Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

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March 12, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Hot Spot Interview — Report From Israel


Three years ago, I began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, thanks to an introduction by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, I’m interviewing Judih Weinstein Haggai from Israel, who also took the photos in this post.

What do you teach, where do you teach, and to whom do you teach?

I teach EFL to kids from seventh to twelfth grades. I seem to work with the ADHD set (although that has become a given throughout our student population) and those who are special ed (dyslexia, dysgraphia), as well as those who are slow starters for various reasons.
I work in a school that combines two once separate populations: from our kibbutz settlements as well as from moshav (rural farming) settlements. This particular school is in its fourth year and was built as a hi-tech building, fortified against rocket attack.

Nofei Habsor is in the area just east of the Gaza Strip,and fortification is essential for our students’ safety.

I also teach puppetry to a select group of pupils in the eighth and ninth grades. We build our puppets and work on our own skits.

I am mentoring morning meditation sessions in the seventh and eighth grades, which fortifies me for the day along with the pupils and their teachers who do it with me.

What led you to become an English teacher and, in particular, to teaching where you are now?

I was in an experimental children’s theatre troupe a long time ago and started to work with kids to write their own plays. When I moved to Israel, I wanted to begin a similar English Children’s Theatre. When I asked for a grant from the Jewish Agency, they suggested that I become an English teacher and bring my theatre into the classroom. At the time, my friends encouraged me to take the required courses to upgrade my BA in Literature to a English teacher’s degree and licence. I did, got all the required paperwork, but continued in my career as a puppeteer. I found myself teaching PuppetEnglish in small workshops and then easing into the school system as parents asked that I teach native English speakers with my methods.

At the same time, I began working with BBC computer programs to teach beginning readers and I was delighted to see that dyslexic children, bright children loved learning with games and attractive tactile applications. This was in 1989.

I moved into regular school teaching and have been in my current job since 1995.

How does the Israeli/Palestinian conflict affect you and your students in your lives and in your teaching and learning?

Most of our students have lived their lives under threat. They don’t remember the period of peace we enjoyed. Our kibbutz had workers from Gaza and we had very friendly relationships until the start of the Intifada. At the time, the workers found themselves labelled as ‘collaborators’ if they came to work for us, and so that was that.

Our students have been brought up in an atmosphere of tension and with each rocketfall, we have to work harder to suggest that one day peace may be possible.

The teachers are more optimistic than the students, and there are projects to work for co-existence. Adele could tell you about the projects she’s been involved in.

I have students who have worked with JITLI, a project to work with Jewish, Arab and European youth to promote leadership for peace.

However, in general, the situation is simply part of our daily lives. We live mostly in relative quiet, but we are in constant alert. Many students show signs of anxiety, many are unable to focus, but perhaps that’s a general statement for the new generation all over the world.

We look for ways to capture their interest and have them self-motivate. We use digital methods when applicable, and subject matter that speaks to them.

If during our schoolday there’s a warning alert, we stay inside our classrooms and continue to study, or if we’re outside in our beautiful landscaped campus, we duck into a building or shelter.

Normal life is simply normal! Students and teachers study, meet at breaks, and take tests, do exams, projects, etc.

At the end of the day, students go home on buses and we are in touch via What’s App. Regular school patterns!

What do you see happening in the next few years — do you predict any kind of beginning resolution to the conflict?

I predict that it will take a while for the conflict to subside. It will take something unusual to shake us all into the realization that peace is the only operative choice. It might take a natural disaster, or a brilliant set of leaders, but the solution is coming.

This young generation must be encouraged to see that solution in the making, as it will be in their hands. Our job is to encourage that vision and to promote the independent creative form of thinking that is required to build that peaceful resolution.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

I’m heading a project creating a live bridge between pupils in Albany New York and our kids in the seventh grade (the top picture is of students involved in that project). We talk by google hangout, and chat, as well as sharing youtube clips and regular mail messages. I’m participating in a special project of educators and entrepreneurs called MIndCet. We’re working on EdTech to promote learning.

Personal details: I am vegan, with four children. I have blogs, I write daily morning haiku. I live on a kibbutz in the Western Negev..I love MOOCs, from Coursera or iversity. That’s about it for now.

Thanks, Judih!


February 25, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Hot Spot Interview — Report From Venezuela


Three years ago, I began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, I’m lucky to be able to interview Miguel Mendoza from Venezuela (he also shared the photos in this post). As readers probably know, huge protests have been occurring there. You can follow Miguel on Twitter at @mike08.

First off, can you tell me where and what you teach, and why chose to become an English teacher?

I teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP) to librarianship students at Universidad de Venezuela. They must enroll in the four English courses offered in the first four semesters of the career. They are aimed at developing reading skills.

Now, why did I choose to become a teacher? Initially, I wanted to be a painter or graphic designer. But upon listening to my mother’s advice I decided to become a teacher. She thought I had it in me to teach. She had noticed how passionate I was when helping my classmates learn English in high school and some freelance classes I taught during my summer vacations. She was right. She knew as a painter I would have struggled a lot to get a job in my country. In this post, written for the Teaching Village I thoroughly reflect about this.

