Category Archives: Barry Mernin

Gearing up for Parent Teacher Conferences in the Expat Classroom

“Parents are often so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves.”
Marcelene Cox

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/parenthood.html#x4eg8khIErga18FI.99

“Raising you kids was the best time of my life…I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”

Jean Mernin (my mom)

Photo on 2012-07-19 at 22.06

 

Parent Teacher Conferences are coming up again at my school. It is a make or break time in year of a teacher. Living overseas can add an altogether different cultural dynamic to the scene.

The following is my latest body of thoughts on parent-teacher conferences in the international school classroom. If you are overseas or thinking about becoming an expat teacher, I sincerely wish you luck. I hope this is helpful:

 

1.    Parents are evaluating you as much as their child’s academic work.Be organized, present and relaxed. Be yourself. Your professionalism is your selling point. Be ever-professional.

2.    Listen to parents’ fears. The older I get, the more I truly listen to parental fears. Parenthood is an overwhelmingly emotional experience. Allow time for your parent to share what scares them.

3.    Focus on emotional, academic and social growth. I try to balance my discussions equally among these three areas. This helps in keeping the talks positive.

4.    Take notes and quickly respond, through email or telephone, to questions to which you do not have immediate answers. It is more than all right to not have an immediate answer to a parent question. Write it down and get back in due time. This makes for excellent public relations.

5.    Offer tea and crackers. Helps keeps the moment moving forward. Every culture appreciates tea!

6.    Dress well and tidy up your deskI habitually have a stack of papers on my desk. There is no problem in that. However, make sure that your desk is as organized as possible. Judgement is happening whether you like it or not. Might as well accept this fact.

7.    Be ready to speak about anything but do not overwhelm the parents with a checklist of items on which to talk.  If I can get each parent to recognize, accept and acknowledge one area of specific improvement, then I have made a true accomplishment. Be realistic and make sure that your student goals are attainable.

8.    Differentiate your conference with individualized goal setting. Truly, your yearlong goals are well-instilled by now. Use the conference time to discuss what success will look like.

9.    Offer more time at a later date. This is crucial. Regardless of how well I think the conference has gone; I always offer to spend more time to meet during specific office hours. This helps me develop a solid reputation as a professional educator.

10. Be honest, always. Obvious advice but not always heeded.

11. Over communicate before and after the conference: One of my teaching partners always writes an email to his parents explaining his philosophy and his plans for the conference. This is good practice. I always write personal thank you emails to each parent.

12.  Be ready for little onesToddlers always find their way into the conferences. Welcome them and have crayons and paper ready. It helps put the parents at ease and focused on the matter at hand.

13.  Enjoy the moment. I happen to love chatting up parents. Tell them all the good things that you see and reassure them that they are on the right track.

An Interview with Melinda Hoang Ho: Aspiring International School Teacher

imageThis post is crossposted at Expatteacherman.com

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

― E.B. White

 

Georgetown University graduate student, Melinda Hoang Ho hopes to become an international school teacher. She found me on the Interweb and asked if she could ask me a questions via Google Hangout.   Here are some follow-up questions and responses about teaching overseas.

1. As an elementary educator both in America and abroad could you tell me if there are any differences that you noticed (such as policy, subject focus, etc?)

First of all, kids are kids. Not too many differences in the grand scheme of things. Teaching at Bethesda Elementary in Bethesda, Maryland prepared me for a life overseas. While there, I taught so many kids from all over the world. Their parents worked in embassies or at the National Institute of Health.  Since then, I have worked at schools that specialize in “American style education.”

Each overseas school looks to stay aligned with educational trends. Right now, I imagine, each is wrapping their collective heads around Common Core while staying true to their mission statements. I am having a blast teaching kids how to read and write with style. Balanced literacy teaching is king here in Hong Kongand I’m lovin’ it.

2. In terms of curriculum, how much control do you have in what topics you teach or are you confine to an official school curriculum? How does school curriculum, standards, and/or textbooks shape you decisions on your lesson plans?

