142. How not to screw up on social media?

Originally published on NELTA ELT Forum, March Issue.

teacher-on-social-media

Some people just love making clowns out of themselves. When I saw this photo on my Facebook wall, I laughed so hard that I had a rupture in my windpipe. This ‘teacher’ was asking to be ridiculed on social media and he got properly ridiculed. I instantly shared it in my circle and every one of us almost died laughing. But a few minutes later, when the sense of amusement fizzled out, I got angry – angry like a hungry skinny dog chasing an annoying cat. Because, not only was this ‘teacher’ demonstrating his stupidity, he was also destroying the tiny ounce of dignity teachers have about this ‘honorable’ profession.

Teaching is a revered profession, but you see, teachers usually get a bad rap all the time. The little bit of reputation we have plunges down to an abyss every year after the SLC result comes out. Parents blame the education system, they blame the schools and, they blame the teachers for the terrible pass-rate of SLC appearing students. School this, school that, teachers this, teachers that. Society condemns us. Parents hate us. Journalists harass us. And many a times, we end up regretting our decision to be teachers – thukka bekkaar ma teacher bhayechhu.

And, this particular teacher who ‘teaches at kathmandu baneshwor’ isn’t helping a lot. Amidst the hostility towards teachers in general, our ‘teacher who is seeking a gf’ is just making the matter even worse for teachers living under intense public scrutiny.

What if he had said ‘m a teacher..teaches English at kathmandu baneshwor’!

May be he has realized the damage he inflicted upon every teacher. Or may be – let me hope beyond hope – that it was just a prank on the social media. But we can extract great lessons for teachers (and for anyone in a responsible profession) on how not to screw up one’s reputation in public.

So, here are five ways a teacher, especially an English language teacher, can avoid screwing up on social media (and save EL teachers from public persecution).

1. By being social:

The world of social media is more real than the real world now. This is an irony and yet this has become a part of our lives. Social media is where people ‘interact’ now, and this interaction is unlike an interaction on television or radio or newspaper. It is two-way (or rather, multiple-way), dynamic, and it is instantaneous.

Teachers may forget this fact and may treat social media as a platform only to announce, inform and promote their glorious feats. I did this. I did that. They forget to interact. They don’t talk with each other. They just want to be self-indulgent obnoxious announcers.

Let’s be social and start getting engaged in meaningful interactions.

2. By interacting with students:

Some of my teaching colleagues have a strict rule: Don’t accept friend-request from your students. But I see no harm in having students in your social media circle. Classroom interaction is essential, however, social media engagement can be productive in a different way. Students love it when teachers break formality and talk with them even outside the classroom.

Besides, social media can be used to teach language in engaging and creative ways. You can create classroom blogs, you can start micro-story competition on twitter, and you can start photo-caption writing assignments on Facebook.

Let’s interact with students in the classroom and beyond the classroom.

3. By being an active member:

If you have joined groups (in Facebook or in Twitter) and if you have remained a passive member in such groups, you are just occupying precious digital space. If you want to be a silent onlooker on social media, there’s no point of being on it.

Therefore, join groups because groups are even better platform to interact with teachers particular to our subject. Facebook has official groups for IATEFL, TESOL and NELTA. Join them and start interacting with teachers, trainers, writers, publishers, and people in the community.

Subscribe to the star people of the profession. Follow David Crystal, Ken Robinson, Scott Thornbury, Carol Reed, and Sugata Mishra. However, out of your excitement, don’t start spamming or sending random messages to people. No one likes annoying stalkers.

Let’s also build a network with local teachers and try to meet them in person.

4. By being mindful about grammar and spelling:

I don’t want to sound like a pedant who chases you down with a prescriptive sword every time you butcher grammar rules. However as EL teachers, we would be committing a grave mockery in public when we write sloppy posts riddled with silly errors. I have seen English language teachers post status and comments in a camel case, like this: i aM aN eNglish lAnguage tEacher. This is childish. (My pet peeve is when an EL teacher writes in a SMS style. I jus h8 txt msg.)

I believe an EL teacher, even when posting in informal contexts, should honor the accepted grammatical conventions – not to prove that he/she is perfect in grammar – but to avoid miscommunication. Also, to follow: practice what you preach. If we want our students to follow convention, we should lead the way.

Let’s thus start editing before hitting the ‘Post’ button.

5. By logging out:

At the end, we can’t simply forget that we live in a real social world where meeting people in person is an enriching experience. I love hanging out with fellow teachers, drinking coffee (sometimes beer), and talking about favorite sports. These ‘informal talks’ provide amazing opportunity to connect with each other and create a safe trustful relationship.

