Monday, May 3, 2010

The Cat, TESL Toronto

Hi all,

Well, first, Amy's better. In my last post, I mentioned that she wasn't well due to some bladder stones. We took her in to the vet this morning, terrified that we'd have to put our cat down. Well, that turned out to be unfounded. The vet had never seen bladder stones break up so fast! All those prayers must have helped, and it means that Amy is back home, happy, and currently napping on my partner's lap.

TESL Toronto's Spring conference was last weekend. I went there in order to brush up on my skills for work, of course, and enjoyed it immensely. Like all TESL Canada and TESL Ontario-certified teachers, there's a lot of Professional Development that I'm expected to do to keep my Certification updated.

The first workshop I attended in the morning was on dealing with LGBTQ issues in an ESL, immigrant-based classroom. A lot of cultures are still very much opposed to those who have a differing sexuality than what they consider to be standard. We were one of the smallest workshop groups, which actually turned out well: it made for a more comfortable learning environment. As someone who is reasonably familiar with LGBTQ topics, I was hoping for a more practical approach, but considering that some of the folks present weren't really sure what LGBTQ stood for (it's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer, in case you hadn't guessed), it was useful to have even a general introduction. For my part, I was intrigued to learn some of the issues we have in the classroom in presenting non-heterosexist materials. For example: most grammar books (like the one I use!) focus exclusively on male-female relationships. This is probably not an intentional slight, but it's still a form of exclusivity that can make LGBTQs feel unwelcome.

In short, it's another aspect teachers have to consider, in addition to race, culture, and gender itself, among a host of other sensitive topics in the class room.

The second half of the day was spent in a Vocabulary Module. A really fun system for teaching Vocabulary with low prep, almost entirely practical, and a blast when you had 60-odd teachers racing against the clock to beat each other in the activities. I'm definitely using it in my class!

Other than that, back to work this week, with a PD day on Friday. It's one of those weeks, I guess.

I'm also going to go see the Harry Potter exhibit at the ROM this week, and, of course, Iron Man 2.

Have a good week, everybody!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Staying steady

Hi all,

Well, we keep on plugging away. I'm busy with CTP, which is a College Transfer Program for my school. In brief, we train the students in the classes to be able to survive university and college in Canada. For example, we teach them how to write academically, how to avoid plagiarism, to take good lecture and reading notes, skimming, scanning, etcetera.

It's a lot of marking, to say the least! Between essays, presentations, and other minor pieces of homework (by minor, I mean only one page), I find myself rather busy!

Still, it's interesting work, and it certainly pays the bills.

On a bit of a depressing note: our cat, Amy, is sick. She has several large bladder stones that we only recently became aware of, and thus, she is on pain medication and a special diet to try and break up the stones.

We're hopeful it will help. We cannot afford the surgery to remove the stones, and thus we are faced with an ugly choice should the diet not work, whether to let her live on in pain, or to put her down. She is not an old cat by any means, and has been a loving member of our little family for three years. We are therefore quite reluctant to put her down, but, as my partner has noted, we don't want her to suffer constantly for the next however many years she has left.

We are therefore praying and hoping that her stones will break up with this medication she is taking. Any and all prayers and well-wishes from you, dear readers, would be appreciated on this!

On a positive note: I recently got my acceptance letter from OISE, which is the Teacher's College associated with the University of Toronto. Bachelor of Education, here I come. I've debated about whether or not to go and get my B.Ed for some time, but given that the ESL field is not well-regulated, and that pay scales continue to be moderate at best, I'm looking to eventually move into the public system.

I start in September, and so I will continue to work in ESL until that point.

Hope Amy gets better soon, and talk to you all again, soon!


Sunday, March 7, 2010


Hi All,

So, I recently switched jobs. Nothing major, really: I went from working at two part time ESL programs to one, and it was one of the two I'd been working at before. It's full time, and while I'm a bit nervous about taking on extra work/taking over for another teacher who had been doing this longer than I, I'm glad to reduce my stress.

