Inviting 2019 in!

As the days of 2018 run to a close, you can hear some people saying that it’s just another date. It means nothing. My mother used to say that too. As a housewife her whole life she’d say yesterday, today, tomorrow have their same lot of cleaning, washing and cooking.

The Chinese have a different new year date. The Jews too. Islam also follows a different calendar. Googling it up, even the Native indigenous people in South America follow a calendar year which starts on June 21 – the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Ok. I didn’t find anything about Brazilian indigenous tribes but I’m pretty sure if they have a New Year Date it won’t be January 01.

Richard Vaughan, an American teacher in Spain, loves to say that the year would make much better sense if it really started somewhere in September.

In Brazil the year ending in December coincides with the ending of the school year and the beginning of summer so gives a good closure to the cycle of life (at least academically speaking).

Other people decide to fight all resolutions – they’re pointless. So their resolution is to make no resolutions.

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I’ll go against the flow and encourage you to make small, feasible resolutions. There is a psychological factor in taking out the old calendar and putting up a new calendar. Get rid of the old, and put on the new.

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Get rid of the old, put on the new

We all had small victories in 2018. Maybe small and big losses, but it is all in the past now. No, no, they won’t fade away as a dream, but they will hurt less in 2019… allow yourself to heal, give yourself time to lick your wounds, to dust off your pride … decide that you will be a better teacher, a better spouse, a better human being… . Yes, I know it won’t happen as magic but you have made up the decision which shows you are willing to grow.

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So, child, go forth, slip, trip over, fall, roll back, love and allow yourself to be loved… but keep moving forward.

Happy 2019.

Cheers,

Mo

Surviving a meeting in a foreign language

Last week I brought a student to tears. Well, actually, I just happened to be in the same room, and you know what women are like. Wait, wait, y’all supporters of the #MeToo movement (moi aussi/ me too) … women are more emotionally intelligent than men and they know that tears clear the soul. But my point is: My student was so nervous about attending a meeting in English the following week that her vulnerability spilled over in her tears.

One thing she must remember is that a charming and intelligent woman can go monosyllabic during a meeting in English.

Native speakers must remember they may not be seeing all of a person because they are afraid they look ridiculous when speaking English. “I’ve seen people lose a job because of this issue. It’s a real problem.”

So I told my intermediate student to make the effort to speak English clearly. That’s it.

PREPARATION

Secondly, she had to prepare. Practice in front of a mirror, look up words and their pronunciation that might come up during the meeting.

Thirdly, I told her to have a glass of wine 🍷, yes I did. Why? Because if that would help her loosen up and relax that would be a plus. Yoga and other relaxation techniques also help.

In other words, her main concern was not the content of the meeting, not even the language barrier, but the fact that SHE would have to speak in English.

People hate meetings that waste time. Use these tips to be a time saver, not a time stealer.
  1. Research the attendees. … 
  2. Determine clear objectives. … 
  3. Plan a suggested agenda. … 
  4. Consider any obstacles. … 
  5. Remove any roadblocks. … 
  6. Decide on desirable outcomes. … 
  7. Think about follow-up activities.
I’ll let you know later how the meeting did go.
Cheers,
Mo

Teaching multilevel classes

I usually teach students on a one-to-one basis but every Saturday morning I find myself volunteering  in a classroom with 60 to 80 people ranging in ages from 15 to 74 and coming from all walks of life. One common ground is that it’s an English language class to study the Bible and sing worship songs both traditional hymns and more contemporary ones. Talk about diversity. Some students know no English at all whilst others are quite fluent. Most are in between. So … how can I make this class work?

1. Usually I try to get higher level students to help lower levels, be it by providing translation, or modeling pronunciation, etc. Also we try  to divide the class in smaller groups and to have at least a high level student working in a group of 4 or 5.

2. I’ve mentioned above the common denominator and they really try to use their bible knowledge and weekly study to build on new learning steps.

3. Using visual resources  – pictures, realia, a short video, etc,which provide another common ground while higher level students will be able to help others to expand their vocabulary, for example.

4. Every week the students know they’re walking into a “free zone” where they will not be judged or criticized for their language skills or beliefs, thus creating a welcoming environment where they will gradually be willing to take risks and even “play the fool”.

Let me share with you the story of Diego. That tall and lanky young man one day walked into our class, settled in a corner and refused to say a word. The following week we managed to get him to mumble his name. But nothing else. He was shyness personified. We allowed him to come to class and quietly and shyly stick around. We started a little weekly challenge that whoever memorized that week’s key bible verse would get a little reward. Sometimes a cookie, other times a magazine, other times a CD, other times just a handshake,  etc. Then one day, after a few months of unresponsiveness,  to our astonishment, Diego stood up and said the memory text for the week. From then on he never stopped, and now he even prays in public or shares a little missionary story.

