11/05/2016

Adversity and Obstacles Made Me a More Resourceful Teacher

Back in the late 1980´s when I started teaching English as a Foreign Language at different places: at a Primary school, at a private language school for children, teens and adults, all the materials we had were a coursebook, workbook and cassettes to practice listening comprehension. We also included film watching for listening and speaking practice. Those tapes would stop working in the tape recorder/player from time to time because they had been used too many times, or just by rewinding and fast forwarding them to find the right lesson made them unplayable in a short time.




Times changed so we started to use CDs, and later usb flashdrives or pendrives, as they are called here in Argentina.(I really haven´t found what the difference between the two words is). Definitely, my first close encounter with technology was when I began to teach in the US in 2001. Having an Apple computer in the classroom, free access to many computers in the school library and laptops in a cart which I could book in advance to take to my classroom to make my students surf the web and see what we, Argentinians actually look like, was like a dream! The fact that I could email anyone, anytime really helped me to adapt myself being away from relatives and friends in my home country. So, almost everyday, since I was teaching in a completely different environment from the one I was used to, I was not only amazed at the use of technology in the classes, but also at the type of organization and simplification of school life in many aspects. 
Did all this advancement imply some training or rehearsing before each class in which I wanted to implement some of this revolutionary technological practice? It was a question of self-motivation, curiosity and self-assessment: I would sit at my desktop computer and start playing with the different tools to make, for example,  my own school webpage where I included background tango music, filled with Argentine websites, maps, places to visit, and also homework, classwork, extra practice, and much more. It goes without saying that anything related to technology was not such a big surprise to my students, as it was for me. Through SchoolNotes the District provided every teacher the possibility to have her/his own webpage! Amazing! I added all I could, tango music in the background, links to argentinian websites in Spanish and English, apart from the required today´s activities, weekly planning and homework/follow up practice at home.  
After all those years when my professional development happened to me almost accidentally every single day, the moment I landed in my former classroom in Argentina in 2010, the feeling of frustration and disappointment kept growing as time went by: it was not the school environment, or the unresponsive students, quite the opposite, students were fascinated to Tweet about World Peace Day (those that had internet in their personal phones), prepare lessons on segregation in the US, celebrate World Water Day or criticize the United Nations...they had a voice in my classes: I unconsciously started the #studentvoice trend.
The fact that I stayed in touch with my former colleagues in the US, I became aware that technology and global connections were being implemented very seriously in the classrooms no matter which one it was. I had experienced that myself: my ESOL students using Google Earth to locate their hometowns, or practicing pronunciation, studying Math, Science and Social Studies online. In 2011 in Argentina, Blackberry cellphones were already in the market so we were "Wow!! you have a Blackberry!". So, after checking how many of my students had a smartphone, I felt I had to do something new, innovative and creative: I could not sit still waiting for digital devices to be delivered to me: I had to look for a way to work with those phones my students had, although I did not have one myself. Soon after that, I decided to buy an LG cellphone with a built-in camera to take photos and record video: 2 gigs but not so good to connect to Internet. I NEEDED to innovate! I had to! I couldn´t accept I was in a classroom environment where books, cds and handouts were the only resources available. So what I did, was to start taking pictures and recording very bad quality videos of my students project works.

Later that same year, I enrolled on an online course offered by one of the most well-known technological universities and delivered by a very well-known specialist. So, after a couple of weeks my innovative-educator life began at the same moment I was invited to join the 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. 

Why did I mention adversity and obstacles if all I had written here were mainly successful events? 
All that glitters is not gold, oh yes! I had to face adversity and tackle or kicked obstacles out of my way! Several power outages, exams rescheduled due to different problems in the system, health problems, not being recognized for my teaching background and knowledge, low pay and low budget are enough reasons to quit...obstacles and more obstacles ...but my self-motivation and faith helped me see the light at the end of the dark tunnel...


Despite all the above mentioned, my students´motivation, enthusiasm and response kept my hope, my own enthusiasm and motivation alive.

Not being able to Skype with a computer or big screen and projector, has not stopped me to connect my students with classes in the US and Canadaasynchronous conversation and collaboration have become usual activity in our classes which are always focused on Grammar and Language practice for Cambridge Exams.
Instagram and Snapchat are making miracles nowadays: by just making our students upload an introduction of themselves and share their accounts on Padlet, ask and answer questions on Voxer, my colleagues abroad and myself have made global classrooms a reality in our lives as connected educators: adaptability, flexibility, resourcefulness, organization, creativity, brainstorming, willingness all key ingredients to make this dream come true: now we Tweet, "Scope", Periscope and Voxer many times a week.

Socrative and Buncee are common words in my students´daily conversation. I had to adapt my tech-integration in the EFL classes and my mindset to certain limitations: difficulty connecting to cellphone data, low batteries or broken screens.

Besides, being a mom who loves to be very present in my children´s lives makes me face challenges all the time!.