Thursday, November 5, 2015

ESL Credentials

Someone asked me about what credentials are needed to teach English as a Second (or other) Language.
To answer the question, I'd have to know what your goals were in order to see how the certification fits the goals, 
Last person who asked me this question told me described her goal as "I want to live in Thailand and support myself teaching ESL while I volunteer to work with elephants," but I have heard people study ESL teaching for other reason, too. 
Education can help you by enabling you to do something or by giving you fancy papers that enable you to get jobs or ideally both, but they are not always the same, so . . . 
1) teach folks you know ESL. Literacy Volunteers had a good training program in 2008 when I took it and probably still does. Short, simple, good, --four evenings of training for 35$ plus a commitment on your part to be a volunteer tutor. I'd recommend it highly if it's still the same. 
2) Teach ESL while living abroad (okay, you need to remember you don't actually "travel" all the time while doing this. Often you just live abroad, hang out, commute back and forth through crazy foreign traffic, and deal with culture shock. There are pros and cons.) 
The requirements vary by country. To learn them hang out online in forums in the target country and read things like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and its competitors (Rough Trade? I think that's the name. --BTW, here's a start on the Lonely Planet youtube channel, have fun:
Some places the qualifications are "foreign" and at times offensive. i.e. no ESL training required, advanced degrees preferred, the higher degree the better, but field unimportant --i.e. PhD in Chemistry or Theology often trumps an MS in TESOL, white faces often preferred but not always -- the  part on ESL recruiting is often dead on true and Asian faces don't do much better. ) Some places no certifications are necessary. 
Do your research. 
Sometimes they want a certificate such as the Oxford. Some times and places you want to shake them and say "But you should value this! It is useful and your requirements are absurd!" and you will be 100% dead on correct but it just won't matter because it's not your country or culture and they make the decisions. (a friend of mine was quite upset when her ESL employer in Kunming China hired a French speaking Caucasian with a thick accent over her native speaking Chinese American friend. OTOH, she learned to accept such things and now has a PhD in anthropology from Cornell with most of the research done in the field in China.) Alas!
3) Teach at for profit places in the USA (Boston has several, I've worked at these. In New York State licensing requirements discourage them from starting here.) These general require a relevant MA or MS or a certificate like you have. However, they will usually keep a good teacher with a certificate over a mediocre one with an MS in TESOL. 
My experience is most of the not-for-profits want the same credentials in Boston. 
4) teach at a college ESL in the USA --MA or MS in TESOL pretty much required. Sometimes a relevant PhD. 
5) teach in public schools. Check each state's requirements. They vary widely. 
Generally a certificate like yours is officially not useful (I think) but if it comes with knowledge then it can be useful. 
i.e. for example, let's say you become a certified Massachusetts history teacher licensed to teach in that field. Suddenly the states decrees that they want all teachers to have a knowledge of  ESL and pass a test on it or take additional training. If you pass the test, bingo! you don't need to take the training. You get to move to the top of the qualified teacher list while the others need to be trained and sit at the bottom. Double bonus if you can speak Spanish! 
This really happened two years ago BTW. My understanding is a few years ago the push was for Special Ed qualifications for all Massachusetts public school teachers. Last year it was ESL. 
Again do research. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Book Review: Conflict Communications, by Rory Miller.

Conflict Communication –A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication, by Rory Miller. Copyright 2015. YMAA Publication Center, Inc. Wolfsboro, NH. 167 pp.

I consider this one of the most important books, I’ve read in a long time, and I read a lot.

          It was that good. The book discusses communication, human behavior and thought patterns, and how to best communicate to achieve results and reduce and prevent conflict. Conflict, in this context, is defined as not just physical violence, but any sort of friction or interpersonal problem that can develop between two or more people. Much time is spent on the way differing communication styles can cause conflict, and how to avoid such problems and reduce their effects when conflict arises.

           Rory Miller is a martial artist and self-defense expert, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sixteen years experience as a corrections officer. His materials are quite impressive for their insight into human behavior, violence related behaviors, and ways to respond to them. Of course, the best way, if possible, to respond to a threat of violence is to avoid it, and sometimes the best tool for avoiding violence or reducing a threat is communication.

          This book came about when Marc MacYoung, another notable self defense author with a strong interest in communication, patterns of violence, and violence prevention and reduction, was teaching a de-escalation course and using many materials that came from Miller. Soon the two agreed to work together to create a program on communication and violence de-escalation. The result is this book.

           The authors work on the premise that the human brain has three parts, and they each function differently resulting in a different style of reaction to perceived threats and different styles of behavior.

