I am sure at some point or another, we have heard things like these from our family or employers or colleagues:
– You care too much about those kids.
– They already have parents.
– You are only here to teach them, if they have problems they can solve them elsewhere.
– Can’t you just do your job and let go?
I know that many educators reading this, because I know many who, think like this including myself, will not even ask themselves this question: how much should we care? I strongly believe and nothing will change my mind, that they are not only there for us to teach them the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect Simple and then show them the door. We may teach them for several hours a week. Perhaps, only one or two hours, but they do manage to make a mark on our lives.
I have been a teacher for eighteen years and I have seen many students, taught them and spent time with them. Some of them with a stable family life, with studying as their only worry. I truly hope everyone had this as their only worry (and not even a worry, but a pleasure, because that is what learning should be). Unfortunately, there are also students (not only kids and teenagers, but also adults) with family problems, a history of drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, mental health issues.
Sometimes they do not even want to be helped, yelling at you to back off. And you try to get closer and help them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and then we ponder about them through sleepless nights. Some of these students find their way out on their own, some do not have a good ending.
There are instances when they come to us on their own, asking for help. What are we to do? Tell them we are not allowed by our employer, or that we have enough problems of our own? I cannot even fathom it. Many teachers cannot think about it and directly think of ways to help these students. And I am happy and moved and proud to know numerous teachers like this, and this was one of the reasons I came up with the idea of The Human Touch as a concept not only for my very first plenary back in March, but as the very center to my life, as an educator, aunt, godmother, sister and ‘second mother’ as some call me. If we can even help one student, that is great -but I know we can help many many more.
This post came into my head after reading an article on the great website Teaching Tolerance. Peter Elliott wrote a great blogpost there, called Eyes Wide Openand there are many more to read on the topic of caring. A huge thank you to Peter and educators like Peter who keep inspiring and caring for their students!
It is my absolute pleasure and honour to introduce you to Tony Sinanis, a great educator I have connected to recently on Twitter and admire for his passion and excellent work with his staff and students. Tony is Principal at Cantiague Elementary School, in Jericho, New York which has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon, about which he will be talking about in this interview.
If it is in the best interest of children, then it is the right thing to do!
Vicky: Tony, you have been in education for fifteen years. Can you give us some background as to how you chose to pursue a career in education?
Tony:Initially I went to college to become a pediatrician but after a few science courses I realized that it was not for me – dealing with sick kids seemed depressing to me so I switched majors and became a theater major (talk about switching gears). As a member of the theater program I had to complete a certain number of community service hours so I decided to do volunteer tutoring at the local elementary school in their after school program. Within a few weeks all I could focus on was these kids and the whole theater thing became unimportant. I looked forward to my tutoring sessions each week and making a difference in the lives of the children was so important to me. So after discussing it with my family and friends, I realized I could put this passion to good work by switching my major yet again and devoting myself to the field of education. My focus was Early Childhood and Elementary Education, where I was one of only a few men in the program.
Vicky: Very interesting! I did not know the turn your studies took. One thing is for sure: education is happy to have you! Moving on to you role, this is your fifth year being an administrator. What do you like the best about your work?
Tony:The highlight of my work as an administrator are my many opportunities to interact with my kids, staff and the community at large. I often say that I am not the best administrator because I am not always timely with “administrative” tasks but I am 1000% devoted to the instructional end of my work because if we can implement the best and most current instructional approaches in our school than we are doing what is best for kids and that is my main goal each and every day. Additionally, I think the social/emotional well being of our kids and staff are of the highest priority – if people feel good about themselves and feel supported they can accomplish ANYTHING! So my goal is to serve and support the Cantiague Elementary School community.
Vicky: Each job comes with its own challenges. What are the challenges for a school administrator?
Tony:Yes, there are many challenges I face as a school administrator. There are budget issues, federal and state mandates and standardized testing requirements just to name a few. With that being said, I think my greatest challenge is time… finding the time to accomplish everything I want to accomplish for our kids, staff and school in general. There are so many things I want to do.. and so many things I need to do that finding the time to get through it all is such a challenge! And then consider my family and the doctoral program I recently began, I might have to find a way to invent the 48-hour day! 🙂
Vicky: I would love for that type of day to be invented as well! I am sure educators who are also parents need a lot of time to balance family and schedule. You are a dad to Paul who is seven – how does being a parent tie in with being an educator?
