156. Preaching is easy. Helping is not.

Thou Shalt Not Preach

If writing is a reflection of our thoughts and attitude, then changing the writing style would probably change our mindset as well.

Take a look at the two sentences below:

a. A teacher should be polite with students.

b. When a teacher is polite with students, students respect the teacher and they love being in the class.

The first one clearly is a preaching. “You should do this… You should do that.” Annoying to read. Also, the writer looks like a whiner.

The second one is a suggestion with a potential positive outcome. It’s an attempt to help, genuinely.

Preaching is easy. Helping is not.

May be, when we start writing in the second style, we’ll be able to contribute rather than just preach.

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147. Making Presentations Matter

(Published on The Kathmandu Post national daily, July 25, 2016)

Making Presentations Matter

Let me assume that you have seen a lot of presentations, and that you have also delivered many of them. For a few minutes, imagine that you were an observer in these two situations.

Situation 1:

You are watching a student do a presentation of an assignment. He stands in front of the classroom, frozen with nervousness. He mumbles and stammers, takes many awkward pauses, and mostly reads from the slides. Occasionally, he looks at you and at the rest of the audience as if to scream that he wants to avoid the ordeal. You find no connection, and you feel you have wasted your time.

Situation 2:

You are in a seminar hall. A highly acclaimed professor is giving a presentation on her recent research findings. She talks about the title of her research (which is like 70 words long full of archaic words), objectives, questions, methodology, findings, interpretations, and so on. You wish to be somewhere else because she is lecturing you back to Research Methods class. Her presentation slogs like a monologue on a slow train towards boredom.

You probably have been in both situations. And you must have been eager to leave the room. On occasions, when you couldn’t, you must have felt the dullness of the presentations chocking your enthusiasm. Why do most of the presentations suck? In agony, you must have muttered.

Some of the regular responses would be: the presenter is not prepared, the slides are outrageous and stuffed, the content is boring, the presenter doesn’t have proper eye contact, the presenter speaks too fast or too slow, the presenter exceeds the time. These are all valid reasons.

But let me argue that most presentations suck not because of the presenter’s skills, nor his or her knowledge of the content, or the lack of eye contact, or bad body language. Most presentations suck because of the intent.

If you have wanted only to impress your audience, clients, customers, or teachers with your presentation skills, you know deep down inside that you have only half-succeeded. Because your intention primarily was just to make an impression. Not to create an impact, nor to make a difference. You wanted applauds. You wanted grades.

Your intent – the core reason – will either make or break your presentation.

So before you set out for a presentation, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do you intend just to deliver a stunning presentation or do you also intend to create an impact?
  2. Do you just want to showcase a bunch of shiny slides or do you also want to inspire action?
  3. Do you just care about your message or do you also care about the audience?

When you ask these questions, you will eventually see a clear picture. You will understand that you must put impact over impression. You will know that your job as a presenter is to be useful, be relentless, and be humble. That’s your core. And, you will find ways to structure your message, to design your slides, and to deliver your content – so that you just don’t talk, you also change minds, touch hearts, and transform lives.

Let your presentation skills amplify your intent – to disrupt patterns, break conventions, and inspire actions.

Now, please put yourself as a presenter in both situations I talked about earlier. You have sharpened your axes. You know your content. And you know your intent. You are determined to be useful, relentless, and humble. You care about your audience – their needs, their happiness, and their expectations.

Then, your presentation will matter. You will matter.

144. Overcoming the wall of hopelessness with passion and pride

(Originally published on The Himalayan Times – Perspective on May 8, 2016)

THT An Open Letter To Passionate Teachers

Dear passionate teachers,

When I was in Class VIII, we had an amazing teacher who taught us Physics. I used to wait for his class the way I would wait for momos to be served. He was tall and skinny. He was funny. He was warm. And, Physics made sense. However, he left the school after only three months. On his last class, we were in tears, he was in tears. I did not forgive him for a long time, for leaving us, for betraying us.

Now that I’m a teacher, I realize that teachers have the most unthankful job. We are the most obvious targets for every dark spot in the education system. And, many good teachers quit. I will never know why the Physics teacher left us but I am giving him all the benefits of doubt. May be he didn’t want to, but had to.

Bright teachers enter the profession with hopes to make a difference but end up quitting when they see the huge wall of hopelessness staring at them. For instance, many educational institutions don’t have proper induction system for new teachers. They are usually left stranded to figure out everything on their own. As a result, many never feel quite at home.

Likewise, many educational institutions have an irrational ‘fear’ of allowing their teachers to go for professional development. Most admins assume: If I let my teacher go for trainings, who’ll handle the class? After such trainings, the teacher will demand higher salary. Or, the teacher will join another school/college. As a result, teachers rarely get opportunities to grow and improve.

But, let me not blame the institutions only. A major chunk of the problem lies within us. Even when an institution supports our growth, many of us ‘chop our own foot with an axe’ by not preparing a personal and professional development plan. Year after year, we simply go into the classroom, teach the syllabus, and come out. We perform just enough to be in the safe zone.

