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!


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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!




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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!

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September 30, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo
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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.


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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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June 15, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview — Report From Greece

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, Elinda Gjondedaj from Greece has agreed to answer a few questions:

Can you tell us what led you to becoming an English teacher and where do you teach?

I remember my self from a very young age dreaming to become a teacher as I love kids and love to be around them. When I started to learn English I realized that the English language was just another love. As a matter of fact, I combined my love for kids and English. So, I had my Certificate of Proficiency in English and currently I am on the 4th year of studies in the faculty of English Language and Literature of University of Athens.

I teach in a private institution to young children (age: 8-12) who have their first steps in English language. I also have private lessons (1:1 lessons) to various levels. I am also making a research on how the new technologies can be engaged in the English classroom and I am making some workshops in the University of Athens to colleagues on this topic.

I read a lot about economic problems in Greece and lots of protests. Can you give us an overview of what has caused those problems and what is happening now?

Greece is facing many serious problems at the time being. The country’s debts are so high that the government is obliged to cut down many public expenditures from the salaries, educational domain, the health domain etc and to increase the taxes. As a consequence, the living conditions are becoming unbearable with lower wages and higher taxes and prices. Not to mention the unemployment rates that go higher and higher. As we say here in Greece, every family nowadays has its unemployed member.

What caused these problems? It’s difficult to say. Many people say that these problems have been accumulated in the last 35 years from the time that dictatorship changed to democracy. Of course, I am not supporting that democracy has brought the problems. The people who governed might have made wrong decisions. As it is reported, in this period of time, a large amount of money was used in inexplicable ways and the country was receiving loans from abroad.

Another reason that may caused the the current ‘maze’ is the common European currency, the Euro. From 2001 Greece shares a common unit with Europe. The problem is that the exchange from the previous unit,drachma, to euro was made in an unequal way. For example bare in mind that 500 DR = 1.5 E. If something previously cost 500 DR now it costs 2E or even more. So there is an unequal exchange against the consumers.

The Greeks were not aware of the economical situation and debts until recently that we joined the International Monetary Fund and suddenly money were cut down from their salaries and people started to lose their jobs. People are currently really disappointed with the political parties and the politicians. They are considered to be guilty for the economical situation as they were hiding for years the economical deficit from the population. Today, Greeks are protesting outside the parliament every day asking for better living conditions. What is commendable in these protests is that the protesters are not members of political parties,they protest in peace without violent episodes and they are common people who ask for what is deprived from them.

How have these economic issues affected you and your students?

I believe that the impact of this economical crisis is mainly psychological. I can see many depressed people. The younger children do not understand the situation due to their youth but the teenagers seem to be very skeptical. I feel that they are deprived of their dreams and youth. We force them (teachers and parents) to learn more, to engage with more activities in order to get a decent job. For instance, a 17 year old student should have a Certificate of Proficiency in English and in another foreign language and should be ready to take the exams to enter the university. But in spite of this huge effort of having excellent qualifications, the labor market is narrowing down and these kids face great difficulties in finding a job. As a matter of fact, I can see 16-17 year old students really unmotivated to chase their dreams, to be creative.

As far I am concerned, I am afraid of the future. I believe that at this chronological moment, many people fear of unemployment. Nevertheless, I am not losing hope and I always try to show to my close people and students that they should value other things in life than money.

What do you predict will happen in Greece over the next few years?

I cannot make a prediction. The things are so unstable here and the debts are huge. However, I wish the best for my country.

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

I don’t think so. Thank you Larry for your questions. I am very honored.

Thanks, Elinda!

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May 18, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

“Hot Spot” Interview — Report From Morocco

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, Abdellatif Zoubair from Morocco has agreed to answer a few questions:

Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m a teacher supervisor in Agadir, in the South west of Morocco. I`m mainly responsible for the in-service training of about 130 teachers of English working in middle and high schools, both private and public. My job consists in observing teachers and providing them with feedback and guidance to help them improve and grow professionally. I also organize seminars and workshops relating to ELT methodology. Recently, Ive tried to help teachers make use of ICT to improve the quality of their instruction, and consequently that of students` learning. You can see some of these products on my Facebook page as well as on my website.

I first got interested in learning English from high school. I liked my teacher`s methodology and the language, especially the grammar that sounded simpler to me to master, compared to Arabic or French, that are my first and second languages respectively. I got a B.A. in English language and literature, then a diploma in ELT methodology. There was not much else one could do with such a degree at that time (1980). I taught for five years in my hometown, Taroudant, (one hour drive east of Agadir), then was appointed a supervisor in 1987. In the meantime, I was also in charge of test design at the regional academy for education and training.

What has been the impact of the “Arab Spring” in Morocco?

According to most analysts, Morocco is probably one of the very few Arab countries where the impact of the ‘Arab spring’ was the least felt. Morocco, just like many other Arab countries, had and still has to face serious social and economic problems relating to unemployment, illiteracy or corruption.

But unlike such countries, citizens here enjoy a relative degree of freedom, something you could feel through the media. We do have an elected parliament. The king still enjoys decisive power. Despite all the criticism from different spheres, the high majority of people consider him as the symbol of the unity of the country. By the way, he`s done a lot since he took power in 1999 to help the needy in both urban and rural areas. Another thing is that workers and civil servants could go on strike, something unimaginable in most Arab countries before this spring.

There was a recent terrorist bombing in Morocco. Can you share what happened and its impact on your country?

It turned out that the young man who committed the bloody crime, and his associates, were fervent fans of Al Qaeda and its doctrines. By choosing Marakech precisely, they wanted to hurt not just the tourist industry, but also the image of the country as a relatively safe area, that people / tourists from neighbouring Europe (just 10 miles) away could easily access for holiday as well as for long-term investments.