Tony: I can honestly say that being Paul’s dad has redefined me as an educator. My son is my heart and soul outside of my body – everything I do in life is for and about him. So, when I see my students in school, I know that someone at home feels just as strongly about them as I do about Paul and that is so important to remember as an educator. Every decision I make is one that I consider as the building administrator but also as a dad. The bottom line is this… if it is not good enough for Paul, then it is not good enough for our kids at Cantiague. I want Cantiague to be the most amazing elementary school in the world because that is what I want for my own son! Layer on top of that the fact that my son has various medical issues and requires additional support in school and I am extremely sensitive to the needs of our special education students. I strive to make sure that every child in our school has whatever they need to provide them with a level playing field because I know that has made a difference for my son.
Vicky: Your school has received a great honour, Tony – it has been nominated for a Blue Ribbon. Can you tell us more about that?
Tony:Our Blue Ribbon nomination is such an exciting opportunity! The state of New York nominated 19 schools to the United States Department of Education for the national Blue Ribbon award. The nomination is based on the fact that our school has performed extremely well on standardized assessments over the last few years. Although I don’t put much stock in these test scores, I know that our kids do well because our teachers are amazing – their instructional approaches and techniques go far beyond preparing our kids for a test and the results support this idea! In regards to the Blue Ribbon, we find out in the next month or so if we won it, which would be so exciting because the entire community – staff, kids and parents – were apart of the application process we completed after being nominated.
Vicky: You told me during a short discussion that your school has integrated the Bucket Filler philosophy – I would love to know more about that and I am sure our readers would too.
Tony:The Bucket Filling philosophy we have adopted at Cantiague is anchored in the text Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carole McCloud. The idea behind the whole philosophy of Bucket Filling is that people carry around imaginary buckets with them all day, every day. And when we are good to other people not only do we fill their buckets but we fill our own, which feels great. On the other hand, when we are not nice to others, we are being bucket dippers because we are taking out of someone else’s bucket, which is not nice! Our Bucket Filling philosophy is rooted in the idea of the Big Five… we must always remember to Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe, Be Positive and Be Kindbecause if we follow the Big Five, we ensure that we are filling our own buckets and those of the people around us. Each week at Cantiague we celebrate Bucket Fillers of the Week who are nominated by teachers or other kids – and Bucket Fillers of the Week are kids who do something that fills the bucket of another person. I can honestly say that the Bucket Filling philosophy has changed our way of life at Cantiague. Bullying issues have decreased, incidents of harassment are down and our kids are using a common language, which is very child-friendly, about what it means to be a positive and successful kid in our school. I highly recommend reading this book and thinking about the importance of adopting this way of life at any school!
Vicky: I love the idea and the values that it creates for children! I believe it is a great idea for other administartors to incorporate in their school culture. Moving on to your newer colleagues, what would you advise an administrator starting now?
Tony: For any educator considering entering the world of administration at this point, they need to be in this for the kids. Being an administrator is not about being the boss or a figure head. It is about advocating for the needs of the entire community – kids, staff and the community at large. You need to understand that you are there to serve others and be their voice when needs are not being met. You have to be passionate about learning and teaching – a building administrator must be the lead learner of a school – not just a paper pusher. We have to model and espouse what we expect from those around us.
Vicky: You have a very busy, but pleasant and creative day. What does your day look like when you are not busy in school?
Tony:I am usually in the building by 7am each day where I spend about an hour checking email, checking out what’s going on in the Twitterverse, assigning subs and chatting with staff who are in early. By 8am I am connecting with the Main Office staff to review what needs to get done that day. Then at 8:15 our kids arrive and the day just moves in fast forward from there. I try and spend the morning in the classrooms and then I am in the lunchroom on most days and outside at recess playing games with my kids as much as possible. Spending time out of my office is always my goal during the school day. After recess I usually have some minor issues to address and then before I know it, it is almost 2pm and we begin getting ready for the dismissal process. After all our kids are safely on their buses, at about 3pm, I spend some time checking phone messages and getting back to parents. I also usually meet with teachers and staff after school because that is when it is quiet. Then after everyone is gone, at about 4:30pm, I go into my office and get all my administrative stuff done – emails, memos, etc. I usually leave school around 6pm on any given night.