What was the spark for these recent massive protests?

Students protests started off in the west part of the country first (Táchira state). The reason: a bodyguard of the Táchira’s Governor, Vielma Mora, tried to rape a student. This brought about student protests against this and rampant insecurity in this state. As a result, a group of students were sent to prison in Coro, Falcon state, north coast of Paraguana Peninsula. They were accused of throwing stones to the Governor’s house during these protests.

Apart from this, local government launched a harsh and disproportionate repression against students’ protests. This sparked the rage of students in different states around Venezuela. Táchira students’ protests were legit: insecurity inside and outside universities was becoming unbearable- it still is. Insecurity hits students and citizens alike all over the country.

Also, parallel to these events, three Venezuelan leaders, Leopoldo López, Maria Corina Machado and Antonio Ledezma, called for  “an exit” (La Salida) to the crisis our country has been going through for more than 15 years. Insecurity, scarcity (food, basic goods and medicine), unemployment, low salaries, rampant corruption, political prisoners, impunity, Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches totally controlled by the government including the National Assembly are to name a few some of the issues that each day deteriorates the quality of life of and put at risk human rights in Venezuelan.  Initially, these leaders invite Venezuelans to hold assemblies all over the country to think about potential, constitutional exits.

Students backed up this call.  In Caracas (Capital city of the country), the first assembly was held at a well-known area in the east part of the city. Hundreds of students and civil society attended this assembly and one of the decisions was to march on February 12th from “Plaza Venezuela” (north eastern part of the city) to the Republic General Prosecutor’s office, downtown (southern-west part of the city). February 12th is Youth Day. This day, we commemorate the fight and deaths of young Venezuelans during the Battle of La Victoria. So it was a very symbolic day for students and civil society to march together to the Prosecutor’s office. Upon arriving to our destiny, we heard some speeches and the invitation of leaders to get ready for next activities during the week. A group of students left. Some others stayed for a while and in a matter of minutes we heard the news that a student had been killed. We started to hear firing guns, people running to and fro. All hell broke loose. At the end of this day, two students killed: Basil Da Costa and Roberto Redman. This fueled the anger of students and more reasons to keep on protesting in the streets: insecurity and police abuse.

From February 12D on, the number of students killed during protests, disappearances and hurt students by shotgun pellets and tear gas canisters (a canister landed in a student’s face. He lost one of his eyes) has been on the increase. There have been reports of tortures. One student reported having being raped with a weapon. In the meantime, the government issued a warrant for Leopoldo Lopez and on February 16th he handed himself over in the middle of an amazing , massive demonstration of Venezuelans showing him their support . After this, students have kept on protesting, civil society have joined them to show their support as well. These protests go from peaceful demonstrations to barricading in the country.

In response, the government has kept on escalating its repression including the participation and support of “colectivos”, an armed revolutionary militia, which has been responsible for the killing and hurting of students, along with SEBIN (National Intelligence Service) and National Guard troops. To this date, apart from Basil and Robert, the following students have died: Génesis Carmona (shoot in the head), José Mendez (ran over by a pro-government follower during clashes in Sucre state), Asdrubal Jesús Rodríguez (disappeared and found dead by shotgun days after ), Alejandro Márquez (Cerebral dead after being beaten multiple times on the head), Geraldine Moreno (Shots on the face and the head with pellets).

Have you or your students had any direct involvement in the protests?  How do your students feel about them?

I have been participating in students’ demonstrations since February 12th, sharing information in social networks and banging pans in the evenings – people from the so called “popular areas” have been joining gradually this type of protest. Some of my students have done the same. Some of them have even risked their lives a bit recording what happened on February 12th in the very same place where Basil Da Costa was killed. My students demanded no class to participate in these activities. Some of them support and understand the current situation of the country, but are afraid of participating in demonstrations.

What do you see happening with the protest movement over the next few months?   Are you concerned that the government might escalate their reactions?

From the last demonstration, February 22nd, students said they will keep on protesting in the streets for: the liberation of imprisoned students, the liberation of Leopoldo Lopez and political prisoners like Iván Simonovis, the disarming of “Colectivos”, the elimination of the informative blackout (freedom of speech) among others.

I hope students will join protests made by other groups of our society like workers, teachers, doctors. Only last year, 4.410 protests took place in Venezuela. I see the raising of a popular movement made up of people from different walks of life protesting against the government’s wrong economic policies, repression, the monopoly of mass media, corruption, insecurity, scarcity of basic goods in Venezuela. They will not seek for coup d’état; they will ask for the government due rectification to guarantee peace, basic  human rights, freedom of speech security, and overall improvement of the situation of the country that has distressed and affected thousands of Venezuelans for more than 15 years.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

Venezuela has always been a peaceful, friendly, hospitable country. For years, the international community has been led to believe the Venezuelan government has been all for the poor. Nothing further from the truth. There are more poor people than before. Today we are living under the worst conditions ever and it is our youth who is raising their voices against rampant insecurity and the prospect of a gloomy future, should all conditions remain the same in our country. Last year, students supported their university teachers who were asking for better salaries. It has been a long fight and it still is.

