started to relate with the greatest teachers, educators, teacher trainers, and authors around the world. I began to build my PLN which has grown quite a lot and helped me to be a real connected teacher. Some time later, I even opened an account on Twitter. Sometimes I stay up really late as there is too much information to absorb in a  such a short day of only twenty four hours!. Besides, being online gave me the opportunity to work hard on my CPD because I began to study a Specialization on ICT and Education and attend many free webinars provided by the British Council, Oxford, Cambridge,  Macmillan, WizIQ, American TESOL, EVO Sessions,  BESIG, IATEFL and some others such as the amazing Tics en El Aula. I even presented at two International Conferences: The Reform Symposium and at the Global Education Conference. It is a wonderful way to blend being a passionate mother and teacher!

Vicky: You are so active and amazing how you combine everything! You also blog. Can you let us know what inspires you and what you write about?

Fabiana: Well, I started blogging a little because in all my twenty something years of teaching experience, I have never documented anything I did! Nobody told me…!

Last year, Shelly Sanchez Terrell invited me to join the 30 Goals Challenge Group on Facebook, and that was when I sort of pushed myself to write about my life as an educator. I know I am not perfect at what I do, but I try! I still have a long way to go, but still very happy I have already achieved some goals in my career. It takes time to think clearly what to write and how to write it: I am not a good writer, I´m just spontaneous and informal. Anyway, all I express is from the heart.

Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?

Fabiana: I am extremely thankful and proud to connect with you and learn from and with you. As I said before, I still have to polish some aspects of my English, my teaching and blogging among other things because English is not my first language, but I am really willing to learn and progress on a daily basis and I would like to inspire colleagues and students to feel the way I feel as a lifetime learner.

Vicky: Fabiana, this has been such a great interview!!! Thank you and the kids ever so much for sharing and letting us into your classroom!

Eleven! (Last Part) – Tagged by Georgia Psarra (@JoPsarra1)

Jo Psarra

Jo Psarra

And here is the last part of Eleven! I have been tagged by Jo Psarra, a lovely teacher in Greece – she has her own language school in Thessaloniki, in the north of the country (which I adore and lived there for 4 years). I am thrilled, because Jo and I get to meet face to face in March 2014!

1. What is your favourite film? My favourite film of all time is a French one: Amelie de Montmartre. I love so many things about it: the style of direction, Audrey Tautou – who starts in it and is absolutely brilliant, the language. I have lost count of how many times I have seen it.
2. What is that you can’t stand? I can’t stand rudeness at all. There is no excuse for it. And I usually don’t talk back to people, but when they are rude, I talk back.
3. What kind of music did you use to listen to when you were a teenager? I was a totally wild kid! I loved Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Depeche Mode (whom I saw live last June!), Blur, Oasis and Guns ‘N’ Roses (I still like all of them!).
4. If you could change anything in the world, what would it be? Injustice.
5. Who do you have as a role model? Nelson Mandela. A shining example of patience, and an amazing leader and personality.
6. What is your favourite book that you have read more than once? Istanbul, by Orhan Pamuk. I read it before I had even visited, I fell in love with the city and when I finally went there (yes, I took the book along!), it was such an amazing experience.
7. What would you ask from a genie? For health for all my loved ones and myself.
8. What is your biggest dream? I want to pursue a MA and a PhD in Applied Linguistics.
9. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Canada! I was born there and I love it.
10. How do you deal with loss? If I lose a person I love, I go through really rough times, like lots of people. It is a period of silent mourning though, I like to go through it alone most of the times.
11. What would you like to change in you? I would like to be less stubborn at times, and believe in myself a little bit more perhaps.

