viernes, 18 de noviembre de 2011

How I met Miss Silva

Today, the news of Miss Maria Silva´s  death caught us by surprise. She was our boss and example at the ACPB for years. This goes to her.

I had finished my training (now called “induction”) with Ita Valcárcel and was waiting for “the call.” It never came. So I got kind of angry, why had they made me go to training for one whole week? I couldn´t resist the temptation and went to the ACPB on Avenida Arequipa and asked to talk to Miss Silva. I had seen her only once and didn´t know what she was like, but I didn´t care, I wanted to know why they had made me waste my time.

Miss Silva is not available, said María, the secretary. I thought that maybe she didn´t want to see a Mr Nobody who wanted to talk to her for God knows what reasons. So she´s not in? I stared at her. Well, can I leave a message? She was silent, waiting. I said: Please, tell Miss Silva that I want to know if I am going to be assigned classes or not. She looked at me as if I was some kind of madman. Surely she was thinking that classes had already started! I continued: Tell her I won´t get angry if I don´t get anything but I want to know, that´s all. She pressed her lips and wrote it down.

The next day, I was summoned to her office: a little partition in a big room where she sat at a tiny desk full of papers and books and many other things: a coffee mug with pens and pencils sticking out, a table calendar with curled corners, a cup and saucer (empty), post-it tags; on the wall behind her a cork board announced the opening for teacher courses at Bell College (two years later, what a coincidence, I was sent to that same place!). The “office” was really minuscule, that´s probably why I though she was larger than she really was; or perhaps, her desk was too small. She looked at me, motioned me to sit down, put on her glasses and read a piece of paper: You asked to be assigned here in San Isidro, didn´t you? She moved her mouth in a peculiar way, as if she was about to spit something. I said I preferred San Isidro, yes, Ma´am. She Looked at me and offered me a couple of classes in Lima. The centre of the city? I thought, and almost rejected the offer but then a light that nobody saw enlightened me and my mouth, without my permission, said: OK, Lima is fine. She sent me to see the supervisor there, Miss Vicky.

Three weeks later, she called me in again. Do you still want to work here in San Isidro? She looked at me knowing in advance what I was going to say. Since then, I taught at the San Isidro branch for almost 7 years, and took to going to see her with ideas and suggestions (that she listened to attentively). Sometimes, she just sat there with her eyes closed, I would stop my talk thinking she was falling asleep, but she wasn´t. It´s the migraine, she said to me once, and you´re wearing a yellow shirt. Yellow made her headaches wake up, and they never left easily.

Miss Silva was loved, respected, feared and even hated, all at the same time. And I understood the different feelings. She wasn´t easy to content. She wasn´t there to make anybody happy either. Her presence, even in the other two branches –Miraflores and Lima– was felt: she didn´t need to be there in person to really be there. That´s the type of woman she was, and will always be in the memory of those of us who remember her. So long Miss Maruja, now you´ll be keeping Ita company, and waiting for us to join you one day.

miércoles, 9 de noviembre de 2011

Two common words

According to the Merriam Webster´s Dictionary, the origin of the word “clock” can be traced back to the Middle English word “clok”, Middle Dutch “clocke”, Old French “cloque”, Medieval Latin “clocca” and Middle Irish “clocc”, all of which mean “bell.” When the clock we know was invented in around the 14th century, it told the time using bells that went off on the hour and on quarters and half hours. People say five o´clock, etc., as an abbreviation of “of the clock”, or, in other words, “of the bell.”

Have ever “gotten the sack”? I hope not. The expression was born before the industrial era when a worker carried his tools in a sack. When he was dismissed, the employer gave him his tools and literally “got the sack.”

