These days many ELT professionals and initiatives are trying to fight the NS-NNS discrimination, EVE included, but it seems we still have a long way to go. Why am I saying this? I was recently told I should change my name, anglicize it if I wanted to be published since I was a non-native speaker […]
As President of our national English Language Teachers’ Association of Macedonia-ELTAM, I was given a task to write a welcome letter for the conference brochure. It’s not an easy thing to do because you have limited space and number of words, and you have to think about who your readers are (200 something English language teachers from different countries, not an easy crowd to please). Of course, I couldn’t get out of it so…
Dear conference participants,
we bid you a warm welcome to the 10th ELTAM International Conference – Educate and Empower. This year we are celebrating not only our 10th jubilee conference but also our 20 years of work in the field of ELT in the Republic of Macedonia. ELTAM has had two decades of challenges, struggles, friendship, and laughter. I believe I can say with utmost confidence that ELTAM has empowered a great number of teachers, professionally and personally. That is why we have chosen Educate and Empower as the theme of our conference.
Empowerment has recently become the key concept in promoting social engagement across the globe. Movements and initiatives such as #MeToo, #ELTtoo, EVE= Equal Voices in ELT, Women in ELT, calls for more inclusive education for children with special educational needs and members of LGBTQ community – all these have empowerment at their core.
As educators we are responsible for providing our students with the skills and knowledge not only of the subject matter but also the skills and knowledge for life in a world of constant change. However, we cannot empower our students if we are not empowered ourselves as teachers. Frances Bolin (2002) defined teacher empowerment as “investing teachers with the right to participate in the determination of school goals and policies and to exercise professional judgment about what and how to teach”. Understanding what teacher empowerment is IS crucial. It will help you, us take that first tentative step towards true empowerment.
Therefore, educate and empower yourselves and your students.
Final thoughts for 2017, i.e. some things I have learnt after teaching for 20 years.
- Teaching is not a job. It’s a volunteering position. Teachers give up their free time and social life to make a change because we are hopeless optimists.
- Teaching is both amazing and terrifying. Don’t let the terrifying part take over.
- Teachers have an extended family of 50-100 kids per year. It’s an everlasting love-hate relationship.
- Teachers can make a person but also ruin one. Tread carefully!
- Threats and fear have no place in the classroom.
- Teachers are parents, best friends, worst enemies, a shoulder to cry on.
- Teachers are fighters.
- Teachers are life-long learners.
- Teachers are not just teachers of content but also teachers of humanity. We teach kindness, mutual respect, self-confidence, integrity, humility.
- Students don’t remember what you are but who you are. Be the best you can be!
- Teachers are allowed to have bad days, just be honest about them. Kids respond better to truth than lies.
- Teachers change the world one student at a time. Be patient!
“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”
Raising awareness of mental health problems is an important personal issue. I believe that we do not do enough to identify and help those around us who have mental health problems. We as teachers can and should do much more to raise awareness among our students about the importance of their own mental health and that of others.
However, mental health problems are a taboo topic in my professional and personal context. Depression, anorexia, OCD, PTSD – still considered to bring shame and embarrassment tо the person and the family.
Are you OK? lesson was created some time ago and it was my first attempt at tackling this issue with my students (this is also the first time I am posting a lesson online).
“Depression slowly crawls in invisible to human eye.
It devours you, all of you – your body, your soul, your mind.
You kick and scream in your mind but the kicks and screams are muffled by the overwhelming strength of your dark friend.
It becomes your friend. It becomes you. You become it.”
Level: B1 upwards
Skills: reading, listening, speaking
Aim: raise awareness of mental health problems and encourage discussion of depression
Language: vocabulary connected to mental health problems
The lesson starts with students discussing the term mental health and work on the definition that best defines the term.
Then they work on matching different disorders with their definitions to be able to understand what they are.
The students read a text about depression and identify the symptoms. They read/watch the poem by Sabrina Benaim to find descriptions of symptoms of depression.
In pairs they discuss questions connected to the poem and the text.
Motivating students is one of the key factors for a successful learning process. Motivating them can sometimes mean stepping out of your comfort zone as a teacher and doing something new and unusual together with them.
Last week we started with our monthly theme week and the first theme was Pyjamas and Dreams. The students came to school in their pyjamas and guess what… I was wearing pyjamas,too. If you ask your students to do something silly, funny, out of the ordinary, be prepared to do it as well. That way the students can relate to you more and you create a bond of trust. Of course, it is not a common thing for me to wear pyjamas and high heels but my students loved my “style”.
However, the purpose of the week was not just to put on our pyjamas and look silly, but it was an opportunity to talk about our dreams – what we dream about and what we dream of. Some groups had a task to draw their actual dreams and describe them to the rest of the class. Other groups wrote acrostic poems using the theme of the week and higher level groups wrote stories.
It is interesting to find out what your students dream about and of. One of my students dreams of becoming a make-up artist and I would never have guessed that about her. Another one (8 years old) wants to be a vet and have a pet shop. Her older sister also wants to be a vet AND a FISA approved rower. Z wants to be an FBI agent. I discovered that M is really good at writing poetry and stories.