Eleven! (continued) – Tagged by Leo Selivan (@leoselivan)

Leo Selivan

Leo Selivan

This morning, I was tagged again! By the wonderful Leo Selivan this time. Here are Leo’s questions:

  1. What is your favourite level to teach? This will sound terribly cliche, but I love all levels and ages. It is one of the things I love about my work: the variety of students, cultures, ages and levels that change from one hour to the next. I learn so much from them.
  2. If you had the time to blog about something other than education / ELT what would it be? I would blog about books! I am an incurable bibliophile, and when I meet others we talk about books for hours!
  3. What takes you longer: writing a blog post or inserting hyperlinks into it? Writing a blog post takes me longer now. Inserting links was somehow easy for me from the start, compared to other technical things which took me more to learn how to do.
  4. What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? I am not very daring with food – especially with weird things! So I guess what people think is strange and yucky and I have eaten it (and love it!) is octopus.
  5. A phone call or text message? Why? I love calling people on the phone, even though I do not like talking for that long (much to my mother’s dismay ; ) I love hearing people’s voices and laughs. Plus, texts can be easily misunderstood.
  6. Cats or dogs? (No need to explain why) Dogs! I adore them! I used to have a husky, called Husky (original, I know : ) and later on a Dalmatian, called Duchess (my mom named her that, because my dog’s father was called Duke – I wanted to called her Branka, a Croatian name – thinking of the Dalmatian coast, but Duchess won in the end. I strayed off a lot there though!)
  7. If you were a fruit what would you be? Ha ha! This made me laugh. Definitely not an apple, pear or kiwi as I am allergic to them.
  8. What kind of jokes do you like? I like jokes with puns in them and I laugh a lot with knock knock jokes, believe it or not : )
  9. What’s your favourite computer font? Calibri!
  10. What present would you like to receive for your next birthday? (that is if you celebrate birthdays) That is so easy – what I get every year: books or gift cards from bookstores! And I totally love birthdays. Cakes, candles, the works.
  11. Why do you think almost every blogger in this chain challenge has asked a question about reality TV shows? They are popular? Maybe because of that. They are also easy to watch I think, especially after tiring days. I don’t watch them, as I don’t have a tv : )

Dedication is Her Name – An Interview with Aphrodite Giouris

Smiling and always thinking about her students, here is Aphrodite Giouris!

Smiling and always thinking about her students, here is Aphrodite Giouris!

I am very happy to present Aphrodite Giouris, an English language teacher in Greece who does amazing things with her students! Aphrodite is a firework – she is one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated teachers I have ever met and feel privileged to feature her here. She blogs at ELT Inspired. Over to Aphrodite!

Vicky: Aphrodite, thanks so much for accepting to give me this interview! We have met once in person, but also connecting with you on social media has been great for a variety of reasons we will go into in this interview.

Aphrodite: The pleasure is all mine, Vicky! I still remember the time we met in person during the last TESOL Greece Convention in Athens! At the end of your presentation on blogging, I told you that if I ever manage to have my own blog, I will tell everyone, that it was because of YOU! You have been my inspiration to start blogging, Vicky and I love following you on social media. Your positive energy, passion, kindness, professional  commitment, sweetness, friendliness and above all, inspiring aura, are what make you a very special person!

Vicky: Thank you ever so much for all your kind words, which give me a lot of strength! I am so happy you have started to blog, because you have so many things to teach us and share. Let’s go a bit back in time now. How did you become a teacher, Aphrodite?

Aphrodite: I was only 12 years old when I wrote in my diary: “Dear Diary, when I grow up, I want to be either an English teacher or a journalist”! I was lucky enough to have experienced both, so far … I spent most of my time,  when still  in university, writing for newspapers and magazines in Athens and worked for about two years for  a local TV channel, as a reporter. I have also been teaching English, since I was a university student!
I remember that, I used to walk outside  school buildings when I was a teenager and think to myself: “This is where I want to be working, in a few years’ time”! I knew from an early age what I really wanted to do…

I became a teacher because I believe teachers can make an impact.

Aphrodite's students in action!

Aphrodite’s students in action!

