SIEC 2017


SIEC stands for Summer Intensive English Course and it’s the second time I’ve led one of the sessions in Indonesia. This year I went with my friend and former colleague, Helene. Helene taught writing for publication while I taught presentation skills. I dread giving presentations so this was a challenge, but I found some great materials and my students, all working instructors, worked hard and in our final day presented their research in a mini-conference.

I was honored to work with these kind, hospitable people. They quickly formed a supportive learning community and were so kind and helpful in the feedback they gave each other.

On the weekends they took us sightseeing and at the end they showered us with gifts and kind words.

I so admire the dedication and effort they’re putting into making Indonesia more of a part of the academic world.

Why I Have No Desire to Teach Elementary Ed

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I’ve got a Masters degree that qualifies me to teach elementary school. I have been teaching English overseas mainly in universities for the last few years so if I were to go back, I’d need to take some classes and get my certificate reinstated. I could see doing that except as much as teaching is fine there are so many other problems with working in the K-8 world that make it clear that I would hate teaching.

God bless those who stick with it.

Today I got an email from a friend, let’s call her Jane, who’s returned to the US and is working as an ESL teacher. She’s been micromanaged since September beginning with a reprimand for drinking a hot drink while supervising recess. Though Jane’s got a Masters degree, a teaching certificate and 12 years experience, her principal’s very wary of her ability. This week my friend discovered that her colleague who’s got less experience has been acting as a spy and reporting back to the principal. I do believe my friend when she says she’s not doing anything wrong. I’ve been in that position too.

When I worked in San Antonio for a school that’s since closed, the principal was a neurotic who discouraged collaboration and ruled the school with an iron fist. All copies had to be approved and every so often to throw her weight around she’d veto a copy request. No, your students don’t need to practice fractions so much. Huh? How do you know? I got in trouble by the principal’s daughter, the school librarian, because I was talking to a student in the library. I was helping him find a book. I could go on and on.

Another friend who taught high school suffered through the reign of a department head who banned poetry – yes, this was the English department – and national literatures replacing American lit with a dumbed down thematic program.

The real problem in American education is administrators who treat teachers like children and don’t know what they’re doing. Moreover, these leaders are drawn to the position because they seem to have a weird need for power, which they misuse.

So I wouldn’t want to teach in the K-8 world because I:

  1. Don’t want to do recess duty. A hospital doesn’t make the doctors and nurses direct traffic in the parking lot after all.
  2. Like to have a hot drink whenever I think it’s appropriate. Really, children see their parents drinking tea or coffee. It’s not a big deal.
  3. Don’t like getting evaluated for how well my students walk in line.
  4. Can’t take stand teaching to the test.
  5. Think the odds are against anyone finding a good principal to work for.


Today I proctored a placement test at 7:55am and then waited with a hopeful heart for a meeting to begin to discuss integrating the curriculum. Our schedule is different because rather than one teacher teaching ESL 1 and another teaching ESL 2 or what have you, we each teach different skills (e.g. speaking and listening, writing and grammar or reading and vocabulary) to each class. Then, and we don’t know how we’ll average out the grades.

As a public school CCC, my employer, requires syllabi that specify what will be studied each week in each class. That’s hard to come up with when you’re jetlagged, brand new and must collaborate with teachers whom you’ve just met. So we have hit the ground running.

As happens in China, new developments pop up so our director’s been called off to handle new problems or one of the teachers had trouble with the online testing. The system couldn’t handle more than 3 people in a class doing an online test. So to make a long story short, by noon our meeting hadn’t happened.

I did start working on the syllabus for the 10th graders. Our books for each skill are different so it’s hard to figure out how to use them coherently so the students aren’t just dazed. I’ve put something together, but by the end of the day due to more testing and problems (e.g. finding out the students who’re already taking 9 college credits of economics, art appreciation and biology in addition to ESL from Americans and their Chinese high school courses would be put in an extra TESOL prep course on Sundays). So we never got to discuss this curriculum.

I did have lunch with Spurgeon, an AP calculus teacher from Sierra Leone via Houston, Chris, another English teacher and two Chinese high school teachers. The conversation was lovely, but the food was so so. I’m afraid I won’t find the great food options I had in Jinan.

Getting food really is quite a problem. We’re living in a planned community, but no one planned the grocery options well. There’s a poorly stocked small grocery that’s rather dilapidated. Rumor has it that Phoenix City 20 minutes from here has better options, but by the time I finished working, I was just too tired. It would be nice if someone took us to the good stores or at least gave us some good directions. I’ve been surviving off of food I brought from home — pita bread, chocolate and baby carrots — and a couple bad restaurant meals.

Today the Chinese teachers all got new bikes from the school. I’m happy for them, but it did remind us how overlooked we’ve been. My apartment still lacks items like an air conditioner, plates, kitchen utensils that were promised. It’s one thing if I was complaining about not getting something I was never told to expect; it’s another to arrive and face lots of work with jet lag and then be told to talk to the landlord about missing furnishings.

Of course, we’re puzzled as it’s the liaison’s job to  liaise. He knows we 1) don’t speak Cantonese and 2) don’t have the contact information for the landlord. How I miss Jinan, Nancy Feng and Scofield.