Cesar Klauer


The Little Books of Answers, Doug Lennox, MJF Books, New York, 2003

Merriam Webster´s Dictionary

miércoles, 7 de septiembre de 2011

Ten years ago

Federico Salazar´s nose shrugged a little bit and his eyes shone a doubtful spark. Not even him, a seasoned newscaster, accustomed to the terrible events of life, could believe what he was about to tell the millions of viewers who were getting ready for a day´s work. Many of us, cup of coffee in hand, the towel drying our hair, or kissing our children good morning, witnessed, without fathoming for sure, through the immediacy of live television the strange but certain crash of a passenger jet plane into a silvery scrycraper in New York City.

I called my wife, still trying to figure out what was happening, and pointed at the screen. Was it an accident?, she narrowed her eyes in awe. I didn´t know, the pilot must have gotten lost, but none of us really swallowed the explanation.

I left for work thinking about Sharon, the American lady who worked with me. Was she from New York? No, she was from Miami, or so I thought. In the office, her desk was empty and I was sure she had stayed home, unable to move or talk about the tragedy. But she got in as if nothing had happened. Have you seen the news?, I stood up. She smiled, what news? Then I broke it down to her in as careful a way I could possibly find. The rest of the morning we spent watching the news, zapping from CNN to BBC to Chanel N and backwards.

This Sunday, it will be 10 years of the insanity that hit America hard. Some of us Peruvians thought, ha! Tell us about crazy terrorists! And deep inside us we knew how it felt in the heart.

This is a great chance to teach your students some history, and practice English of course. Voice of America has a special feature with MP3 downloadable audio and language activities for free. Visit:THIS LINK

viernes, 26 de agosto de 2011

Helicopters, boomerangs, cougars and bromances

I don´t think I am a helicopter parent, at least I try not to be one, as I tried, when younger and beautiful, not to become a boomerang child. But that one was hard, because in our society here in Peru, children don´t leave home until they get married. Forget the boomerang, then.

I really hope my friends (the females) don´t become cougars. I have never met one in person –though stories have always been around –, but they are out there hunting…bad (or good…) thing is they will not be looking for men like me anymore, their radar is pointing at another direction.

Are you involved in a bromance now (males only, huh)? You might be but don´t know yet, think about it while you listen some Americana.

The words used here are real and have made their way to the 2011 Merriam-Webster´s Collegiate Dictionary. The tip came from our friend and colleague Carmen Caceda. She sent this link to an article where they talk about the new words that the dictionary people have included this year: 150 in all!

Have a closer look at some of those HERE.

Time to update your vocabulary books!

lunes, 22 de agosto de 2011

"Cool" teachers

Back in February this year I published a short entry titled: Something to say about NNESTs. The acronym stands for Non Native English Speakers. In the post, I speak about English speakers who are hired to teach English only because they are native speakers, forgetting or simply disregarding (the hiring institution, I mean) the need for appropriate qualifications to do this important job. This is not the case with all native speakers, of course!, but there are far too many to just pass under the radar without detection.

This all comes up now because of a publication of El Comercio on Friday 19th, just last week, called “Institutos y Centros de idiomas.” The twelve-page supplement offers interesting articles, they even interviewed recognized specialists in the TEFL field like Marita de la Lama from U. del Pacífico, Claudia Marín from UPC and Cesar Saldaña from U. Ricardo Palma. But the item that connects this comment today with the February post is the advertisement on page 5, whose image is posted here too, but with the name of the institution covered, just to avoid problems.

The ad opens with the line “Pagaré mis estudios dando clases de ingles,” that is “I´ll pay my studies teaching English.” I suppose the phrase is an invention from the “creative team” (the quotes are mine) that produced the ad. I can only speculate and/ or speak of my own personal reaction to the message that the ad implies.

The line tells me that the people who wrote it (I am not so sure if the institution supports this view) think that teaching English is a temporary activity that university students can do just to pass the time and get some easy bucks out of it while they pursue a more “serious” career. Once this “cool” teacher finishes university, what? No problem, mate, there are more “teachers” waiting in line.