Meet teachers in clubs, libraries and workshops. Share stories. Teaching is a challenging profession. However, we can refresh our mind, brain and soul with passion and hope when we share stories of success and failure among each other.

NELTA recently organized its annual international conference. Conferences like these are opportunities to present, talk, learn – and most importantly, to build a network with teachers from home and abroad. Attend the sessions and send the presenter an email, telling him/her about the take aways of the sessions. Start a meaningful conversation, and build a strong relationship that leads to collaborations.

In conclusion:

Social media, especially Facebook, is a part of our reality now. People expect teachers to be responsible – online and offline. If you are on them, use them to enhance your personal and professional influence. Initiate conversation. Initiate dialog with people and community in the profession. But don’t misuse the norms of social media and ruin your personal and professional reputation. And lastly, don’t make a clown of yourself in public and make it difficult for other teachers to defend the profession.

141. Be courageous: make teaching personal

Originally published on King’s College Blog.

“Don’t get emotionally attached with students.” A friend suggested me. He had been teaching for some years. “Don’t smile,” he warned, “Or they will never take you seriously.”

I was jumping into the teaching profession without prior training. And I was seeking proper guidance.

Another friend of mine chipped in. “We have to maintain the teacher-student hierarchy.” Why? “Because that’s the way it’s been. A guru must always reside above a chela. A teacher’s job is to instruct, and a student’s responsibility is to follow.”

Their suggestion seemed to make sense. After all, a teacher is the ‘owner’ of knowledge and students are the ‘receivers’. A teacher is the supreme one who pours knowledge into the empty heads.

They also told me to maintain a distance from the students. “They will start dancing on your head and you will not be able to control them. Don’t let them near you because they will manipulate you and your decisions.”

As I was listening to them, I thought about my own teachers. Most of them were strict, imposing and unapproachable; they rarely treated us like friends. I could recall only a few faces of those who had smiled at me, hugged me, and asked me about my life. Unfortunately, the faces of those who had canned me, thrashed me, and bullied me also flickered, like a scene from a Hitchcock movie, in front of my eyes.

I come from a school system where beating the hell out of students was glorified. Teachers, principals and even parents – believed that students must be beaten to straighten them out. A lot of my teachers therefore would (happily) crush our fingers with wooden dusters. The pain. The embarrassment. The hopelessness.

I rarely had any emotional bonding with my schoolteachers. And now, my friends were also suggesting me to be like those schoolteachers. They wanted my teaching to be cold, cruel and detached.

But that’s not teaching, is it? Would you – as a student – want a teacher like that?

So, I threw away the ‘teacher’s guide’ my friends prescribed for me. I would rather not be a teacher at all than be the ghosts of my former teachers. If I’m spending 90 minutes inside the class, I don’t want to act cold, cruel and detached. Instead, I want to spend the time making my teaching personal, winning the students’ trust, and motivating them to do what they are supposed to do: enjoy, learn, think, discuss, and question.

Some teachers might want to play safe: follow the rules, implement the lesson plan, and conform to the protocol. Go to the class, teach, and come out. No headaches. But, is that teaching? Is that teaching enough?

Someone has said: all humans are created equally, but some are more courageous. And those courageous one choose to be teachers.

Therefore, I invite all teachers to be courageous and make our teaching personal. Let’s not make our teaching a monologue, but a dialog where students and teachers engage in conversations, reflections and assimilations; where students and teachers end up learning from each other; and where teaching is meaningful. Memorable.

139. Being my own critic

workshop

Once I attended a workshop. Just because I didn’t want to get bored staying home. The workshop was horrible. I couldn’t get anything out of it. I should have instead slept in my bed the whole day. But I did learn after all. I learnt how not to conduct a workshop. That was a big lesson. In the hindsight, I could have snored my day away, but I ended up learning even more.

I have attended many teacher-training workshops and terribly wished I had been somewhere else. I have hated the trainers for being cocky, smartass and condescending. But I have also learnt from them on how not to behave with the participants. Every workshop, good or bad, is full of lessons.

The big question – what about what I do in my own workshops. Hurling nasty comments at others is easy while I pretend to be a Mr-Know-All trainer.

137. Published: 5 BAD HABITS OF WRITING YOU MUST DITCH

(Published on the Republica daily on December 23, 2015.)

five bad habbits

“How many of you think that you are a good writer?” Every time I ask this to my students, I see only a few of them raising hands. I feel disappointed because even the ones who do write well think that they don’t write well enough.