This was such an interesting interview! It gave us a great insight into you as a personality and an educator. Tony, thank you so much for this interview! I hope to meet you in person some day.
It is with great pleasure and honour that I feature a wonderful educator on my blog, Icha Sarwono who is based in Indonesia. Icha teaches at a Kindergarten and Preschool and is active on social media. She is also an iTDi Associateand has a blog. Here is Icha!
1. Icha, how did you become an educator?
I suppose it’s in my blood, as I come from family who works either in education or a health institution. I don’t think I know any other thing to do, as even my first part-time job during my junior high was tutoring my classmates in English. Then during my college year up till now I coach the school’s drumband (that is kind of a teaching activity too right?) . I suppose I became a teacher because I remember how my teachers used to have an impact on me, personally and of course educationally. So, though teaching has never been on my list of goals growing up, I chose this line of work because I want to influence and help people in a little way.
2. What would you like to have known back then, that you know now? What would you advise Icha the beginning teacher?
Well I would love to have known that teaching doesn’t always equal educating. I used to think that it was easy easy to transfer knowledge but it hasn’t always been the case as I found out. The first thing you need to do is to inspire them, so they will be excited in learning themselves. I would advise the young 24-year-old Icha (that’s the age I started teaching full-time) to take it easy, don’t get frustrated when the class doesn’t go as you plan, because the unexpected is much more fun for it opens up a new adventure! Oh, and remember that you cannot judge a student simply by his grades, because as Einstein said:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
3. You teach at Kidea Daycare. What are the things one needs to keep in mind when teaching little ones? What are the pros and what are the challenges of teaching such young ages?
Actually it’s Kidea Preschool and Kindergarten and I am now teaching a K2 class, a bunch of 5-year-old students 🙂 . I think what we should have in mind when teaching young learners is that you cannot force them in accepting all you have to give at a certain time. They need time to bloom. We should know also that it is better for the kids if they can experience themselves rather than asking them to visualize. I mean, I know people say that kids are full of great imagination, but if we don’t lead them then how would we know we have pressed the right button? I believe in concrete to abstract concept in Montessori teaching because once my kids have got the concrete concept, it is easy for them to grasp the next lesson for they have it imprinted on their mind. The thing I love most about young learners is that they have always been enthusiastic in knowing new things, they cannot wait to be able to master something. The problems are a lot too, but mostly come from the outside, like from the parents. The biggest thing for me would be parents who are questioning our approach and skeptical about it, because I believe in teaching young learners, we need trust from them as we must have their support and sometimes it is not an easy case. I am very lucky that the parents of my class now back me and it has made it easier to give my all for their children.
4. What is the ELT scene like in Indonesia?
I must say I don’t know much as I haven’t been in touch with TEFLIN (the ELT organization I belong to) for quite some time as I am now teaching kindergarten rather than English – but I would say that it is still kind of divided in groups for we haven’t got a strong foundation. It is merely a political thing as each year there has always been some sort of new change in the school curriculum that can lead up to changes in English lesson too. Teachers here are trying hard to cope with the latest in ELT world, and I think we’re doing pretty well though we have lots to conquer still.
5. When you are not teaching, what do you do in your free time?
Oh, I love reading! And watching TV channels like NatGeo or NatGeo adventure , Animal planet and the Food channel. I love cooking, I cook a lot for my class and involve them in my cooking activity. I also love playing around with my 4 (soon to be more) cats!
6. What are your plans for your career in the future?
Simply being a better teacher. As I was introduced to Montessori teaching 2 years ago, I’d love to learn more about it, if possible attend a class on it. I would also love to engage in more discussion like #ELTChat or #ASIAElt to improve myself and my teaching. Hopefully I can contribute more to the education in Indonesia.
