Monday, November 29, 2010

If I could do it all over again ...

by David Lloyd

Now there is a loaded title. So many things to consider. But let's narrow it down. To our decision of  becoming a teacher.

"Why DID I do it?"

How many times have you asked yourself that question? Can you really remember the answer? Was it a labour of love? A matter of convenience? Did you always want to be a teacher, or like me, thought that this was the last thing you'd choose to do, and then one day, it just felt right.

I guess, looking back, it was much better than continuing to milk cows on a kibbutz. Although it was much easier to manage a few hundred cows through the milking barn, than manage a classroom of 20 to 40 unruly students. Beating them with a plastic rod to spur them on was clearly frowned upon by the principal. I imagine it still is.

Maybe the burning question shouldn't be "Why did I choose to become a teacher?" but "Why did I stay in teaching, when I finally knew what it was all about?"

Five years ago, we put up a poll - "If I had a chance to do it all over again..."
51% chose - "I would choose a different profession."
while the other 49% stated, that despite everything, they would still choose to be a teacher.
Should this surprise us? And if so, why? Because so many teachers would choose this profession all over again, or because more than half would never choose it again?

It would be interesting to post  this poll again, here on the ETNI Blog. Has anything really changed in the last five years. Any bets?

I receive many emails from people who want to come to Israel to teach, or people already in Israel who have decided to make a career change to teaching. I don't know how to best answer them. Warn them of the dangers? Encourage them on? I used to send them on to the ETNI list, but I found that teachers were scaring them off. "Are you crazy! Do you know what we are paid? And don't expect anyone to respect you, not to mention the violence!" So I now usually first point them to the "Teaching in Israel" WORD file that the English Ministry has put out and suggest they contact the Chief Inspector in order to receive any further official information. And then, at the very end, slip in the suggestion of their writing also to the ETNI list.

The thing is - English teaching has become a huge commodity throughout the world. Kids, just recently out of their teens, with little, or no English teaching background, and not even a work visa, are teaching in places like South Korea, where there is a dire need for English teachers. The ETNI Advertisement Board is bombarded daily by schools in China and Taiwan that are looking for native English speaking teachers. I have blocked such postings, because their appetite for repeated postings is insatiable, and Etniers have complained. Although, I must say, the idea of going to China or Taiwan to teach is tempting at times ...

So, what DO you get out of teaching? Are there days when you feel that this is your true calling? That you have made a significant difference in your students' lives? And then other days when you ask yourself - "What was I thinking?"

Should I come back and ask you this same question, tomorrow?

If we could do it all over again ...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is Grassroots a dirty word?

by David Lloyd

Teachers have been greatly empowered over the last twenty years. This first started with a group of mavericks who stumbled across a new tool, something called the "Internet". I say "stumbled across" because -  up until the end of the 20th Century - no one in the Ministry of Education seemed to realize that the Internet existed. In the now infamous "Tomorrow 98 (Mahar 98)" campaign set up by the Israeli Ministry of Education to - among other things - computerize Israeli schools, there was only a half page mention of the Internet, in what was otherwise a very long and detailed document.

Actually, it wasn't so much that the Ministry of Education didn't know that the Internet existed, but rather it felt that this was a bad dream which would hopefully fade away. Why did they wish it away instead of seeking to harness its clear educational promise? Because it threatened the whole infrastructure on which the Ministry of Education is built - "top-down management" - in which a few at the top decide on policies that will dictate to all those below.

The rapid spread of Internet use didn't just threaten the authoritative control Ministry of Education, but also that of all types of organizations which, until then, had a monopoly over the distribution of information in their field. As Sir Francis Bacon once said - "Knowledge is power" - and the people in positions of authority had learned how to hoard knowledge in order to achieve and maintain power.

When I first presented the idea of a virtual English teachers' network to the CALL ("Computer Assisted Lanaguage Learning") Ministry committee in 1995, one member of the committee responded to my idea of having teachers share lesson plans and teaching ideas over the Internet by saying - "Teachers shouldn't do this. This should be left to us professionals."

Well, there was a reality check. Here I had thought that teachers were professionals. What constitutes a professional, then? Here we are, after going through teacher training, some of us have worked in the field for over twenty years ... when can we be considered professionals? Or is this something a teacher can never achieve in the eyes of the Ministry?

I was very fortunate at the time. Although the members of the committee didn't believe that a virtual English teachers' network could ever happen, for most teachers at the time didn't even have a computer at home and teachers ... well ... teachers weren't used to doing things for themselves other than following the suggestions laid down in teacher guides and ministerial commands ... I knew differently. I realized that there was already a rich infrastructure in place through which English teachers traded information about their teaching styles, lesson plans, and new ideas. This infrastructure was called ETAI (English Teachers Association in Israel) which, at the time, ran one or two conferences during the year where English teachers presented their ideas to other English teachers. A real "grassroots" organization. I remember hearing teachers say at the end of such conferences - "I wish we could have this sort of thing every day, and not just once or twice a year." And I thought to myself, "Why not?" At the time I had introduced the first Freenet into the Ramat Negev region and had set up the first website in Hebrew for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing aimed at serving as a framework for mutual assistance. Why couldn't I introduce this experience of a virtual community to English teaching as well, especially since teaching was my main calling.

And so ETNI came into being. And I truly believe that virtual grassroots movements, such as ETNI, have led to a greater democratization of the process. And although the Ministry still kicks and groans, it has been forced to recognize this new world and try to adapt itself to the new reality. Official information is no longer found at the end of dusty corridors, but can now be accessed at the click of a mouse. No longer are we totally dependent on information and ideas that are officially dished out - we have access to other sources. And there are many examples where teachers have had a say in new policies (such as the creation of the New Curriculum, where the Ministry asked for teacher input through the virtual airwaves) and where teachers have managed to successfully challenge Ministry policies which didn't take the teacher's input into account (such as the new Literature program and the decision to abolish the Immigrant teacher program).

So, although there are people who still cringe and shudder when they hear the term "grassroots", all in all, I think this term has served us well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Teaching English - are you alone?

by David Lloyd

We have all been there. We enter the classroom, close the door, and are all alone. Alone with 30 to 40 students regarding us with a mixture of suspicion and apathy. "Entertain us!" their cry silently rings out. And then their eyes fade away into grey and we have lost them for the next hour.

There are days when this is the greatest profession on earth. Where we feel that we have singly made a significant difference in their lives, and have done much more than simply teach English learning strategies. And then there are days when we wonder why we ever believed we could be a teacher.

We finish the day and go home, left with many questions unanswered. The teacher's life is often a very lonely one. We wonder at times if we are the only ones experiencing such self doubts and facing the daily challenge of enriching our teaching experience.

One of the reasons for creating this virtual network for English teachers is to help us through this. Our belief is that every teacher, no matter what his or her experience, has something to offer - something unique to say. Through listening to each other and working together, we will not only not feel alone, but will turn our teaching into a much more meaningful experience, both for our students and for ourselves.

We hope that you will take an active part in the deliberations.