Sunday, November 14, 2010

E-mail update - October 2010

Once again I have tallied my monthly e-mails in order to ... to ... to something or other. 
At any rate, here's the information for October 2010:

Work e-mails:  Total of 825, which is an average of 39.3 for each of the 21 business days in October.

Personal e-mails:  Total of 100, for an average of 3.2 for each of the 31 calendar days in the month. 

Ads and Facebook notifications:  Total of 750, of 24.2 per calendar day in October.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sigh. Just ... sigh.

I stopped at the store on the way home. There was a stand near the checkout of cute little gourmet muffins, which were 89 cents each or a four-pack for $5.29.

Friday, October 1, 2010

E-mails - September 2010

Well, it's that time again -- time to review my e-mail for the past month. This time I did something slightly different. I separated my personal e-mails into two groups: actual messages for me vs. ads + Facebook notifications. Here's what I found:

E-mails on my work account:  Total of 785 (average of 35.7 per work day for the 22 work days in September)

Facebook notifications + ads (businesses and nonprofit organizations): 822  (average of 27.4 per calendar day in September)

Personal messages (non-CSCC): 398 (average of 13.3 per calendar day).

I wonder how this compares to other people. I wonder if anyone else, anywhere, is doing something like this, or if I'm just that weird.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Starting Autumn quarter 2010

Along with all the other challenges of beginning Autumn quarter, I had to replace SEVEN good-to-great instructors -- some just for this term, some for longer.
One had a family business emergency (will be out only this term, or so we hope).
Two found a full-time job for the duration of the school year.
One found a full-time job for at least this quarter.
One moved with her husband as he starts his PhD program in Toledo.
One is starting a PhD program at Kent State.
One called Friday morning (9/24 -- and the Basic English term starts Monday 9/27) to let me know she had found out Thursday evening that she'll have to have back surgery within 2 weeks.
Our term starts tomorrow. I think we’re ready to go.
I hope so, because at 8:00 a.m., we’ll be going, whether we’re ready or not.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

From the Autumn 2010 Welcome Back table

Confused-looking student: “What level is 355 on?”
Us: “Third floor.”
Confused-looking student (pointing upward): “So, that way?”
D: “Yes, you can take the elevator.”
Confused-looking student: “OK.”
He then wandered toward the elevator, turned around and ambled out of the building.

At that point, he wasn't the only confused one.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Teaching certification and qualification

Several years back, I came to realize the painful truth that a degree or certification doesn't necessarily mean much -- if anything -- in terms of teaching ability. One of the best teachers I ever hired had very little previous experience (just a gifted teacher, born to do it) and one of the worst had her MA in TESOL *and* was certified by a large local public-school system. She couldn't teach her way out of a paper bag, and in fact got frustrated and quit in the middle of a term by leaving a resignation note for me written in pencil on the back of a handout -- in her classroom, for the students to find and bring to me. It was definitely a lesson for me. (And to cap that experience, she later used my name as a reference!)

There is a great deal of difference between knowledge of a subject and ability to impart that knowledge to others.

What certificate or degree programs in TESOL can give you is the knowledge of best practices in the field. Only you can know if you have the passion and the drive to work with Basic ESL students -- and that can be the most rewarding, frustrating, energizing, exhausting, wonderful experience in the world for those who do have that drive. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The edible American dream

From a placement test essay:
“When I was a child, I said I will be in America because they have too many chicken and they have good rice too.”

Monday, September 6, 2010

Some things really should be unnecessary

The other day I was looking through a catalog and found an ad for a baking pan. Among the many features listed was this one:  "Oven-safe". 

Mom got a new TV the other day. In the instructions, it specifies that one should not throw things at the TV, as it could cause damage.


Career option

A student wrote in an essay that she wanted to be a “weeding planner”.
It’s an interesting career idea. You don’t have to actually *do* the weeding – just plan to do it. Of course, that’s how I handle the weeds in the yard now…

August e-mails

It’s time once again for my monthly recap of e-mail volume. August was busy: 819 work e-mails (an average of 37.2 for each of the 22 business days in August) and 672 e-mails on my personal accounts (average of 21.7 for each of the 31 days in the month). And of those 672 e-mails, 254 of them were Facebook notifications. 

I’m not sure why I’m doing this, but who knows? Someday, in a rather bizarre research situation, it may be useful data.
But probably not.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

British English

British English can also cause some challenges for those who are learning English in the U.S. Certain British English terms just need to be dropped for those planning to stay here.