How do you think students at your school feel about what is happening in the Arab world right now?

That created a general feeling among most students that they, as youngsters, have the right to rebel, demonstrate, express their anger and dissatisfaction not with school or university systems, but also more global issues relating to democracy or human rights.

What are your predictions for Morocco’s future?

The impact of the last demonstrations will hopefully show politicians and decision makers in the country to keep in mind that portion of society (youth) and their growing demands. Up to quite recently, they have been regarded as kids who are not mature enough to have a say in the running of their communities or their country.

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

Morocco has also been known throughout its history for being a land where people with different faiths have been coexisting peacefully. Although the vast majority of citizens are Muslims, Christians and Jews are considered as ordinary citizens who deserve respect and have the right to practice or worship in churches and synagogues that are scattered in major cities and towns.

Thanks, Abdellatif!

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May 3, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview — Report From Egypt

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, Ola Bakri, an English teacher in Egypt, has agreed to answer a few questions:

Can you say a little about yourself — where you grew up, where you teach, how and why you chose to become an English teacher?

I grew up in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. So, I am a city girl. I am an English teacher in the American University in Cairo. I teach general English courses. I also work as soft skills trainer.

I choose to be a teacher when I got a Fulbright scholarship to teach Arabic to undergraduates in the U.S. I fell in love with teaching especially teaching my language. When I came home, I decided to work as an English trainer and this how I started my career.

Can you share a few of the experiences and feelings you had during the Revolution?

I cannot describe it… lots of feelings that I could not imagine one day I would experience. I was scared to death. I cried when I saw many premises in my country burning. I remembered when we used to think of Palestine and Iraq as distant places and we would never become like them. I just thought how selfish I was by just following the news about “those” people and not doing a real effort for their cause. I thought about what other people are thinking about us. Do they feel what is happening here in Egypt? Or are we just those “distant people”.

During the revolution, it was the first time I spend the night scared of thugs to enter our house. Every day was a new terror that we would be invaded by the U.S to “protect our interests” as in Iraq and “free” us from the dictator and have its version of “democracy”. I was scared of Israel to break the peace treaty. We were exposed to different kinds of rumors whether by our national television or by international news. Thank goodness these days are over.

How do you think the Revolution will affect your life and the lives of your students in the coming years?

Really, I do not know how it will affect my life or my students’ life. But, I think that none of our generation has witnessed any wars or disputes as our parents and grandparents. Therefore, this is our “event” that would narrate to our children and grandchildren. I think this revolution brought up awareness to many Egyptians who want their country to be better. Currently, we are in a transitional time and do not know what will happen in the future. Hopefully, we will pass through it safely.

Finally, the world is very small and all of us are living on the same ship, so what’s happening here someday it may be at your place. The peoples of the world should collaborate together to make it a great place to line in and that includes Green Earth initiatives and supporting your fellow human beings wherever they are because some day you will need them.

Thanks, Ola!

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April 25, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview — English Teacher Ayat Tawel From Egypt

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, Ayat Tawel, an English teacher in Egypt, has agreed to answer a few questions:

Can you tell me a little about yourself — how and why did you end up being an English teacher, where do you teach, what do you like about it?

I’m Ayat, an EFL teacher from Egypt. I have always liked being a teacher since I was a small kid !! When I was a child, I used to act like a teacher at home when I’m alone in my room! It seems that I was born to be a teacher!! As a student, I have always had good relationships with my school teachers and especially my English Language teachers. I started learning English when I was 5 years old. All my English teachers liked me, as I was committed to my work , and I’ve seen them as my idol ! That’s why I have always wanted to be an English Language teacher. After graduating from the faulty of arts , English Language and literature Department in which we don’t study special courses to do with teaching English, I applied for a diploma in applied linguistics in which I took courses in teaching methods, SLA, testing and others to qualify me to be a teacher ! I insisted on being a teacher though I was qualified for many other good jobs!!

I have been teaching for more than 10 years now. I have taught all levels and age groups. I’ve taught general English, conversation and business English courses. Now, I teach Young learners in a private Language School. The most important thing I like about it is that it’s a job to enjoy !! My main interest as an EFL teacher is enhancing creativity in the classroom. I work hard to make my students enjoy learning the language in an authentic way & I enjoy it too !!!

What were your experiences and feelings during the Egyptian Revolution?

The Egyptian revolution was unexpected at all. It started with a Facebook group criticizing some aspects of corruption in Egypt. After some time, and specially after The Tunisian Revolution, they decided to go out in 25th January and say it aloud, but peacefully, that there must be a change and corruption should be stopped. Many people thought it would be just for one day and the government will suppress them and punish them for saying it aloud !! But their extreme courage and strong will were greater than any other power !!

We spent nights of great fear and terror in the first days of the revolution when the police started using tear gas bombs in all places around the country to stop anybody from going out or joining the proteters in Tahrir square !! They even started shooting people and fire spread in many places, esp. police stations and prisons. We have never witnessed such conditions in the recent history of our country !! After the police left their places and prisoners were released, all young men in all families all over the country went out at night to spend the whole night protecting the neighborhood with all simple self defence tools such as wooden sticks, knives ,…..etc. As there were curfew hours, we spent most of the time at home, but with no means of communication except some landlines and no media except TV and some newspapers as the government stopped all cell phone services and all internet connections. Besides, some TV channels were not honest enough in showing the reality of what’s going on out there!!!

Despite all these events, I had a special time on those days taking some online courses (after internet connections were back) with EFL teachers from all over the world. I had soo many friends sharing every moment with me, supporting me and giving me a nice unforgettable experience. They made the first big PD change in my life with the revolution!!