Currently, our youth is leaving the country at an alarming rate. That is understandable in a country on the brink of the collapse. In spite of this, there is a still an amazing number of brave, young students who believe this country is worth the fight. A peaceful fight based upon constitutional rights to protest and demand for better conditions. Which is our role as teachers?I think it goes beyond planning classes, knowing to the letter about approaches and methodologies only. If we see ourselves as agents of social change, it is us who can help guide our students supporting them and helping them reflect on how to face a government who is selfishly compromising their future.

Thanks, Miguel!




June 18, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Hot Spot Interview — Report From Brazil

Two years ago, I began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, I’m lucky enough to interview Carla Arena (you can follow her on Twitter, too) from Brazil. As most readers know, huge protests have been happening there.

What led you to become an English teacher, and where and to whom do you teach?

I became an English teacher due to an irresistible call when I was taking a Teacher Development Course at the Binational Center in Brasilia that I work for nowadays, Casa Thomas Jefferson. At that time, I was taking this teacher course at that time just to keep up with English and because I loved the language. I was a public servant then and had no idea my life would be turned upside down on the day I taught my first English class for beginner adults as part of my course practicum. It was simply love at first sight. Adrenaline rushed through my body, and I realized at that point what I was meant for, what my drive was. From there, I did everything within my reach to become a teacher at Casa Thomas Jefferson, quit my job, became an English teacher and actively engaged in professional development opportunities to be qualified for the teaching position at the renowned English language institute in my hometown. Nowadays, I train teachers, teach a group of teens, teach online.

How and why did the protests begin in Brazil? To many of us outside of the country, they appeared to come out of nowhere.

I am not sure what the media around the world is reporting about Brazilians protesting on the streets, but, in fact, it all started with some protests in Rio, Goiânia and São Paulo because of the raise of public transportation rates in those capital cities. On the same week, we had the Confederation Cup opening in Brasilia and the soccer games all around Brazil, which are the preparation for the World Cup in 2014.

What happens is that the rebuilding or remodeling of the stadiums in preparation for this world soccer event was more than 30 BILLION reais, around 15 BILLION dollars. The population has been questioning all along if we needed stadiums or more investments in education or in our health system. I guess this latent movement pro-Brazil and our society just took off and was amplified by the social media. Dilma Roussef, our president, was booed in the opening ceremony of the Confederation Cup, and from there, things just got bigger and bigger to the point that the protests were organized all over the country in a moment it is in evidence with lots of media coverage. Of course, the protests were legitimate with mottos like #wakeupbrazil (#acordabrasil), or #thegianthaswokenup (#ogiganteacordou) or #cometothestreets (#vemprarua) with the optimistic Brazilians fighting against corruption, for a better, decent life for all. However, there are always those who use such moments for their own benefit or even to promote hatred campaigns and vandalism for the sake of it, but this is just the minority of the population. Tons of Brazilians were unison on the streets in a peaceful parade pro-Brazil.

I just want to highlight that I’m not against the World Cup. In fact, I love watching the Brazilian soccer games with friends and family. The point is that there is too much investment taking place that could be much more beneficial to our population. I’d exchange the World Cup in Brazil for more schools, qualified teachers and decent hospitals in the country. That’s what we’re desperately in need of.

To have a better understanding of the World Cup issues, watch this video:

How are the causes behind the protests affecting you and your students, and how are the protests themselves affecting you and them?

The moment is of reflection, one that should be taken to the classrooms for broader debate and awareness, for understanding how this movement is rooted in the many social and economic issues we face and it is much deeper than its apparent reasons. In fact, it is showing everybody that we have a voice, we have the power to change as a collectivity, we can’t just be mere spectators of decisions and attitudes from the State that directly affect us. Many of the students were on the streets, were part of the movement. In my case, I was traveling in a remote area of the country which hasn’t had any protest, but we were glued to the TV and social media to follow the crowds even at a distance. I was sad not to be in Brasilia for the pacific protest of huge proportions in my hometown, to show my kids that we should fight for what we believe in and we should be against all that is done against the public good.

What do you see happening with the protests in the coming days, weeks and months? What do you think their end result will be?

I have no idea what will happen from there. Today is one more day that everyone is on the streets to be heard loud and clear. What I know is that the government will think twice in their decision-making process. On the other hand, some bad-intentioned guys will use the moment for political gains, and I hope to see the population more aware and alert of their own citizen rights. I just wish this Brazilian awakening isn’t in vain and will result in concrete public policies, in the willingness of doing things differently, Am I being optimistic? As always, YES! But you know what? The last two times we had such a strong mass mobilization, our country went from a dictatorship to a democracy and in the other time one of our presidents has been through an impeachment process.

Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

I just wonder what the world perception about our manifest is around the globe… I wonder how the media is covering the events here, for they have a very important social and economic component that might not be visible in a foreign’s eyes…

Thanks, Carla!

September 30, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Hot Spot Interview — Report From Spain

Last year, I began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, I’m happy to interview Conchi M. Tejada (you can follow her on Twitter, too) from Spain. That country has certainly been hurt by the European financial crisis.

Where and who do you teach, and what led you to become a teacher and teach there?