In one class, a student had an eraser that worked in the same way as a mechanical pencil; clicking on the top of the plastic tube gave the user some more eraser to use. One of my students thought this was wonderful and asked where to get it. The first student replied that he'd bought it at the drugstore.

B: Then I will go to the drugstore today and ask to buy one of those rubbers.
Me: It's called an 'eraser' here in the U.S.
B: Yes, yes, of course. I will ask to buy that kind of rubber.
Me: No, you really need to call it an eraser here in the U.S.
B: They will understand in the drugstore when I say I want to buy a rubber.
Me: (sighing) Please step out into the hall with me for a moment.

I explained what the word "rubber" refers to in the U.S. -- and particularly if one asks for one in a drugstore! -- and watched her eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.

B: Eraser. Eraser. Eraser. Eraser?
Me: Yes, eraser.
B: (mumbling as we went back into the classroom) Eraser, eraser, eraser ...


Code-switching is an interesting phenomenon in which a person who is speaking one language will mix it words or phrases in another one. Sometimes this is because the term from the other language that is "switched in" is simpler to express than the corresponding term would be in the language of the rest of the conversation. This often happens if the term is a conceptual one particular to a given language or culture. It may also occur when the speaker learned the concept only within the context of the language of the term. This doesn't occur in a case where either the speaker or the listener is monolingual; both speaker and listener need to know the term being used and its meaning; otherwise, it's not a case of code-switching -- it's just a case of using a term from another language. Code-switching occurs when there is a choice between terms for the speaker -- the language of the general conversation or another language -- and the other language is chosen, for whatever reason this may be.

One example of this occurred several years ago in my ESL 097 class. Two students were having a discussion in their native Gujarati during break. I didn't listen until I heard a term code-switched in -- which is when the conversation became interesting.

P: .......................... full-time or part-time?
B: .................................. part-time .............. full-time.
P: (looking very surprised) ..............part-time?
B: (looking completely smug) ............... *part-time*.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Not-So-Great Moments in Packaging

 I received my office supply order today: 1 box of posterboard and 3 boxes of dry-erase markers. The posterboard, logically, had a box to itself, and this (sigh) is how the markers arrived.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interesting pricing strategies

Sometimes it’s a little difficult to understand retail pricing strategies. For example:

The other day I got a call from a friend as she was in the drive-through line at Jack in the Box. A small soda was $1.49, a medium was $1.89 and a large was $1.79. She wanted to know which one I thought she should buy.

At a local teacher supply store, I found dry-erase markers for $.99 each, or 4 for $5.00.

And the family favorite – Years ago, Mom was at the grocery and noticed that two half-gallon jugs of milk cost less than a single one-gallon jug. She asked a store employee why that was. The employee promptly replied, “Oh, it’s because the gallons are on sale.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Accent marks

And then there was the Spanish 104 student who refused to use accent marks. I reminded her more than once that they were a part of Spanish spelling and that I took off 0.25 points for each accent mark error.

She explained that she simply didn't like them and said I couldn't make her use them.

It's the only time I've met someone with a genuine negative emotional reaction to a diacritic. It wouldn't surprise me if she had some other quirks as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


This morning as I was heading to class, one of my former students caught up with me and offered me her old textbook from the class. She asked me to please give it to a poor student who couldn't afford the cost of the book.

This is the second time one of my ESL 100 students has done that, and I think it's a very kind thing for one student to do for another. It's truly giving with no thought of return, just to help another person in a difficult situation and make it a little easier for that person to be successful in class.

ESL 100 - Day 1

Today was the first day of ESL 100 for Summer 2010. I have 23 students on the roster; 19 showed up today. I don't know if the others will drop or if they will show up next week.

The class has students from the following countries (one each unless indicated):
Somalia (4)
India (3)
Dominican Republic

So far, it looks to be a pretty great class.

We're doing something a little different with the curriculum, so it will be a learning process for everyone in the classroom. But then again, it's always a learning process. I learn something every quarter -- about the students, about the world, about my teaching... Just one of the many reasons I enjoy it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What floor was that again?

OK - Just one more Welcome Back Table story for this term.

A student asked what floor Room 315 was on; I told him it was on the third floor and pointed toward the elevators.