I think about my impact on the world often, honestly, sometimes too often. Teaching kids and dealing with them feels good, as in no other job. I  feel great about the fact that I might be playing  a significant role to inspire them build their future and that feeling enriches me with a sense of responsibility.
I have always wanted to impact lives and improve the quality of education; considering the fallout in my country’s educational system. My Greek teacher in high school Mr Vasilis Siouzoulis, has being a great inspiration. I love the way students regard him despite decades of passing through his tutelage. He was passionate about what he did. He motivated me with his unique teaching style. I love children and gearing their developmental stages positively. I believe it is earnestly imperative to groom conscientious, focused, purposeful students who will combine efforts with already laid brass tracks to build a great world. I want to be known to teach my students beyond their books.
Why I became an English teacher in particular? Well,  I just love communicating with people all over the globe! And foreign languages, especially English which is an international language, is the most powerful tool to do that! The English language has helped me to be the person I am today. I have gained my education because of that ability to comprehend, use & manipulate the English language. I have repeatedly informed my students about English being a weapon for them to use in order to obtain knowledge, progress in life, achieve their dreams and be the best that they can be.  I learned english  because I wanted to succeed in my life, too. It is as simple as that! I love to know more about the world around me, the planets, the stars, the universe, the mysteries … the language with which I can know more about so many things & wonders is mainly the English language.
I personally believe that  English  is very important nowadays… This  is not merely being said, because I am an English teacher but the reality is simply that it is an extremely useful medium to achieve your goals, gain knowledge, progress in life, share and obtain information without much misunderstanding, for business, for commercial reasons, for updates in technology, for science & medical reasons and I can go on & on … And this is what I wish to teach my students, too. I usually tell them that “English is an open window to the World” for them …
We are not in this profession for money! Our students’  love and appreciation are  all we need to feel happy! I sometimes wonder why I get paid for something I love doing so much and which is so rewarding ! I could have been a teacher, even without a salary! It’s merely because I love what I do!  I really do!

The kids' work!

Aphrodite’s kids holding up the beautiful work they received from Annie Tsai’s kids!

Vicky: I couldn’t have said it better – your passion and dedication shine right through. Now about the lovely people in your classes – can you tell us a few things about your wonderful students? What levels and ages do you teach?

Aphrodite: I currently teach primary school students aged 9-12 but I used to teach all levels and ages in the past. I worked in the secondary sector a few years ago and in local Technological Institutes and  private schools and institutions. My school is a small school in the suburbs of a Greek town in central Greece. There are about 180 students in my school and 25 students in each of my classes this year! Difficult to teach in such large classes but I try to do my very best, regardless of the negative circumstances! The majority of them come from Greek middle class families. We also  have many students whose parents have come to Greece from other countries to find a job.
The Greek financial crisis has affected us all at school, in  several ways… Teachers, as well as the majority of our students’ parents, have suffered dramatic wage cuts, but we are not fighting for money or privileges, as many people think. We are fighting to save education. Most of our schools lack all the basics and all our students have been affected directly or indirectly by the crisis. When I step into the classroom every morning, I leave all my problems outside! I start the day with a smile! My students deserve my best smile!
I teach them life skills during the first week. I teach them goal setting. I want them to be optimistic, hardworking, dreamers, fighters….they are the future of this country! What we put in, we take out! I personally  put emphasis on team work! When students form a group, social skills kick into action. Kids must learn to work together and cooperate. This is an opportunity to make friends and talk with others — networking can start in the classroom. This is a chance for the kids to expand their vocabulary, work on patience and learn how to take turns. Conflict resolution may also become part of the learning equation. Each student can benefit on a personal level from teamwork. She can feel like a valued part of the group as she contributes to the project and shares her ideas, which can build confidence and self-esteem. The student will be exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking, which can expand her personal view on the subject. Teamwork activities can be the time for each student to shine and show others her skills and talents.

Visible thinking - the kids' work on the lassroom wall!

Visible thinking – the kids’ work on the classroom wall!

Days can get long and dull when you have a group of kids that are disconnected and staring at the walls. Group work is a welcomed change in the normal routine and gets the kids out of their seats. Schoolwork becomes more enjoyable and rewarding,then….I have recently written about the importance of team work in my class, in my Blog!
My students are adorable  but,  my classroom is not.. paradise on Earth! I hope, when all this is over some day, to have made the difference in, at least, ONE of my students’ life !
I am thankful for my students! I have aways been ….