I have a rather special teaching situation this year. I am what is called an ‘interina’ here in the region of Extremadura in Spain, which means that I am on a list for substitutions. ‘Interinos’ stay on the list until they gain enough points to get on full time with a permanent position within the public school system. This year I was offered a year-long substitution in a very small village called Bohonal de Ibor. The school has 15 students in total but 7 of them are the children of Portuguese temporary workers, which means that they only attend this school during the few months that their parents work in the village.

I teach 4 students, 2 of whom are in primary five and 2 who are in primary six and when the Portuguese children come, I will be teaching another 2 in year four. All of this happens in the same classroom, something that I have never done before and I am really enjoying the challenge. In other years I am normally ‘the English teacher’ but this year I am teaching math, science, literacy, art and citizenship education, apart from English. If normally the challenge is to find time for each student in a class of 25, now the challenge is to attend to the needs of children with different levels who are dealing with different syllabuses and having to do so simultaneously. At the same time, I’m finding that they get a lot out of the situation, as the younger learners are being exposed to next year’s material while the older students are subconsciously revising last year’s topics. I think that the scaffolding that naturally happens in this kind of teaching situation is something that should be looked at in greater detail as it really does seem to be beneficial to my learners.

All of this is light years away from what led me to become a teacher. As a young girl, I had always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, but outside pragmatism got in the way somewhere along the line and I ended up working in a bank in my 20’s. I quickly realized it wasn’t for me and the twists and turns of life led me to living in Sana’a, Yemen for a year where my childhood dream suddenly became a reality as I found myself standing in front of 25 tribesmen, teaching them English.

How is Spain’s economic crisis affecting your students and you?

The economic boom-madness that led Spain towards the abyss that we are currently facing is clearly reflected in the school that I work in. For a school with 15 students and only four classrooms in total, there is a computer lab and two interactive whiteboards that now barely work. And now as the crisis is biting hard, the authorities are thinking of closing the school and shipping the students to a larger centre in a nearby village everyday.

Personally, I was lucky this year as the savage cutbacks that education has suffered has drastically reduced the number of substitutions. If I wasn’t a specialist in English and therefore able to teach many subjects, my outlook would be less positive.

Last year, I was teaching pre-school students in a school located in the suburbs of the provincial capital, Caceres where a lot of young families live and the students wanted to talk about their mothers and fathers that were now staying home instead of going to work. With unemployment around 25% in Spain, I found myself autocensoring, in the sense that we at the school felt that we couldn’t ask the parents to contribute to things like field trips. We also worked hard in finding ways to reduce the supplies that we asked the parents for throughout the year. Here in Spain, parents must buy coursebooks every year, unless they are entitled to a scholarship. But even these have been reduced.

The cutbacks also have had a serious effect on the money available for special projects (libraries etc). Then there is the fact that they are not hiring as many teachers and class sizes are consequently getting much bigger. All of these things are obviously going to have a negative effect on an education system that was already permanently found at the bottom of the PISA tables.

What predictions might you and your students make about Spain’s future in light of the economic challenges it’s facing?

The current crop of university-aged students seem to be in standby. The new teachers who are currently coming up have little to look forward to and you can see this in their lack of enthusiasm and motivation. If the crisis has done this to this group of students, I can only imagine how it will affect those who will grow up during these difficult times.

Another dark cloud on the horizon is the threat to the public system in general. There has always been a fight here in Spain between political ideologies in regards to education. There have been more than six entire overhauls of the education system in the 35ish years of the democracy, confusing teachers and students alike every time there is an election. There are powerful sectors here in Spain who are using the crisis to shift resources away from public education and divert them to private schools which will also have a serious effect on the ability for kids like the ones I’m teaching this year to have access to quality education.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

The Spanish education system is at a crossroads. What happens in the next few years will definitely have an impact on the country’s future. Our education law(s) are in line with the rest of European states but unfortunately this is just on paper. What is often overlooked are the cultural differences that one finds between children raised in the U.S, Canada or Germany and the children here in Spain. These differences make educational theory, that may work in other countries, less effective in places like Spain. While a German teacher can raise two fingers and silence their class, a Spanish teacher faces a much different situation. Class size and lack of assistants, especially in pre-school levels, will have a serious effect on the quality of the classes given and worsen the behavioural problems and drop out rates that are already quite serious.

Not all is negative though. If the current mania of austerity is reversed, well-qualified and trained professionals will be able to work through these dark times and form those who will be next in charge. As the Finnish minister of education once said when asked what was the secret to their success. He said three words, “teachers, teachers, teachers.”

Thanks, Conchi!

January 6, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

Hot Spot Interview — Report From Russia

Last year, I began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, I’m pleased to interview Anna Loseva from Russia. Elections and protests there (see The Best Resources For Learning About Protests In Russia) have been in the news.

Can you tell us a little about what and where you teach, and what led you to teaching English?

I am currently teaching General English, ESP and EAP courses to undergraduate and postgraduate students of Physics at Moscow State University. I also give in-company classes, in both General and Business English. Like almost any ESL teacher, I work as a tutor in the spare time I manage to find, teaching English to adults or young adults. I’ve been teaching for more than five years now and, having gone through all stages of education system in Russia (except kindergarten), I find this “domain” most interesting for me and challenging at the same time.