Not as much as I would like but I really cannot complain. Many schools overseas look to Grant Wiggins, whom I love. If you get a chance, read up onUnderstanding by Design. UBD is brilliant in its simplicity.  The trend now is towards data-driven curriculum choices. We now strive for as much differentiated learning as humanly possible. This trend excites me no end.

3. How would you describe your teaching style?  Do you try to accommodate multiple intelligence, and learning styles in your classroom? 

Bethesda Elementary school prepped me to work with students on all ends of the learning spectrum. Some books that have helped me become the teacher I am include: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, andTeaching with Love and Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk. Read these books and you will get an idea of what I am all about.

4. You spoke about what you enjoyed about teaching, what do you enjoy least? In addition whats the most difficult situation that arose inside or outside of class?

Tough one!  I really love what I do. Alas, my classroom sometimes resembles a fishbowl. This greatly limits my self-confidence, creativity and ability to experiment. Culture shock is always a concern and something I struggle with still. Homesickness is a killer. I wrote about watching my parents age from a distance.

This life is NOT for everyone. I remember being extremely lonely when I was single.

I hope this helps. If you are looking to teach overseas, contact me: bmernin@gobelearning.com

 

Stay Ever Hopeful

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)

BY EMILY DICKINSON

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

 

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the Thing with Feathers” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson.  Copyright 1945, 1951, 8 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.  Reprinted with the permission of The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

 

Focus on what will stick.

Teaching overseas is a serious challenge. There are hazards of all kinds. With that said, it is truly a delightful endeavor filled with meaning. If you are new to the international teaching scene, I welcome you. If you are like me, a seasoned educator, welcome back. I sincerely hope that you create meaning with your students.

In this post, if I can give all one piece of advice it would be to focus on what will stick. In this I mean, focus your energies on being truly present each moment you are working with your students. That means you prepare. That means you are fully aware of the questions being asked. That means you are quiet in both mind and soul.

Kids are kids. All want to learn, explore, and challenge. All want to feel safe and secure. All want to free themselves to learn. Help them. No matter the age, each kid wants to please their teacher. Give them one hundred ways. Make them aware of their world. Teach empathy. Never use sarcasm.

Plan for success. My colleagues and I rave that we are essentially planned for the entire year already. I am confident that we will be able to effectively deliver the curriculum. I tell teachers that August is where we make our money. That means the effective teacher must spend the time making key preparations. That means coming into school on weekends. That means staying late. That means finding shortcuts for frivolous tasks. That means building systems in your workspace.

Guide your students by making them aware of the joys of learning. Praise student successes and appreciate failure as a step in the learning process. Be overly polite and be ready to change tactics.

Trust your teammates to the nth degree. I cannot over emphasize building trust with your team. Most of my energies so far this year has been to create a trusting relationship with my newest teammates. This will pay off in spades, in the future.

Be honest with your students’ parents. Find out how you can help and deliver. Your student is their world. Make sure that your parents know that you understand this fact.

Read poetry. Collect your favorites. The poets have experienced every aspect of the human condition and they convey each aspect so much better.

Stay ever hopeful. I hope YOU have an amazing year.

 

 

Bon chance. Stay ever hopeful.

 

 

Teaching in the Age of the Superstar Teacher

While the United States was learning about Major League Baseball player suspensions , I was in Hong Kong reading of other high paid superstars.

But before I continue, please let me explain from whence I came.

In February, 1990, freshly graduated from teacher’s college, I drove my diesel-powered Volkswagen Rabbit to a job fair in Copley Plaza. I distinctively recall the smell of my new leather resume holder, the texture of my Rick Springfield tie and the overall feeling of awkwardness over the entire affair. I more than likely was wearing Polo cologne. I was young, dumb and full of hope that I would get a job as close as possible to my hometown. I entered the job fair with zero intentions of leaving Massachusetts.