Yes, we’re all different but we can help one another grow at their own pace.

Cheers,

Mo

Connecting with students

img_6967We were in class last week and my student, Rodrigo, a very keen elementary level student started yawning. Aware that his action could be misinterpreted by his teacher – ME – he quickly interjected – “sorry teacher, I’m yawning not because the class is boring. Just because I’m relaxed. In the beginning of the curse (COURSE – I corrected his pronunciation, chuckles) I was very anxious every time I came to class”.

So after a few months, we had turned a corner in our relationship. I was no longer the big, bad teacher ready to correct his every mistake and to taunt him if he made repetitive mistakes. He realized I was there to help him. To facilitate his connection with the language.

How to connect with your students:

1. Acknowledge them

2. Establish boundaries

3. Develop a healthy but professional relationship with them

Nowadays when we think of connections we always think of going online, which is good in its proper time and place. But teachers must be willing to connect with their students on a more personal level. I’m not saying that you must be best friends with all your students or any of them for that matter. But you must be willing to lend an ear and be sensitive to their difficulties when learning a foreign language.

The challenge is to walk that fine line between being empathetic or apathetic and “going the whole 10 yards” – I’m saying 10 yards because I can’t emphasize enough how wrong it is to hear that a teacher has been making out with a student – (regardless of their age or gender). The same can happen with one’s doctor or therapist. Or with the supermarket checkout clerk, but does it make it right and professional?

I know some cases of teachers who have even married their former students (one at a time, mind you; wink, wink) but they developed their relationship (to the best of my knowledge) after they had terminated their teacher-student relationship. And that still is a grey area.

So by all my means, do connect with your students but always remember where you’re coming from and where you’re going. And never think you’re above all that and it would never happen to you. Keep yourself accountable and grow.

Cheers,

Mo

My red, white and blue (and black) summer vacation

Yeah, yeah, I know, Virginia. I live in the Southern Hemisphere therefore I should have had winter vacations this July, but considering my wife and I traveled to the US – let’s agree to keep it as a summer vacation.

I’ve succeeded in convincing my sweetheart that I need to recycle my English and inhale some American oxygen every year ( don’t forget I’m an Americanoid) , so we always make an effort and try to travel to America at least once a year.

This time we traveled to Orlando, Florida and Dallas, Texas. In Orlando we met up with our “stepfamily” – Liz and Ray, their 15-year-

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From Left to right: Jared, Honey, Mo, Ma Helen, Liz, and Ray

old son, Jared, and the matriarch, Helen. We spent two intense days and although I had some idea about visiting a theme park – namely Universal Studios – we actually ended up visiting only The Holy Land Experience, which was quite surprising.

 

 

 

IMG_3250At the entrance you just see a bunch of fake rocks and buildings but once inside the staff and the people attending generate a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. There are no “rides”, just some exhibition areas where you can see, for example, a life-size replica of the tabernacle in the desert, the Via Dolorosa (way cleaner and brighter than the real thing, I dare say), the Lord’s supper where you partake of the bread and the wine with Jesus himself (well, OK, every Jesus is an ordained minister – but it’s still a moving experience). You can visit a sort of wax museum where you can see scenes of Jesus’ life: birth, ministry, Garden of Gethsemane, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension).

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The Temple of Herod

The highest point was the series of dramatizations taking place at the auditorium of he Church of the Nations. Stories about the four women who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus; the crucifixion; a modern-day parable about Angels, the moments of praise and worship all designed to successfully move you to tears. And I must say they powerfully succeeded with us. The day ends with a musical show of the fountains. I had

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The Via Dolorosa – way brighter and cleaner than the real thing

thought the experience would take us 2-3 hours, but we spent the whole day there and were the last guests to leave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We flew to Dallas and despite the toasty, roasty temperatures we had a wonderful 4th of July weekend there. With a patriotic concert of Larnelle Harris, barbecue at sister-in-law’s home and a fantastic fireworks display at the Dallas Athletic Club. We returned to Brazil on the 5th of July and I was very saddened by the news of the sniper killing and wounding police officers in Dallas.

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Thinking allowed after the latest crises in America

In Orlando we had the opportunity to visit the memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub and every time the subject came up people would be extremely touched and saddened by that ignominious attack. But one thing that called my attention was that some people (let’s assume they were unaware of that) made some comments that bordered on racism such as:

“I don’t know why we bought a home in Apopka. There are too many black people in the area. At least, we bought it on the white side.” (Come again, ma?)