I learnt new things about my students and now I can use my newly acquired knowledge to have a more personalized approach to teaching them.
(some of their work)
Every night in P yjamas
Y ou are having dreams
Come and J oin me
You dream A bout
M any things
S ome of your
may become R eal
E very dream
A ny time
M ay become true
If you S o believe then they can
A red spot on the wall
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon when I heard my mom yelling from downstairs.
“Merona!Theora! I hope you’ve cleaned your room because I’m coming up in 5 minutes!”
I looked at Theora in horror and said: “Quick, get the vacuum cleaner and I’ll pick up the clothes!”
As I was getting the vacuum cleaner out of the closet, I saw a big red spot on the wall.
“Merona, get a wash cloth and help me clean up this mess!”
As we tried to get rid of the spot on the wall, we realized that its texture was made of jello and that it was just getting bigger and bigger. It started falling apart and a hole was forming in the wall.
We couldn’t see past it so we decided to throw the closest thing next to us – my notebook. It disappeared inside the hole.
“Merona, are we going in next?”
“Okay, let’s do it!”
I took her hand and we jumped in.
Everything was pink! My whole body felt weird and I felt like I was floating. I looked to my right and saw Theora. I wanted to speak to her but I realized I wasn’t able to say anything. I took my phone out of my pocket, opened my front camera and saw that my mouth was stitched together. We both wanted to scream but we couldn’t.
I texted Merona asking her what we should do. Looking up from my phone, I saw that she wasn’t there. I started crying and heard a voice telling me to wake up. As I opened my eyes, I heard Merona say: “I know this might seem weird but there is a really big red spot on the wall and you need to help me clean it up before mom finds out!”
As I saw the same red spot I realized that we were stuck in this nightmare forever!
In her book The Architect’s Apprentice,Elif Shafak makes a reference to Vitruvius’ three qualities of architecture: utilita – purpose,forza − strength and bellezza − beauty. It made me think that the same qualities can be applied to materials writing.
Purpose is the starting point in materials writing. If materials writers have a clear sense of what they want to achieve with the materials, then the whole process of writing becomes more dynamic.
Strength is reflected in the structure of the materials. When materials have a clear structure, both teachers and students are able to maintain focus.
Beauty is seen in the visual design of the materials as well as their creativity and appeal for teachers and students. In the age of visual communication we need to achieve the same effect that Pinterest, Instagram and other highly visual social media platforms have on our students.
Next time you think of your materials, think of them as buildings that hold linguistic works of art;imagine the excitement of a teacher somewhere in the world opening the doors of your buildings and admiring the purpose, strength and beauty of your design.
Materials writers are architects of the learning landscape.
‘Tell me, which of these three would you sacrifice if you had to sacrifice one?’
‘Belleza’ Jahan replied assuredly. ‘We can’t compromise on strength or purpose. We could do without beauty, if need be.’
Sinan’s face said otherwise. ‘We can’t give up beauty.’
‘Then which one should we sacrifice?’
‘None,’ Sinan said with a tender smile. ‘If you give up one, you will end up losing all three.’
Shafak, E. (2015). The Architect’s Apprentice. Penguin Random House, p.299
I have been an avid reader since I was 3 years old. My first childhood memories of reading were of my parents with a book or a newspaper in their hands every single day. My love for books and reading has greatly influenced my view of the world and the people around me. According to Wolf ( in Grabe, 2009:4) ‘We were never born to read. Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago. And with this invention, we rearranged the very organization of our brain, which in turn expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species.’
Reading is a skill that opens doors to immense knowledge and our students need to acquire it in order to shape their personalities, form opinions and attitudes, and have an open mind to all the new things they will come across in their lives. This is especially true of the new generations who now have access to millions and millions of new information through the use of new technology and ‘electronic communication only increases the need for effective reading skills and strategies as we try to cope with large quantities of information made available to us’ (Grabe, 2009: 5).
However, traditionally, reading in ELT is seen as ‘comprehension in the form of the presentation of text followed by post-reading questions on the text’ (Wallace in Tomlinson, 2003:341). I would like to see teachers offering their students a completely different approach to reading and try to exploit the strategy of visualisation, ‘the converting of words on the page into pictures in the mind.’ (Tomlinson, 1998:265).
Although this particular reading strategy has great benefits for language learners, it seems to be the least exploited one since, according to Tomlinson(1998), analysis of books published in the 1990s showed no attempt in the books themselves to help learners develop the strategy of visualisation. I examined the course books that I currently use at my school and I could not find any of the exercises suggested by Tomlinson (1998) that could be described as a visualisation strategy type of activity ( listening and imagining, drawing , illustrating, miming, etc.).
I see visualisation as an enormous pool of creative activities that allow students to express their opinions, attitudes and feelings towards a certain text using different, more creative tools and move away from the old-fashioned question-and-answer or true-false type of activities.