After the ousting of the ex-president, I joined all the Egyptians going out to Tahrir square !! This day will be engraved in my mind forever as I saw all classes and ages of the Egyptian people going out with brooms, gloves, rubbish bags, and all necessary tools to clean Tahrir square and all places around, celebrating their great victory with loud speakers playing all wonderful songs of the revolution!! We were actually cleaning all wastes of the previous regime !!

How has the Revolution affected your students?

My students were depressed as they spent the whole mid-year vacation at home in great fear, watching the news all the time at home. However, they came back to school fully knowledgeable about all the events and political changes that happened. They had memories of totally new experiences !!

In the English class, they kept asking about the English equivalent of words they became familiar with in Arabic such as; curfew, tank, regime, constitution, tear bombs, martyrs, armed forces.

They were very proud of themselves. They had greater respect to the Egyptian flag which was with every person in these days. They organised camapaigns on FB to clean the streets of their neighborhood as a way of showing their love to the country and showing that they can do something. I think their sense of responsibility is getting better as they have confidence they can make a change in their future and in the future of their country. They are more aware of politics and more interested in following the news.

A very common effect of the revolution on my students is that they asked for changes in the school as they wanted to change their uniform, class schedule, canteen prices, school playgrounds, ..etc. They wrote a paper with their suggestions and submitted it to the school owner !! I would like here to quote David Deubelbeiss (2011)’s words that it’s all to “Teach how the powerless should meet power and teach that every person counts.”

What do you think is going to happen in Egypt in the coming months and years?

I think in the coming months people will gain more awareness of their rights. There might be some economic problems, but people are working hard to overcome any obstacles that might appear and things are already getting better.

In the coming years, All the people and specially young people will have a big role in the political life. I think we will have more democracy and all decisions will be the people’s. The wide gap between the rich and the poor will hopefully get less. I hope all our economic and social conditions get better. A revolution is an everyday fight so we have to keep fighting all kinds of corruption and remains of the old regime. People’s attitude and sense of responsibility should keep on changing positively too !!

Thanks, Ayat!

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April 18, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview — Report From Japan

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, Michael Stout, a longtime English teacher in Japan, has agreed to answer a few questions.
First, can you tell a little about yourself — where do you teach, why did you get involved in teaching English,  how did you end up in Japan, and how long have you been there?  How are you from the devastated areas, and from the nuclear dangers?

I’m originally from Toronto. I came to Japan almost 14 years ago. In the beginning I taught for a language school called NOVA. Then I moved on to work for an outsourcing company that placed me in junior and senior high schools. After that I worked at a high school. Now I teach at two universities. I sometimes wonder whether I was born to teach, or whether teaching has been thrust upon me. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. I got involved in teaching because I wanted to come to Japan. I saw Japan as a land of opportunity for me, and I’d always had an interest in Japan. I live in Tokyo, which is quite far from the devastated areas. I’m perfectly safe where I am.

You offer a pretty unique perspective on the quake and tsunami’s effect on Japan.  You left the country right before it hit, and you’ve just returned a little more than a week later.  What are two or three things that struck you the most upon your return?

I guess the first thing that struck me was that some of the lights in Narita airport had been turned off. Some of the railway stations shut down the escalators too. Those were just a couple of things being done to save energy. Some of the shelves in the shops were bare, but not like what was reported in the foreign media. Only one little porcelain bank was broken in my place. No serious damage at all. So I guess I was struck by how normal almost everything was. Things seemed much worse when I was in Greece.

I am a member of the Japan Association for Language Teaching’s board of directors, so I was receiving many e-mails every day, about what JALT’s response to the disaster should be, and how we’d implement it. One of our biggest concerns was the safety of members in the affected areas. I tried to help with this as best I could while I was overseas, as did our president, who was in New Orleans at the TESOL conference. I was overwhelmed by the response of my fellow directors, and so many JALT members. Everyone really rallied together and made a good and quick response to the situation. Little by little we saw more and more people checking in and letting us know they were safe. Many of these people started helping those less fortunate than them immediately. I guess the amazing generosity and kindness of so many people impressed me most.

Are there any particular differences between how you think many Japanese are responding to the disaster and how people in Western countries might respond to a similar tragedy?
Well, it’s difficult for me to answer this question because I truly don’t believe in this concept of “western countries”. All I can tell you is what I know of how people in Japan have responded. I’ll let you and your readers be the judge of whether the Japanese response is different than what another nation’s response might be.

For me, one of the fortunate things about being overseas when the disaster struck was that I could watch NHK World News, the English service of the Japanese government’s national broadcaster. NHK World isn’t available in Japan, and my comprehension isn’t good enough to understand the news in Japanese, so if I’d been in Japan at the time I’d have missed one very special story. A primary school teacher, living in one of the worst hit areas, sought out every one of her students. When she found them, she went to wherever they were and brought them a book, a special book of the kind that she knew that they would like to read. She talked to each one of them and encouraged them to keep their spirits up. This must have been physically, and emotionally exhausting for her, but she did it. So, what do you think? Mightn’t an American teacher do something like this? I think hard times bring out the best in people everywhere.

I can tell you a couple of more things about the Japanese response. My university asked all the professors, teachers and staff to refrain from wearing any flashy clothes to the convocation ceremony. The ceremony was shortened too. Some parts like the piano performance were cut. Many people are toning down their annual cherry blossom viewing parties too. This is out of respect for those unable to enjoy the spring. Also, there are rolling blackouts throughout the country to save energy and make it possible to maximise the amount of energy available to those who most need it up north. So, people across the country are making some sacrifices. Some big, some small. Some real, some mostly ritual. I think one would see a response like this in other countries that compared to Japan in wealth, and affluence.

How do you think the disaster has affected your students?