The implications are easy to list but I´ll mention only two. The first one is that training can´t be too demanding. Logic tells me that it is not efficient to spend resources on a person who will not last long in the institution. The second is the rate per hour. Why pay high if the “teacher” is actually NOT a teacher. This affects directly those who are (and there are many professional teachers in that institute, I know). Then, a question appears: Is this happening at other institutes as well?

Another line that called my attention is the one that says: “Profesores certificados por la University of Michigan y TESOL, USA.” As far as I know, the certificates given by Michigan (and Cambridge) are not professional qualifications but language certificates. I don´t know about TESOL USA (is it a qualifying body? Beats me.) Are they trying to substitute (in their scarcity) native speakers by “near-native” speakers?

Between non-teacher native speakers who are hired to teach and university students who take up the job as a sport, how much space is left for the real teaching professionals? My intention with the two posts, last February´s and today´s, is not to attack these people (who are ultimately looking for a job) or institutions (who may hire whoever they want) but to raise awareness among us, the teachers who do this for a living, who try and get the appropriate qualifications, who try and look for opportunities to improve (and, in passing, among the authorities at the institutions). We are the ones who must point the finger and demand professionalism, who must demonstrate that our job is not a form of moonlighting. And to do this, there are so many ways.

viernes, 19 de agosto de 2011

Learning English similes

A new semester has just begun. The first class is always a good chance to try and convince our students that effort is a necessary component of any learning experience. I say this because I have noticed that lately the young tend to think that things come easily, they just hold up their hands and violá, things happen –as if in a virtual reality game or a Harry Potter movie. So I begin my class with two similes I have invented.

When I tell my students that “Learning English is like losing weight,” they look at each other and smile before turning their stare at me with a skeptical air floating in front of their faces. I smile back and throw a seemingly tricky question: If you want to lose weight, what do you have to do? They frown, they scratch their heads. There is always one who attempts an answer –I guess they feel I am pulling their legs and don´t want to lose face – and raises his hand: You have to go on a diet? He doubts, and I go yes! A diet! Excellent method. So if I wanted to lose some kilograms (I do!, really), I could diet on Sundays. They smile again and shake their heads. Why not? I ask again. A girl, who is apparently an expert in keeping the line, clarifies everything: No, T-shirt, The diet is everyday! There you are! I point at the girl: Learning English is like losing weight: You have to go on a diet every day! Students who expect to command the language attending classes twice a week or on marathonic 5-hour Saturday lessons and do nothing in between will not achieve the goal. Period.

Then I tell them that learning English is like learning to swim (or to ride a bike if you prefer). Can you swim? Hands up, please. The majority can swim (except for myself, I have never learned… shame!). Then, I point at a boy and ask: Where did you learn to swim? He hesitates, looks at his classmates who are staring at him waiting for the enlightenment of his wisdom and experience in the topic. He stutters but manages to say: In a swimming pool, Tea – chair, and blushes inevitably. But I am not ready to let him go yet, so I wait for the laughs to stop and attack him again: Was there water in the pool? He is redder than a blooming rose. Of course, tea – chair, he wants to disappear from the face of earth. I smile in triumph, take a step back to the centre of the class: You see? Learning English is like learning to swim, you learn in the water; English is learned in English!

Everybody seems to have grabbed the heart and soul of the two similes. They shake their heads, some look at the ceiling deep in philosophical abstraction, maybe thinking that everything they have always thought about learning English has been wrong all along. Signing up for a two session a week class or a Saturday only course might be a problem in the end because in actual fact you will have to study in between classes! Why do they offer that type of course then? Beats me!