A couple of reasons: first, we are teaching for the time being, and waiting for something else. May be a job at an NGO. May be a visa to fly abroad. Second, we feel we were the victims of the situation and ended up being a teacher. We never wanted to be teachers in the first place.

And, here’s my argument. If you are a teacher – by choice or by chance – you can always choose to conquer the wall of hopelessness and make a difference. For that we need two weapons: passion and pride.

You may not know if teaching is your life’s calling. But as long as you are a teacher, teach with passion. Every single time we go into the classroom, we can choose to spread happiness among students, sow hope, and share dreams. As one of my mentors said: students can smell your passion, and regardless of any subject you teach.

We must also walk with pride. Let’s say with conviction: I am a teacher and I make a difference. Let’s not scratch our head, give a fake smile, and pretend that you didn’t have a choice. Pride is contagious. With pride comes respect. Let’s restore respect into this noble profession.

Dear teachers, we can’t wait for someone else to do it. Here’s what I propose: Let’s build a community of passionate and proud teachers. Let’s empower each other so that we can destroy the wall of hopelessness. You might ask – how?

Start an online community on social media, ask teachers to join in and contribute their stories. Then, start an offline community. At the college I work, we’ve started a weekly session named “Empowering Fridays” where we welcome passionate teachers to share their methodologies, stories and insights. You too can join in. Or better, you can start similar support groups in your colleges and schools.

When teachers get involved in a community full of passionate and proud teachers, may be then bright teachers wouldn’t feel lost and aimless. May be then, students wouldn’t have to feel betrayed by their teachers.

Passionately yours,
Umes Shrestha

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.

133. Then and Now

then and now.001

(Picture concept: Making Classrooms Better – 50 Practical Applications of Mind, Brain and Education Science by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa)

Everything has changed. Transportation. Communication. Banking. Market places. But the structure of the classrooms remains the same.

At least we have classrooms and schools, you might argue. That’s true. But the arrangement of classrooms, with fixed benches and desks, everyone facing the same direction, and made for no movement at all – the classrooms are the most brain unfriendly places in the whole school. The only possible reason the classrooms remain the same is it’s easy for the cleaners/janitors to clean the rooms after the school. Or, from a teacher’s perspective, to keep the students quiet and stationary during the class.

What do you think?

128. Woes of Education

classroom

The head teacher said, “If only we could implement the system similar to the boarding schools, our students would not drop out”. I didn’t understand it right away. He added, “If only we could teach the students in English, if only we could provide them two sets of uniforms, if only we could have proper khaajaa system, the number of students will increase in our school too”.

We were at a public school in a not so remote village of Madadevsthan, Kavre. As we chatted away with the head teacher, we could feel his distress about the high rate of student dropping out. I know there’s a huge English-mania in our context but naively, I had never thought that uniforms and khaajaa made such a big difference in student attendance.

“Last year, our teachers collected some money on their own and provided the students khaajaa for three months since the start of the session”, the head teacher continued, “there were around 100 students then. Now there are only 48.” And it makes sense. The majority of students are from the marginalized community of Danuwar. They are not doing well, otherwise “they would have sent their kids to a private school”. In other words, they are poor and they have no other choice but to send their kids to the public schools. “Rinn kaatera bhaye pani, people send their kids to private schools.”

The head teacher, clearly helpless, wringing his both hands described, “Some kids start yelling ‘bhog laagyo’ right after the assembly and some run away after the break. And people expect good results from public schools.”

Even before we argue on the effects of English as the medium of instruction, even before we discuss on the nature of assessment, I believe we should think about the hungry ones, the dirty ones. Because when your stomach is rumbling and your uniform is ragged, being a ‘good’ student is not in your priority.

But there’s another side too. The teachers themselves. I asked him, “Aren’t they responsible for the degradation of public school system? Otherwise, why would a poor family take loans to send their kids to private schools?”

His answer was plain and simple. Politics le bigaaryo. “Teachers in private schools work hard from 9 to 4, but teachers in public school are busy working for the parties. In some ways, I’m involved in this game too, other wise I wouldn’t have been able to be in this school for all these years”. He shrugged his shoulders.

I am not stating that all government teachers are selfish, irresponsible and opportunists. But sadly many are. So, is it possible to make them caring, responsible and hard working? What if we could change the education policy and reform the system of teacher’s permanent appointment. Every teacher works under a contract, say a 3 year one, and the contract gets renewed based on his/her performance evaluation and recommendation by parents. What if we can wipe out all the political affiliations from schools and universities, and end the criminal-like political appointment of teachers, head teachers, rectors, deans and chancellors. And what if there are teacher bodies and student councils but without any political aspiration and backing.

But it’s not that plain and simple. The whole education system – from the bottom to the top – is muddled in politics. And when there’s no politics, there’s our society with hopeless crater of economic divide, there’s private schools with glamour and grandeur of English based education, and there’s people with desperate dreams and hungry stomachs.

How is it possible to end this injustice?