Allia Sadeghipour (firstname.lastname@example.org) I’m always looking for collaborative opportunities and more work ?
I don’t have one for my teaching (I will soon! I promise!), but I do for my workshops and seminars (https://awerfjil.com/poetry-performances/)
Could you tell us more about how your struggles with English in school led you to become a teacher and also how your personal background helps you connect with your students or relate to them better?
Born in Ohio, my parents moved to my father’s home country of Iran where Farsi became my mother tongue. A few years later, we moved back to the United States and eventually settled in the suburban ranch town of Temecula. Surrounded by untamed deserts, Christian conservatism and intense boredom, I dove into creative mediums, developing my passion for writing and learning. As English is my second language it was my most difficult subject in school, but these struggles only fueled me on my journey to eventually teaching it. As a child, I was not a good writer, speller, would constantly, misuse, commas, [Editor’s note – extra commas added for illustrative purposes] and turns of phrase and my pronunciation was horrible as I had both a lisp and a thick Tehrani brogue. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school when I enrolled in an AP Literature class when I felt like I had finally caught up to my target language.
I wanted to become an English teacher because I was frustrated by my experiences navigating the hegemonic language world and swore that no one else should feel the same frustration or feel the need to dismiss and assimilate their mother tongue. I believe that my experiences, attitude, and motivation for becoming a teacher absolutely connect me with my students. The struggles I have experienced directly relate to my students who are often going through similar circumstances. Additionally, because I have a multilingual brain, I am able to put myself in the shoes of my students and represent or explain concepts in a way that is easier to comprehend and relatable. I am a very hard worker and many students admire having overcome such adversity creating a sense of trust and a willingness to engage especially in something difficult such as learning a new language.
Can you tell us more about the challenges (and rewards) of teaching at-risk youth?
The biggest challenge of teaching at-risk youth is that they are treated like teenagers and face a lot of ageist assumptions and stereotypes. Many of my students came from complicated homes, some with children of their own or siblings to take care of, worked 2 or more jobs, didn’t have consistent meals or lacked a sense of safety or stability. I cannot begin to express how many of my students were homeless (including on the college courses I have taught too!). They were often living lives that even some adults could barely maintain. If I had a single parent in my class, would I fault them for having to leave early? No. So why would I if that person is a teenager? I think the biggest challenge is utilizing understanding, clear communication and patience and understanding that their life, while it involves you, is not about you, and they are still learning to be adults at a much younger age than most. Just like you would with any adult.
The rewards are completely immeasurable, and I couldn’t even begin to express the amazing moments my students have shared with me. The biggest reward is knowing that you are helping someone on their journey (in whatever capacity) and instilling confidence. Hearing back from students who have gotten into college, gotten married or come out to their family, I have had the honor of being involved in all of these beautiful life moments even though I was just their teacher for a little while.
Of all the different types of teaching that you do, what is your favourite?
I couldn’t possibly pick one! I think my favorite part of teaching is the dynamism and flexibility. My classes tend to be multi-disciplinary and involve a lot of critical thinking or reflection. When you ask students a question that really causes them to reflect and probe deep into their psyche, that’s my favorite teaching moment. One that makes them think. And ask questions. And engage with each other. Okay, I love it all! ?
What are some ways we can be more inclusive in our teaching?
While there is no easy answer, as a teacher, I see it as our responsibility to be more inclusive and to use our ethos and conducive learning spaces to allow for inclusivity and much needed conversations. For many students, this might be their only opportunity to be engaged or exposed to such things. We can be inclusive in a variety of ways such as our manner, body language, the language we use in the class (such as using spouse instead of wife/husband), the articles and materials we choose to bring in to the class, the videos that we show – everything that we incorporate has to have a well-chosen purpose. For example, I had my class read Boroditsky’s “How Language Shapes the Way We Think” which directly related to my students who were learning English as a second language. From there, it led to a conversation about the connotation of words and gendered language, then the lack of appropriate words and abundance of derogatory words when discussing terms like People of Color versus Colored People. All I did was incorporate one article, set clear expectations of discourse behaviors, and allowed the students to engage with the concepts, but the way I introduced the topic and interacted with it was vital to the students’ successful engagement and understanding. I also have tons of other examples and lessons. If you are interested, please feel free to reach out.
You’re involved in a lot of creative writing projects. Do you find these influence or overlap with your professional life (or the other way round)?
Funnily enough, I met the current ELTABB Blog editor Kit at one of my events. It was a writing series called Let’s Get Crafty combining craft beers and crafted words (which I am hoping to start back up again soon). I think when it comes to being a teacher, I don’t know how to separate things or not have them overlap and influence each other. I am a very holistic learner and teacher, and thus everything is constantly influencing everything else. Admittedly, the analysis of creative writing is my least favorite thing to teach due to its subjective nature, but aside from that my life and profession are a constantly fluctuating Venn diagram.
Those are some nice qualifications! TEFL is sometimes sneered at by those who see it as the refuge of those who just want a job to travel on – burned-out hippies and ne’er do wells [Editor’s note – Hey! Who are you calling a hippy, punk?!] – how do you feel academia helped you and your teaching?
Weeeeell, I am definitely one of those hippie punks ?. I went to school at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California in the most northern reaches of the redwood forest. I think academia was a double-edged sword. In some way, it was fantastic and gave me opportunities I would not have had otherwise, but it was also very difficult. I was often gaslit in class being the only Middle Eastern, multilingual, queer person. The unending amount of debt and the rigidity of the diploma system were all things that significantly impacted my perspective of academia, but my perspective significantly changed once I started my student teaching and earned my Masters – I finally felt the validity of my voice and career choice. Academia has in many ways fine tuned what I already had, but I suppose that is the same for everyone ?.
Do you have any tips or recommendations of books for teachers who have to teach B2-C1 argumentative essay writing for EAP [English for Academic Purposes]?
Tons of tips but I think I’ve already written too much ?. My favorite book is hands down They Say/I Say by Gerald Graff. It was a textbook that I had purchased in college and have used ever since. It is really the only one you ever need.
What is your favourite resource for ideas/inspiration/activities lesson plans when you have free-reign in lesson design?
Tough question! EVERYTHING!!! Netflix, museums, Prezi [an online presentation application], that Instagram post I saw the other day, an old book that fell off the shelf, the gum stuck to my shoe – as I mentioned earlier, I see inspiration and resources everywhere.