Vicky: One of the things I truly admire about you, is that – against all odds, in a time where education gets very little financial help in Greece these days, as you mentioned – you have managed to build an amazing environment in your classroom for the kids, full of colours, projects and visible thinking, to borrow the term from Project Zero. What gives you the inspiration for all these ideas?

Aphrodite: My students are my  number ONE inspiration! I want them to feel happy and  learn in a friendly environment. My classroom is full of colours and all the walls are covered with students’ project work, arts and crafts!  Their imagination and creativity, makes it as beautiful as it looks…
My PLN is my second source of inspiration!  In order to be able to put my ideas into action though, financial help is really important … I have been struggling to raise money to run my projects and work in class, either by asking – begging  the parents’ associations for support  as well as the several publishing houses out there (which, at least, have donated some  books to our English library) or by organising  school bazaars, just to be able to keep a small amount of the money earned, for our English class needs. It has been HARD work all these years, have to admit that!
Many years have passed since  the beginning of my teaching career … but, nothing much has changed! I mean, I  keep working on  several projects with my classes, we continue exchanging our projects with more than 6  schools all over the globe every school year, I still do my best to have  at least one -handmade – magazine made  each school year , but still….. I work in schools with no computers or other facilities, I work extra hours .…earning nothing but my students’ love,  have had no chance to take part in a Comenius partnership yet (due to several reasons which have NOTHING  to do with my willing  to do so).
There’s nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see how happy , engaged and enthusiastic her  students become when they work on something that makes sense and connects the class with the world! It’s priceless! Believe me! It’s worth any effort!It brings the class together, it helps the teacher connect with the students more and the students connect with their peers all over the globe by means of an international code of communication: English!
My  most favourite quote, comes from Albert Einstein:

If the longing for the goal is powerfully alive within us, then we shall not lack the strength to find the means for reaching the goals!

Vicky: You have started an amazing pen pal project with other countries. One I have seen in detail is with Annie Tsai’s class in Taiwan (Annie is one of the next educators to be interviewed on the blog!). How did it start and what kinds of exchanges have you had so far? Can you give us some insight into your students’ thoughts and feelings? I am sure they are thrilled!

Aphrodite: Annie Tsai has been a blessing for my students! She is an amazing educator in Taiwan and I am so thankful we have been collaborating for some years now! Well, I have been working on projects since the beginning of my career as an English teacher. When I had to  to travel all around Greece to work. Even when I had to change the school I worked in, every single year or I had to work in 3 different schools in the same day!I had to walk  long distances carrying my heavy bag and  some years later, had to drive to a different village school  during the…. break.
Our first partners, were colleagues I had met in  my seminars abroad or, my own ….pen pals ! My first pen pal, when I was 11, Julie Barbie, who still lives and works in North Carolina, USA, was one of my first partners! We both became primary school teachers and it was so touching to have our kids experience the same thing.
When I started working on pen pals projects, nobody thought I was doing anything exceptional, but my students! Most headmasters used to refer to my extra working hours on those projects as ‘useless, worthless and a waste of time’. I used to beg for money to buy stamps and had to carry those parcels to the local post office on foot! When I asked one of the headteachers in a Karditsa area village school, to support  financially our -handmade- class magazine  (which was photocopied and distributed to students)  he just refused. He even said: “What’s the use of this? You don’t get any extra money for all these extra hours you spend putting this  magazine together…that’s silly!”
I have practically collaborated with schools in almost all continents. Yet, one is missing: Australia, which is my next target. Project work, goes like this: we send our partners a project on a topic we have both decided upon. They reply by sending us the same topic project. How fascinating for our students to share and compare!
Arts and craft, play an important role in all our projects! Unfortunately, there is not an Arts teacher in my school. I am the only one who can help my kids with the artistic part of the projects.
Due to the fact that, we have no computers at school, I always print lots of pictures and display them on our notice boards, for all the students to be able to see…
Some projects come in the form of a magazine a poster or a booklet. All projects are put up on each class projects corner,  for everybody to see ,untill a new project  takes their place and they are sent to our partners abroad! Snail mail projects are more fascinating for students than emailed ones because it’s real stuff! You can touch them, hold them, smell them, take them home, display them on the classroom walls, share them with your friends, attach little presents to them! Kids are so very proud to present our country to our foreign friends! The projects are always presented in class before they are sent abroad. It’s team work therefore, the teams decide how they wish to present their project….it can be a poster presentation, a class board game, a teams game, a quiz, a skit and so many more! I ask them to use their imagination , when it comes to presenting their projects in front of the audience! Albert Eistein once said:

Imagination is more important than knowledge because, it has no limits.