jueves, 14 de julio de 2011

Ten thousand

We are not the Casa de la Literatura, so we won´t celebrate our one millionth visitor, but, with fewer zeros, we have reached an unimaginable figure, for me at least. We have had 10,000 readings so far. And I insist: unimaginable. Not because I am a pessimist (sometimes I am, believe me) but because a number like that is not attained so easiy, so to speak.
I wanted to think 10,000 hits was a mistake, so I checked the blog statistics... no, the numbers check out. It must be a dream! But then again, no (that reminds me of Sir Elton John´s Your Song lyrics). It´s true, people are strange (The Doors, this time) and they have actually come to this blog. Did they read it? That´s something I might never know.
So, to make a long story short, thanks to all of you; and let´s go for the 20,000 hits.
PD: Are there any topics that you would like to read about? Please, leave a message and I promise I´ll do what I can get something for you.

martes, 5 de julio de 2011

Happy Teacher´s Day

I don´t think it necessary to repeat what we all know for a fact: being a teacher is the best thing we could have chosen to do.
True. Who else would put up (voluntarily!) with low salaries, indifferent students, parents who think it is our fault their children are what they are, misconceptions like "anybody can teach", loads of extra work, bullying, students who think we are to blame for their low grades, and a long list of potholes in our everyday life? And with a smile? And enthusiastically enough to make time to go to courses, seminars, workshops? The answer is: Only those who have love to give. And to those, my colleagues who tiredlessly build a new Peru each minute they stand in front of a classroom, my admiration and gratitude for being out there, for teaching me that it is possible to be better, and better others as well.
Happy Teacher´s Day!
Cesar Klauer

lunes, 27 de junio de 2011


Not many of you know that, apart from doing my usual job as a teacher of English, I am a writer. That´s right. I have published 6 books already. The first one appeared back in 2009. The title is "Pura Suerte", a collection of 15 short stories published by Ediciones Altazor. Then last year, Altazor again (they don´t learn, do they?) printed 3 children´s books. "El perro Patitas", "El gigante del viento" and "El delfín de arena". You can see the reviews here at Libros Peruanos.
This year, I published two ebooks: a short collection of chronicles titled "La fábrica de huecos: crónicas gastronómicas del Perú" in Kindle Editions and a book of micro stories (in the US they called them diffferent names: flash fiction, sudden fiction, short shorts) with Evisto Editorial, titled "La eternidad del instante". The plan is to have it printed too, hopefully soon. I´ll let you know.
Last week, it was announced that one of my short stories had been selected among the winners of the Concurso Internacional de Cuento Breve Latin Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. The contest attracted over 500 works from all over Latin America and Spain. The final selection has only 30 writers, among them myself, the only Peruvian in the lot. The book with the winners is already available in Amazon with the title "Los ojos de la Virgen". That same foundation had already published an anthology of micro short story writers of Latin America in a book called "Al este del arco iris". Nine of my short shorts are in the collection.
Finally, some three weeks ago, Letralia, the oldest and most respected electronic literary magazine of Latin America, published in Venezuela, turned 15 years old. To celebrate, they asked all the writers that had ever appeared in the magazine (I have had 4 stories published there) to submit works for an anniversary ebook. The editors selected 35 works (only 3 Peruvians in the final list). My short story "Salinger es actor de cine" was selected. The ebook "La poética del reflejo" is a free download.
But "la cabra tira al monte" (how do you say that in English? If you know, please enlighten us!), so being myself a teacher of English (always will be), I have tried my hand at translating my own stories. Tough work, I must say, and don´t forget I am the author of the pieces. The final result is some 19 sudden fiction stories that, if plans go as planned (???), will be published in a book and ebook. Still, I have a lot of translation to do, but in the meantime I wanted to share the first steps that these stories are taking in another language. It is difficult to find English speakers who will be willing to comment on short stories (even in Spanish it is hard), so I thought that maybe among my colleagues who read this humble blog and all those teachers in ELTeCS, there might be some who will take a few minutes to read them and, if I am lucky enough, give me an impression. What´s more, if you want to use them in class, be my guest! (Just let me know).
So, here are two short shorts. I hope you like them.
Cesar Klauer

Extreme measures

I had spoken so well of that Chinese restaurant that now I could not take it back, I couldn´t risk it: the boss´s retaliation was not in my plans.

