The TEA summer school is a wonderful opportunity for teacher trainers to have a great and appreciative audience of highly motivated and engaged learners – other teachers. With such participants it is hard to imagine that any seminar can go wrong and I felt that everything was indeed “right with the world” every day of our week in August at the Bildungshaus St. Michael in – or above – Matrei an Brenner in Tyrol.
I have thoroughly enjoyed a number of TEA summer schools as a participant so I was rather afraid that it wouldn’t be quite as much fun when I was one of the trainers. And certainly, I felt as if I had missed a big part of the summer school because I did not have a chance to attend Ivan’s great sessions on using drama in the classroom. However, the loss was made up for by the active and eager participants that I had. Although, I must say, that after Ivan had had the one group for two days, when they entered my classroom they knew all about how to be “bad” students. This only lasted for a brief instant – I think they learned something about “freeze framing” from Ivan, and then we were able to get down to work.
My four sessions were a weird combination of my favorite topics. So while we had two sessions on using advertising in the classroom – with chances to record a radio spot and analyze TV spots, we also had two sessions on examining how emotional intelligence can be helpful in ourselves and in our students, with activities to encourage increased EI and optimism. There was also a section on body language to round out the program.
My most memorable moment of the week was during the second group’s first session on emotional intelligence. Part of emotional intelligence is being more self aware. And part of being self aware has to do with being more informed about how we make judgments about situations, people and even something as small as a spider. Often people are afraid of spiders for no real reason. They cannot consciously come up with a logical reason to be afraid and yet they are and it affects their reactions. This can, of course, also be true for other fast judgments we make about people or particular events. To explain this I have a picture of a kreuzspinne on my powerpoint. Imagine my amazement when as I am discussing this I see a spider – a rather big spider – spinning its way down from the ceiling about to land on one of the participants in the first row! I certainly have an irrational fear of spiders and this showed on my face. Before I knew it, the class was in chaotic disarray. It seemed everyone had jumped up, or backed away or screamed. For me, it was not only a great display of our irrational fears, but it also showed quite dramatically how contagious emotions can be – especially negative emotions. When you go into a classroom, more than likely your emotions will be those that lead the class.
Something that worked quite well in the advertising section of my 4 sessions was having the teachers produce radio spots – just as their students may have to do in the future. This activity requires a script which needs to be read out loud in the time frame of 60 seconds. The script has a number of roles: father, mother, child, announcer and various sound effects which include birds chirping, a dog barking and sawing of a branch or shuffling feet. All of the text and sound effects need to be read and “acted out” within those 60 seconds. Once the groups had mastered the texts, it was time to record their efforts using one of their cell phones. When they were finished we listened to all the final products by connecting the earplug of the phone into my computer speakers. It is great to be able to listen immediately to efforts that go on in the classroom. My teacher participants did excellent radio spots – using creative effects for the different sounds they had to produce as well as very good voice color to keep the listeners’ attention and move the story along.
I am always learning from those in my audience so I found out about a new author I hadn’t heard of before: Paul Watzlawick and his story about borrowing a hammer. It also shows how some of our automatic thoughts can get out of control.
The TEA summer school is not just about the workshops. There is always evening entertainment provided and I gave a slide show about my own home state California – with activities that one could use in the classroom afterwards. This included putting a puzzle together, or playing a game of trivial pursuit related to California facts and figures. Ivan’s evening’s entertainment had one group performing a play and then all of us being part of a forest as a background to the reading of a Robert Frost poem I particularly like. This activity included our very pregnant Augusta – Chair of TEA – being a squirrel in the forest. And on the “free” evening, a group of us were around to play a silly game called “Would you rather” which gave people difficult choices to make when faced with two terrible activities or events. I only remember that I laughed until I cried, which meant we had good fun. During our final evening, Ivan’s second group produced their mini play and then we also put together two poems to reflect what the week had meant for us. All in all, it was all quite a lot of fun.
Of course, the meals and coffee breaks and times we were together with the other participants were also chances to exchange experiences and teaching ideas – and to do so in English since that was the language spoken during the full week. In addition to our participants we had parents of one participant and the child of another participant so the age range spanned from 2 to 82. I thought that we made a great family of teachers with both the younger and older generations mixing and speaking freely about their experiences. I can’t wait for next year’s event as I know it will be another great chance to acquire new knowledge and new friends and meet with those who have attended before. Perhaps you, too, would like to join us in 2014.
Dr. Candy Fresacher, an American living in Austria for the past 35 years, has been teaching at various vocational colleges in Vienna for the past 21 years. She has also become involved in teacher training as part of her position on the board and as Chair of TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). She also edits the ELT News, a journal designed to disseminate information about new teaching trends and ideas to teachers of English in Austria and abroad. She has presented in Beijing, Manila, USA and throughout Europe as well as published a number of articles in various teaching journals.