Icha, thank you so much! ELT and education are very lucky to have you.
I have the great honour to present my new guest blogger to you – a wonderful educator from Crete, Greece: Christina Markoulaki! I have connected with Christina on Twitter and hope one day to meet her face-to-face. She is an enthusiastic teacher and blogger and also an iTDi Associate.
Thank you so much for your fantastic post, Christina!
1) Alphabet cards
The students who start their journey in the English language are always very happy to make their very own alphabet cards. All they need is some cardboard paper (or any colored paper) cut in small square pieces and their crayons. On one side of the card, they can write the letter in uppercase and lowercase, while on the other they can write the word that begins with that letter and draw a picture of the word. This activity does not take considerable classroom time and is always welcome by the children.
As soon as the cards are prepared, the games that can be played with them are endless! The ones that never fail to excite my students are ‘Find the letter/ word’, ‘Form the word’, You are the Teacher’ and, of course, ‘Letter Bingo’. Judging by the names, it can easily be understood that the first games are a product of my inspiration during a cheerful lesson with the juniors, while the last one is well-known worldwide.
Students can be divided in groups before they have a go at these games and learn how to collaborate from an early age. Each group can win points for each correct answer it gives, which makes things even more suspenseful!
In the first game I mentioned before, the teacher pronounces a word or a letter and the learners have to pick up the correct card as quickly as possible. In the second one, they need to form the word they hear using the cards in front of them and in the third case they are allocated the teacher’s role, now having the opportunity to test their classmates’ knowledge of the alphabet by asking them to raise the card of the letter or word they utter.
The final activity is exactly the same as the popular Bingo game, but involves the use of letters, not numbers. Based on that, the students have to choose their favorite six (that is the usual number of cards allowed in my classes) letters/ words and have the cards depicting them laid on the desk. While the teacher (or another student) pronounces random letters or words, the players remove the letter they hear in case this is depicted in one of the cards they decided to keep in front of them. The first player (pair/ team) that has no cards left can happily exclaim ‘Bingo’! Admittedly, this is everyone’s favorite part of the game and can be heard from time to time even from passionate players who have not won!
2) Grammar train
Are your students bored with grammar rules and formulas? Turn everything into a train and they will love it! The inspiration for such a venture came after attending a seminar, where a quite similar idea was presented, but I decided to develop it a bit further and design my own wagons on my computer. This allowed me to visualize any grammar rule I wanted as well as include some funny figures in each wagon (famous people, cartoons or colorful pictures) to give the learners something more to be excited about!
The idea is rather straightforward: you can design a wagon on your screen on a Word or Pages document by placing a rectangular shape on top of several circles which serve as the ‘wheels’ of the train. Needless to say, you could simply use a readily made picture of a train and paste the grammar parts on it, as I have done in order to create the first, and most impressive, wagon; that which contains the subject of the clause!
The whole activity can be extremely amusing, apart from educational, since the students need to change positions to rearrange the parts of each tense if they want to form the affirmative, interrogative and negative versions of it. Once again, the students can be divided into groups which should coordinate to quickly form the tense the teacher dictates.
Imagination poses no limits! Feel free to apply these ideas in your classroom and let me know how the experience was.
Christina Markoulaki is an EFL teacher in Greece, where she was also born.
She is fortunate enough to have been trusted with students of all ages and levels within her 5 working years, their ages ranging from 5 to 50 years old!
Using modern technology in the classroom to create new learning experiences is what fascinates her. All links concerning the school she works in can be found on this colourful glog!
Get to know more about Matthew Ray, a special education educator based in New York City and the person behind the More Than 140 project. Matt talks about his super projects with his students, speaks some Greek and discloses his culinary talents! Enjoy.
A few days ago, I was very happy to be contacted by Matthew Ray, in order to start a great project we are calling “More than 140.” We hope you will follow the hashtag #MoreThan140, as well as our blogs and youtube channels (links are provided after the video).
Watch the video to find out more about our project:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
***Update: We are working on figuring out how to upload wetoku/vodpod videos to youtube. In the meantime, the videos will be hosted on vodpod, which you can access by clicking here.