Frankly speaking, when I entered the Faculty of English Philology at Moscow City Pedagogical University I had no inclination to take on teaching as a career path. After studying for 7 years in a class specializing in Maths, I just knew I wanted to deal with people, not with figures.  That seems to be the reason I chose philology then – languages meant communication, culture, the socio-driven future. Yet the fourth year of studies officially presupposed 2 months of hands-on experience in teaching. Somehow I got so enthusiastic about the process, about possible creative approaches to a lesson that I started working part-time at a private school the same year. My relationships with school system didn’t  work out in the end, but the story briefly describes how I’ve found myself  teaching ESL (which I’m doing with enormous pleasure now!).

 What have you seen happening in Russia over the past month?

On December 4th the elections took place all over the huge country – the population voted for parties to be represented in the State Duma (lower house of Russian legislative body). The results were what had been expected – the party currently at the power the United Russia (with V. Putin as a leader) won the overwhelming  majority of seats in the parliament. On the next day after the Sunday of elections Russian blogosphere, social networks and independent sources were literally flooded by numerous accounts of a global-scale fraud by the United Russia representatives at election places. Pictures, videos, posts showed evidence of what we call “vbros” – an illegal act of throwing in fake vote sheets. This caused a lot of buzz online – to little or almost none coverage on TV (highly political here). President Medvedev did react to these accusations some time later saying that the videos might be fake themselves, yet the information had to be checked. Later on, both Medvedev and Putin officially confirmed the results of the elections and stated they were fair and reflecting the will of the people.

Following these reactions the above-mentioned people organized massive protest demonstrations in different cities of Russia (and outside Russia as well!) – two within less than a month – gathering thousands of students, bloggers, doctors, showmen, public figures, etc. The striking feature of these protests is, first of all, the immensity of the events. Russia has not seen so many people disappointed in government and its decisions on the streets for many years, and this public expression of disagreement on such a massive scale is very exceptional indeed. Yet, the protestants cannot directly be called “opposition” – the claims are for “fair votes”, for democratic elections in the best sense.

Anyway, the meetings went very smoothly and finished with no casualties. Russians in revolt proved to be polite, peaceful and law-abiding.  More protests are scheduled for January 2012.

How have your students reacted to the election and protests?

We’ve been discussing the events since some minor relevant political stories occurred. I encouraged my students to go and vote, the United Russia representatives came to the dorms and lectured (threatened?) the innocent young adults on how their lives and studies could inevitably change for the worse if the ruling party lost its domineering position.

Here are some of the opinions of my students, quoted from feedback sheets we did after the end of the term.

“Our country isn’t honest itself. People give money to policemen and doctors. We can’t change it, it’s our nature… It was obvious that everything would go like this. We don’t need to protest, we should change ourselves first. ”

“I’ve taken part in elections but I’ve ignored protests absolutely, because firstly I don’t think the protest will have a success,  and secondly I really don’t want to be captured by police… as it was with some people who just passed the place of protest.”

“I have controversial feelings about these events. No doubt there was cheating during elections. But on the other hand, government has done some really beneficial improvements… I haven’t taken part in protest movement, I think it’s too dangerous.”

“In my opinion, the ruling party tries to strengthen its power and uses dishonest methods for this. People don’t approve of this fact and go to protests, I think it’s normal for every country.”

“I’ve been on two protests and I was really scared on December 26th, because there were a lot of militaries and police arrested everyone who said something loudly. The first meeting on Bolotnaya Square was very boring and I felt like a donkey on the walk. Today there is nothing we can do with that situation, because opposition hasn’t got its leader. ”

“The result of elections and the following protests was expected, so all I have to say – politics is a dirty affair.”

 What do you think will be happening in Russia over the next year?  The next five years?

I’m not sure much could change, honestly. Next year in March the country chooses its president, or rather has to confirm officially Putin in the place, as everything’s been already decided and even announced during the meeting of the United Russia some two months ago. It was humiliating and funny at the same time to see the two leaders publicly agreeing on a political swap. Sometimes “IF” was mentioned, concerning the presidential elections. IF is easily substituted by WHEN, in this case, it’s no condition, really. Upon the elections we might see some protests again, subsiding rather quickly I believe. And because a couple of days ago Vladimir Putin announced in an interview that “he would not be Putin number 2 in the new term”, I guess we should expect some surprises.

In the next five years – we will host winter Olympics in 2014 and will be preparing to host FIFA World Cup in 2018. A lot of natural resources will be exported. A lot of promises will be made. Authorities will continue to “fight” corruption. I believe, though, that life will be gradually getting better, as it has been for some years (let’s do the parliament some justice!). I hope people in power will start to respect people of the country – and trust their choice.

 Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

Reading through my answers now I understand that you might get confused over a too sarcastic impression they make. I was in Paris in November (attending TESOL France Colloquium), and strolling along the streets of this European city I came across one magazine sold in every newsstand. Here’s the picture of the cover.

I don’t want the world to know my great country I’m very proud of and happy to live in by this image. I hope for positive changes!

