My #TEFL365 Start – Things and People that Inspire Me

On an earlier post, Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) called us for a challenge to identify/reflect on teachers  and education related people/images/anything basically that inspired us , a development he came up with from the #365 project. I found the project fascinating, but since I was on vacation (as I still am BTW) it took me a while to get started. And since I have some ground to cover to catch up, I decided I could make a post with the first 19 things/people on my list to start on the project… I’m sure this first list will be very different from my next additions to the project, which will probably be more ongoing, spur of the moment sources of inspiration. So here they are (many of them are on twitter, so I’ll add their handles as well):


#1 – Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell)– Shelly is amazing. This woman is a fantastic teacher. Does amazing things on her classes and with her students and finds time to tweet the best resources and blogs, as well as create more resources and lecture. Good thing she’s an insomniac! I had the awesome opportunity to meet her in person recently and I can say for a fact that she is exactly what she seems to be on twitter: the sweetest, most driven, most committed to education person I have EVER met. She was an easy pick for the project.


 # 2 – My kids – Watching my kids learn and grow has been a great experience. And I believe it’s enhanced because I am a teacher, so I take even greater pleasure in watching their development. Every little victory they have is a victory for me.


 #3 – Thays Ladosky (@tdosky) – I have the enormous pleasure of working with Thays in my school. She’s one of those gifted teachers, natural-born ones. She has a heart the size of Brazil, cares for (and knows) each and every student she has, worries about teachers’ self-esteem and gives one of the best talks I’ve ever been to on motivation (I’ve watched it 3 times and it makes me cry every single time). She’s an unbelievable mother, wife, professional and especially friend as well. You can ALWAYS count on Thays – for anything!


#4 –

The ocean - Muro Alto, PE - Brazil

The sea. Living in a coastal city, having been raised on the beach (my home for the first 25 years of my life was built on the beach sand), I always catch myself looking at the sea, and it always inspires me, be it for my work and my lessons, be it for my life.


# 5 – Eduardo Bomfim – He was my teacher in the Graphic Design course in the university and the best teacher I’ve ever had. He’s the one who’s challenged me to think out of the box, to question pre-established concepts. He was my aesthetics teacher, and made us study Plato, Plotino and other philosophers… I wonder what’s happened to him.


#6 – Cynthia Maranhão – She’s my mother. She was an English teacher when younger and was a great influence on me, regarding making clear that the learner is responsible for his/her own learning, that there’s always something to be learned. Not to mention she takes my oldest and helps her with her homework (make her work for it!!!) twice a week 😉


#7 – Books – I love books. As many other teachers I know, books are always my favorite gist to receive – and usually give as well. I always find inspiration in books I’ve read, or I’ve hear about (and added to my wishlist!)



These are a few of my favorite things...



#8 – David Crystal – Ok, so, big name in ELT. But deserving. I have had the pleasure of watching one of his plenaries (in the last Braz-Tesol) and was mesmerized by him. He has an absurd amount of knowledge and an amazing rhetoric. Truly inspiring.


#9 – Jason Renshaw (@englishraven) – Jason is an English teacher from Australia, extremely gifted and an invaluable source of ideas, activities, challenges and has the most incredible and inspiring blog I’ve ever come across. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with (I hope I can say that Jason!) after I joined twitter and the blogosphere and has been a great supporter and source of learning and self-development for me.



#10 – Mônica Carvalho – Mônica is my/the academic coordinator at the school I teach at. She’s very supportive of the teachers, has great insights and is always finding ways to incentive and motivate the teachers who works there. Despite any preconceptions or ideas people might have of coordinators, she’s really there for us. Her door is always open to the teachers – and she really does listen. She’s been an important piece in my professional development.



#11 – Music – I am always listening to music. And I have specific playlists for specific tasks, varying from harder rock, to classical and not neglecting Brazilian Popular music (MPB) and classical – Chopin is a favorite. Each different rhythm energizes me for each different task while working – whether it’s correcting students’ work (MPB), writing (harder rock) or reading (classical). I have created so many lessons from inspiration that struck me while listening to music!


#12 – Jeremy Harmer (@harmerj) – Another well-known name in the ELT world, Jeremy is a reference in the field. Anyone who’s read his books or been to one of his talks/plenaries/workshops knows of his great knowledge and amazing charisma when presenting. More than that, Jeremy is an active member of the virtual world, both on twitter and on his blog – which has had some great discussions lately. When you see him speak – be it about teaching, poetry or music you can see how passionate he is about each of those things. And passion is always inspiring.