This was during the dark ages before the Internet.  Due to the glut of Boston area universities, Massachusetts was able to pay extremely low wages to aspiring teachers. The highest yearly salary I could find at the time was US$18,000.  One friend signed a contract to teach at a private school for $US 12,000.  Within twenty minutes, I realized that if I were to move out of my childhood bedroom, I would need to find work outside of the Commonwealth.

Fortunately, I was able to secure job offers in California, Georgia, Hawaii and Montgomery County, Maryland. I decided on Maryland for the pay was $27,000 and still, relatively close to home.

Leaving the Boston area was a tremendous sacrifice. I missed out seeing my nephews and nieces grow up. Missed watching my parents enter their golden years . Leaving home was out of necessity and I struggled mightily to get by on a teacher’s salary. This habit of constantly searching for higher paying teacher salaries has led me to Bethesda, Maryland, Singapore, Japan and now Hong Kong. I have had many supplemental side jobs. At various times throughout my career, I was a security guard, a bouncer, a docent and a chess tutor. I tell anyone that will listen that I moved overseas so that I can live the American Dream.

Which brings me back to the Major League ball players, specifically Alex Rodriquez. No one forced the Texas Rangers owner to offer Rodriguez a contract of over $US 100 million dollars. He was worthy of his contract solely because the owner could justify paying him that much money.  I do not begrudge any man for making as much money as possible as long as he is not hurting anybody. ARod had found a market for his remarkable talents that was highly entertaining for the American masses. His contract was and is out beyond my imagination, however.

That said, perhaps, the days when teachers receive astronomical sums are upon us. I read from the WSJ that there is a man in Korea that earns 4 million dollars a year as a tutor. Who am I to begrudge this salary? Does he deserve it? Does anyone deserve that much money for anything? That is not my concern. He earns the money because he has found a market that will offer to pay him. That is the free market at work.

Due to digital technology,  we are at a time when outlier teachers command million dollar salaries.  Perhaps we are at a time where great teachers can command much, much more money and afford to live closer to home. I imagine I will spend the rest of my days on doing what I can to help make that so.

Until then, do not be surprised if I am writing from South Korea next.

14 Steps to Make a School Even Better

Can we do better?

I have worked in some really amazing schools. This fact gives me optimism in my students’ future and the future of the planet.

Alas, the school year is over.  I have had the time to breath and reflect on how we as a learning community can do even better.  The following is a personal body of thought upon making elementary schools not only brain-friendly but ”human-friendly.” 

  1. A focus on Project-Based Learning. Read about the benefits of project-based learning here
  2. Each student composes music. Read about the effects of music on the brain here.
  3. The Arts… every day. View an inspiring news report here
  4. Life skills are not expected, but taught. UNICEF defines life skills as ”psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. They are loosely grouped into three  broad categories of skills: cognitive skills for analyzing and using information, personal skills for developing personal agency and managing oneself, and inter-personal skills for communicating and interacting effectively with others.”
  5. Neurology Training: Teachers have a basic understanding of how the brain works. One of my favorite brain books is here.
  6. Maker Culture: Students create, disassemble and reassemble their own technology. Check out Maker magazine here.
  7. Teach kids financial literacy. Read 10 Steps to Teaching Your Kids to Become Entrepreneurs here.
  8. Chess tournaments. Check out the effects of Chess on the child brain. Chess is the “anti-Ritalin.”
  9. Poetry Matters: Poetry is all over the school. Read about my poetry heroine here.
  10. Classes are smaller: Class size is 16 kids per class. From my experience, this is the ideal class size for teaching 21st century students.
  11. More planning time:Student workweek is 4.5-days. Teachers workweek is 5.5 days.
  12. Balanced curriculum decisions: Curriculum is developed by children, parents and staff
  13. Stress is confronted: The CDC report on the dangers of toxic stress on childrenhere.
  14. A shift in professional development. I believe that teachers are to choose more of their own avenues for professional development.