Thank you very much for your questions!

Thanks, Anna!

September 4, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview — Report From Chile

I recently began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, Thomas Baker from Chile has agreed to answer a few questions. As the PBS New Hour reported two days ago, Student Education Reform Protests Rock Chile, so this is a particularly timely interview.

Can you tell us what and where you teach, what made you decide on a teaching career, and what brought you to Chile?

My mother and my brother taught me to read when I was four years old. By the time I was five, I knew the multiplication tables backwards and forwards. When I entered first grade my teacher, Mrs. Johnson, discovered I could already read, write and do math at a third grade level. So, she made me her teaching assistant. When my best friend Cedric, for example, had problems reading, Mrs. J. told me to read to Cedric, then have him read what I had read. When the physical education teacher was absent, I was the gym instructor. When the third graders had trouble doing long addition, I was sent to the third grade to help out.

In sum, I’ve been a teacher all my life. When I graduated high schol, I joined the U.S. Army, where I found myself teaching digital electronics and computer fundamentals. After ten years, I studied nursing in Germany at a Berufsfachschule in Bavaria. After graduation, I found myself working with nursing students, teaching fundamentals of bedside nursing. Returning to the California in 1996, I became a Director of Staff Development at a convalescent hospital. In 1999, I became a Clinic Manager at a community health care clinic for a linguistically diverse, economically disadvantaged migrant worker population.

In February, 2001, I came to Chile on a two-week vacation and fell in love with the country. I went home, quit my job, sold my car, and returned to Chile in May, 2011. I began working as an EFL teacher at a binational language institute while simultaneously doing the CELTA course. Last year I completed the dual Universidad Finis Terrae / Bridge Linguatec International DELTA course. It grants the Chilean “Diplomado” and the Bridge Linguatec IDELT, which is recognised in the US at the post-baccalaureate level.

Over the past ten years I have taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at both the British and the American binational language institutes, public schools, private schools, and universities. Currently, I am the Head of the English Department at SEK International School. We have both the International Baccalaureate Diploma and the Middle Years Program (MYP).

What have been the reasons behind the massive protests in Chile? What role have students been playing?

First of all, the students role has been fundamental. Their creative and determined protests have captured the imagination and support not only of the Chilean people, but of the entire world. As a result, they are now negotiating reforms directly with the President and the Minister of Education. Free university education is number one on the agenda.

What brought the protests about? In short form, inequality, long-term debt, and an unfulfilled dream (hope) of socio-economic mobility are the major reasons behind the protests. Education, in the current system, simply is not a path to upward mobility. Rather it perpetuates the status quo.

To illustrate, a child born to poor parents will attend the free public schools. This means 45 students in a classroom, many children with social and behavioural problems rampant, parents with 8 to 12 years education, and low-paid teachers. The majority of these students graduate high school and begin work thereafter. A minority make it to university, often as the first member of the family to go to university. Often, they do not graduate.

Parents with any disposable income will send their children to a partly-subsidised government school that requires a parental co-pay, besides the government subsidy. In this school you find 35-45 students in a classroom, social and behavioural problems, parents with some education beyond high school, and better-paid teachers. These students do not enter university at a much higher rate than those who attend the free public schools.

The higher socioeconomic status students attend the private schools. Here you find 15-25 students in a classroom, university-educated parents, highly motivated and excellent teachers. These students, across the board, do well on university entrance exams and go on to study lucrative careers.

Adding to this inequality is the difficulty in paying for a university education. If a student from a disadvantaged background somehow makes it to university, it is only possible to pay through obtaining a bank loan. The loan is paid back after graduation, but it implies paying for the next 15 to 25 years, in many instances. That equates to a lifetime of debt, because often suitable employment is not obtained. This means the debt payment is extended.

Have any of your students been involved in them? If they have been, what do they say about them?

My students come from a high socioeconomic background. The issue is a sensitive one for them and their families. Therefore, I do not discuss the issue with my students. This allows them to be influenced directly by, and guided by, their families’ views, and not mine. More importantly, they do not come into intellectual or emotional conflict outside of their home environment.

What do you predict will be the long and short term results of the protests — how will the government ultimately react and how do you think the experience of organizing them will affect the student’s lives?

Predictions, in this case, are easy to make. The students will achieve all, every single one, of their demands. They have the support of over 85% of the population. They are determined and understand how strong their bargaining position is. That’s the short term. In the long term, in the next 20 –25 years, I see Chile as having the best educational system in the world. Nothing less than number one will be acceptable to the people.

In the future, we will find many of the student leaders in politics. The experience of changing a country will be used to make reforms elsewhere. Health care, energy, retirement, and worker’s rights, for example, easily come to mind as issues worthy of the intellect and organizational skills the students have clearly demonstrated they possess in abundance.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

Yes, there is. Chile is an absolutely gorgeous country. The people are friendly, warm, outgoing, gregarious, and hospitable. No one remains a stranger in this country. I’d like to take the opportunity to invite any and all of your readers to visit. Chile is always, in all ways, surprising.