Drama plays a very important role in project presentation..Project presentations become more interesting, when drama is involved! Kids really have lots of fun – but the most important thing is that, these projects don’t remain in our classroom. They travel away to other classrooms! It’s just amazing for my students, to see their project work in another classroom, so far away from home!  ….Sharing and comparing, is what makes this projects exchange with schools abroad, a unique experience for my students!

Vicky: All this is fantastic Aphrodite! I hope one day I can visit you classroom and see you all in action. Speaking of sharing and learning, you also engage in social media. How do they help educators?

Aphrodite: In Greece and everywhere, teaching has always been an isolated profession. Teachers were limited to sharing the experiences of their colleagues in their building or district. If they were in the group of a fortunate few, they might have gotten to experience a professional conferenceechnology historically allowed learning to expand from face to face contact to distances beyond the limits of both time and space, and the Internet has moved that to a whole new level.
In my school, there is ONLY ONE computer in the headteacher’s office. I usually work on  my home computer, and have yet  managed to connect my classroom with more than 70 other classrooms  all over the world  during the last 15 years or so , mainly with the help of social media and my PLN. I wish I had a laptop in my classroom …I could have managed  to acheive so many more with it! Still, I am going to start an Etwinning partnership soon ,using MY own laptop and a projector! Nothing can stop me! Answering your question, I would say that I know for sure that online platforms enable users to:

  • create, share, adapt and reuse content engage in digital dialogue and collaboration
  • create links, groups and communities
  • have peer-to-peer contact
  • have social interactions with other users
  • create and maintain their own user profiles and IDs

I am grateful for social media and my PLN, in particular! If it wasn’t for them, I would never have had the chance to connect and share with you, my awesome partners all over the world and have been able to learn so much and become a better educator myself!….

Vicky: Aphrodite, you have recently started an amazing blog with a lot of sharing of great ideas. Can you tell us more about it?

Aphrodite: I have to repeat, that it was because of  YOU, dear Vicky  that I started thinking about creating  my own Blog! YOU were my inspiration, when I watched your presentation on blogging , during the TESOL Greece convention in 2013 in Athens! I can’t thank you enough for that! Blogging has already opened  new perspectives in my teaching career… In today’s social media world, many of us share the details of our lives with friends on Facebook or by text message. As a teacher, I have a powerful opportunity to model blogging as thinking,  using a teacher reflection blog or a teacher area within my  blog. Share my teaching philosophy with  colleagues, model blog writing style, and show my  openness to comments and feedback by participating as a blogger “in front of” my PLN and the world!  I can show that me , too, enjoy learning every day. I do my best to post regularly so everybody can see that I  value blogging (maybe every week or two?). My blog is only  about 2 months old…It is about various aspects of my life as a teacher. I talk about teaching ideas and tips, about my life as a teacher of ELT,and sometimes about things outside the classroom.

The kids in action!

The kids in action!

My intentions are to share:

  • my  feelings about school life
  • what excites me about that I see in my class
  • what I learned from summer travels or seminars and conventions I regularly attend
  • cool websites or other blogs I find
  • cool ideas and good teaching practices in my class

My Motto is: SHARING IS CARING
I was surprised to find out a week ago, that although my Blog is a newcomer to the blogsphere , has already  been nominated for the “ABC award”! I have to thank “Sincerely Kate” ( http://sincerelykaterz.wordpress.com) for this honor!

Vicky: That is absolutely fantastc news! And now, we have reached the end of the interview. What would you like to tell everyone reading your interview right now, as a closing comment?