You can find me on Twitter @LarryHermanHK

You can read my blog @ ExpatTeacherMan.com

WHAT DID I LEARN DURING MY FIRST YEAR AS AN EXPAT?

home

After being inspired by both my favorite blogger, ExpatEducator, and International School Services, I opted to reflect on my first year of International School teaching, August 2001-2002.

Here goes:

Teamwork is essential. 

Your teaching team is your lifeline. You must focus on friendly, respectful communication. Keep all opinions about teaching practices and school environment to yourself for the entire first year. Your team will help you survive your posting. They can also make your first year miserable. I was very lucky, in this regard. My teammates were funny, supportive, foodies, and sympathetic to my struggles.

Stress is merely another obstacle to conquer.

The stress during your first year overseas is immense. It gets easier. Realize that you are in for an overhaul of so many preconceived notions. I arrived in Singapore two weeks before 9/11. Walking past machine gunnery and bomb sniffing dogs each day to teach ten-year olds made for an incredibly difficult year.

You are a guest.

Do everything that you can to learn and show appreciation of your foster country. Treat your newfound address as you would your hometown. Read up the local politics. Take time to understand the local issues. Listen to the people around you and get help to understand. Again, keep your opinions to yourself, however.

Learn the language. Taking a summer off during my second stint in Asia to learn conversational Japanese was a huge break for me. Many doors opened up for me. I regret not learning Mandarin while in Singapore. Where ever you are, learn the language. People have used LiveMocha. It is an incredible resource and I recommend it highly.

Smile often and expect problems.

Live conservatively, volunteer, and take pubic transportation. Save your money. I got to travel the world, visit Hawaii and Bali, but finished the year as broke as when I started. Do not do this.

Find friends not associated with your school. International school teaching is incredibly demanding. Find friends outside your realm that will not remind you of work.

Accept yourself and your current situation. My dad told me often that I am going to have to learn to appreciate being alone if I am to survive overseas. He was so very right. I remember him specifically telling me to quit feeling sorry for myself and that if you are experiencing culture shock in Singapore….”Try moving to Mississippi!”

You are a professional, act like one. Do not personalize decisions made from your administrators. Move on.

Shop in the summer. Let’s just say that nothing fits and leave it at that.

Parents need help too. I learned quickly that my students’ parents were dealing with the same degree or more of homesickness and isolation. To be effective, I needed to cultivate relationships with parents even more so than back in the states.

You are a work in progress. Take it easy on yourself. You will make many mistakes but you will see it through. Finishing my first year overseas was a major life-affirming event. I am now into my eleventh year as an expat teacher and I could not be more happy.

 

What did you learn about your first year overseas? Educators and Parents, please feel free to write to me. If YOU are movingoverseas for the first time, please keep use me as a resource.

Good Luck!

You can find me on Twitter @LarryHermanHK

You can read my blog @ ExpatTeacherMan.com

 

TEDxHongKong Thoughts

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The following post is cross posted from Expat Teacher Man


“There is no great genius without a mixture of madness.”

Aristotle

I  attended TEDxHongKongED  event to “exchange ideas, discuss thoughts and ask questions.” I listened to some influential people speak about learning and the power of discovery. Below is a series of questions that I wrote in my notebook during the course of the day.

Parents

Why do you send your kids to school each day? We haven’t always taught children in a classroom setting…why do we now? Are you satisfied with your child’s academic growth? Is the classroom setting the best avenue for learning? Can we do better? Does sending your kid to school each day makes economic and intellectual sense? Do your kids complain of boredom? Is educational technology used often and appropriately in your child’s classroom? Is your school doing what is right for your child? Is your school doing what is right for the future of the planet? Does your school preach classroom management over individuality? Are you aware that nearly 20% of American students suffer from some sort of mental disorder? (Merikangas KR, etal. 2010)

Teachers

How do you feel about your career path? Does the digital age frighten you? Is this possibly the golden age of teaching or will only the best, brightest and luckiest be well compensated? Are schools truly future focused?  Do teachers develop a curriculum that above all else, keeps them employed? Why do you still teach inside a classroom setting? Can you effectively reach more children online? Could you be better compensated online? Do we let kids truly discover? Or rather, do we set them up to discover what we consider is important? Do we censor too much? Is the school day too long? Do we pay enough attention to physical fitness and the arts? Do your students look bored? Do your kids complain of bullying? Do your kids receive individualized and proper services? What percentage of your students need counseling support?