             They describe these as “the human brain,” “the monkey brain,” and “the lizard brain.” Although I question if the science is as cut and dried as the book sometimes seems to imply it is, the concepts are quite useful (the author’s primary focus is application)

             The human brain is the rational part that responds to communications and threats in a logical way without strong emotion.

              The monkey brain is the part that responds to social pressures and works to keep the individual part of a group. This is said to be because primates survive best as part of a group. Although this part does respond to communication attempts it often responds in a very emotional way, distorting facts and priorities in order to follow a social agenda.

               The lizard brain is the part that responds at a reflexive, physical level without conscious thought. When this part takes over communication is difficult to impossible.

                Just a few random excerpts and communication strategies chosen almost at random to give a feel for the book.

                On page 49, the author talks of the way the word “you” is often used in confrontational situations and advises avoiding it when possible. For instance, he suggests replacing “what are you doing?” with “what’s going on?” The author speaks of the importance of recognizing scripts and not getting sucked into pre-programmed, unconscious patterns of behavior. In fact this is undoubtedly one of the often repeated lessons of the work. Part of the key to doing this is to remain conscious of one’s behavior, monitoring responses, and not taking things too personally. Another lesson from the book is the way people and scripts often employ “hooks.”

               The author describes a hook as “an excuse to act out or a rationalization that will allow them to excuse their reactions later.” For instance, while it is not acceptable for a large man to beat a smaller person, in some situations if they can claim even a flimsy justification –i.e. “she didn’t know her place” or “he was trying to act smarter than me”—it can in some circles, or at least to the person doing the beating, appear justified. Again the author emphasizes the importance of recognizing scripts and not getting sucked in and playing them.

               One of the most valuable lessons from the book are the parts where the author discusses how to achieve or improve the chances of achieving one’s goals within an organization (or other hierarchical social structure). Part of this, he states, is to strive for the receiver of the message to focus on content rather than the possibility that the speaker is threatening the hierarchy or power structure. He offers a few phrases that show the speaker “knows his (or her) place” and thus is not threatening the group when making suggestions. For instance, he says that if one begins with something like “I know I’m just a ________, but I had this idea, and I don’t know much about it, but I wondered what you thought. How does ___________ sound to you?” Another possibility is saying something like “I know I should have followed the chain of command, but I figured you were the only one who wouldn’t laugh at me if I was wrong.”

                In conclusion, this is a fine book with much to offer to not just people with an interest in violence but people everywhere.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

refugees and terrorism

Refugees are in the news. In 2008, I began volunteering and working with local refugees. Although I’ve been in and out of the area since, I’ve stayed in touch with several, primarily from Burmese ethnic groups. The Obama administration agreed to accept large numbers of Middle Eastern refugees, and to increase annual global refugee admittance to 100,000 annually. It’s reasonable to expect more in the Capital District soon.  Is this safe? Is it a good idea? Who’s watching these people? What can we do? .  
A lot of people fear that terrorists might be snuck into our nation as refugees. So, iIs this safe? Will it be likely to bring terrorists and people arriving using false credentials. Will this happen? False credentials, yes, undoubtedly, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or lying. Of course, it happens. Find one government aid program that achieves 100% success.  
Refugees are vetted but, as in any program, not with 100% accuracy.    
Is it safe? Not 100%, but I feel fear of Islamic terrorists coming as refugees is overstated. 
I’ve also worked with foreign students and student visa has always seemed an easier way to sneak in terrorists.   (Remember, 16 out of 19 September 11 terrorists were Saudis. There’s over 100,000 Saudi students in this country, many are notoriously lax students. But a lot of money is being made this way so none object.)

And the biggest source of mad bombers, mass shooters, and anthrax mailers are all-American nut jobs who consistently far outnumber foreign terrorists, even if they lack scary accents.

Portions of this were taken from the original draft of a recent Sunday Gazette op-ed piece on refugees 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

