Category “Teaching”

Barriers to Communication

Sunday, 29 January, 2012

Sometimes, despite careful planning, a well crafted message can be misunderstood or misinterpreted or, perhaps worst of all, ignored.

One of the issues I find these days is that people really just don’t seem to have any listening skills, nor do they actually read all of what has been written. I have experienced both of these problems many times. For example, in my classes I can repeat instructions several times and put them in writing, and students still do not listen properly and end up doing the wrong thing (to their detriment). And I’ve also written very clear, well structured business emails (after all, it’s my profession so I have to show I can practice what I preach!), and still I get a response that indicates the person has not properly read anything I have written.


So what can we do about it? Unfortunately we can’t control others (oh for such a power!), but we can keep ensuring we construct well organised and thought out messages, and allow for feedback and questions. Sometimes, too, all it takes is a deep breath and a lot of patience. Something I learned a long time ago, because of the torture I experienced from certain teachers, is that if someone doesn’t understand something and they ask you to explain it again, explaining it in exactly the same way will not help, because the person did not understand you the first time.

We also have to be aware that communication is a process, a cycle from sender to receiver and back again, so we have a responsiblity to others to listen to them carefully and to read things slowly and with attention. This can save us time and unwanted issues.

So, it takes practice, patience, and sometimes, a healthy sense of humour to stay sane and ensure you overcome any barriers to communication to get your message understood and get what you want.


Social Media in the Classroom: COMM1120 @BCIT

Wednesday, 20 July, 2011

I’m busy talking to my Interior Design students today about using social media wisely, and creating a valuable online presence. I’m going to turn over my blog to them and record any comments, links, questions, or ideas they may have about our discussion or their own social media presence:

  • What about Facebook and the job search? Should you clean up your profile?

  • How/why does a list of people show up immediately when I create my LinkedIn account?

  • What do you do when you’re using photos from somewhere and can’t remember the source?

  • What’s better? Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress?

  • Should you focus your LinkedIn profile as Student, or under your Job?


The Correct Use of Apostrophes

Tuesday, 22 March, 2011

Over the years, as I’ve taught more and more grammar, I have become aware of how many incorrect uses of the very basics there are out there. What shocks me is that a lot of these errors are not only basic, but they occur in advertising, on product labels, in prominent places, and are propagated by people and companies that can afford to pay for professional copywriting.

The other day, I saw a Victoria’s Secret ad on TV that proclaimed (in text) that “There’s five ways…” (can’t remember the rest of the text). Now, there are three main rules to remember with apostrophe use:

1. Apostrophes are used to indicate possession/ownership of something. e.g. The boss’s signature (you can choose to leave out the second ‘s’ and just have The boss’ signature) or Victoria’s Secret (indicating it is the secret of Victoria).

2. They are also used to show contraction i.e. when you condense two words into one, for eases sake, the apostrophe replaces what is missing e.g can’t = can not; it’s = it is (compare to its – e.g. its appearance. This shows possession.)

3. They can never be used to indicate plurals. e.g. 100’s of people is incorrect. 100s of people is correct. Some people say you can use ‘s when you have a single letter word, e.g.” There are two m’s in accommodate”, but I prefer not to do this, and eliminate the apostrophe.

So back to the Victoria’s Secret ad… There’s five ways… = There is five ways…. which is grammatically incorrect. There ARE five ways is correct. Somehow, they seem to have confused contraction with possession, which to me is unforgivable if you are going to spend thousands of dollars on an ad campaign. I have also noticed countless times where apostrophes have been used (incorrectly) to show plurals. I can’t remember the exact wording, but I remember spotting a mistake on the label of a water bottle when I was in South Africa recently. Again, if you are going to spend money on labelling and marketing a product, get it right! And hire someone who knows what he or she is doing. Like Meerkat Communications 🙂


PS – For a humourous (but correct) take on the rules for apostrophe use, see my favourite online genius, The Oatmeal.

PPS – If you are going to comment on my spelling, for example, of humourous, remember, I am not American 🙂

A Lesson in Passion

Wednesday, 2 March, 2011

I was  chatting to one of my students this evening after class. He asked me if he could ask me a personal question, and I thought, here we go… boundaries! (ah, the skeptic). It turned out that he wanted my opinion on a dilemma he is having about the next step in his education. His question related to whether he should pursue a degree or a diploma; swap from a more training-based approach to a learning approach.

I almost wish he’d asked me something about me!

This is such a hard question to answer, for so many reasons. The student is not from Canada and is planning to go home at some point, to a different culture, with different expectations and different needs. We chatted for a long time about how when you lack a degree, you often hit a ceiling in your career, and the advantages and disadvantages of his quite varying career options, and then I realised that I wasn’t really telling him what I really wanted to tell him: that it doesn`t matter what you do or where you go if you are not passionate about it.

And so I told him.