Finally, Larry, thank you very much for interviewing me. It’s an honor and a pleasure for me. I am a fan of yours, and I’d like to encourage you to keep up the good work, as there are many more people like me who greatly appreciate the contribution you make to our teaching lives!

Thanks, Thomas!

August 23, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Looking For More “Hot Spot” EFL Interviews

Over the past several months, I’ve done eleven of what I’m calling “hot spot interviews” with English teachers in different parts of the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. They’ve been pretty popular with readers, and you can see all of them here. I’ve interviewed teachers in Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia, Japan, Greece, Pakistan and Egypt.

I’m getting ready to start another series of them, and am looking for more EFL teachers in “hot spots” who I can interview. If you are in a situation where your safety might be in question, you can be anonymous. Are you teaching in:

* a country that’s part of the “Arab Spring”? Even if I have already interviewed someone from your country, I’m sure there have been recent developments that you can talk about.

* Israel, Gaza or the West Bank?

* an island nation that’s being affected by global warming?

* Mexico or a Central American country being heavily impacted by drug-trafficking?

* Venezuela?

* Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, which just elected its first woman prime minister?

* China?

* other places that might qualify as “hot spots”?

If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, and are willing to briefly answer five or six questions, you can leave a comment on this post or email me by using this contact form.


June 24, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview — Report From Pakistan

I recently began a new regular interview series. There are always lots of “hot spots” around the world — places where there are natural disasters, political upheavals, etc. And English teachers can be found in most of those places. If you are an EFL/ESL teacher in one of those areas, please let me know.

Today, Tariq Hayat Lashari from Pakistan has agreed to answer a few questions:

Can you tell us about where and what you teach and what led you to become an English teacher?

Well, it all started in 2001 when I used to live in Sukkur, third largest town of Sindh province of Pakistan. Before that the last time I went to college was in 1998 for doing Bachelors in Science. Then I became financially broke. Not having enough money to buy books nor to study anywhere. Then in 2001, I got job at a private school as junior school teacher as a replacement.

I vividly remember my first day as a teacher. I was standing in front of third grade students, not knowing how to and where to begin. I knew nothing about teaching nor had any professional training. I was a total failure. It was like a load of bricks fell on me and I was trying to come out of it. It took me a month to establish rapport with the students and learn do’s and dont’s of teaching. But the lack of professional teacher training and incompetence in English would be Achilles heel and would pinch my conscience. So I took admission at English language centre for learning communication skills. In those days my love for learning English was at its heights. I used to read newspapers, watch English news and drama series (Full house, Perfect Strangers, Mind your language and Treasure Island) with a pen and notebook in my hand. I used to have my own strategies for learning English.

In 2002, I decided to get admission in MA English from Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, Pakistan as a private (external) candidate (which means doing home study, not attending the regular classes). I took admission in Masters class so as to learn English but out of my surprise, I had to learn literature which It was not my cup of tea. At that time private (external) candidates for Intermediate, Bachelor and Master used to rely much on Cheating and use of unfair means to get the good grades in the exams. Similarly I passed the exam of first year by cheating.

The next year as I was heading towards the examination centre on a bus, a sudden thought came in my mind and I got down from bus and went to home. I had decided to study at university as a regular student and would pass MA by the dint of my hard work. That was turning point in my career. Tears came into my eyes when the result was declared and I stood second in the entire Department of English in university. Since then I started concentrating on my teaching skills and content knowledge. My biggest inspiration of my life is my failures that didn’t let me slow down and be complacent.

Is there a lot of interest among Pakistani’s in learning English? Why?

To me, having communicative competence in English opens the doors of success and professional growth. Pakistanis are obsessed with English. Though Pakistan’s national language is Urdu, but the official language is English. In government offices, banks, courts, educational institutes and in official correspondence, English is the medium of written communication. If any person desirous of getting job, he is supposed to have excellent communication skills or else there is strong possibility that he may not get selected. In major cities of Pakistan, English language centres enhance language skills of the youth. Even in educational institutes English is considered as major subject of study and has maximum number of periods in week. All the arts and science subject books and medium of instruction at secondary and tertiary level is in English.

Majority of Pakistani youth love using internet, watching Hollywood movies, listening English songs and adopting western life-style which shows influence of dominant culture on economically and technological weaker country like Pakistan.

Today as we see, digital native child interacts at least five hours a day with technology and has more technical knowledge than we, the digital immigrants. Same situation also prevails in Pakistan. College Students’ favourite pastime activities are to do text messaging and use internet applications on their cell phones. They even manage to bring the cell phones at schools and colleges. For this reason, they get admission in English centres to enhance their language proficiency. To be honest, in Pakistan, there is craze of learning English in youth.

There’s a lot of confusion in the United States about how many Pakistani’s feel about our country. In a paragraph or two, can you try to help people here try to understand those feelings?

According to the recent survey conducted by one of TV channel in Pakistan, Majority of Pakistanis have negative sentiments for government of United States. As approximately 60 percent of Pakistani population is illiterate, they have either affiliation with religious or political parties. These parties influence people in having this wrong attitude towards United States. They blame US government for what is happening in Pakistan in form of terrorism and lawlessness. They think that US government is turning Pakistan into next battle ground. Just as what US did in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the other side of picture. But the reality is US government has helped Pakistan in difficult times. As it was seen during earth quake of 2005 and super floods of 2010 in Pakistan, United States was the first country to send relief aid for affected people. Plus different organisations (i.e. US Aid and other donor organisations) working under the umbrella of US government has done tremendous works to rehabilitate people, to provide health facilities and to uplift the standard of education.