DVD Review -- Infighting, YMAA Publication Center, 79 minutes,

Infighting, YMAA Publication Center, 79 minutes, $29.95  

This is another fine DVD from Rory Miller. Miller is an experienced martial artist, experienced corrections officer, an experienced trainer, and an analytical thinker with a degree in psychology. His books and DVDs tend to be very well done and interesting on many levels. This one is no exception.
In “In-fighting,” Miller is up to his usual high standards and focuses on an important and interesting topic. The cover claims that this DVD will “develop your close-range combat reflexes” and the DVD focuses on exactly that. Miller describes the focus as “martial arts,” and not “self-defense.” The intent is to focus on improving fighting when the fighters are at “clinch range” which he also describes as “torso to torso” or “halitosis range.”
Miller is an experienced trainer and a master teacher. He begins by discussing how to learn the techniques and principles taught in the DVD. “Play,” he says, more than once, and he emphasizes repeatedly that to learn the materials on the DVD one must go out and practice. The format of the DVD is like Miller’s other DVDs. There are a group of people in a place, Miller teaches, explains, and demonstrates, then the students practice as Miller comments and clarifies. Personally, I’ve seen all five of Miller’s DVDs and felt this format fits four of the five (there was one, Scaling Force, that I thought would have been done better with a different format), and it fits this one, as well.
For an hour and 18 minutes, the group practices and Miller explains and clarifieds. Subjects covered include not just techniques like throws, sweeps, chokes, and strikes, as well as ways to destroy the opponent’s structure and the use of leverage and leverage points, but also training methodology and some of the building blocks required to develop the skills that the video is designed to impart. These building blocks include an introduction to how to move people’s bodies, locks, and takedowns. It’s all well done and well explained and well demonstrated.
In conclusion this is well done DVD. A martial arts teacher or class could easily use it as the basis for many drills and useful skill building practice. The concepts are interesting, the techniques clearly explained, this is a good addition to most martial arts libraries.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review -- Chanpuru –Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo, by Garry Parker

Chanpuru –Reflections and Lessons from the Dojo, by Garry Parker. 2015. Tambuli Publishing, Spring House PA

Following a stint in the US Air Force, where he found himself stationed in Okinaw, Garry Parker  stayed and began the study of Okinawan Karate.  Later, after he returned home to the USA and was unable to find training in this art that fit him, on the urging of his sensei in Okinawa he opened his own small school and became a sensei himself. In this book Garry Parker tells that journey and shares some of the lessons that he learned from it.

This book is a quick read, being only about 163 pages. At times, it seemed a bit superficial and I would have liked more depth and detail, but I suspect a large part of this is that I do not study Okinawan karate.

It’s divided into sections. In the first section, Parker tells of how he enlisted in the air force, arrived in Okinawa and joined a dojo. He speaks of how, despite throwing himself into the art, he tells of how his sensei occasionally wondered about his discipline and intent.
He describes what it was like training in an Okinawan dojo, and the constant use of the makiwara board and hand conditioning techniques. He tells of training with such intensity, and constant signs of wear and tear on his hands, that he was identified as a beginner by an elderly Okinawan lady in the supermarket who easily recognized the marks of a zealous neophyte.  

Later when he returned to the USA, he tried to follow the same traditions and practices.  Unable to find a dojo that fit him in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, his sensei in Okinawa encouraged him to start training on his own. Despite hesitation, he set out to do this. After training in his house for several months, he began constructing a wooden dojo in his backyard. When he felt his progress stagnate, again on the urging of his sensei in Okinawa, he began teaching students. Beginning with his wife and children, he’d soon recruited several students and began teaching them not just the physical skills but also the moral lessons that he felt were an important part of Okinawan Karate.

In the second half of the book, he shares some of the lessons he has learned as a teacher. These include the importance of regular training, the importance of not judging students before really understanding them or knowing the facts about their behaviors, and the importance of “giri” or obligation among students and how it not only helps the dojo but also helps the students themselves.

In part three, the author writes of the importance of legacy and honoring one’s teachers.  

Personally, as stated, I do not study Okinawan Karate but  expect that this book will resonate among people who do. Although I often wished that Parker would have included more detail and depth in his stories, he is clearly sharing something important to him, and it’s clear that this is what he also does when teaching karate. I think Chanpuru will be a welcome addition to libraries of books about martial arts teachers and what their art means to them.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Media Review: Scaling Force --Dynamic Decision-making under threat of violence

Scaling Force --Dynamic Decision-making under threat of violence. YMAA, 120 minutes.  

