The unbearable lightness of being a teacher


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Selected reflection about education, teaching and language.

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the unbearable lightness of being a teacher teacher talk 2007 ­ 2010 when one teaches two learn thoughts on education teaching language by david deubelbeiss


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about the author david deubelbeiss is a tesol professor and teacher trainer presently living in north bay ontario he has traveled and taught around the world a working man s teacher he enjoys red wine good food good conversation and just being here find out more about him through his google profile about this book this book was written for myself yes it was a selfish act i think all good things are somehow born of the ego my daily writing was for my own professional development but i do think other teachers can profit from my own ruminations ­ thus this book it represents my thoughts in 3 main streams reflections of a general nature on education and the role of schooling in society thoughts on language and the magic of this great code writings about teaching and more practical aspects of teacher development some are focused on elt english language teaching but are applicable to any teaching setting dip in and enjoy click on most photos to get secondary sources when viewing the pdf version get the pdf at http some sources are linked to my teaching community ­ you ll need a quick registration because they are unavailable elsewhere the purchase of this book helps support a new model of textbook delivery ­ teachers helping teachers it is supported by a large professional development community and an author that will respond to your needs your purchase supports all the activities to support practicing teachers through efl classsroom 2.0 thanks in advance enjoy the book any feedback and comments much appreciated david deubelbeiss © 2011 by i m press isbn 0743357954 printed in the whole wide world


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table of contents education and language 7 the unbearable lightness of being a teacher lessons from the king s speech teachers who needs them the future of learning 53 17 19 21 23 25 26 27 28 30 33 36 40 41 43 44 the future of teaching is learning the competitive side of schooling the objective of education is learning as a self organizing principle making school so it doesn t stink getting out of the way more ­ getting out of the way chopping wood as a metaphor teaching is graduation address the five enemies the classroom as a liveable country the subversive teacher let me list the ways i m subversive food for thought music makes the world go sound 57 59 61 63 65 68 69 70 71 the indelible nature of language what is language groping for trout words words words vocabulary does size matter should we teach standard english using vs manipulating language music more than the language of love vygotsky insights upon insights 46 in praise of backpacking teachers 10 13 15 48 50 my own egyptian moment the spirit of education the other side of being a teacher 3


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thoughts on teaching 73 75 76 78 80 82 84 87 90 92 in praise of praise an amazing teacher teaching then and now faking it the cart before the horse focal vs tacit knowledge the 7 sensational sins in praise of the slow classroom learning with your students it s not how you start ­ it s how you finish high expectations it s the small things that count 110 lonliness of the long distance teacher 111 who says who is a bad teacher 112 the itinerant english language teacher 114 fire all english language teachers 116 alive and online 117 tefl non-stick teaching 120 teachers selling knowledge a parable 121 viva la textbook revolucion 123 teachers and endurance 124 what teaching gave gives me 93 94 126 what makes a good teacher great 128 top 5 warning signs the teacher isn t yet a teacher 130 the worst habits of efl teachers 97 barriers to learning a second language a hierarchy of classroom needs assessment have we got it all wrong less is more manufactured teachable moments stepping back to jump ahead teaching as a rube goldberg machine 99 101 103 105 107 109 132 what makes what you teach stick 134 insights into learning a 2nd language 4


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in the classroom 138 140 143 using video in the classroom using silent video in the classroom using the guinness world records book as curriculum using technology in education advice the draw of drawing making a doodle video with students story and picture book making 154 the magic of shared reading 155 teaching and poetry 158 student created content 145 146 149 152 160 culturally specific content 161 culturally specific music 163 every lesson has its hook 166 what i know now but didn t then 5