Aphrodite: Being a teacher means being there, giving everything I can, making sure I am as knowledgeable as I can be about my content and about my students’ lives; it means sacrifice for the sake of helping kids in need and it means caring about students unconditionally. I am not a teacher for me–I am a teacher for my students. When teaching becomes about me, I assure you, I will know it is time to stop teaching.  Being a teacher is exciting, enjoyable, and REWARDING!!!! I get no greater thrill than seeing my students achieve. I am constantly in awe of my students and their abilities.
Being a teacher is NEVER about counting down the last days of the year, but rather, to rue them, because I will lose yet another class to the high schools.
I am JUST  an ordinary teacher, Vicky! I just happen to love my job.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my work in a small Greek classroom with the world!

Vicky: Thank you so much, Aphrodite and I am so happy we will meet again face to face in March!

4 Years of Blogging!

4 years of blogging! (Image taken from http://blog.young-germany.de)

4 years of blogging! (Image taken from http://blog.young-germany.de)

I started this blog four years ago, after being motivated by the one and only Ken Wilson – these four years bring so many thoughts to my mind:

  • How reluctant I was to start it: back then I was thinking, who will read it – will anyone be interested?
    I don’t even have a job – what is this going to offer me? But I did start it, and I am happy I did so!
  • How much it helps me reflect. I read another educator’s post that inspires me and gives me insight into my own teaching, so I go ahead and write about it. Or when a class goes well, or even not so well, here is always where I turn to, so as to get my thoughts in order. I can see what went well or wrong, and then come up with ways of  what I could do better or what I could do again.
  • I should write only when I feel I have something to say. In the beginning, I felt that I was obliged to write often, or felt bad if it took me up to three months to write. Nothing comes out of it, if I write just to say that  have written something – instead, now that I write when I feel like it, it feels much more natural.
  • I love the fact that there are not only my own posts on the blog. I had seen it on Ken’s blog, and later on many others, that guest bloggers were invited to write – I did it too and it is great! I have read some amazing posts. So thanks to all my guest bloggers!
  • I love interviewing other educators. I see their stories, their experiences, and I learn from them. Thank you so much to them all!

Thank you to all of you who read the posts, share them on social media, comment and teach me!

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!

Goal 10: My Bookprint by @dorapap72 #30GoalsEdu

198004_513461212006980_973484126_nThis tenth goal has been suggested by an educator I admire tremendously for her work, her inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm in everything she does, be it teaching, blogging, or going to the gym – Theodora Papapanagiotou!

This goal has been on my mind for quite some time.

I love books so much, that every time I go into a bookstore, I struggle not to buy yet another – I have around five hundred in my small apartment. There is always a book in my bag, so I can read if I am commuting to a class by train or bus, or travelling in general, or out for coffee, I always have one on hand to read. I do not like all books (for instance crime novels or science fiction are not my cup of tea), but my favourite kinds are those that have to do with my work, any book by Orhan Pamuk or Amos Oz (my top two favourite writers), books about people and feelings and places.

(Image of book cover taken from www.morebooks.de)

(Image of book cover taken from http://www.morebooks.de)

A book that has left an indelible mark on me and is about teaching is Teach With Your Heart by Erin Gruwell, a teacher in inner city America, who was assigned a group of low-performing kids. She and the kids worked so hard together that a lot of them graduated from college and went on to excel professionally and get away from drugs, gangs and prostitution. Erin encouraged them to write their stories in a journal – they both learned to write, as some of them had trouble with writing per se, but it also served as a catharsis for most of them – a catharsis from their problems at home, or illegal activities they were involved in.

She is an amazing educator, as in her interviews she is still very humble and always speaks about her students with such love and about teaching with great passion. Her story even became a motion picture and she has written books about her experiences with her kids. Erin even worked three jobs at the same time at the beginning, in order to give them bags full of books at the end of the school year, because her headteacher told her the books the school had would be a waste on the specific kids. Erin believed in them though and still does. Her work is remarkable.

She even managed to bring Miep Gies (the lady that helped Anne Frank and her family hide away in the Secret Annex) to the school – the kids listened to her speak and interviewed her – what a life-changing moment for them! Erin also brought her students into contact with Zlata Filipović, a Bosnian girl who wrote Zlata’s Diary, a memoir of the siege of Sarajevo and the horrors of the war she lived through.