A moment later I looked over to where he was more or less hanging out of the elevator, holding it open and waving to get my attention so he could ask me, "Did you say Room 315 was on the first floor or the second floor?"

Yes, we were already on the first floor.

Finding their way

Those of us who work the Welcome Back table at the beginning of each quarter have learned to accept that we will have a surprising number of students ask questions such as "What floor is Room 212 on?" And the vast majority of those who ask ARE native speakers of English. They tend to be young (although not all of them are) and somehow have not grasped that in the U.S., at least, *most* buildings have the 100s on the first floor, 200s on the second floor, and so on.

As I said, they are young, but they are still adults, which means they've probably had the opportunity to be in multi-story buildings before. So why have they not made this connection before they reached adulthood? Is it a lack of ability to observe? Difficulty with critical thinking? Insecurity when going to a new place?

There is probably a combination of these elements at work in most of these students, which is yet another indication of the failure of their prior education to prepare them for what would come after high school. If they can just manage to find the right room on the right floor, maybe they will be able to overcome that past and move upward.

As long as there is someone available to point them in the direction of the elevator.

A great new word

I recently heard a wonderful new word -- pandelirium, as in "You can't believe what this week has been! It was absolute pandelirium around here!" It was clear that the meaning is a combination of pandemonium and delirium. It's an excellent example of a portmanteau word, and I think it's a keeper. It's wonderfully expressive.

Noo Summer Camp

Just after reading a friend's post about her son's summer camp, I happened to notice this on my grocery receipt:  "Camp Chicken Noo".

The knowledge that it referred to the soup I had bought didn't keep me from wondering just what kind of activities there might be at Camp Chicken Noo.

Could be an interesting place.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Welcome Back - Summer 2010

I worked a double-shift (8:00 - 12:00 ... FOUR straight hours!) at the Welcome Back Table in the lobby of our building today. Here's the tally of the first-day's questions:

127 - Where is my classroom? / Where is room #...? / Where is building ___?
22 - Need temporary parking pass
9 – Location of restroom
8 - Check schedule (2 of these students were actually here on the wrong day)
4 – Questions about room changes
3 – How do I get to the third floor by the stairs? (NOT a silly question. The main staircase leads into offices at the third floor, so the door is kept locked to keep students out of the office area. There are signs that tell students this, but the signs are small and easy to miss.)
3 – Where do I go to register? (In that office you just walked past, with the foot-tall orange letters that read “Non-Credit Registration”)
3 – Location of bookstore
3 – Need program information
3 – Location of person or program office
2 – Is there a student computer lab in this building? (No, there isn’t.)
2 – Can I apply for jobs here? (Name of building led them to think this was an employment agency)
1 – Where is a close parking lot?
1 – Where to get a student ID
1 – Location of Financial Aid
1 – Location of Cashier’s Office
1 – Location of phone
1 – Location of somewhere to eat
1 – Need name of street
1 – What is this building for?
1 – Vending machine not working
1 – Is this the WD building? (Yes, it is.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Clever fish

From a placement test essay:

"Sushi is very famous Japanese food and it is made by fishes."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Success strategies

The other day an annoyed Basic English 3 student came into my office to dispute his grade. (This was the second time in a row he had failed the class.) He said there was never any homework and the teacher "not teach me nothin'".

Now, this would normally concern me a lot, except that the teacher in question had been telling me about this student all term -- came to class irregularly at best, never did his homework, was never prepared for class, was sullen, seldom participated, and so on.

So I asked H. to sit down and I called up the spreadsheet with his attendance for the term.

I told him, "Well, it looks like you didn't come to class at all during weeks 4, 5 and 6. And you came only once a week for the rest of the quarter."

He said he actually meant the quarter *before*this last one. I asked if that was the case, why hadn't he come to me before that? I further suggested that he might do better by attending class more frequently and doing the assigned homework. (In teacher-talk, we call these "success strategies".)

Curiously, that didn't keep him from throwing his certificate down on my desk and stalking out.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Don't know what they were looking at ...

... but there was definitely something out there.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Self-control is important in this job

A little while back I received an e-mail from someone in the German Ministry of Something-or-other requesting information about one of our Basic English students, who had already returned home to Germany. The official needed the information to determine whether this student was eligible for student health benefits as part of her parents' household.

I replied that this student needed to complete and sign a FERPA (Family Educational Records and Privacy Act) form and return it to me so that I could release the information. Simple enough, yes?