Interesting question. I’m keen to find that out. Well, I imagine that the students at Toyo Gakuen University were disappointed that they had to tone down their graduation celebrations. No doubt the girls wanted to wear kimono, and were disappointed that they couldn’t. Some of my students may have lost loved ones in the disaster. I don’t know yet. Frankly, I imagine that few were much affected because it happened so far away. Toyo Gakuen is over 200 kilometres from the affected areas. Perhaps some will drink more bottled water, and refrain from eating rice, or vegetables from up north. Actually, I do a unit on water in my Global Issues course at Shibaura Institute of Technology, the other university where I teach. One of the projects is a bottled water survey. I’m curious to see if more students think that bottled water is safer than tap water.

What impact do you think its had on the English teaching community in Japan?

Not sure. I know that some of the people who’ve left Japan were teachers, and their departure has placed a burden on those who stayed behind. Some schools may be less interested in hiring foreign teachers because they can’t trust them to stick around when things get tough. On the other hand, we’ve seen many teachers stay behind and really work hard to help out. I think this experience will make us stronger.

Are you planning to stay in Japan?  Are you tempted to leave?

Of course! Why would I leave? Japan is my home. One of my friends here said that staying is a way of thanking Japan for all it has given us. We have much to be thankful for, and it’s our home. The people who’ve left didn’t think of Japan as home.
What are the best ways people outside of Japan can help?

I think one of the best ways people outside Japan can help is to raise some money and donate it to low overhead organisations. One group called Hearts for Haragama is a group that is a great one to support for educators. Hearts for Haragama is a group of 7 people, 6 foreign and 1 Japanese who are raising money to help rebuild a kindergarden in Soma, Fukushima, called Haragama Yochien. Actually, this is a really heart-rending story too. A man called Tsukasa lost his home and all his possessions in the earthquake. Despite that, his first thought was for the children who attended the kindergarden he ran, Haragama Yochien, which was also destroyed. He immediately went to work to rebulid the kindergarden and do anything else he had to in order to get life back to normal for the children. The kindergarden was Tsukasa’s week-end occupation. He works full-time from Monday to Friday too. Incredible! I donated US$50 this month. I’ll donate $50 more next month.

Another organisation I’ve supported is Second Harvest Japan too. It’s a fantastic group I discovered when I was doing a project with high school students about homelessness.  Finally, supporting the efforts of local organisations such as the University of California Santa Cruz Japanese Students Association is another good way to help. Messages of support on Youtube, or posted on blogs and so on, would be very appreciated by Japanese people too, I think.

Thanks, Michael!

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April 11, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview — Teaching In The Midst Of Drug War

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, Janice Silva, from a Pre-K to ninth-grade school near Monterrey, Mexico, where 80% of the curriculum is taught in English, has agreed to answer a few questions.

Can you tell me a little about what you do, where you work, and what brought you to Mexico?

I work at a Pre-K to 9th-grade private school in a suburb of Monterrey, Mexico. I’m primarily involved with curriculum, instruction and professional development, so I work closely with teachers, but get to spend a lot of time in classrooms, too. I observe how the curriculum is implemented from preschool through middle school to ensure that instruction is coherent and aligned throughout the school. I’ve lived in Mexico for a total of 15 years. My husband is from Monterrey, which is largely why we’re here, but I’ve enjoyed living in Monterrey, which is home to me now.

How has the drug violence in Mexico affected your everyday life?

Within just the last two years, my family and I, like other families, have started taking some precautions. We rarely go out at night. We try not to leave the house empty, as the rate of break-ins and home invasions has risen dramatically. If someone rings the doorbell, we don’t answer at all if we don’t recognize the person. Although home robberies may not be directly related to the drug violence, the assumption is that the drug violence is keeping police so busy that they don’t have the resources to investigate other types of crime. As a result, there’s little probability that criminals will be detained and prosecuted. Kidnappings have also become more common, so if any of my family are late getting home, and if I can’t reach them on their cell phone, I start to get nervous.

Car robberies at gunpoint have also become common, so we’ve just agreed to give up the car rather than risk injury. We carry cards, produced by a local university, with the emergency telephone numbers of the army and navy, which have responded effectively to calls for help. We park as close as possible to stores if we go shopping, and we don’t stop at convenience stores at night. There have been cases of people being followed home from convenience stores and robbed when they arrive home.

If we have appointments or meetings to drive to, we give ourselves generous travel time, in case there’s a roadblock, typically organized by a cartel in order to disrupt traffic and prevent law enforcement officials from arriving at the scene of a crime or skirmish. We might also need extra time if there are police filters slowing down traffic as they’re searching for particular persons or vehicles. Roadblocks and filters are becoming acceptable reasons for arriving late for appointments.

How do you think your students would say it has affected their lives?

I asked some of our students this question. The first thing they mentioned is that their parents won’t permit them to walk to the park, the store or a friend’s house anymore. They have to wait for a parent to drive them. Some of them are not allowed to go beyond the suburb where most of our students live and where our school is located. In fact, some don’t even visit grandparents who live in other parts of Monterrey.

Our students generally have very active social lives – lots of parties and celebrations. They still go to parties, but on average, their curfew now is two hours earlier than it was prior to the problem with drug violence. Some also said that while they’re out with friends, their parents make frequent calls to their cell phones to ask if they’re all right or if they’re ready to be picked up.

Students or their parents also check the security situation of the roads and the area where social events are going to be held. Students told me that they check TV news, Facebook and Twitter for this information. In many cases, incidents of violence are reported first on Facebook and Twitter before they reach more traditional news services. (My daughter just told us that there’s a report on Facebook tonight of gunfire near the school she attends.)

Since Monterrey is located only 2-3 hours from the U.S. border, students and their families used to make this trip frequently to go shopping or to go to South Padre Island for a long weekend. Students reported that their families no longer drive to the border or else they go less frequently because of robberies, assaults and kidnappings that have occurred on the roads. When families do go, they try to go accompanied by several families, so that the vehicles travel together. Some families opt to fly rather than drive.