While it crawled little by little onto a visible spot, sweat sprinkled my forehead, neck and hands, soon it would be in the open. What would I say then? I thought of the most elaborate excuses, all with the objective of hiding what could not be said out loud: It was my neck on the line!

Then, I decided to take an extreme measure. Hadn´t Nicholas Cage done it in Vampire´s Kiss? I sighed trying to brave myself up. I took the fork, aimed, stuck it right in the middle (it crunched a little).

I quickly put the cockroach in my mouth. Nobody noticed.

Fly, fly away

He was standing on the highest rock, the dim rumor of the ocean, the seagulls reflected in his eyes. How beautiful were they! How elegantly they flew! Their clear profile cut against the bright blue sky, breathing from the clouds, being caressed by the sun. From down below, they were spots moving around but up there they were imposing figures, masters of the sky. He wanted to be like them and share the open space, float in the air. He saw down the cliff how the white foam bathed the rocks and got ready to leap off. Pitty. Penguins can´t fly.

lunes, 18 de abril de 2011

Is Communicative methodology a failure?

Some days ago I had an interesting exchange of points of view with a couple of friends/colleagues on the pertinence and effectiveness of CLT (on Facebook). It was not surprising to see that opinions are divided. I see CLT as a failure. Any methodology that has all possible resources to work and does not deliver fails; and that is happening to CLT. We now have technology our teachers and trainers never even dreamed of in their good old days. My language student classmates and I never had a PC or a DVD or CD ROM or Internet or speech recognition software or video or smart boards or whatever they have invented, and still we mastered the language and were ready for a Michigan in one third of the time students are now (starting from scratch, mind you). Today, completing a language course at any of the most respected institutes takes three times longer; mastering the language at an acceptable FCE/ Michigan level takes longer, not just longer, way longer. Why is that? Aren´t new methods supposed to ease our way towards success? Why do our students have to devote more time to trying to speak a foreign language when there are technologies that should make it faster and more effective? In a society where speaking a foreign language is a must, how come methods do not help people to do so? Why are students still saying "I have 20 years old" and the like after two years of studies (deja vu?)?
Scott Thurnbury has an answer (however, I don´t see eye to eye with his preference towards a fluency=>accuracy scheme, that is exactly the reason why CLT fails, fluency and accurancy live together, not apart). It is the word of a respected scholar and researcher, and it derves to be heard (or read). The article where he explains his point of view is HERE. Have a look and make comments if you feel like it.

Cesar Klauer

miércoles, 6 de abril de 2011

What do you take with you to every class?

We have talked about technology in the classroom and how to apply it in different situations, but sometimes, we find ourselves limited by the availability of modern technologies. For example, in our previous post, I suggested an article about using cell phones in class. One of the tips was to use the camera feature on the cell phone to get students to make a short video of themselves so that they can show it to their classmates and have a little fun while practicing the language. I decided (as many of you may have, too) to try the activity in my class. It was a complete failure. Why?, you are wondering. Well, simply because technology is not democratic. That is, not all students have a cell phone with a camera and not all cell phones with a camera record video. An important number of students, 9 or 10 out of 20, could not produce their video due to one of the reasons above.

The experience got me thinking but then I got my hands onto something different (life is so fast nowadays) and I kind of left it behind. However, today I found an interesting article in the English Teaching Forum where the author lists his ten low-cost teaching tools. He says he takes them to every class he has and uses them whenever they are needed. What do I take with me to every class (apart from my textbook)? Let´s see: board markers in black, blue, red and green; a laser pointer that doesn´t work sometimes, water, my USB flash drive (but I kind of use my ppt presentations less now… we have smartboard software!) and that´s it. I used to know colleagues who carried big dictionaries (no need now, you can use the Cambridge Dictionary online for free), a grammar reference (online too), blue tack (no need either, you can project pictures), and even candy to reward good answers!