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the unbearable lightness of being a teacher in the sunset of dissolution everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia even the guillotine it is that time of year time to say good bye time to close books and put away pencils and go on our way towards that next thing end of semester the bell rings one long loud time people come and go like ghosts it is over we await the new and september when there is rebirth and the cycle starts again and that s how school is i ve never gotten used to it this saying good ­ bye it is like a heavy mist that weighs me down all summer all time apart where do the people go that were such a part of my life why this hither and yonder and higher and lighter where do they all go and why must i partake in it who clangs the bell that makes all this happen and keeps the circle spinning round who wiped away my sky anyone whose goal is something higher must expect someday to suffer vertigo what is vertigo fear of falling no vertigo is something other than fear of falling it is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us it is the desire to fall against which terrified we defend ourselves it is even worse for adventurous efl teachers we flit from one school from one country to the next we get to know students and the community but always remain on the outside because there will always be a time to move on we are always saying goodbye everything shifts underneath us and there is no terra firma when i finished my second practice teaching session during teacher s college my mentor teacher ­ jim mcclacherty at the end of the session took me for a walk on the pitch outside he had a somber air to him and i though it was just because he felt burdened by some personal problem he scratched at his beard as was his habit and kept chit-chatting as we walked on the field where he had once coached me as a teenager now here i was and he was trying to come up with some wisdom finally he stopped and looked me in the eye he said david you are a teacher now and there is some secret you have to know there is a lot of pain in teaching the hardest part of teaching the most pain is in saying good-bye you are constantly saying good-bye to so many people/students that you gave your heart to your heart is broke a thousand times by this treadmill of human potential it is the most painful thing always saying good-bye nobody ever stays 7


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and therein lies the whole of man s plight human time does not turnin a circle it runs ahead in a straight line that is why man cannot be happy happiness is the longing for repetition i ve so often thought of jim throughout my years the best teacher i had ­ the best because he was courageous enough to deal with the heavy stuff the stuff that is seldom looked at but always there and i feel that terribly this year this semester a lightness that comes from being nowhere and having so many teachers and students just pass through my life like my life were some kind of magical treadmill where does the center hold what matters do we just have to keep playing our part and are we mere players on the stage of life when tereza came back from the dance floor with the young man the chairman asked her to dance and finally tomas has a turn with her too tomas she said to him out on the floor everything bad that s happened in your life is my fault it s my fault you ended up here as low as you could possibly go low what are you talking about if we has stayed in zurich you d still be a surgeon and you d be a photographer that s a silly comparison to make said tereza your work meant everything to you i don t care what i do i can do anything i haven t lost a thing you ve lost everything haven t you notice i ve been happy here tereza tomas said surgery was your mission she said missions are stupid tereza i have no mission no one has and it s a terrific relief to realize you re free free of all missions i have been searching my whole life for lightness and i ve traveled the world yet i find within me a need a sorrow a melancholy that aches for weight and community/people and things that stay endure and matter what i d give to not go through a course with its 15 weeks and then the repartee it is like death itself what i d give to remember all the thousands i d even venture 10s of thousands of teachers i ve encountered online or off ­ what i d give to have them in my life and as a whole and not some light breeze i ask again where does the center hold 8


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the goals we pursue are always veiled a girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about the boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is the thing that gives our every move its meaning is always totally unknown to us but maybe i m wrong i do know i still have a lot to learn something has pulled me into teaching and it gives me so much i do enjoy the lightness too i can disappear i have no demands placed upon me to a long term degree i can be who i am and if not accepted off to the next job the next teaching position i am the captain of my own ship yet my ship has no rudder and the crew come and go with each new port i ve confused them all and all i remember are the faces the destination there is none just constant harbors to get new supplies and rejuvenate ­ that is the teacher s lot we can never know what to want because living only one life we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come it is the end of the semester so many students coming to my office and then going going off to god knows where lost in this world s busyness lost to my ship a fleeting memory of time and space lightness unbearable lightness and one day i ll meet a student on some street with no name and i will not know their name only their face i have to take faith that is enough such is the lot and the unbearable lightness of being a teacher there is no means of testing which decision is better because there is no basis for comparison we live everything as it comes without warning like an actor going on cold and what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself that is why life is always like a sketch no sketch is not quite a word because a sketch is an outline of something the groundwork for a picture whereas the sketchthat is our life is a sketch for nothing an outline with no picture what to do i live i teach i do my best there is an ideal i long for but i seem incapable of finding it teaching seems contradictory to it i want things to stay but nothing stays life my life just keeps marching forward i look underfoot but see no treadmill yet everything keeps moving despite my protests the moment won t last nor linger there is no perfection only life 9