I told him how unhappy I had been when I was working full-time at teaching and felt that it wasn`t what I really wanted. I told him how I feel that passion is so important, because if you love what you do, you will be successful no matter what. I also told him that it makes me sad when I talk to students and they tell me they have chosen their studies based on what their parents have told them they must do. And I told him that it also makes me sad when people do things out of fear – a fear of failure, or of a lack of money, or of letting others down. And I also told him that some people work to live, and others live to work, and that he needs to decide what he loves to do, what he is passionate about, and worry about the rest later.

What was interesting was how easy it was to give him advice and talk to him about his path, and speak of fear and passion and risks, when these same things have been plaguing me lately. Funny how it is always easy to dispense advice, but not to hear it oneself. I am following my passion, most definitely, but at the same time, there have been some fearful voices popping up and a lot of stalling and procrastinating. And I have been listening to the fearful chirpings a little too much. I think it is so important to take stock, and to make changes if something is not serving you well, but at the same time, you can`t let fear take hold and cause paralysis, blocking you from achieving what you want to achieve.

Tonight was a great lesson for me, but funnily enough, it was not in the classroom, but rather afterwards where I was able to teach something valuable not only to my student, but to myself as well.


Litter Milk: The Importance of Proper Spelling and Grammar

Thursday, 24 February, 2011

I love coming across unintentionally funny signs or wording, where errors of spelling or grammar create the absurd, strange, or plain funny.

A while ago, I came across this sign on the door of a local shop. I always try and make my students understand the importance of correct spelling and grammar, in order to not only project the right image, but also to ensure they are understood, and that their message achieves its purpose. Incorrect punctuation, grammar, or spelling can create opposite meanings, cause confusion, or provide someone like me with a good laugh.

I have two favourite examples that I share with students. The first  is an old story. An instructor wrote the following sentence on the board, and asked the class to punctuate as they saw fit: “woman without her man is nothing.”

The men wrote, “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”

The women wrote, “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.”

Same words, but with different punctuation, you end up with the complete opposite meaning.

The second is one that came up in one of my classes. A student submitted his/her resume and on it was listed that the student had “excellent piratical skills.” While I know being a modern pirate can be thrilling, and often lucrative, it was not the kind of job the budding engineer was looking for. This particular example I use to illustrate the importance, too, of proper proofreading and the need to not rely solely on Spellcheck.

A native speaker may not have to even think about the proper term for what they are doing when they write, and I can almost guarantee that if you stopped someone in the street and asked them what a co-ordinating conjunction was, or a cumulative adjective, they wouldn’t know, and they don’t have to, as long as they know how to use them. I always tell my ESL students that I understand their frustration, because English is one of those annoying languages that has so many rules, and then countless exceptions to those rules. It’s important, however, to learn the nuances and rules of proper grammar in order to make your message clear.

It doesn’t help me that I am trying to teach English in North America, where people don’t seem to use adverbs correctly (e.g. “I like to eat healthy”. Healthy what? Healthy is an adjective, e.g. healthy food, so the previous example is missing something to be described. Compare:  “I like to eat healthily”. This uses an adverb to describe how you like to eat.), or where there are different spellings for almost everything. I also tell my students that I feel I even have to learn a new language being here, because Canadian English is a bit of a hybrid of American and British English. Add to that the abundance of different words that South Africans like me use on a daily basis that come from our indigenous languages, and no wonder it can get confusing!

I’m still not sure I will be buying any litter milk any time soon…


Where are you, in the moment?

Wednesday, 9 February, 2011

I know it’s been too long when I forget my login info for a sec! Yikes… where is February going? I feel like the first part of the year is flying by, especially when my classes start heading into mid-terms (though we do work on a different schedule in part-time studies to other school terms)…

I also know it’s been too long when I see all the updates I have to do to all my WordPress systems! Sigh… Wouldn’t it be nice to have an update button for life? You could just hit a download button and be instantly up to date on everything… that is something I would pay for 🙂

Communication Workshops and Training

On a different note, I’m really looking this year to do a lot more workshops and in-house training, so if anyone is looking for help with updating their own or their staff’s communication skills (especially in the realm of presentations and business writing), then let me know.

Next month, I am going to be doing another Cover Letter and Resume workshop for Wired Woman, so if you are looking for help updating your current resume and getting it job-ready, or if you need tips on how to write a cover letter that gets you noticed in a positive way, then check out the Wired Woman website for more details and to register.

Time, Time, Time…

The important thing with time is to remember that you can either fill it with things that satisfy you, or things that, at the time, seem great, but in fact leave you with the feeling that you wasted your day. Sometimes it is hard to know the difference in the moment, but it’s really important to do what gives you energy, and what fulfills you, each day.

All this means I have to make a note for myself to spend more time writing and updating my blog!


Getting Back to Basics

Wednesday, 19 January, 2011

One of the hardest things after a long break is getting back into one’s routine… a new year, a new set of goals, but also the usual day-to-day responsibilities, and of course, work.