#13 – Freedom Writers – A must-watch movie for any teacher. The story of a passionate teacher who loved and found a way to reach and teach “difficult” students. Here’s the trailer:


#14 – Roberta Ferraz (@betaferraz) – Roberta is a teacher where I teach as well, and therefore a colleague. But more than that, she inspires me because she has an endless well of greatly creative ideas to use in class and never-ending support. She’s very sharp and on to what’s going on in the ELT world. Not to mention a fantastic friend.


#15 – The Blogosphere – Reading what other teachers around the world are thinking about, are doing in their classes, are thinking always give me inspiration for lessons, activities, taking action or posts! This challenge is evidence of it!


 #16 – David Dodgson (@davedodgson) – Dave is a British teacher who lives and teaches young learners in Turkey. I had the pleasure of meeting (and collaborating) with him through the virtual world and he’s inspired me in many ways, such as the ideas he has and uses in class, his views on teaching, his blog musings and especially regarding the use of technology in my activities, lessons and life in general. He has actually rescued me and taught me about some tools a couple of tools. One of the best blog posts I did last year was the live conversation Dave and I had on one of the Dogme Challenges – it was fun doing it and sharing our voices and views on the subject. He is also the first guest on my blog this year.


#17 – Giving the Proficiency Certificate to a former student. Watching how I was (in an inny tiny way) part of that accomplishment gives me a full blast of inspiration (and motivation, of course), not to mention pride!


She's only 14 and one of the best students I've had ever!



#18 – Recently we had an immeasurable tragedy in Rio de Janeiro with mudslides that senselessly took the lives of many people. (as you can see in )And the way people around Brazil have united to help the people who survived it is just amazing. And truly inspires me to be a better person and maybe bring some solidarity and community feeling into my classroom.


#19 – Courtney Campbell – Courtney and I became friends when she was working at the school, I teach at. She was born in Flint, Michigan; worked in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and has overcome an amazing amount of negativity and obstacles – mostly people- in her life. But she never gave up and is currently doing her doctorate with a great scholarship at Vanderbuilt. She’s one of my role models. And I’m very proud to be her friend.



So these are my first 19 inspirations for 2011. What are yours I wonder??

Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes – A Guest Post by David Dodgson

 It is my greatest pleasure to introduce the first guest blogger of Box of Chocolates  in 2011. David Dodgson is a British English teacher who lives and teaches young learners in Ankara, Turkey. I was very fortunate to get to know Dave through Twitter (his handle is @davedodgson) and the blogosphere and immediately liked his views on teaching and enjoyed sharing and interacting with him. We had a great “time working on a “joint post” for one of the Dogme Challenges, where we shared our voices in a real conversation online, discussing the topic. I follow his blog Reflections of a Teacher and Learner and always enjoy his posts, be they activities / lessons he’s done or reflections on teaching and life. He is very active in online PD with his blog, twitter, #ELTChat, presenting, etc. A great educator and person who I’m proud to call a friend. 


With you... David Dodgson! (aka @davedodgson)



One of the blogging highlights of last year for me was sharing my voice with Cecilia for a collaborative post so what better way to start the new year than with a guest post? Now, I’d like to say this is done in the spirit of sharing ideas and cross-continental collaboration but the truth is, I foolishly entered a bet with our Brazilian friend and promptly lost so here I am. :p


 Anyway, onto the post: the last ELTchat of 2010 focused on the importance and benefits for English teachers of learning another language and I’d like to expand on some of the points raised in that session here. The discussion mainly focused on two strands – how being the student of a language can assist us in seeing things from the learner’s point of view and whether or not learning and knowing their L1 can be of help.


At first glance, it would seem my experience of learning Turkish wouldn’t help me much as a teacher. Apart from a 4 week course some 10 years ago, I’ve never had any classroom instruction. I’ve also never worked with a coursebook, done any written or oral assignments or prepared for any tests. I basically learned everything I know from a total immersion situation and it was a long process. I didn’t actually learn much in the first two years as I was surrounded by other imported teachers and all the Turks I knew were students who wanted to practice English whether meeting in or out of school. It was only after I got married and settled here that I really statred to go beyond basic functional language. In a sense I was lucky that my wife’s family didn’t know much English – I was forced to develop my Turkish to communicate better with them (and free my wife from translation duty!). Now, while not fully fluent, I’m able to understand 99% of what I hear and communicate 99% of what I want to say.