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5 lessons for educators from the king s speech one of the nice things about the small city i moved to recently is that it has a wonderful theater downtown minutes from my house every sunday they have a $5 showing and tonight they showed the king s speech great movie highly recommend it despite my aversion to period pieces especially british ones go see it and if you are in the mood think about the lessons that it might have for us teachers here are 5 points i took home from this remarkable film 1 the importance of the informal especially when dealing with language learning lionel ever the informal aussie really insists on a first name basis for their teacher ­ student relationship he insists on calling the king bertie moreover he stresses informality and humor in the teaching environment this is so important a concept for language literacy teachers ­ lightening the affective filter so language may be acquired here s a clip to remind us of this important dynamic of teaching {and also note how there must be a name ­ research suggests that using a student s name during instruction can alone raise scores and help learning as opposed to no name being used 10


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2 credentials are over valued there is a scene at the end of the movie where the king is angry/overcome upon learning that dr lionel has no official credentials that he learned everything through the teacher s college of hard knocks the point is ­ teachers are not trained or taught they are developed this is a big point credentials are not as important as we think in our over crazed world for a certificate any certificate recently i was looking through the local college s course offerings ­ you can get a diploma in anything and it takes 2 years dog grooming two years flower arranging two years oh don t get me started in tefl i will keep praising the backpacking teacher sure there are some bad apples but overall the profession benefits i ve witnessed too many great teachers in action great teachers without a modicum of formal training to think otherwise teachers should be judged on what they do in class and have done in classes a system of merit not credentials bertie proves this 3 teaching is mostly about relationships in the movie the relationship between teacher and student grows as it goes through a rocky series of ups and downs the movie shows a man teaching/helping a student not teaching a subject the personal is evident and attended to by the ever consummate professional lionel teaching is about the relationships we form with students how we connect with them it doesn t have to be overly personal but we have to connect on some human level to be successful and make a difference further we have to also realize our students have their own lives and background just like the king each student has their own world they bring into the classroom teacher s must know their students ­ administrators have to give teachers more time to develop relationships and less time for paperwork and lesson drafting 4 a teacher s belief is what counts passion makes the great teacher passion for their subject but also passion for their students lionel truly believed in his student the king truly 150 he told him he kept with him along the struggle to succeed and learn never discount the power of a teacher s faith in their student to transform the world we all remember our homerun teachers and what made them have such an impact on us was the faith in us that we felt they had research too shows this is more than just emotional snake oil in blind studies a teacher s belief in their student s ability thinking they were teaching a class of high achievers when they were not increased the student s own scores yes faith can move a marking sheet 11


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5 childhood development is crucial to long term success bertie experienced a lot of trauma in his development his inability both in stuttering but also and they are sides of the same coin emotionally was because of a lack of a proper environment when growing up we have to continually fight for all students to get the support and nurturing that is required at an early age so they may succeed at school a lot of what we see at school ­ what we call failure and non-achievement is not because of a student s own laziness or inability it is societal we don t value the young until it is too late despite our pronouncements and platitudes if we put as much money into universal early education and child development as we did trident subs ­ we d have a much different world in our high schools and universities i kid you not look at the damage bertie suffered many will tell you it is just physical etc don t believe the buggers ­ it is all about how the child is raised in 95 of cases we need to follow more the principles of re-education let s too also remember how determining environment is for language and literacy development if you haven t seen the movie ­ here s a trailer to wet your appetite enjoy 12