It is a book truly worth reading, and not for educators only. It is for anyone who loves kids and believes in their potentials. Because they all can do great things!

Goal 5: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone #30GoalsEdu

Part of my German homework : )

Part of my German homework : )

As an educator and as many also uphold, learning is key to our careers and development in the field. I have been learning various things during my teaching career so far: new skills, tools to use, methods and so on, but until I moved to Switzerland four years ago, I had never tried to learn another language. I never had to, because English and Greek was enough for me before. This was a completely wrong perception I had, as learning languages are not only about the place you live, or just asking for something in another language. I have come to understand it is much more than that.

When I first came here, I started learning German but then I had to stop, with the excuse (it was true back then) that I was getting more and more work and I had no time. Then, Zug is a very international city, so even when I start to speak German with people, they immediately pick up on my English accent and most of them immediately switch to English. Even when I insist they switch back to German, they keep speaking in English – that is how polite they are!

Last year, in the college that I teach twice a week, we had to attend two obligatory courses on pedagogy and methodology…in German. The night before the first course I hardly slept. Why am I doing this? I thought. I will never manage to do it. I will disappoint my director (special thanks to Philipp Hediger, who has believed in me and supported me since day one – we are very lucky to have him, as he has supported our professional development to a great extent) and myself. I can’t speak or write in German and never will.

I did attend both courses, and I should say, that neither was a walk in the park – we had homework, which my classmates could do in half an hour – I needed seven or eight hours for the same amount. The course lasted eight hours each time, the other was for three hours at a time – for me, it was not only learning about methodology and pedagogy, I was literally being immersed into the language. I learned a great deal in those three months! I could not believe it. I pressured myself, pushed myself to the limits, had great classmates who would explain to me (in German) when I didn’t understand something and great teachers (another huge thank you to Max Woodtli, my instructor).

This year I have decided, along with my sister, to start proper German lessons. Even though we speak quite well now and understand more than we think sometimes, we have started everything from the beginning and we are immensely enjoying it! Our teacher is supporting us every step of the way and is so passionate, we truly expect every lesson to come and learn from her. I have decided to step out of my comfort zone in English and tackle German. And you know what? I am also going to restart my Turkish lessons! I feel like my eyes are open and I can see my new home in a different light – I can talk to people, I can write and I can pick up German books in the bookstore and read! Above all, I feel that I can understand my students – how they feel, how they approach learning languages, the challenges they face in English and how they can overcome them.

With all her love for education and collaboration: Interview with Ika Chieka Wibowo

Ika Wibowo

Ika Wibowo

I am delighted to present an educator from Indonesia in an interview she has given me: Ika Wibowo from Indonesia! I connected to Ika on Facebook from my first days there, about a year ago and I admire her for her passion to teach, connect and share! Over to Ika.

Vicky: Ika, thank you so much for accepting my invitation for an interview on my blog!

Ika: It is a great honor to be invited for an interview on your blog, Vicky.

Vicky: For those of our readers who meet you for the first time, can you introduce yourself?

Ika: My name is Ika Sari Lestiyani Wibowo. But, please call me Ika. I am an English Language Teacher at one of the English Schools and also at my own English School in Depok, Indonesia.

Vicky: That is great, Ika – you teach and run your own school! How did you make the decision to become an educator?

Ika: I think it will be very long story if I tell you all about myself. So I will you my short one. I’m being honest that after I graduated from University I did not want to be a teacher or an educator, as most of my family members are teachers. I tried to work at the office as a Public Relation Staff. But, after a few months I felt my heart was not there. Then, I decided to apply a job as a teacher at an English School, New Concept English Education Centre. In NC I feel like I am home. I enjoy every moment with my students. Until now, I’ve been teaching here at NC for about 8 years. “Don’t only teach your students but also educate them”; that is what my father always reminds me of. Here I am. I am proud of being a teacher and an educator.

Vicky: And we are all happy you became an educator! What do you like the most about your work? What are the challenges you sometimes face?