Roy Miller has created five DVDs, all of which I’ve seen, and written several books, of which I’ve read four. I’ve been very impressed with all his work so far, and even went so far as to attend two of his seminars. I was also quite pleased and impressed with both him and the material presented. Having said that of all his DVDs this is the only one I would not give five stars. Is it bad? No, it’s well worth watching. I think anyone who watches it will get something from it. But is it great, as great as his other materials? I don’t think so. As for Lawrence Kane, I’ve read two books him as well and thought they were good too and look forward to reading others. Both men are good writers and martial artists with a firm grounding in self-defense and an ability to analyze and communicate well.
However, like another reviewer at Amazon, I strongly recommend that someone interested in the subject should first read Miller and Kane’s book “Scaling Force” before watching this video. That’s where most of the real factual content can be learned. But having said that, I don’t wish to condemn this DVD entirely. It does supplement the book and provides new examples and perspectives on the lessons taught, although I question if a person could get a good, well rounded grasp on the material by watching this DVD alone.  To a large extent, I felt that in this DVD they got away from the focus of the book, and  taught about a wide variety of self defense, crime avoidance, and awareness related subjects instead.
The basic presentation style, in my opinion, was not chosen to fit the content of the book and the lessons the authors wanted to teach, but instead they went with the approach Miller used in his four other DVDs. Miller is in a room with several other people. In this room with these people, he lectures, tells stories, discusses, demonstrates, and answers questions. Periodically, this is interrupted by Lawrence Kane, who was not able to be present giving lectures and telling stories on his own to give his own spin on the materials. Now anyone who’s met Rory Miller probably believes like I do that if he were to talk about grocery shopping on a school bus, just to give an absurd example, you’d learn a great deal of valuable stuff.  So it’s not like this is devoid of content. On the other hand, it would have been nice if they had supplemented this with charts, diagrams, computer graphics, and other sorts of visuals to illustrate the lessons and clarify points.  
The basic idea of the book and DVD is that when one is faced with violence or the threat of violence one needs to respond in an appropriate way with an appropriate degree of force. In the book and DVD, Kane and Miller divide potential responses into six different levels.
The first of these is “presence.” Often a situation can be defused or avoided merely by one’s presence, particularly if the potential assailant is being observed.  Miller gives an example of someone who caused a suspicious car to leave the neighborhood simply by photographing its license plate and letting the person inside see that this was being done.
The second level of response is “voice.’ Many situations can, indeed, by defused through talking. Talking of course, does not include just negotiation but also talking down emotional distraught people, letting potential assailants know you’re aware of their intent, or even tricking people.
It was this part where I was most disappointed in the DVD, largely because this section of the book is so amazingly good. I would recommend without hesitation that any EMT or emergency responder interested in improving their emergency communication and crisis intervention skills read this section of the book. Unfortunately, I do not think they would get the same benefits from this DVD. One reason for this is, ironically, Miller’s professionalism and desire to produce quality materials. He states in the DVD that although he and others of the people present are skilled and experienced in talking emotionally distraught people down, they chose not to demonstrate this in detail in the DVD because they are not good actors and would not show it well.
The third level is touch. In many cases, a situation can be defused when the right person places a hand on someone in the right way. Examples are shown.
The fourth level is the use of restraining and other hand to hand techniques.  This is, of course, the point where  most martial arts and self defense training begins.
Although the book speaks of level five,  less lethal force, and six, lethal force, as separate entities in the DVD they are combined.  It is explained that the reason for combining the two is because in a real conflict situation a person will react automatically with a mixture of instinct and training and not be able to distinguish clearly between the two levels of force.
This is just one more example of the differences between the book and the DVD.  In the DVD, there is an assumption that the audience is ordinary people, “citizens” who do not normally respond to violence, and not people who face it regularly such as emergency service personnel or large event security people. It also one example of how the DVD is much less organized than the book. (Some will respond that violence is inherently disorganized. One of the things that I love about Miller’s work, however, is that he is able to see the patterns in it.)   

In conclusion, there’s much in the DVD that’s worth paying attention to. There’s a lot of good material on how to avoid violence and increase one’s awareness of dangerous situations. Miller and Kane know their stuff. On the other hand, for those expecting a video organization that tightly follows the format of the book, they are likely to find this disappointing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review -Balintawak Eskrima, by Sam L. Buot.

Balintawak Eskrima, by Sam L. Buot, Sr. (2015) Tambuli Media, Spring House, PA. 262 pages, 7 by 10 inches, paperback. • ISBN-10: 0692312994

 Balintawak is one of several styles of Filipino martial arts .* Like most, it is a comprehensive martial art that begins training uses a stick but also incorporates knife and empty hand techniques. Unlike many Filipino martial arts (FMA), however, in this art, practitioners practice with a single stick instead of a pair of double sticks. Aside from that, the art appears to be fairly typical. This is a good 240 page book in which Sam L Buot, Sr, explains a great deal about Balintawak. It is divided into different sections. Each section is done well.

 The first section covers history and masters of Balintawak Eskrima. Although much of this is both fascinating and informative, in my opinion, it goes on longer than a typical reader would appreciate. My guess is that the author not only wished to show his appreciation for all who had taught him or taught those who taught him, but that he also wished to ensure that no one would feel slighted or be left out. Still a great deal of valuable information was presented on the social niche and transmission of this and other arts in the Philipines. The next section is 13 pages long and discusses the foundation of the art, a system of 12 strikes.