40+ hours of work a week is, to be blunt, insane. Especially when those 40 hours are in front of a class. Teaching is not easy. Add in a long day every day, and you get one tired Chris.

Jen's in Timmins this weekend, and I've been lesson prepping. So, it's been quiet lately. We, like everybody else, I think, watched the Olympics, and rooted heavily for Canada (of course!).

We were both a little peeved at the coverage by CTV. The Hockey announcers, especially, came across as a bit chauvinist, and there was an obvious bias. I understand that, of course: they were Canadians, and cheering for their home country... however, would a reasonably balanced perspective be too much to ask for?

I was also annoyed that the women got criticized for drinking after their Gold Medal, while the men could walk around and do the same without any comment.

Double standards remain.

Other than that, busy week, and busier to come. I will continue to let people know how things are going. Be well, everybody!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Autoshow, Presentations

Hi all,

Wow, I've gotta get back in the swing of updating this blog. I looked at how many posts I put up in Korea, vs. back here in Toronto, and it's... a tad embarrassing. Well, consider me chastised. I shall recommence posting more often--depending on time. Gah, that's always the problem, isn't it?

Well, first of all, it's Valentine's Day. I admit to missing Korea's version--they have three days of this, starting with a day (White Day, I believe) in January, where Boys give presents to Girls. Then, Valentine's Day is the opposite of Canadian tradition, where the Girls have to give presents to the Boys. Then, there's Black Day. If you didn't get anything from either gender, you eat jjajeongmyeong, a "Chinese-themed" black sauce noodles.

It's funny to watch a lot of students eating their noodles in Korea--there's a sense of solidarity that makes me chuckle. Even in Canada.

Jen and I went to the Autoshow in Toronto. Lots of nifty cars everywhere, of course. I think the best show of the bunch was by, of all companies, GMC. I've never been a big fan of General Motors. Their vehicles became the butt of several jokes in my family, growing up, and even if Ford or Chrysler were equally notorious to us, we wouldn't even consider test-driving a Jimmy. Now, I'm a bit... well, impressed. I liked the pick-up trucks they showed off, and I'm not a pick-up driver. Jen is, and loved sitting in the giant cab of a Duramax Diesel truck, playing with the steering wheel. A marketer showed up, who obviously knew his stuff, and proceeded to rattle off the features, before showing us a few other trucks that were similar, and more suitable to city and highway driving.

We'd never buy one until they became Hybrids, due to fuel economy, but as Jen is a Northerner, and as I grew up in Texas, we both hold a special place in our hearts for big trucks. They're safe, tough, and, yes, a status symbol. Not to mention, they're great for hauling your boat around.

Hyundai had a good showing, as well--they have a new Elantra Touring out that I thought was nifty. They, and KIA, ironically, are becoming the new Toyota. Do you remember when Toyota was considered the car company, the best of the best? Funny how that's changed, and Hyundai appears to be filling in the gap they've left.

Don't get me wrong, Toyota still makes nice cars. So does Lexus. But they're overpriced, and they underperform. Worse, they're starting to get sloppy. The recent recalls Toyota's suffering is an example of this. Hopefully, it'll wake them up. It's unfortunate that most people looked like they didn't want to get into their cars, either, after all the bad hype.

Ford's material was boring, ironically--I remember them being amazing two years ago, with cool concept cars and Hydrogen-powered trucks. They weren't bad, but they weren't great. A bit stale, is all.

And then there's the classic cars. Holy smokes--the only Ford I would ever drive, other than an F-150 Truck, is a Mustang. And they had some classic ones in the show! 1967, Red and Black paint, bucket seats, manual transmission. I love classic cars. They also had some 40s and 50s-era British roadsters that were these little peppy things with an open top. How did we ever drive these things? You'd be wearing a mosquito mask!