What do you take to every class in your bag? While you are thinking, take a look at Ten Low – cost Teaching Tools by Kevin McCoughey.
Comments are welcome!
Cesar Klauer

jueves, 24 de marzo de 2011

More about technology: using cell phones in class

We have talked about the use of technology in the classroom before. However, as you may imagine, the topic is virtually never-ending.
The topic today is cell phones. Do you use cell phones to teach? I don´t. In fact, I ask my students to turn theirs off. Why? Well, this may have happened to you: the phone rings in the middle of a listening activity and distracts everybody, students are more aware of the girl-friend´s call than the class, they say their boss (or a potential customer) is calling them about work, a friend of theirs rings them to say hi, and so many other situations. The best thing is to turm them off. However, the world is wider than what we can see from where we are standing, and maybe we can put those cell phones to work for us instead of against us.
Below, I am posting a link to the British Council´s e-magazine Teach English (every new issue is always announced on ELTeCS PERU) where there is video of a teacher who gives his ideas on how to use this gadget. I must confess, they are interesting and will try them out in my class, see what happens.
Take five minutes to watch this colleague. How do you like his ideas? You may well change your mind about cell phones.
I hope you like it.
Cesar Klauer

viernes, 18 de marzo de 2011

Happy Anniversary ELTeCS PERU

It was 18th May, 2000. I was sitting in front of my PC and I didn´t know what to write, even though the recipients of my message were only a bunch of friends and colleagues. In theory, writing to friends should have been easy, but it wasn’t. In the end, I posted a message that summarized some rules for posting messages to the new group we had just formed: ELTeCS PERU.

The questions started to pop up, bounced around my head, flew like bees or hornets with a buzzing that yelled doubt: Was it worth it? Will it work? Will teachers use it, like it, make it grow? The previous week we had been gathered by Anne Weisman, ELO of the British Council at the time, to present the new network that had been created for Latin America in a meeting in Cuba, which Norma Bustamante attended. The idea sounded great: a network that connected teachers to disseminate best practices and maintain the contact with each other. Somebody, was it Arturo Field or Norma Bustamante? I can´t remember now, but one of us enthusiasts and already devoted ELTeCS-converts gave the idea: Why don´t we form an ELTeCS PERU? That is, a list for teachers in our country, we will still disseminate and create contacts, only with the “ceviche” touch in it. It was a bomb. We all agreed and the Latin American group was history, we wanted a list of our own. Now the problem was how to organize it, maintain it, and all the rest. And this I do remember clearly, as if it were now, I´m seeing Norma Bustamante raise her hand and point at me: Cesar can do it!, she said, almost ordered. The twenty or so pairs of eyes smiled and I was appointed moderator of ELTeCS PERU.

Today, 11 years later, I don´t regret having accepted the task. Since that day, I have been congratulated, thanked, recognized, insulted and accused of the most incredible things. Yes, the oldest members might remember the occasion when somebody sent out messages telling a pile of lies about me and the group. I remember that this person accused me of making money out of ELTeCS PERU… well, I wish! The identity of this saboteur was never discovered, but nobody cares really, at least not me.

We started with that small group of about 20 and now we are exactly 1044, according to the statistics on YahooGroups. How have we grown? The only way we could: by word of mouth. Every event I attended, gave a talk at, every teacher I met, I collected emails. It was hard work introducing the emails and names manually one by one, but somebody had to do it. Little by little the numbers grew. Of course, there have been many who dropped out. There are as many bouncing emails as there are active ones, but that, we can´t do anything about, can we?