Perhaps saddest, every student I spoke to knows some family that has left Monterrey to escape the drug violence, usually to go to the U.S.

Have you ever considered leaving Mexico?

In the past, when I’ve heard news of countries experiencing violence caused by criminal organizations, political upheaval or war, I wondered how people could continue living there, and I imagined that those who stayed had no other option. I suppose that there are people living in Monterrey who would leave if they could. However, there are many who choose to stay despite the violence, and now I understand this choice. My home and family are here, as is my work, which I look forward to every day. Like many people here, we’re thinking about the situation here in terms of probabilities. Taking precautions can lower the probability of the occurrence of an unfortunate incident. Beyond that, we just hope that at the end of the day, we’ll arrive home safely. Right now, we feel we’d lose a great deal by leaving Monterrey. Of course, my family hasn’t been directly affected by the drug violence. If it were, that might change our perspective completely.

Interestingly, although the drug violence has made us more wary of strangers, it’s strengthened our relationship with our neighbors. We all watch out for each others’ homes and families. During my trip to the ASCD conference, I knew that my neighbor would watch for my daughter to get home safely from school every day. We all have a sense of commitment to each other and to our neighborhood. I assume that many people in Monterrey feel the same. My friends talk about people who have left Monterrey, but they rarely talk about leaving themselves.

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

I’d only add that there’s still a faith here that this situation is temporary, and that it will eventually pass. Every day brings discouraging news. Yesterday 14 deaths in the Monterrey area were attributed to drug violence – 3 police officers, 5 suspected criminals, 5 armed criminals, and a university student who was an innocent bystander. Still, people get up every day to go to work and school, they spend weekends with extended family, they go shopping and to restaurants and movies, and they make plans for the future. Monterrey has always been known for its industrious people who place a high value on education. People who make Monterrey their home deserve to maintain this reputation.

Thanks, Janice, and be safe!

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April 5, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

“Hot Spot” Interview With English Teacher Tarak Brahmi In Tunisia

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, English teacher Tarak Brahmi, who is a member of The Tunisian English Teaching Forum and edits its magazine, has agreed to answer a few questions. By the way, if you want to learn more about the Tunisian Revolution, this week’s issue of The New Yorker has an excellent article (most of it is behind a paywall right now, but they usually release it a week or two after publication):

First, can you tell me a little about yourself — how you ended up becoming an English teacher and why, your role in the Forum, where in Tunisia do you live, and anything else you’d care to share?

I am a teacher of English from Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. I have been teaching for more than 11 years now.

The idea of a magazine for teachers of English as a Foreign Language goes back to the year 2007. By then, I was teaching in Hamad Town Preparatory School in Bahrain; I just had my ICDL (International Computer Driving License) and I cultivated a taste and love for graphic design using InDesign and Photoshop. My colleagues shared my enthusiasm for creating a magazine where we could publish articles about techniques and strategies related to teaching English. Later that year, we published one issue of a magazine that we entitled “Teach&Share”. The following year, I went back to Tunisia.

When I discussed the idea of a forum and an online magazine with the inspector of English in Sidi Bouzid, Mr. Mohamed Salah Abidi and teacher trainer Mr. Fathi Bouguerra , they were very encouraging. About a week later, we started posting articles to the forum. By the end of September, the first issue of “The Tunisian English Language Teaching Forum” was online. Three more issues followed with valuable contributions from teachers and educators from Tunisia, The U.S.A, England, Bahrain and Ireland. The blog has visitors from more than 100 countries. We really hope it can be of some help for teachers of English all over the world.

Becoming a teacher was a dream come true. I was lucky enough to have outstanding teachers throughout my school life who not only showed me the way but also greatly influenced my choice of the dream job that I wanted to have. Their unique personalities, their true passion and their deep devotion made a real difference in my life and my career.

What are two or three key experiences or moments you felt, saw, or did during the Tunisian revolution?

Maybe the first moment which will be engraved in my mind for years to come is when I was going back to Sidi Bouzid from my school in Lessouda (about 6 miles away) on the 17th of December. When we reached the town centre, there were people running in all directions followed by enraged policemen. Some were rubbing their eyes; tear gas bombs were shot by the local police in retaliation for the first in a series of protests following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation. I knew something serious was going on but I never thought this young man’s desperate reaction would spark the most dramatic wave of protests against tyranny and injustice in the country and later in the Arab world.

Another unparalleled experience in my life is the day we witnessed the ousting of the ex-president. This was also followed by Tunisians all over the country deciding to spend sleepless nights outside in the cold to protect their neighborhoods armed with wooden sticks to face militia of the old regime that were reportedly roaming the country trying to frighten and to shoot civilians. It was an impressive moment of unity and heroism.

How do you think many Tunisians feel about the momentum your country started for democratic reform throughout the Arab world? Do you think many thought that their work might have that kind of impact?

I think most Tunisians feel pride and satisfaction because they put an end to long years of oppression. It is true that what happened in Tunisia inspired other actions throughout the Arab World but we know that many friends and fellow Arabs were supportive of the Tunisian Revolution through the internet or other mediums. I think that Tunisians are now more preoccupied with the aftermath of the revolution and how to make sure there is no going back to the pre-14th of January era.

What do you think the future holds for your country?

I think that the future of Tunisia now – after many years of alienation- lies between the hands of the Tunisians. It is a unique opportunity and if we can seize it properly, we will pave the way for a real democracy. Maybe this will take some time but we will be really glad to know and to ensure that the younger Tunisian generations will reap the fruits of the revolution some years ahead from now. It will be really shameful to see the blood of scores of martyrs go in vain. This is why many think the revolution has not ended. It has just begun.

