Comprehensive Evaluation of Strengths and Weaknesses
  1. Knowledge of Students:  The most consistent criticism I have received as an instructor from other instructors is the level to which I become immersed and involved in the success of my students.  To know them is to be able to teach them, and vice versa.  To many, it is seen as crossing an invisible line which separates instructor from learner.  To me, we are both on the learner side of that line.  I make it a point to learn not only their names, but their children’s names and something about them which is important to them.  In this way, I am learning alongside them.  Yes, I have mastery of English, but each of them has something to offer their fellow students and me as well.  This approach has enriched my life immeasurably.  The students are always dropping little pearls into my pockets…little bits of wisdom and culture which I would never know if I didn’t take an “us” approach rather than an “us and them” approach.  For example, I occasionally have a student from a Bedouin tribe in class.  Imagine a student from a rural Amish community attending a college in Manhattan and you will get the picture.  Bedouins, unlike city folk, are profoundly connected to the land and to the rhythms of the natural world.  One day we were discussing English idioms, and I asked if anyone could translate an Arabic idiom into English.  After not speaking for nearly two weeks, the lone Bedouin raised his hand.  “Mr. Thomas…long pause for translation…the monkey…is a deer…in the eyes of his mother.”  Everyone laughed, including me, at this amazing breakage of silence and at the truth behind this idiom.  Two weeks later, he flunked out of the school.  But I will never forget him or his little pearl of wisdom.

  2. Knowledge of Culture and Diversity:  This pursuit is one of the things which keeps me coming back to the classroom and traveling to faraway places to teach.  I have far to go in this area, but I have come so far since I began teaching.  Saudis are very private, and their faith is sacred above all other things.  They have to know you and trust you to let their guards down enough to give you a glimpse into their culture.  But it’s so worth it in the end.  One day, for example, I had only two students in an upper level class who were just waiting for their final exam, which we all knew they would pass.  So we spent time just talking.  I asked one of them to describe for me how he met his wife.  “I met her once when I was a boy”, he said, “and we both had an idea that one day our families might want us to marry.  When the time came, we met briefly in my family’s home, with a chaperone.  We spoke.  She made me some tea.  We talked about the future.  She was nice.  We married soon after.”  Knowledge of glimpses of other cultures like this are endlessly fascinating and valuable to me.  I would never say I have arrived in this area, because it would take 1,000 lifetimes.

  3. Home, School, and Community Connections:  In Dublin, this was very easy.  Dublin is wide open.  I could literally take my class to the pub in the afternoon and hold conversation class over pints of Guinness.  Saudi Arabia is quite the opposite.  It’s mysterious because Saudi life goes on behind closed doors.  Also, I live in a high security military compound full of Army veterans, most of whom are battling demons and losing.  So there is no home life for me here.  Moreover, we are forbidden from fraternizing with students, so that door is bolted shut.  Nonetheless, former students are fair game, so I have been able to make a few community connections.  Also, my faith group holds meetings three times per week, many of which I lead.  I believe we will see many changes here during my tenure, and so I look forward to making lasting and meaningful community connections before I go.

  4. Knowledge of English Language:  Sentence diagrams is the one area of English language teaching which I have yet to master.  Otherwise, my colleagues regularly come to me for a “ruling”.  I have my mother to thank for this.  From early childhood, she was a Grammar Hammer on me, always teaching me the grammar behind something.  Even more consistently, she corrected me constantly and then gave me the rule behind the correction.  “Farther is distance.  Further is “in addition to” and so on were my daily fare.  Another reason I am confident in grammar is that I have spent the last decade before Saudi Arabia living in Europe.  English and Irish grammer, idioms, and collocations are different from American ones, so in that sense I am bi-lingual, knowing two versions of English.

  5. Instructional Practice:  In this regard, I have arced.  Initially, I spent an hour or more each morning planning peripheral objective-based activities to give the course books more life.  Recently, I have slipped into just using the course book and riffing the rest.  This is a bad habit.  I tell myself that when I finish my Master’s degree, I will go back to the way I was before and resume the extra planning.  Now I have a promotion to administration, so I’m not sure how much class time I will be able to get, if any.  If and when I return to the classroom, my priority will be to resurrect some of the practices of my early years as an instructor by focusing more on the objectives of the lesson and the best way to accomplish them.

  6. Knowledge of English Language Acquisition:  Almost everything I know about ELA can be credited to this course.  The ways in which learners acquire the target language were murky at best before I went through this course.  The concept of sheltered instruction was uknown to me.  The college where I teach still prefers drilling grammar and vocabulary to sheltered instruction, but that’s because all the students care about in most cases is passing the next test.  It takes discipline to see beyond what they want to give them what they need.  Knowledge of ELA gives me the foundation to be able to do that.

  7. Assessment:  I have a good handle on assessment.  Usually, I can tell the student what their score is before I look at the test results, because I’m keenly aware of where they are in their learning process.  Often we make a game of it.  The game is that I will be within two percentage points of their test scores plus or minus.  So far, I’m undefeated.

  8. Teacher as Learner:  I have to say in this area I am good.  Every student knows I am in this course, and that I am there to learn as well as teach.  It helps them to hear from me that I am going to finish teaching, take a short nap, and study for 2-3 hours.  It baffles them that I always seem to be in “learner mode”, but slowly they’re beginning to understand that this is a lifelong frame of mind, not just a phase that will end at a fixed point in the near future.

  9. Professional Leadership and Advocacy:  In recent days, this area has come to the foreground in my career.  In May 2018, I was promoted to Principal Trainer.  Everyone treats me and looks at me differently now.  Of course, having a title does not make one a leader.  In my case, however, I spent the better part of twenty years being a leader in my last profession, so leading for me is like putting on an old pair of shoes.  They fit well, they’re worn in, and they’re very comfortable.  Still, I am learning how to lead in this context, where all of the students and many of my colleagues are military people.  The previous category, Teacher as Learner, is vitally important here because the hora of leadership which I exude can be misunderstood as arrogance.  I’m quite sure it’s not arrogance, as I was humbled severely at the end of my last career by just a couple of bad decision.  Being an advocate for my colleagues and for the learners is something I greatly enjoy, and look forward to seeing how those roles play out in the coming years.


Evaluation of and Plan for English Language Improvement


Learning Latin and the subject of entomology is a key to my English language improvement.  Knowing the origin of words gives context and meaning to them.  Learning English words which originate in the learner’s L1 is another key to acquisition and retention which I hope to master in the coming months and years.  So most of my plan for English language development hinges on acquisition of other languages more than English.  Being a better member of the English language teaching community is another key to unlocking new and creative methods for teaching.


Evaluation of and Plan for Improvement of Instructional Practices

              Taking liberties with the instruction practice is an area where I could definitely improve.  Doing things the same old way bores not only me but my students as well.  Focusing on objectives more than exercises is another area where I need improvement.  Teaching Fatigue is a real obstacle at this stage of my career.  I love the student interaction, but teaching the same course books again and again can be   torture and can stifle my creativity as an instructor.  Establishing virtuous feedback loops with other instructors is another commitment I must make if I am to develop further as an instructor, leader and administrator.  As my first boss used to say, “feedback is the breakfast of champions.”  Most days I go without my breakfast.

Additional Areas for Improvement:  Breaking through the cultural barriers in Saudi life is a formidable task but a rewarding one.  In the coming months and years, I look forward to becoming more immersed in Middle Eastern culture.  In this way, I can only become more connected and relevant as an instructor.