New groups have been formed, I hope they have been influenced by ELTeCS PERU. One is on Facebook: Peruvian Teachers of English (!/peruvianteachersofenglish). It was founded by Manuel Salas, next April it will be one year old. It has 566 members. The other group is newer. Peruvian English Teachers Network ( was founded by Victor Hugo Rojas, a colleague from San Marcos university and is very active. At the moment it has 104 members. Are they the competition? A threat? Of course not! If they were I wouldn´t be mentioning them here, would I? They are an expansion of the enthusiasm, good intentions and wishes to serve a community that needs a lot of support and development. Are we networks the solution to the need for improvement and professionalisation of our field? I don´t think so, but we are an important arrowhead in the search for excellence, and of course, we are part of the solution.

Happy birthday ELTeCS PERU; I hope we grow more. I hope we have more active participation. I hope we become better teachers. I hope all we can hope for the good of our wonderful profession, the one that touches people and changes lives. However, I am aware that the fate of ELTeCS PERU doesn´t depend on me, simply because the group does not belong to me or the British Council any more, it belongs to its members. ELTeCS PERU will become what we want it to become.

jueves, 17 de febrero de 2011

Something to say about: Teaching vocabulary

A language is made up many elements; one of them is, obviously, vocabulary. What can our poor students do with a grammar rule and/ or pattern if the they do not have the words to fill it in? How can we ask them to do pair and group work if they do not have the words to express their ideas? I found a really interesting article about this important area of ELT in the English Teaching Forum, that excellent magazine published by the US Department of the State.
The author, Keith S. Folse, reviews the types of words we teach, from the point of view of a second/ foreign language teacher. He talks about: (1) single words, (2) set phrases, (3) variable phrases, (4) phrasal verbs, and (5) idioms. You may already have recognised most or all of them. Mr Folse continues his article explaining other aspects of vocabulary teaching, then he tells us how to select vocabulary for teaching, and ends with six activities that can prove useful in our classes.
Good article. I am sure you´ll like it.
Cesar Klauer

martes, 8 de febrero de 2011

Something to say about: cooperative and collaborative work

The courses I teach used to require that students do some kind of small scale bibliographic research. The results were varied. Most of the times students understood that each member of the group had to do “his/ her part.” They then got together for a quick coordination of order of appearance in front of the class on the day or one day before the actual presentation. They even pasted together the written work, with the obvious mismatches in style and contents, not to mention the shameful copy/paste cases.
Was this method acceptable? In the eyes of the students, it was. They knew no other way of doing it: distribute sections, work independently and then put it all together. We teachers fought very hard against that kind of work, we wanted them to share their findings in the group and come to a final group conclusion. What we were doing was trying to make a distinction between cooperative and collaborative work.
I have found an interesting article that tells both methods apart. It appeared in the English Teaching Forum magazine. To begin with, the two approaches are set clearly: “The key difference between these approaches to group work is that cooperation is more focused on working together to create an end product, while successful collaboration requires participants to share in the process of knowledge creation.”
The rest of the piece discusses the two methods and gives some practical suggestions that we teachers will find extremely useful. Find the article clicking this link. I am sure you´ll like it.

martes, 1 de febrero de 2011

Something to say about: NNESTs

What does NNESTs stand for? Well, if you didn´t know, here it is: Non-native English Speaking Teachers. I am one, for that matter, and proud of it, too. Come to think of it, most teachers I know are NNESTs! What´s more, the majority of English teachers are! Uff, what a relief! I had started to think we were kind of intruders in a world full of "gringos" who are the non plus ultra of the language. But wait a minute! We also have things to chip in here, don´t we? Of course we do. For starters, we have learned the language and gone through all (or almost all) the troubles associated with understanding, assimilating and producing messages in a foreign language. Sadly enough, many (too many, in my opinion) native speaking teachers I have met in my teaching carreer do not want to even learn Spanish. A pitty, really, not only because they are showing disrespect for the local culture but also because they are not developing. Trying a different language is a very good way to put yourself into the other person´s shoes, experience the frustration and / or satisfaction of being able to tackle communication in another tongue; and that´s an invaluable resource for any language teacher: understanding the student´s position first-hand does not come in any one-hour workshop. I am not going to talk about the "mochileros" (those native speakers who come to "teach" whithout any prepartion at all) who are so well-considered by some, it´s not worth the effort.
All this talk comes up because a very good friend of ours, Carmen Caceda, just sent me a link to a TESOL Essential Teacher article on precisely this topic. A NNEST teacher who is given the task of teaching German. A challenge.
Read the article HERE.