In Dallas, we stayed at the Comfort Suites in the northern part of the city because people had warned us the south side was too violent and dangerous (should I have heard “too many black people”?), but our hotel would lock its doors after 9 pm, because it’s not a very safe area. Hmmm… .

We went to the Larnelle Harris concert at the First Baptist church in Lewisville – and considering that Larnelle is a wonderful African-American gospel singer – his was the only dark face we could see in the whole church – sadly still confirming the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement who once said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” And apparently little has changed.

It still boggles my mind that the organization of my dear Seventh-Day Adventist Church – still maintains separate conferences for whites and African-Americans.

On a brighter note, we had the privilege to meet our nephew’s husband for the first time. And YES, he is gay and black. Does it mean that he will have to die twice?

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from left to right: me, my wife, our nephew Alex and his husband, Aaron

From what I understand he didn’t choose to be gay or black but I can choose to accept them and love them despite the differences. I cannot control the hatred and prejudice that permeate our world but I can choose how to deal with people’s differences.

That’s it.

Cheers,

Mo

They can’t take that away from me – Proud to be a Teacher

In Most of the Western World – including developed and developing countries – the career of a teacher is considered worthy of respect, at least theoretically; because in practical terms, teachers are underpaid and overworked most of the time. If you work in the public or private school systems you are always the weakest link between the students and parents and the administrators.

If you are self-employed you must always be running after new clients and professional development. If you teach in companies then you must be subject to their rules and regulations and to the ebb and flow of the mood of human resources.

Mostly, I have been well treated at the companies where I have  taught, but now an International Bank  (let us call it ABC Bank for illustration purposes) with a new HR management at a new headquarters has declared war on all teachers providing services in their offices. Yes, you are just another service provider delivering the next lunch or package. Yes, the company is doing their employees “a favor” allowing them to have classes on the premises. Of course, you are not supposed to be circulating in the building among the different departments, so you should go just to the floor assigned to you and after meeting with your student to have access to a room. But that’s all understandable. What I can’t understand is the requirement that teachers shouldn’t use the toilet. And if absolutely necessary only when accompanied by the student, since the restrooms are locked away in areas to be accessed only by staff. Now… as a teacher to lack the permission to use the toilet when necessary feels like the last drop.

But…

… here’s my “5 cents worth” of advice:

  1. Dress properly – adjust your clothes to the work environment you’ll be teaching in (err in overdressing not underdressing).teacher 1
  2. Be punctual
  3. Set the limits – your students are not your best friends or family – be professional and empathetic.
  4. Prepare your lessons – you can’t go far with just “free conversation” lessons.
  5. Keep improving yourself both as a person and as a professional teacher.

There! No matter what be proud of your chosen career. I ain’t no Whitney Houston but I’ll sing it with her: “they can’t take away my DIGNITY. Because the greatest love of all…”  yeah, yeah, you got my gist.

So keep your head up high and shine on.

Cheers,

Mo

 

 

First word of 2016: Empathy

This time of the year comes loaded with written or spoken lists of resolutions, best quotes, funniest videos, etc. The dictionary publishers love posting word of the year, decade, or century.

Well, for 2016, I’d like to post my first word of the year, which also consists of my resolution: EMPATHY – to learn to be more empathetic along the year.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary presents the following definition:

Simple Definition of empathy

  • : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

I remember the first time I heard the adjective for this word in Portuguese: empático. I must have been 8 or 9 visiting my aunt in Sorocaba and a friend of hers had popped in for an afternoon cup of tea. I don’t recall the context but we were all sitting in the living room, I was listening to the grown-ups talking and I must have said something during the conversation that the lady said to me: “você é muito empático, menino” (you’re very empathetic, boy). I had never heard that word before and unsure of its meaning I just mumbled a “thank you”. I knew the words “sympathetic”, “apathetic” and “pathetic”. Later I asked my parents the meaning of “empathetic” and hearing their explanation I could see myself as being called “pathetic” or even “sympathetic”. But empathy didn’t seem to be something to aim for.empathy 2

Later I came to realize the importance of understanding (at least trying to understand) the reasons why people behaved the way they did and also to try to understand the difficulties that my students had in learning something that seemed as clear as day to me.

 

A few years ago I started learning French in an attempt to understand and remember how my students feel when learning English. And I found out that when learning a language motivation and commitment are key. You can’t expect to learn another language by studying 30 minutes once a week (in the best of times).

As a teacher I must cultivate empathy towards my students thus getting less frustrated and trying to find new ways of teaching by motivating and sharing with them different learning strategies. But the law of cause and effect will still be valid: Little time practicing, little learning. More time practicing, more learning.

So this year I’ll try to wear comfortable shoes but not forget what it means to go barefoot.empathy

Cheers,

Happy New Year

 

Mo