I'm presenting a piece to my co-workers at school about using Drama to teach ESL. Really, I'm not using, say, an actual play to teach, but rather, some of the warm-up and speaking techniques from drama to encourage fluency and comfort in the class.

A lot of ESL tends to wind up as "brain-in-a-jar" syndrome, where the students are sitting in their chairs, talking, or writing. There's nothing particularly wrong with that approach, of course. Studying hard and working on conversation is important. However, as a kinesthetic learner, and as a former martial arts teacher, I cannot overemphasize the need for learners of language to reconnect their bodies to their words. We don't speak with our brains alone--we use muscles in our mouths and tongues, we use body language, we use posture and intonation... and by practicing these actions with drama techniques that encourage reaction to your partner, intonation, and yes, dare I say it, getting up and moving around in the class room, we encourage students to speak as they would on the street, outside the class.

Not to mention, kinesthetic learners require physicality to integrate whatever they're learning more effectively. If you can ground language in more than just speaking, writing, listening, and reading, but also into the physical actions required to express yourself to another human being--smiling, nodding, standing, shaking hands, maintaining eye contact, etc., you can learn a heck of a lot more.

On a final note: Happy Chinese and Korean New Year! Bring on the year of the Tiger!

Talk to you later,


Sunday, January 24, 2010


Hi all,

Well, Jen and I finally got back into Swing Dancing. We went out for Blues classes this and last week. Blues is old, and a lot simpler than, say, Lindy Hop, because the basic steps are mostly left-right left-right all the time, but you can do a lot with it musically. It's easy to dance to, fun, and relaxing after flying around with Charleston at 220 Beats-per-Minute.

We're keeping busy. Just went out for Robbie Burns' night with friends yesterday, some of us had Haggis, scotch, and some Sticky Pudding for dessert. Unfortunately, there weren't any pipers, much to our friends' annoyance, but that's life.

Other than that: it's weird not seeing people from Korea as often. One of our former Supervisors, Hey-Jin, is in town to study TESOL, but we've only seen her once. Others are back in Toronto, but busy, or in Waterloo, so we don't see them much. Others are scattered around the US, or still in Korea. As I said, it feels weird, since we built up pretty intense relationships with people who we worked with in close quarters for a full year, and we do miss them quite a bit.

Hope you all are doing well. Keep in touch, y'hear? :)


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy New Year

Hi all,

So, Jen and I drove down to Virginia on Christmas Eve--listening with crappy reception to twelve different renditions of Oh Holy Night on whichever Christian radio station we passed, given that they were the only ones playing carols. We stopped in at every third coffee shop we could to get hot chocolate and/or coffee, and got in about 1130PM.

We spent Christmas there, and drove back on the 27th.

New Years, meanwhile, was spent here in Toronto, dancing until 2 or 3 in the AM at Dovercourt House for a night of Swing and Jive. Jen and I, having danced for about 9 years, both love to go out this way for New Year's. It's a great way to relax, meet new people, and to work out any stress. I bumped into some old friends from the Waterloo Swing Crew, the troupe I performed with in Kitchener-Waterloo, and it was great to see Angie, Martin, and others.

It's weird being an old hand at something like swing. People ask me during lessons "have you done this before?" and usually follow up with "you're really good." At which point I have to point out that I've been dancing for a darned long time. I'm actually not that good for 9 years of dancing on and off, or at least I'd prefer not to brag about it or show off. Still, it's weird to be on the other side of the learning curve--I used to really look up to those who'd been dancing for a long time.

I remain a very relaxed swing dancer. Some people use a lot more flashy moves than I do, but I prefer to just throw a few neat moves together in between lots of easy, basic steps, so I can actually chat with my partner while I'm dancing with him/her. Heck, it's supposed to be a social dance, so why not?

Otherwise, back into the swing of things (argh, the puns!). Report cards come around often, and I'm slogging away at that this weekend (it should only take me an hour or two, but I'm procrastinating. Might as well get into it. :P

Happy Birthday to my wife, Jen, and Happy New Year to all of you!