I teach academic writing to grad and undergrad students. And I see a lot of them struggle with writing. A few have a knack of writing well, however, most can’t compose a simple essay. Besides, they take writing as a burden, and even annoyance. As a result, they invest little time in developing this skill.

In general, many think writing is difficult (which is partly true). And I can empathize with them because many a times we all struggle to write. However, just like creating great music or taking amazing photographs, writing is about developing a habit, staying focused and remaining committed.

So here’s my attempt to make wrongs ‘write’. Similar to “writers are born, not made” delusion, these five malpractices might be holding you back.

  1. Starting without an outline

Classic mistake. Many students jump into writing without a plan and come up with “chheu na puchhar ko” essays peppered with disjointed ideas, irrelevant examples and illogical ending. Starting without an outline is like giving the reigns to the keyboard; you won’t know where you’ll end up.

Some may say that outline restricts creativity and natural flow. It’s true. However, for writers who don’t write enough, outline is their best friend as it prevents the text from being loose, out of place and full of holes. An outline can be just a rough plan and it can give your text cohesion and consistency.

Cure: Write a basic outline to support your point. Also, start from the end and build your outline. Follow the plan as you write your first draft. Improvise but don’t drift too far off the plan.

  1. Trying to get perfection immediately

Unless you are Mr. Perfect of writing, your first draft will never be ‘awesome’. And, that’s okay. First drafts are meant to be ugly unorganized heaps of ideas. They are also meant to remind us that perfection doesn’t drop from the sky.

A few gifted people can articulate their ideas in a single attempt. But they are as rare as Devkota. Most of us have to slug – word by word and sentence by sentence – to weave a presentable text. It does get frustrating and quitting looks like a rational choice.

Cure: Only when you give the first draft a rest should you start adding, editing and polishing your text. Remember: every writing is a re-writing. A ‘perfect’ book you read must have gone through a countless re-writing. 

  1. Making an excuse of writer’s block

When writers get stuck in the emptiness and can’t put words on paper, they let themselves sink into a pool of excuses, like Writer’s block. But this is just a myth. You don’t need a mojo to start writing. Neither do you have to meditate in seclusion and wait for a lightening. You need a habit. Or unless you have a decision fatigue or cognitive overload or a real mental condition, writer’s block is just plain procrastination.

You may struggle to find the right word; you may have a solid outline but can’t get started; you may get distracted every 10 seconds – but that’s not a block. You may only be trying to avoid the sweat to get your writing done.

Cure: Don’t beat yourself up for getting stuck. It’s normal when you don’t have a writing habit. One remedy is to take a short break. Go out. Or, read a story. Or, watch Jimmy Carr. Give yourself a deadline. Start writing and finish the text.

  1. Shying away from feedback

We are reluctant to show our text for a review because, as we’ve learnt from experience, people laugh at our mistakes and spelling errors. How can we forget our teachers spreading the red-ink-terror during school days! Yes, it’s scary to think that people will judge our work, and even worse, they will judge us.

But if you want to improve, drink up a can of courage and face the bull. Because, feedback – negative or positive – gives you a reader’s perspective. It can also help you break the spell of dreaded ‘curse of knowledge’. You might learn why readers can’t understand the concepts that seem so simple and basic for you. Feedback can therefore help you express abstract concepts in a clear and meaningful way.

Cure: Print your text and give it to your friends (or to your enemy). Email it to the people in your writing circle. Send it to your teacher seeking improvement. Post the text in your blog and ask for feedback from the readers. There’s nothing shameful in trying to improve.

  1. Seeking unnecessary length

I blame the ‘bibechanatmak uttar’ – long answers for 20 marks we had to write in school days. As a result, most of us grew up with this mindset: if you want to score high, you have to write long answers filling the entire answer sheet. We would repeat the same ideas three times, elaborate the examples in great lengths, and write in endless circles to confuse the examiner.

Your teacher may give you high score (without even reading) for your answer. Your reader may not. One simple reason: everyone’s busy. And even if the reader has free time, she will think twice before reading a lengthy text that sucks energy and causes ulcers. Start with short articles, short stories and short essays. Your reader will love you.

Cure: Follow the KISS formula: keep it short and simple. Unless your teacher demands a 3000 word paper, never write a bloated text. Don’t beat the dead horse; get to the point. Let your reader know where you’re headed, and throw them enough hooks so they go through your lines.

That’s it. Those are the five ‘bad’ habits that hinder your writing and possibly destroy your self-esteem. They have one mission: to pamper you and keep you distracted. Toss them away – you’ll improve your writing. You’ll want to write more often. And, you might just write a perfect text!