The plus side of a wonderful holiday is that it ideally gives you the energy and kick-start one needs to get going in the new year. However, when it has been SO relaxing, it can also take a long time to get back into the swing of things.

I find that what really helps me is to start small, and get back to basics. Build a list of goals, as well as a list of the essential “Have tos”; those naggy, admin-related things that just have to happen whether I like it or not. I then try and prioritise and ensure that the most important things get done first. Of course, having to also go back to teaching and the start of a new term means that I just have to do it… no excuses, no stalling (well maybe a little 🙂 )…

With my other work, it can be a lot harder, as all clients are a priority. One has to find the balance and not undo all the work of the relaxing holiday either! AH the fine line…

Personally, I am still struggling with jetlag, which takes a helluva long time to get over, and all the bits and bobs of post-travel come down. But here’s to a wonderful 2011, with less stress, more success, and above all, enjoyment and contentment.


The Life and Times (and possible madness) of a Teacher*

Tuesday, 27 July, 2010

Teaching has to be one of the strangest professions out there. I mean, I know it probably doesn’t compete with a hair boiler or neck skewer, but it certainly is up there. It’s filled with extraordinary highs and lows, and a lot of misunderstandings about what the job entails.

The Holidays

One of the first assumptions people seem to make is that we get these gloriously long holidays. While one’s schedule does match the school holidays, this doesn’t mean the work is over. There is a lot of admin involved and a lot of marking. There are marks meetings, prep for the next term and any professional development work a teacher might do during the break. That being said, yes, the holidays are long. But, if like me in my initial teaching at BCIT, you are on a contract, that means three months unpaid, until the new term. And the terms are often so exhausting that you need the long holidays to recover!

The Hours

“So… you only teach 12 hours a week? So, uh, what do you do during the day?”… <if you really want to know what I do during the day… see Meerkat Communications> Yes, physically we are in the classroom for maybe 12-17 hours a week depending on your load, but that doesn’t mean you only work 12-17 hours a week. First of all, those 12 hours I teach are 4 hours at a stretch of non-stop energy and being on the ball, which isn’t easy from 6-10pm at night. And scheduling means that during day school, there are often solid blocks of constant classes, which means no lunch break or coffee break. And you are constantly having to be on your game. There is no room for being slack or not concentrating, as, not to sound too dramatic, someone’s future is tied to what you are teaching.

When you add preparation and marking, especially when you are teaching a class that doesn’t involve multiple choice tests, then you are looking at a 50-80 hour week (which is not paid). Especially when you have close to 200 students, and no Teaching Assistant. Luckily, I don’t teach that many students any more, but I do usually have about 50 students at a time x 5 assignments each, with about 15 minutes for marking each paper (more for exams), adding insightful, useful comments for the students to be able to improve on their work… can you see how it adds up fast? And I’m just teaching part time!

If you want to be a decent instructor, you also don’t want to just churn out the same crap each term, so you need to spend time updating your work, creating new assignments and exams, designing new activities, and believe me, four hours is a long time to fill.

The other thing I find interesting is that people don’t realize how much time you also have to spend before, during, and after class on paperwork, emails, printing etc. I often have about 5-10 student emails a day with drafts of work to be checked (at about 15 minutes a piece) and other teaching-related queries to respond to. Then, there are the 20-30 minutes (if the equipment all behaves) of copying and printing to do before each class. Then, add in the walking time to fetch a projector and/or a laptop (and returning equipment after class), get set up and be ready before the class starts. I think people are surprised to find out that we can’t just waltz into the classroom and start teaching, although if it looks that effortless, then we’re obviously doing something right.

The Rewards

So why on earth, given all of the above, do we subject ourselves to this? I have encountered the element of the martyr in a lot of educators, so I think there is some of that ‘woe is me, I am a slave to my work but I daren’t slack off because I want you to feel sorry for me for working so hard and they couldn’t possibly survive without me for a day’ syndrome. However, the reality is that you often realize that if you are faced with missing a class through illness, it will be so much easier to just limp through the class, semi-compos mentis, than it will be to try and catch up the work (especially when you are only teaching a 12-week course). It is also really hard to have a cut-off time for work when you aren’t on a strict 9-5 schedule.

So why bother?

Well, when a student comes up to you and asks you if you are teaching the next level of the course because they really enjoyed your class, or that you were their favourite instructor, or you bump into them down the line and they tell you they miss you, or they refer their friends to your class, then all the hours of effort and of prep and marking and photocopying are suddenly worth it. Also, when a student suddenly “gets” it, and they leap from a C to an A, or a fail to a pass, it really an amazing feeling. And being able to share insights, spark debate, and help someone improve, is such a great reward.

I often think that teachers are not paid what they are worth, because it is so hard to quantify a lot of what we do, but really, being able to make a difference in someone’s life, despite the slog, is more than enough reward in itself.


*DISCLAIMER: These are my personal reflections and are in no way a comment on my employer. My perspective is also that of a tertiary-level educator; I have no experience teaching in K-12.