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

Thank you so much, Larry, for giving me the chance to share my thoughts on your blog. I would also like to thank you for warmheartedly accepting to contribute to our online magazine.

Thanks, Tarak!

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March 29, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview With An EFL Teacher In The Tunisian Revolution

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, English teacher Hamdi Erestreams in Tunisia agreed to answer a few of my questions:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself ,where you teach and why you chose to teach English?

My inclination towards foreign languages started at a very early age. I was an avid reader whose love for new vocabulary and novel expressions, whether in French or English, was unquenchable. In the early 80’s, when I was a schoolboy ,for me , having a pocket dictionary was an achievement ,let alone english novels and magazines. My teachers, aware of the toughness of the times, used to encourage me regularly and would, from time to time, give me short stories to read. I used to write poems and short essays, and then handed them to my teachers to correct. There was a rare kind of intimacy between teachers and pupils at that time despite our adverse social conditions. Here, I would like to pay tribute to all my former teachers who spared no effort to help us. They were great.

That was a far off pre-internet era where today’s cyberspaces, mobile phones,blogs,seach engines,, facebook, twitter and all these modern social networks were at that time just fanciful, chimerical conceptions. I was born in a small village, some eight miles from the school where I was studying. My mornings as a schoolboy were special and unforgettable. The very challenge to start from scratch began from there. School, as a sacred institution, was, for my generation, the only means for social promotion. Earning a degree at school counts a lot for our parents because educating ones sons and daughters was not only a real wealth but also a source of pride.

At secondary school, my passion for languages grew remarkable and noteworthy. My language teachers suggested that I should opt for either English or French. In fact, English was my option after earning my Bac Certificate in 1989.My teachers of English did make me love English . Then, I headed for La Manouba University in Tunis where I got a BA degree in English Language and Literature .In 1991 I went to England, on a government sponsored programme where I got a proficiency certificate. Now, I teach English in one of the central towns in Tunisia.

English language is undoubtedly the key to get acquainted with a world bizarre in all its facets. With your English, you can acquire the wings you need to discover the world and share its joys and sorrows. Now, English is omnipresent. I think that foreign language learning in general and English in particular is a real blessing. I really encourage young people today to learn as many languages as they can to be real world citizens. The times have changed and one needs a tool to communicate understandably with the people and the media around.

Why do you think the current movement for freedom in the Arab world began in Tunisia?

Tunisian people have witnessed years of oppression and persecution guiltlessly for more than half a century. Every free voice was muzzled and every horizon was shut. Old and young can no longer stand tyranny and corruption. The moment of emancipation got ripe when, in the City of Sidi Bouzid , a young street vendor set himself to fire in protest against injustice. People felt that time was up to grab the moment and live up to their aspirations for freedom. Those people, young in their majority, knew that they were granted a rare moment in history to shatter the manacles of oppression and embrace the breeze of freedom. They were ready to sacrifice everything and anything to embrace the call of their great poet Abou El kacem Chebbi.

Abou El kacem Chebbi is the poet of freedom who inspired past and present generations. He was a young Tunisian poet who believes that people must rise up against injustice and tyranny and struggle for freedom and dignity. He, too, died at very young age but his verse still rings worldwide to celebrate man’s ceaseless yearning for freedom and dignity. Apart from that, young Tunisians are well-educated, skilled at languages and have a strong command on social media despite the constant eye that controlled everything before the 14th of January. This equipped them to handle their Revolution brilliantly and successfully. Young people in Tunisia were the first to use social media like twitter and facebook to help the Revolution come to fruition.

I’ m really proud of being Tunisian. The Tunisian Revolution is really worth being taught worldwide for it expressed the natural human quest for freedom. Young people in Tunisia are the real architects of the Revolution. The echo of the Tunisian Revolution will never cease. It shall resound here and there in every corner of the world in different fashions.

What are two or three key moments or experiences or feelings did you have during the revolution?

The best moments in the course of the Revolution were many. Among those moments, for me, were the first day the Revolution started ; the successive general strikes nationwide that brought everything to a standstill ,and the last day when thousands of people gathered at Habib Bourguiba Avenue asking for the departure of the tyrant. After that, we started breathing the air of freedom for the first time. It was far from easy for people to conceive those moments. It was as if opening eyes to light after a long blackout.

How has it affected your life and the lives of your students?

I was very happy to feel free for the first time. It took us days and days to come to terms with the event. It was not easy to believe that we are free at last. Pupils were part and parcel of that young blessed generation who shared in fighting for freedom via social media and daily protests. Our love for our country grew stronger. We felt we belong to the soil where we were born.

What have you learned, and what do you think the rest of us can learn, from what has happened in Tunisia?

Evil can never prevail .Sooner or later the good shall supersede. If justice is not the very foundation of governance, nothing can stand. .The will of the people can never be vanquished. The Tunisian Revolution is a universal lesson to the tyrants of the world.

What effect have you seen the conflict in Libya have on your country?

Tunisians and Libyans are brothers. These times of stress strengthened the ties between us.

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

Glory to Tunisia. Glory to its people..

Thanks, Hamdi!

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March 24, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Hot Spot” Interview With An EFL Teacher — In The Middle Of The Japanese Disaster

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.

Today, English teacher Joanne Sato agreed to answer a few of my questions:

Can you tell us a little about yourself, including how long you’ve taught English and why, where you’re from, and anything else you’d like to share?

I moved to Japan from England in 1998 straight out of university to start work at a huge private English school in Tokyo. The plan was to spend a year here and return to complete a masters degree at a university in the UK and eventually become a university lecturer. The plan changed as I fell in love with the job, Japan and my future husband. We moved to Fukushima city in 2001 and I finally got my masters last September in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. I have taught at a local women’s college since we moved to Fukushima and greatly enjoy the lifestyle offered by this lovely city in the north.

