Happy New Year!!!!
With Christmas and the New Year just around the corner it is the perfect time to think about celebrations. I always struggle to figure out how to celebrate New Year's Eve and I usually either end up standing outside in the freezing cold waiting for something like a ball or a pinecone to drop or I am sitting around at home struggling to stay awake until midnight.
One year I decided to do it up right and I went to New York City to watch the countdown in Times Square. Let me tell you, the reality of doing this does not live up to the hype on TV. We had to get there hours early whereupon we were packed in so tightly we could not move to get a hot drink, or go to the bathroom, or anything, we just had to stand there. It was a bit like being on a train in Tokyo at rush hour for 4+ hours. Then the ball dropped, we all yelled Happy New Year! and then had to wait for another hour or so for the crowd to disperse enough to get out of there and find a place to warm up.
As a teacher, another disastrous celebration I had with my students in Japan many years ago comes to mind. I was working for a for-profit language school that did everything it possibly could to attract students including having teachers stand around in clown outfits with balloons. I was spared the clown outfit, but was required to hold all day parties for every American holiday. The one I remember most vividly was a Halloween party. Now, I love Halloween, it is one of my favorite holidays but this party had me wishing I had never heard of it.
It started off pretty well with all of the teachers dressed up in costumes. We decorated the room and went shopping for all kinds of snacks and soda drinks. We turned on the music and the students started to drift in and out in small groups. At times we had enough students to play games but most of the time we just ended up with a few students standing around uncomfortably nibbling on snacks while we tried to make conversation with them. The company we were working for didn't want us to take any breaks so after 5 or 6 hours of this we were totally spent and not having a good time at all by the 8th hour all of the teachers were going into sugar and salt shock from all of the snacks and soda and our heads were splitting.
In a effort to avoid such celebration disasters, I used to avoid celebrations at all cost. As the memory faded however I found myself ready to dive back in and fortunately I have been a part of many wonderful celebratory events since then.
What Should ESL and EFL Teachers Celebrate?
1. National and Cultural Holidays
As ESL/EFL teachers we are especially privileged to have so many things to celebrate! To start with, we can explore the national and cultural celebrations of the students in our classes as well as the ones from English speaking countries.
A few years ago I was working at an international school in Brooklyn with students from all over the world. The day before Thanksgiving every year, we had a potluck lunch for current students and alumni. All of the students and teachers would bring a food from their country that they especially loved and share it with everyone. The hallways were organized according to continent and students took turns serving each other and eating. It was a chance for students who had already graduated to come back to reconnect with teachers and meet the new students. They knew exactly what day the feast would be held and without an invitation or any advertising, they showed up because they knew they would be welcome. It was not a celebration of Thanksgiving that involved pilgrims or Native Americans, it was a celebration of the diversity of our student body past and present, and it was a part of what made our school special.
When organizing a celebration that has national or cultural origins, make sure it is about the students and make sure they are involved in planning, contributing to and executing it.
After that torturous Halloween experience I hesitated to have another Halloween party but while teaching in eastern Turkey I decided to try again. I asked my university students if they would be interested in having a Halloween party and they answered with a resounding yes! I then split them into committees for finding a venue, decorating, refreshments and music. I gave them some planning time and let them take it from there. They were amazing, looking up costumes, recipes and music. The day before the party the venue group got together at the country house of one of their members to clean it all up and get ready. The rest of us joined them the next day with all of the supplies and we had a great time. The big difference between the Halloween party in Japan and the one in Turkey was that the students were the driving force behind it. They were engaged and committed to making it happen and making it a success. The focus of the party was on them and their creativity, not on me teaching them about Halloween.
This Christmas, I am giving my students bookmarks made from an old bilingual dictionary I found in the trash. I am choosing a word that I know has some meaning for each of them. In this way, I am celebrating them, their language (Japanese) and the language they are learning (English).
2. Celebrate your students learning and projects.
After particularly big projects I like to celebrate my students' work by having an event to show it off. We set up our classroom so that different groups can present their work in different ways. We invite other classes, school administrators and parents to come visit us. Students who have made videos introduce them to the audience and show them. Students who have created works of art act as docents and guide others around the “museum”. Students who have created booths, stand by them and answer questions. If possible, we have beverages and cookies and make it as festive as possible.
I have done this with my classes when they finish book circle books (when I was teaching ELA), when they finished large photography and illustrating projects (when I was teaching art) and my entire teaching team did it to wrap up the semester. In the semester wrap up students had to tie all of their classes together and reflect on their learning. I find that celebrating learning is a really powerful way to get learners to stop and appreciate all they are doing in class instead of just rushing on to the next thing.
3. Celebrate everyday achievements.
Why wait for a big event to celebrate? Every single day something happens in each and every class that is worthy of celebration. Maybe a student used a vocabulary word the class is studying in their discussion, maybe a group stayed in the target language for a record amount of time, maybe your class did a particularly good job getting their homework in on time. If you spend the class looking for things to celebrate, you will find them. Sometimes I celebrate those small triumphs with a small prize or a certificate and sometimes I celebrate them by stopping class for a moment to have a round of applause. So often we see our job as bringing attention to errors so students can correct mistakes or change their behavior but how powerful would it be if we changed our mindset to seek out what they are doing correctly and recognize that.
My classes have been working really hard on vocabulary building and pronunciation this semester, today I am bringing in small prizes to recognize them when they use that vocabulary and pronunciation to communicate their ideas with each other.
Have you had any great successes or failures while celebrating? I would love to hear about them!
This post is a part of a collaboration I do with a wonderful group of bloggers called Blog with Friends. This month our theme was Celebrate. Check out all of the different ways my blogging friends are finding to celebrate this season!
Hi, I'm Kia.
I help ESL / EFL teachers create fun, effective courses that students love.