Administrators

Do you treat all with fairness, dignity and respect? Do you offer multiple ways for student learning? Do you trust your staff? Are you effective in conflict resolution? Are families involved in improving curriculum? Do you support continuous improvement? Are you using your time wisely? Do you have effective communication skills? Are you willing to hear bad news? Do you inspire your staff to do great work? Are you socially innovative? Is creativity a part of your school’s mission? Do your students create music? Do you allow students to discover mathematics? Do you offer an environment where students can learn from failure?

TEDxHongKongED was most definitely time well spent. I look forward to the speeches being uploaded so that I can share them with my professional learning network.

 Reference:

Merikangas KR, He J, Burstein M, Swanson SA, Avenevoli S, Cui L, Benjet C, Georgiades K, Swendsen J. Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2010 Oct. 49(10):980-989.

 

It was a VERY Good Year.

My kids took many pre-assessments for learning. This one is for the Fantasy unit.
My kids took many pre-assessments for learning. This one is for the Fantasy unit.

 

As an elementary school teacher, this was a very good year.

I helped kids successfully manage their standardized tests. Taught kids to read, write and appreciate mathematics. I taught kids the meaning of empathy. Taught kids to be proud. Taught kids to be respectful. Taught kids the importance of literature. I taught kids to celebrate when completing a writing piece. I taught kids to reflect on their learning.

I helped gather evidence and write my school’s accreditation report. I was a member of the strategic planning measurement team. I coached parents on the changes to the school’s math and literacy curriculum. I coached kids to write children’s books. I coached kids to love poetry. I gave two speeches at our school’s chapel services. I taught kids to solve their problems.

I mentored our incoming team leader. I received continuing professional development in literacy and educational technology. I dabbled in podcasting. I updated and designed curriculum in realistic fiction, poetry and fantasy genres. I created online tutorials for math homework. I started an online educational blog which now has over six hundred followers. I received excellent ratings from my school’s leadership during our formal evaluation process.

I received many notes of thanks from colleagues, parents and students.

My students wrote:

I like how Mr. Mernin gives us examples for how to do the problems.”

“He always shows us the way and explains it in a fun and interesting way so that’s why I like him so much.”

I like how he helps everyone, he helped me by explaining to me how to make inferences.”

“I like it because he make’s it sound easy for us and really fun.”

“Mr. Mernin always adds humor into the lessons and he makes learning fun. “

“Mr.Mernin is funny and is not boring.”

Mr.Mernin is strict sometimes too so we don’t go overboard with having fun. He gives strict grades. He is always pushing our thinking to the next level.”

What I like is that Mr.Mernin always lets us share. I also like that Mr.Mernin makes teaching fun and that he reads aloud.”

“ I like that Mr.Mernin is never TOO strict and is usually fun and humorous. I usually find it hard to work properly if a teacher is constantly berating me for my incompetence.”

“I like Mr. Mernin’s teaching because when we start a new unit, he will always tell us about it or give us a problem about what we’re learning.”

“I like how Mr. Mernin is always precise, especially in math. Whenever my lines are not straight, or I do not specify in my writing, He always reminds me to do my best to be precise.”

“I like how Mr. Mernin always tries to help us and if we could figure out what to do he lets us figure out what to do until we get it.”

 

And finally, one parent actually wrote:

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for spending more time with our son so that he may understand society, the meaning of life and the importance of Math. You are the best teacher at this school, Hong Kong, and maybe the world.”

  

Have a great summer, teachers. Rest up for another amazing year in 2013-2014.

 

What is my Personal, Plausible Future in Education?