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teachers ­ who needs them i just came home from the movies in the film i saw the kids are alright one character when asked why he dropped out of school says i just thought it was a big waste of money for something i could learn myself from a book this was something i had realized early sitting in the town library one pd or professional development day years ago in grade 8 i was flipping through a national geographic and chanced upon an article about jane goodall i was stoked we had been talking about chimpanzees in class i started reading and wondered why we d learnt none of this in class omg and then it dawned on me ­ i could learn from a book school was for sports and girls but really ineffective when it came to learning as the years went on i realized more that actually i had been wrong not that school wasn t a more effective way to learn no i understood that a book really wasn t as perfect a tool of learning for the cerebral and imaginative ­ a book was great but for show and tell for constructive learning participation modeling ­ it was a dud you couldn t learn how to build anything from popular mechanics you d only learn how to talk about it write about it and comment on it books weren t a replacement for teachers or schooling there was still a need for teachers and people in the learning equation now and isn t it ironic me a 20 year in teacher i m not so sure i think we don t need teachers nor schools now before you go further take a deep breath and allow me to explain explain how i ve become such a heretic i ll keep it short i promise after hearing the line the film it dawned on me that it should be updated to i just thought it was a big waste of money for something i could learn online the internet has allowed us the amateur to prosper we can teach each other but more importantly we can show demonstrate and learn not only in a reading way but also in a real way teachers are everywhere online ­ they are the mailmen the musicians on video on screencasts they are you and me even more important is the notion of authority school has survived because of authority in a way it is kind of like a prison sentence you have little say over it you must and there is so little opportunity for rehabilitation or reform it is a process that you have to undertake in order to be part of society you are punished if you don t it is mass social programming dollar driven even more so today so school and education continues with only polite postering about reform and change it is self perpetuating no wonder that the calls for radical reform of education of the 60 s are still so relevant loud and true 13


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i m a student of the enlightenment and believe that learning is liberating and beneficial to all humanity illuminating labitur lux it lets the light in it benefits us all and all the splendors around us come from ideas and education however everything has its time and place schools too designed as mass market assembly lines disseminating discrete memorizable bits of public knowledge are long useless and defunct if mankind is to develop we must go from the public realm and into the private ­ from the liberation of the mass to the liberation of the self mark twain said don t let your schooling get in the way of your education so true but if you think about his words you also can gather the notion that we shouldn t throw away schooling he doesn t say school is bad nor i think believed it school has its place and necessity i wouldn t have given my best years to a classroom if i hadn t believed so but we should take the teacher out of the school and make school a place of learning not teaching or being taught teachers should become mentors motivators encouragers friends councillors anything but what they are at present students should get help not be told what nor how to learn they can figure it out evolution tells us so in the weeks to follow i hope to elaborate on these few late night thoughts i ve laid out lots about superman and the snake oil salesmen in the education business lots more about self-learning and the possibilities of technology as a liberating force stay tuned i also highly recommend andrew finch s teachers who needs them it s a good read from a good man to end a couple quotes on the tip of my brain learning is not a spectator sport why do we make it so with our schools a teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary ­ thomas carruthers 14


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the future of learning i have written and pounded the pulpit long and hard on the issue of teachers getting out of the way ranted and pleaded with teachers to be more inductive in their approach more sandbox about the learning environment no greater compliment to my own constructivist and technology enabled vision can i find than sugata mitra he s a wonder and i ve been writing about him for the last 3-4 years i try to spring him into any of my lectures on as many occasions as is possible he really makes it clear usually through the voices of children ­ that they can learn on their own that indeed one of the biggest obstacles to student learning is the teacher and by default the administration and curriculum i ve now found the perfect presentation by sugata ­ the future of learning it outlines in lively form all his research and thoughts you got to take a look yes his other talks are wonderful but here he lays it all out succinctly and of course with his trademark giggle a gem things i found particularly important even revelatory 1 the discussion at the 1 hour mark is the major highlight sugata rightly suggests that we should un focus from content ­ the content can be found easily we need to ask the right questions and turn into question based curriculum experts also a great part about designing the right classroom 2 students can obtain educational objectives on their own sounds impossible well watch/think/listen 3 students can create the curriculum this is especially important to note for language teachers we shouldn t straight jacket how students process information and interact with information we must remove the doctrine the brainwashing of our curriculum ­ make it active the answers are available and the students know how to get to them teachers have the job of making the information relevant that s all and turning the curriculum upside down 4 technology provides tools that enable students to become self directed learners life long learners 5 learning is self organizing social and even organic it is for teachers to assist this process and allow its creation through arranging the proper learning environment there 15



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