Ika: Being a teacher make me always feel young, as I have to always light my effort to share new knowledge and experience to my students. By sharing I will always be cleverer. Those are two things I like about my work. Indonesia is not an English-speaking Country, that’s why there are still many people who think that English is not important. So, most of students feel that they shouldn’t learn English seriously. This is a big challenge for me as an ELT. I have to always support my students to be willing to learn English then they will love it. Never give up.

Vicky: Let’s move on to social media. You use Facebook and other platforms to connect with teachers all around the world, and you are very active as well, sharing a lot of information and links. How did you become involved in this way of connecting in the first place?

Ika: The first time I knew about learning and sharing through social media was from the iTDi Workshop in February 2013. I met some great English teachers from other countries such as Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Chuck Sandy, Eric Kane, Yitzha Sheila Sarwono, Adi Cerman and Karl Millsom. Yitzha is the first person who introduced me to the PLN; then I met you, Vicky Loras. I learned a lot from you. Then, I fell in love with social media and I made more new friends after that.

Indonesia, Ika's beautiful country (Image from http://www.lonelyplanet.com)

Indonesia, Ika’s beautiful country (Image from http://www.lonelyplanet.com)

Vicky: Thank you so much, Ika – I really appreciate your kind words and I am very happy we have connected! Moving on to conferences now. You are presenting at a conference in Indonesia very soon. Would you like to tell us what your talk will be about and what you are looking forward to?

Ika: You are right, Vicky. At the end of this month I am having a group presentation at The TEFLIN Conference at University of Indonesia with Nina Septina and Budi Azhari Lubis (both of them are ELTs and my friends in the iTDi Community). We will be guided by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto. It’s my first time for me to join this kind of conference. It’s challenging for me. My short talk will be about my personal development as an English teacher after I joined iTDi Community.

Vicky: Where do you get your inspiration for your teaching and your talks?

Ika: All of my ELT friends at iTDi Community, my ELT friends from the social media and also all of my students in my school and my students at the social media are my big inspiration for my teaching and my talks.

Vicky: What is your dream for the future?

Ika: In the future, I have some dreams which I have to pursue. The first, I want to learn more seriously about teaching – learning in order to be a better teacher. The second, I want to join seminars in other countries and meet all of my ELT friends in this social media. The last, I want to build a Free English School in my home village.

Vicky: They all sound amazing plans, and your last plan sounds wonderful too. I hope they all come true! And to close this interview, what would you like to tell all the educators reading your interview?

Ika: To all the educators who reading my interview, I just want to tell you something:

“ Teach with your heart and soul.”

Vicky: Thank you so much, Ika! I hope we meet each other in person soon.

Ika: You are always welcome dear Vicky. I hope so. I am looking forward to meeting you in person, too. Thank you for all the readers.

Ika's students after they have made robots!

Ika’s students after they have made robots!

Goal 3: What’s Your Personal Theme Song? #30GoalsEdu

I was talking about this with Shelly Terrell the other day – and we both agreed that we have special songs for ever kind of moment in our lives…but I will try to keep it short here!

One of the songs that amazed me when I first heard it! I thought, they know me, they know my life – Paradise by Coldplay:

This one by the Stereophonics reminds me that there is always tomorrow to do new things and dream about, never despair or give up – and find my way home.

I get excited very easily, be it about a new idea, project, even the mention of simple things like cake! And because I use Wooohooo! or Whoop whoop! a lot, I think this one is appropriate – it also uplifts my spirits when I need it:

The last one is a bit nostalgic and a bit funny too, come to think of it. In those old times when not every home had a VCR, my dad used to rent us one (the machine) every Christmas and two videotapes: one was always Annie (we loved it and have seen it numerous times!), the other one my dad would choose (so happy he didn’t go into gender stereotyping with us :) ). Once it was Superman, once it was Rocky ; ) This movie and theme song reminds me of when we would watch this movie – dad would always point out: “Look, he keeps on trying no matter what. He is a fighter and so are my girls!” It gives me a lot of motivation and strength when I need it – what a memory can do, right? I loved how he wouldn’t stop running in this movie scene!