This post was originally posted on: http://expatteacherman.com/

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell
Buddha

I offer you greetings, from Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong, on this Sunday afternoon. From today’s twitterverse, I read about how to plot my future in an uncertain world.  Living overseas, contract-to-contract, I write. I highly recommend that you follow the work being done on fastcompany. They force one to think deeply. Read on:

 What unique value do you bring to the world?  

Belief in myself is secondary only to my belief in others.

First of all, how does one answer this in complete seriousness? I do not think that I bring any”unique” value to the world. People tell me that I am “beyond outgoing.” I trust parents.  I believe that attention disorder is wildly overrated. I believe that standardized testing, in moderation, is an excellent teacher’s  friend. I believe that parents and students should evaluate teachers, each year.

I am optimistic in the future of education and have experienced drastic changes for good since I started earning a paycheck. I believe that teachers matter. I believe that empathy cannot be taught by lecture but through experience. I believe that kids want a structured learning environment but demand to laugh and have a lot of fun, as well. I believe that it is harmful to tell a nine or ten-year old that she has anything wrong with her ability to learn.

I believe that you cannot teach effectively when you are sick or pushed to exhaustion. I believe that we all need help to live a meaningful life. I believe in “kid language” and that sometimes peer tutors are the most effective tools in getting students to learn.

I believe that confidence is what I offer my students more than anything else and that classroom teachers cannot overemphasize  impacting real confidence among students. I believe in honoring and not fearing  ”tiger moms “ for each successful person has a mom that has fought hard. I believe that “koala mom’s” deserve equal consideration and perhaps listened to even more actively.

I believe that their is little chance for a classroom teacher to  compliment a kid too much. There are just so many good things going on in class.

What is my life’s purpose?

My life’s purpose is to help others. For me, I try to do this through teaching. I try to do this by inspiring others to teach. I try to do this by working hard.

What is your personal, plausible future?

Hopefully, my future will be largely what it has always been: optimistic, focused, and in the moment. I am too old to think any other way.

What is your vision and plan of action?

To be determined!

 

Why I Teach

4th-grade-fun-1272“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”
-Andy Rooney

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
-John Steinbeck

I have been teaching for 23 years in Maryland, Singapore and Japan and now teach 4th grade students in Hong Kong. It has been a wonderful ride.

In 1985, I enrolled as an elementary education major at Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Initially I merely wanted to help struggling kids find success in the classroom. As a high school senior, I was an intern in a classroom of learning-disabled elementary-aged children. Within the first week of my internship, I knew I had found my calling, and I have lived a life of learning and teaching ever since.

Many inspired educators inside and outside the classroom have affected the way I practice my craft. As a public school student, I was taught to value all teachers, regardless of their capability. As a teacher, I teach my students to value themselves and acquire the habits of lifelong learners.

Effective teachers must model kindness, compassion, organization, intelligence, flexibility, and collaboration. They need some understanding of educational technology, a belief in their own ability, trust in their teammates, and perseverance. I am happy if school leaders provide a brain-researched, structured, and engaging differentiated curriculum.

My first day as a teacher was nothing short of a disaster; my Mid-Atlantic based students had little idea what their New England teacher, with his thick Boston accent, was saying, I talked way too much, and my students giggled nervously when I tried to communicate.. Although my lesson plans were highly organized, I was painfully unsuccessful as a manager of time. I had no clue just how mentally exhausting the job would be.

Today, I am much more relaxed and confident. I investigate neurology–specifically how the human brain actually acquires knowledge–instead of accepting what administrators might tell me. For professional development, I greatly rely on Twitter and my professional learning network. I make the time to read professional trade books more than ever.

My advice for new teachers is to live conservatively so that you can be liberal in your craft. Demand more from yourself than any evaluator could ever demand. Work hard. Inspire others to believe in themselves through learning.

Teachers, all over the world, why do you STILL teach? How has your teaching practice evolved? What factors stand in the way of your being able to do your best work?

This was first posted on http://expatteacherman.com/2013/04/14/why-i-teach/