Where were you when the earthquake and tsunami struck, what happened, and how did you feel?

On the day of the earthquake we had been practicing for the graduation ceremony all morning, it is a complex affair with each student receiving their graduation diploma directly from the college president. The auditorium is a beautifully designed hall, which seats over 600, and it is a wonderful sight to see the students file in wearing their caps and gowns. Every year it fills me with a great pride that many teacher know, the pride as we watch our students fly into their new lives after each has triumphed over hurdles unique only to them.

After lunch it was time for class photographs in all their graduation finery. I have been in charge of this for the last few years, there were two hundred students, two photographers and myself in the hall. The first group of students were in position up on stage with others lining up awaiting their turn, adjusting stray tendrils of hair, checking make-up, reminiscing amongst themselves. The shaking started.

Anyone who has lived in Japan for any length of time will know how earthquakes feel. Usually we look up from our cups of tea, grading papers, TV viewing and shrug, “Just an earthquake”. This time it felt very different. The hall seemed to be shifting up and down by feet at a time, our legs gave way, and within a minute I heard a sound I had never heard during an earthquake. It was a scream.

As material began to fall from the stage ceiling we knew we had to get out. The doors were flapping wildly, big heavy sound proofed doors were made to look and act as flimsy as paper. The photographer shouted “get out” and the students held on to each other as they staggered to the doors which I held with all my might. I know my face was white, my heart in my throat, my fear was of losing them all under a roof collapse. I shouted, “it’s okay the building is strong…this way”, not believing any building could be that strong. The last student made it out and I let the door swing shut.

We crouched in the stairwell as the earthquake continued to bounce us around. When the last student rounded the corner to the car park I let out my own big sob on the shoulder of the librarian. “I thought I would lose them” was all I could say.

What were your experiences in the immediate aftermath?

My daughter attends the elementary school across from the college. The building housing the school is much older than the college and before I made it to the car park I ran to the school only to find the children had already left for the after school program. The moment I found her and hugged her in the car park surrounded by students, who had forgotten their own fear in the face of the younger children’s it felt like a scene from a film and I have played it over and over in my mind in the days since. The cars appeared to have elaborate hydraulics rocking them up and down on the spot as the earthquakes came thick and fast.

It started to snow. The trains had stopped, the students were stranded and we made our way into the cafeteria, a one storey building with reinforced pillars. The students’ mobile phones constantly warned of aftershocks and we spend hours running for cover under the tables as the earth shook, rocked and trembled. The mobile phones told us the earthquake had been in Sendai, the next city north, and students desperately tried to contact family in the worst affected areas. At this point we had no idea about the tsunami. Then the news trickled in, a ship lost with one hundred people aboard, houses washed away, many dead. It took days to know the true extent of the damage caused by the wave.

Places where we had camped, surfed, enjoyed oysters next to the warm Pacific ocean, had been obliterated. So many people lost. When a call came from my husband in the early evening I felt truly lucky that he had been working inland. The previous week he had been at Sendai airport. My thoughts are with those who will not get that call or the film-like hug.

What have you learned from the experience, and do you think there are lessons Japan, and all of us, can learn, too?

Two days after the quake we watched in horror as the first explosion occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Our home is located 62 kilometers west of the station and with growing unease we packed a few things and headed west out of the city. Our apartment still did not have water and the constant aftershocks had us all spooked. The British and American governments are advising staying outside of 80 kilometers of the power station. I am ready to go back to my home but will wait a few more days and monitor the radiation levels before returning.

I have an incredible admiration for the workers at the power station trying their best in a difficult situation. They are fighting to make safe the beautiful area I have been lucky enough to call home for ten years. I have learnt that the life we live can be changed in an instance and it is up to us how we deal with the new challenges of a different situation. I know the fishing villages will spring up again and the white beaches will return, time is the great healer. I know there will be a day when I sit outside a small seafront stall enjoying a cold beer in the summer heat while cringing at my husband eating raw sea urchin straight from the spiky shell.

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

My great love and admiration for my adopted country and the people here has grown stronger. The evening of the earthquake I returned to my apartment to assess the damage I found all my neighbors in the entrance hall sharing hot tea. I shared a cup and a high school student offered to accompany me up the ten flights of stairs to help me in case the door was jammed shut. He is usually desperately shy and I saw him come out of himself that night. He watched as I discovered we did not have one glass left intact. I said to him in Japanese, “all we can do is laugh” and we giggled as the hi-tech refrigerator reprimanded us in a robotic voice over and over, “you left the door open…you left the door open…you left the door open”!

Thanks, Joanne! You can stay in touch with Joanne through twitter — @SugarJo

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March 22, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

New Feature: Interviews With EFL Teachers In “Hot Spots” Around The World — First Up: Japan

For the past two years I have had, and will continue to have, an Interview Of The Month with a person in the education world who I wanted to learn more about and whom I thought readers might be interested in.

A little while ago, though, I had an idea for 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. Why not, I thought to myself, take advantage of this kind of international network and do short, timely, interviews with these teachers?

I’m kicking-off this series of “hot spot” interviews with Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto in Japan. Two additional teachers in Japan with unique perspectives will also be contributing their thoughts in future interviews, as well as English teachers from countries experiencing revolutions in the Middle East.

I know English teachers from many parts of the world read this blog. If you are in a place that is a “hot spot” now, or in the future, and you feel safe participating in an interview, please contact me. These short interviews can also be anonymous if necessary for safety purposes.

Now, here’s my interview with Barbara:

Can you say a little about yourself — how long you’ve been in Japan, what and where do you teach, why you decided to teach English and why you came to Japan? And, of course, tell us about your blog!