So, how has this learning process helped me as a teacher in the classroom? Although I wasn’t‘formally’ taught, I believe the experience has been beneficial. I appreciate the feelings of doubt, confusion and panic that can arise when faced with lots of new language. Conversely, I also know how far you can get with just a little language (as well as lots of scaffolding and gesturing!) and this helps in encouraging my students to open up and give them the belief that they can communicate whatever thier level. There are also some personal learning strategies that I can highlight for my students. For example, upon learning (or ‘noticing’) a new word, I always look out for further examples of it in use, try to use it myself, and ask questions if I see it used in a different or unexpected way. And so, I always encourage my students to be on the look out for new words, find examples of their use and run their self-formed hypotheses by me.


While I fully agree that learning a language has generic benefits in this way, I found myself very much disagreeing with the notion that knowing your students’ L1 helps during the chat session. Before I explain why I should clear something up: I’m not saying that a teacher working and living in a foreign country doesn’t need to learn the local language. Far from it, I believe that anyone who stays in a foriegn country should make an effort to learn the language. I just find the claim that knowing their L1 makes the teaching and learning process easier debatable. After all, as I mentioned above, in the first two years I was here, I didn’t know much Turkish, certainly not at the level my students were learning English at. I never in anyway felt disadvantaged by not knowing their language.


Some people argue it’s useful to know where the L1 transfer issues come from, especially for vocabulary and pronunciation. However, I find such issues to be minor and easily highlighted. For instance, Turkish people often confuse open/switch on and close/switch off when speaking English as there is only one word for each in their own language. I’ve always found with time and repeated exposure, this kind of problem sorts itself out. Another often quoted example is “there are no perfect tenses in my students’ L1 so they find present perfect difficult”.While that may be true, it is also true that many learners of English around the world find perfect tenses difficult, even those who have an equivalent in their L1. (This discussion reminds me of natural order hypothesis, a theory which posits that language learners acquire and automise grammatical structures in more or less the same order regardless of their linguistic background).


So, when a language teacher is also a language learner, it helps in the sense that we can empathise with our students more. We can understand better their struggles, needs and feelings and give them the benefit of our experience. While knowing our learners’ L1 may offer some immediate benefits for quick translation or clarification, I don’t think it makes a huge difference. As long as you are a dedicated teacher with your students’ best interest at heart, you’ll be fine. 😉

Sharing, losing, gaining…. What’s your take?

Do I lose anything by sharing this photo with you?



The best translation to sharing in Portuguese is “compartilhar”. Despite my knowing this for a fact, I don’t like it. Just as in many other situations when you’re trying to translate / convey a message exactly the same way in two different languages – translation can be quite a challenging task. Why am I not satisfied? I don’t think “compartilhar” covers the entire scope of meaning that sharing encompasses.

For me, sharing is an innate quality in teachers. As a person whose goal is to see others learn and use that learning to better their lives, I am always happy to see learning taking place, whether in my students or anywhere else around me. And I think sharing goes hand in hand with that feeling. I also believe many of my teacher friends think the same way.

What does sharing mean to you? How do you share? Who do you share with? Professionally speaking, for a teacher sharing mostly means spreading the word about new resources or tools you’ve found. It means telling other teachers – who may work in the same school as you or not – about activities and things you’ve done in class that worked really well, giving them material you’ve prepared, discussed things that went wrong when doing a specific activity – so as to keep other teachers from having the same problem. It means talking about difficulties you have in class with your peers and maybe get some advice or just some moral support.

But why share? What do you get when you share?


Well, for starters, you don’t lose anything – in my humble opinion. A friend once told me that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. She used it as an analogy for teacher sharing, professional sharing. Some people might disagree and say that when you are a teacher (or a lecturer, a presenter) that may not be entirely true. Some might feel uncertain about sharing ideas, activities or materials because they feel these are an “edge” they have, something that makes them stand out in the crowd of teachers. Or maybe they have had their ideas taken over and somebody else take ownership of them, claiming to have created them We all know this is a reality in our world, only made easier with internet and the advancement of technology. And anyone who prefers not to share, or saves a couple of “special” ideas here and there – hey, nothing wrong with that! I have kept one or two things out of my “sharing pool” eventually, because it was something I’d be presenting at a conference, or entering in a competition of some sort.

But mostly, I’m a sharer. I love doing it. And it’s not only because I learn things from what the others share. Teachers are not like that, the If-you-want-to-get-some-you-gotta-give-some-in-return type (am I being naïve? Maybe…). So why do I share? Because if something worked well and helped me have a fabulous lesson I want other teachers to have an equally fabulous lesson. Because one of these teachers that I share my idea with may have an insight and make it even better, take it a step further. Because it’s in my nature. And I love nothing by doing it – I only gain.

What about you? Why do YOU share (or not)? Share your thoughts!