jueves, 13 de enero de 2011

A light of hope

In the last post of 2010, I asked myself (and through me, all the readers of the blog), what makes a professional teacher. I hadn´t realized at that moment that I was going to witness what it is to make a real effort in order to improve. I want to share the experience with you now.

What would you to be ready to do? What would you sacrifice in order to learn, advance? Would you give up a week end at the beach? I imagine the answer: “Miss my holidays? No way. “ And that´s quite respectable, but today I have to extend my congratulations to a group (not small, by the way) of undergraduates who, being practicing teachers, do not have a degree yet and do everything in their power to become professionals in their own right.

Last week end I was invited by the School of Education of San Marcos University to teach a course for the Programme of Licenciatura in English for teachers who don´t hold a degree, and I entered a different world.

I had been asked to prepare the materials for the course, which have been published in a very nicely edited book, and to cooperate with the virtual campus moderation; but spending 12 summer hours on Saturday and Sunday, exchanging experiences with the group I was assigned to was invaluable, and a boost to my spirit.

The enthusiasm, open-mindedness, courage, and clearness of objectives these colleagues have are really admiring. Their sole presence and full attention made my own little sacrifice of one week end worth the effort. Imagine: these people have to study on their own for three weeks and then attend an intensive weekend of taught classes, every three weeks or so. Together with that they have jobs, families, problems . Two of the students had recently given birth to twins and a boy, another had nobody to leave her little daughter with, so she brought her to class, another had to work on the week end to make ends meet, one more had to leave for a couple of hours because she had promised a group of handicraft exporters from the sierra that she would help them translating in a visit of potential clients.

But that was not all I saw last week end. I saw the seeds of a bright future. I saw the embraces that will receive our children one day. I saw the light of hope.

For more information on the UNMSM programme click here.

lunes, 3 de enero de 2011

What makes a good professional teacher?

With the beginning of not only a new year but a new decade, the question in the title of this blog entry is more than pertinent, specially for those of us who are convinced that improving is the only way to go. Now, when we start a fresh, is the best time to sit down at the beach (lucky you!), breathe the ocean flavoured air, listen to the seagulls and the rumour of the waves , relax and talk to ourselves, intimately. You may come up with a list of traits that make a good teaching professional shine, here I want to tip you off on some ideas, probably way different from yours, but also relevant, “food for thought,” as a friend of mine used to say. Here we go.

As teachers of English, the first thing we must command is the language. It is sad, but this seems to be low in the list of priorities when training is put on the table. Maybe this year, those of us who still have not obtained an internationally recognized language certificate, will get one. There is time, all you need is will.

Another aspect we need to brush up is methodology, but when I say methodology I don´t mean the typical seminar where a very good actor-teacher jumps and dances around the floor giving me ideas on how to exploit a textbook. Happily, there are several good alternatives to become a professional; with a university degree, that is. And if you already got one, then there are advanced degrees on offer, too. It is all up to you.

The third dimension we must not forget about is the personal development path we all need to walk. The better person one is, the better prepared professional he/she will be. In this area, there are many alternatives; you must look for the one that fits your own interests and time. Take up a hobby, or a sport, or any other activity that will let you learn other things. Read books, in English or Spanish, go to the theatre. Anything you ´ll do, be sure they will be useful sooner or later.

As you may have noticed, my suggestions cover three areas: language command, professional expertise and personal development. I have already made up my mind about what I want to achieve this year (in the three areas). How about you?

Cesar Klauer