I soon got a response from the official that there was no need for the student to sign a form. I needed to provide the information in accordance with German federal law.

Honestly, at times it's hard to maintain a professional demeanor. I had a terribly big urge to write her back and say, "Um, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but y'all lost the war."

Instead, I politely explained that I appreciated her situation, but I was bound by U.S. federal law. Fortunately, she got the message and agreed to contact the student to have the form signed and returned to me.

Sometimes I'm very proud of my self-control.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to defeat the most dedicated salesperson

Salespeople can be intimidating, and high-pressure sales techniques are hard to resist. But Mom & Dad did just that in an episode we've called the "Strollachair" story. I asked Mom to write it up; here it is. The lesson I learned from the story is at the end.


Sometime before Tara was to appear on the scene, a young woman came to the door - a sales person for a ‘strollachair’.  Not only would it be a stroller, but it would convert into 13 other pieces: play table, etc.  As nicely as Mommy-to-be could, she indicated no interest (the very idea of spending a toddler’s days converting equipment into other uses was daunting to say the least).

The saleswoman pursued, wanting to know what time Daddy-to-be would be home from work, that she did so want us to just see the slide show of Hugh Downs demonstrating the many uses.  Mommy gave in and set a time.

When she showed up, she was not alone (apparently Mommy’s 38+ years had indicated to her she would not be dealing with a couple of young marrieds); her supervisor was with her.  From the outset, it was obvious the supervisor was indeed going to show the young lady how to make a sale.

We watched the show and listened to the spiel.  It went something like this:

Q.  “Now, you see it comes in two colors, aqua and gray; which do you like best?”

A.  (Daddy) “Gray.”  

(Mommy) “Gray.”

Out came the order book.

(In unison) “But we don’t want it.”

Q.  (To Daddy) “I know you want your wife to have whatever she wants for the baby.”

A.  (Daddy)  “Oh, yes.”

A.  (Mommy)  “But I don’t want it.”

Daddy remarked that the construction was very good.  

Sure enough, the order book appeared again.

(In unison)  “But we don’t want it.”

Q.  (In a very confidential tone) “Do you know that some couples who don’t even make their payments on their TVs will make their payments on this?”

A.  (Daddy)  “Oh, that’s no problem; if we wanted it we would pay cash for it.”

By this time, the supervisor must have realized she was dealing with a couple long familiar with the A, B, Cs of selling, so she began to dig in.  There was a deal to include a crib (which Mommy and Daddy were not going to buy). In a very strident voice, “If you’ll buy tonight, I’ll pay for the mattress out of my own pocket!”

(In unison)  “But we don’t want it.”

Then, came what was supposed to be the clincher, “If anything should happen to the baby, God forbid, here’s an Act-of-God Guarantee; your money would be refunded.”

(In unison)  “But we don’t want it.”

Less-than-cordial goodnights were said.  Daddy and Mommy had the distinct feeling the supervisor had a big urge to slam the door.


After Tara was born, a young lady arrived one day to sell a set of Little Golden Book Encyclopedias.  

As she walked in, she looked around and said, “Oh, I can see you like nice things.”  I had the definite suspicion she would have said the same thing if my decor had included burlap bags and orange crates.  

I let her give her spiel and gave her a “No.”  

Using a confidential tone, she said, “Now some women just take the payments out of their household money and their husbands never know about it.”

I came back with, “Of course that would not be a problem; if I wanted it, I would pay cash.”

As I remember, she didn’t know quite where to go from there - except out.

Miss Tara's lesson
I learned two important things from this about defeating salespeople when they are in front of you and you're finding it hard to get them to understand "no". (When they're on the phone, just hang up.)
(1)  Continuing to repeat, "But I don't want it" doesn't always do the trick. 
(2)  Killing the clincher (i.e., the inevitable offer of a payment plan) with "If I wanted it, I would pay cash" really takes the wind out of their sails. It doesn't matter if it's true or not. If you really want to get them off your case, that's the line to use.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I hope she wasn't waiting outside all that time

When I was teaching college Spanish, it wasn't surprising to have a number of students vanish by the third week. Sometimes they dropped; sometimes they just stopped coming and forgot to drop.

Therefore, I didn't think anything of it when this particular young woman disappeared from my class in the second week. I was surprised, however, when half an hour into class during the eighth week, she walked into class and rather noisily headed toward an empty seat, saying, "Sorry. My bus was late."