 The next three sections, called The Defensive Stage, The Offensive Stage, and a section entitled “Balintawak Interpreted: Application of Balintawak,” total 142 pages and cover a variety of techniques and applications of the art. The bulk of the book is demonstrations of techniques. These are demonstrated well with clear text explanations and a reader and a training partner should be able to reproduce them reasonably well assuming they have enough grounding in the Filipino martial arts to see the basic principles on which they are built.

In conclusion, although there are portions of the book, that stretch on longer than most readers might wish, this is nevertheless a fine book that would make a welcome supplement to any Filipino martial arts practitioner’s library.

 • Although the exact terminology is quite controversial these arts are often known as kali, arnis, or escrima, a term Mark Wiley prefers to spell as eskrima, with a K. Therefore, Balintawak could be said to be a sub-style of esrkima (escrima). The author, Sam L. Buot, Sr., makes it clear that he prefers to avoid the term kali, saying it is almost unknown in the Philipines.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: Fall Gelb (1) -Airborne Assault on the Low Countries

Fall Gelb 1940 (1) Panzer Breakthrough in the West, Osprey Campaign, 264. 
Written by Douglas C. Dildy, Illustrated by Peter Dennis. Co. 2014, Osprey Publishing.  96 pages, widely illustrated in black and white with color prints. 

Scope – A single Campaign
Completeness – High
Appeal  - Low 
Accuracy - *

In 1940, in a stunningly successful blitzkrieg campaign, the Nazis over ran the democracies of western Europe. This book, the first of two volumes, tells that story. On the positive side, it is beautifully illustrated with historical photographs, modern photographs of monuments, battle sites, restored takes and such, paintings, and beautiful maps. It contains lots of detailed information. On the negative side, however, it is dry reading and difficult to absorb. Although I am quite sure many will appreciate this level of detail, and such people will love this volume and know that Osprey is a good place to look for such detail, I am afraid I was not among them.
                A single paragraph chosen while reading today should illustrate what I mean.:

                In Heeresgruppe A’s area, Sperrle’s initial effort was less consistent. I. Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 1’s (I./KG 1) raid on Cambrai Niergnies decimated one ZOAN fighter group (GC III/2; air cover for General Georges Blanchard’s 1ere Armee), destroying eight MS 406s  and damaging five more so seriously that General Tetu had to transfer another unit (GC III/7) from ZOAE to replace it. Other Heinkels destroyed seven Potez 63-11 and Bloch 174 reconnaissance aircraft (GR II/33 and GR II/36) while Do 17Zs knocked out five Am 143 bombers (GB II/34) and six Fairey battles, as well as caused serious damage to hangars and workshops at three AASF bases.   (taken from page 31.)

                If that level of dry detail appeals to you, so will this book. If not, I suggest finding a more basic, more general work on the subject that focuses a bit more on the human aspect of what happened. Of course, one is not better than the other. But in my opinion, this is a specialized work and aimed at a specialized audience who should enjoy it.
                It is difficult to know how many stars to give this book. Some might say three, as it is rather boring, some would say five, as it gives great detail on which group went where when. I will give it four, and stay safely in the middle. 

Book Review: Fall Gelb (2) -- Osprey Campaigns 265

Fall Gelb 1940 (2) Airborne Assault on the Low Countries, Osprey Campaign, 265. 
Written by Douglas C. Dildy, Illustrated by Peter Dennis. Co. 2015, Osprey Publishing.  96 pages, widely illustrated in black and white with color prints. 

Scope – A single Campaign
Completeness – High
Appeal  - Low 
Accuracy - *

Osprey has released a pair of books describing how the Nazis over ran the democracies of western Europe in 1940. This book, the second of two volumes, tells more of the story. Previously, I wrote a review of the first volume. Basically what I wrote was that although a target audience for the book existed, and that target audience would be quite pleased with the volume, I thought, I was not part of that target audience and had difficulty judging the quality of the work. I found the scope too large and the text too detailed and too fact filled to easily follow the events that were described. I did, however, feel that to a reader with a better background in the campaign and the history, the book would be easier to follow and more useful. In short, it was not a beginner’s book and I was a beginner in understanding the period and the conflict.
                But what about volume two? Good news. For whatever reason I found this one easier to understand. Therefore, I enjoyed it more.
                Of course, it has the same great illustrations as its predecessor, the sorts of illustrations that Osprey is well known for. These include paintings, color photographs of modern battle sites, monuments, and museum displays, many black and white period photographs, as well as maps.  

                In conclusion, this is a good book for those seeking information on this campaign.