I’m an English teacher in Kyushu, Japan. I started out as a high school English teacher in the US, and came to Japan in 1985 after getting my MA in TESOL. I thought I would stay for a couple of years in order to pay off student loans, and have been splitting my time between the US and Japan ever since.

My first job in Japan was in Sendai (where the earthquake hit) and I was there at the beginning of February to do a teacher training workshop with Oxford University Press. It was very strange to see places I had so recently visited during and after the quake and tsunami. In addition to teaching and teacher training, I write. I’m a co-author of Let’s Go (a series for young learners of English). I have a collaborative blog for teachers of English called Teaching Village.

Where were you when the quake hit? How close are you to the epicenter, the tsunami and the damaged nuclear plants? How did the quake feel?  And what was your immediate reaction and feeling, as well as the reactions from your neighbors?  And how has it affected you life since that time?

I would not have noticed that there was a quake if I hadn’t been looking at Twitter. Kitakyushu (where I live) is over 1000 kilometers from Sendai and nearly the same distance from Fukushima, and didn’t shake at all. While we had tsunami warnings, and the tide did rise, it was minimal. Almost immediately after seeing mentions of the quake on Twitter and Facebook, there was live TV coverage of the tsunami. It was surreal to watch the destruction of a place I know well, all happening just about 2 hours away by plane.

The immediate reaction here was to turn to Facebook since that’s where people first reported that they were okay. Landlines didn’t work, but people were able to access the internet on mobile phones. Friends in Tokyo talked about their 2-10 hour treks home to the suburbs (when trains stopped). Then people began more actively tracking down other friends who hadn’t checked in. The strong aftershocks have made everyone quite weary. Most of the aftershocks would be considered decent sized earthquakes on their own if they weren’t following a 9.0 initial quake. There have been well over 600 quakes and aftershocks in little more than a week. None of them have been felt in far western Japan, which adds to the surreal feeling we have here.

The quake and tsunami has had two main effects on life here. First, people are still very concerned about residents still in Tohoku, are all trying to find ways to help locate people still missing, and trying to get supplies to the survivors. Second, Kyushu is getting ready to house long-term evacuees in private homes and in government housing, and some companies in Tokyo that are moving operations to Fukuoka (for a time, anyway).

Like most others in Japan, I watch a lot more news now, both on TV and via the Internet. My heart soars each time I see survivors found and trucks arriving in Tohoku with supplies, it breaks every time I see survivors still waiting for help at their evacuation centers or looking for missing family members, and it swells with pride when I see how hard everyone is trying, both here and abroad, to help people in Tohoku.

How would you say people in Japan are reacting to the quake, tsunami and nuclear dangers?   Is it how you might have expected them to react, or have you had any surprises?

Japanese have earthquake safety drills beginning in kindergarten, so people generally know what to do. Public schools are in ugly, but very sturdy concrete buildings, and people know to head there during a disaster. However, Japanese and foreign residents are individuals, and reactions to the disaster are as unique here as they would be anywhere else in the world. Some people in the midst of the devastation are staying positive in the face of difficult-to-imagine hardships, and other people far away from any immediate risk are leaving the country for fear of what might happen. People have to make choices that work for them and their families.

One surprise to me has been the amount of aid donated from within the country. Japan’s economy hasn’t been so good recently, and money is tight for most families. It seems as if everyone has contributed something already, both money and goods, whether it’s anonymous donors giving 1 million yen or children donating their allowance. People have been waiting hours in line to donate blood, trying to conserve electricity and gas, and (down here, at least) sharing information about where things and money can be donated for the best effect.

Apart from the economic challenges, what you do think might be some long-term implications of the quake for the country and its people?

Some of the long-term implications are good. In some ways, it has already strengthened the bonds of people who live here (and are staying) through shared experiences and common goals. Suddenly, there are things more important than a bad economy. People finally understood the value of the mobile web after the quake. In many cases, that was the only thing working immediately after the quake. Friends who never cared are looking at smart phones, and signing up for Twitter and Facebook after seeing how effective those networks were in disseminating information and connecting people.

Japan will also probably develop a more effective warning system for tsunami–perhaps allowing people to register for alerts to come directly to mobile phones rather than depending on someone to sound an alarm. (In some cases, however, no alert system would have made a difference. The waves were simply higher than anyone had expected or prepared for.) This has probably been the best documented disaster ever–there was live video of the entire thing, and incredible monitoring of all the various bits including magnitude, tsunami, and radiation. The data over the progression of events will likely teach scientists a great deal that will help mitigate future disasters.

Some of the long-term implications are not so good. For example, Japan depends a great deal on foreign teachers to teach English in both public and private schools. Some teachers are among the missing, and others have left the country after losing homes or simply becoming fearful. It becomes a bigger problem for the long term if teachers become afraid to come to Japan (because of fears about being in an earthquake or being exposed to radiation). Additionally, Some small language school owners in the Tohoku region will struggle to keep their schools open staff and students either missing or evacuated, and with businesses relocating to other locations in Japan.

Are you committed to staying in Japan, or have you had any thoughts about leaving?

Leaving never crossed my mind, but I’m far from any damage or radiation and Japan is my home.

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

People here have been really moved (and perhaps a little surprised) by the outpouring of concern and support from other countries. It has been truly moving. Teachers from around the world have contacted me asking how they and their students can help students here. The immediate priority is obviously to find survivors and get them urgently needed medical supplies, warm clothing, blankets, and food. Once things have settled a bit and schools are open again, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities for teachers to help teachers and schools in Tohoku. In the meantime, ELT News has set up a page where people can leave messages of support for teachers, students, and families here: We love Japan!

I’ve found myself moved to tears by some of the comments there, and hope that many more will be added to the collection. These comments are being seen, and appreciated, by students and teachers (both Japanese and foreign). Thank you!

Thank YOU, Barbara, and be safe!

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