Youth and literate people of Pakistan living in urban areas always think well of US government. They consider US as trustworthy ally of Pakistan in the war against terrorism. They also feel that with support and cooperation of US government, Pakistan can progress and develop in the fast-paced world of economics, information, and science and technology. I have met number of US citizens in Pakistan while I was working local NGO super floods in Pakistan. The reality is this that I found them very caring, cooperative and friendly and they were keen in extending cordial relations among the people in both countries. Having seen selfless and kind attitude of US citizens (NGO workers), I can’t tell you how happy those flood affected people were. When they were leaving for United States after the completion of relief mission, tears came into our eyes. The only thing that can bring two countries together is humanity and assistance towards achieving the common goals.

How is terrorism directly affecting your life and the lives of your students?

It’s really hard to imagine what devastation ‘Terrorism’ has brought in the lives of people. People of Pakistan have the sense of insecurity that they may become the victim of any act of terrorism on any day. Almost every day there is a suicide blast in any major city of the country. People leaving homes in the morning for jobs have no assurance that they would return home safe and sound in the evening. A constant fear prevails in the hearts of people.

I have to travel to Karachi (largest city in population) for MPhil classes on weekend. Karachi is some 170 Kilometres away from my residing place. Thanks to God, my university is situated in the outskirts of the city. Believe it or not, I hardly set foot outside of my car until I reach at university where I feel safe and sound. Those students who come from Karachi city find it hard to reach at campus if there is any political strike or any act of terrorism. Terrorism has turned the life every peace-loving person in hell.

I work at a boarding school which is run by board of governors from Pakistan Naval forces. Students from all corners of Pakistan come to study here in order to be selected in armed forces as second lieutenant. School offers education from 7 to 12 standard of Pakistani educational system. Parent of the students get worried when they hear and see any terrorist bomb blast on the TV channels. They keep calling us inquiring the well being of their child. Our school hardly let students out for any educational or pleasure trip due to security reasons. Situation gets even worse when students go for vacation. They are scared until their parents come to receive them. Even when students enjoy their holidays at home, they restrict their movement. In such precarious situation, there is hardly anything that we can do. But in the classes, we divert their minds away from any topic or issue that is related with terrorism.

What do you think Pakistan will look like ten years from now?

To me, there is always light at the end of tunnel. I am optimist that Pakistan will emerge as a developed nation and will contribute globally. This current turmoil and crisis that persist in Pakistan surely has the end to it. I am as citizen of this nation waiting for the prosperous time. The time when peace and tolerance will be the order of the day and no one will sleep on hungry belly. I see it coming. I believe that with assistance and cooperation of countries like United States, Great Britain and China, Pakistan will overcome the difficulties. I have strong faith in countries youth and in collective effort literate and enlightened Pakistanis who want to stand their country on sound footings.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

Yes, you didn’t ask me about current situation of education in Pakistan. Government of Pakistan spends 2 percent of its budget on education and 70 percent on defence. This gives ample evidence what government of Pakistan prioritize. It is worst at primary and secondary level. In Pakistan, schools imparting education are divided into four classes i.e. Cambridge schools (Schools for rich and privileged ones), English medium private schools (schools for middle class), government schools (schools for poor), and Madarsas (Islamic religious schools). The best education in schools is provided in Cambridge schools where students from rich and privileged class study. They have best teachers and learning atmosphere. The rest pseudo-learning places where rote-learning is taking place. In other words, parrots are being created who only have to memorize notes and lessons so as to print them on the exam answer script.

The salary of an English medium school teacher is less than 50 dollars a month. Teacher having no professional degree and experience find it easy to be teacher at English medium school. State-run government schools are in pathetic situation. Teachers having faulty teaching methods and no professional and academic background are appointed as government teachers. In rural areas of Sindh province, some government schools are called ghost schools. Schools that exist only on official papers and records and they have no physical presence. Ghost schools are one form of educational corruption. Lastly religious schools are for those who are physically handicapped and orphans who have been turned down by the society. Madarsas have only one purpose and that is to produce religious clerics and scholars. The name of madarssas is also associated with suicide bombing since they act as nursery for producing Muslim hardliners.

Cheating (use of unfair means in exams), political influence, bribe, outdated curriculum, wrong instructional methods, worst educational infrastructure, incompetency, lack of funding and many more issues add salt to the injury that has dented the educational system of Pakistan. I am also the product of this system but I know what is happening is wrong and that needs to be changed. That is why I, as a teacher, continuously strive for betterment in my teaching practices so that I can give quality education to my students. I know it is a little effort but this effort counts in this dry and outdated part of the world. I remember a dialogue from a movie “Every first drop rain on the hot burning soil, has to vanish and lose its existence. But after wards there will be loads of rain drop that will turn the dry land into heaven.”

Thanks, Tariq!

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