I thought, but somehow managed not to say, "Your bus was six weeks late?"

Sunday, May 2, 2010

HOW many e-mails?

As I was going through the daily virtual mountain of e-mails at work a little while back, it occurred to me to start tallying the number of them I receive in a day. Fortunately, only a few leak through the spam filter, and often I have to look at those to be sure they aren't actually something from a student. 

I'm counting the spam and ads as well, because they take the same amount of time as if they were paper junk mail coming into my actual mailbox. It's only a couple of seconds, but it does add up.

For the month of April, I received 890 e-mails on my work account. This comes out to 40.5 for every work day. 

I think I'll start doing the same thing with my personal e-mail as well -- just to see what I find out. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

What's wrong with this?

I saw this at the bottom of a letter of recommendation for a job applicant:

[I removed his name], PhD
Adjust Faculty
Capella University
School of Education

I hardly know what to say.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Welcome Back - Spring 2010

Once again I am working the Welcome Back table in the lobby of our building for two hours each day for the first three days of the quarter. Most of the questions are the usual (below), with the following as the winner to date (and quite possibly the winner EVER) --

"If I get on the elevator and I want to go up, what button do I push?"

As far as the other questions, here's how they sort out so far (after 2 days):

  • Where is the Noncredit Registration Office? 3 (It opens onto the lobby and has orange letters a foot tall above the door to identify it.)
  • Where is Room ##? / What floor is Room ## on? How do I get to Room ##? 109
  • Is there a student computer lab in this building? 3 (Answer = no.)
  • How do I get a temporary parking pass? 5
  • How do I get a student ID? 1
  • Where can I buy ... books / calculator...? 1
  • Where is a vending machine? 1
  • How do I get to the basement? 1
  • Where is the restroom? 6
  • Can you check my schedule for what room I'm supposed to go to? 7
Not bad so far.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The homewrecking otter

From a placement test essay:

"... this can lead to a broken home. That is, when one parter realise that the otter is cheating it deters the heart and if one is not strong enough this can lead to a divoce."

Favorite recipe (from a placement test essay)

"First thing cook some rice then spoil some yogurt after that cook some chicken or meat."

I don't think I ever saw directions quite like that in "Joy of Cooking".

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Coffee or tea?

This morning one of my instructors ("D.") walked into my office with a story about today's lesson in his class, which happened to be adverbs of frequency -- always,never, usually, etc.

D. asked each student, "What do you always do in the morning?"

One student responded, "I always drink tea in the morning."

The next one also said, "I always drink tea in the morning."

Now, there's always the chance in drills like this that a student is just imitating the successful response of the previous student rather than giving a meaningful answer, so D. decided to probe.

"You always drink tea?" he asked. "You don't drink coffee?"

The student was very sure of his reply. "I always drink tea," he said. "I never drink coffee. Gives me gas."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Welcome Back Winter 2010

I worked the Welcome Back table in the lobby of our building for the first three days of the quarter from 8-10 a.m. My tally of the number of questions from those 6 hours (I don't have any info on the rest of the days) --

Where is my class room? Where is [X] building? 173
Where is the new employee orientation? 4
How do I get on the internet? 1
I need to know my schedule. 5
Where do I buy books? 1
Where is the restroom? 4
I need a temporary parking pass. 11
Where is a change machine? 2
Where is a vending machine? 2
Where is a public phone? 1
Other information needed. 2

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A career in politics, possibly?

"And when I came to this country I can have any good job because I don't have good education."

Everyone wants to be a rick

"In this world everybody dream about different things like money, house, cars and being a rick."

And another one about children

Again, from an ESL student essay:

"Human being is in he process of growth and development. This process is inevitable. Our children are the victim of this process."

I have no idea what the writer meant

From an ESL student essay:

"In some circumstances the couples are responsible for the other's mistake. Children are good example here."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kitchen problems & attendance (from a student essay)

In response to a prompt about explaining to the teacher why one couldn't come to class:

I no can’t go to class tomorrow because my stove is no work.

I no’t class tomorrow because my sink is broken.

Dreams (from a placement test essay)

People keep dreaming and thinking of their own dreams and do their best inorder to fullfil there dreams and make them true and so to reach their gaol, but in some cases these dreams are broken and will not come true, thus people get disappointed and their lifes is screwed.