Member's Profile: Jennifer Yphantides

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Jennifer Yphantides

In this edition of Member’s Profile, Jennifer Yphantides reflects on her career path and the importance of acknowledging the affective side of teaching.

Member’s Profile
Jennifer Yphantides

Although I have worked for nearly 17 years as an ESL/EFL teacher, I have just recently begun to set aside some time for serious reflection on my professional identity. Instead of ignoring the personal side of teaching, I am asking myself about how who I am outside of the classroom shapes what I do on a daily basis in the classroom. I believe it has taken me such a long time to come to the conclusion that this type of questioning is critical to professional satisfaction for two reasons. First, similar to numerous colleagues, I have often had very busy workdays which did not afford much time for reflection. Second, also similar to many of my fellow teachers, I came into our profession by accident and for the first several years expected that I would eventually exit it as easily as I had entered.
The fortunate accident happened one lazy summer afternoon as I was caught speaking English in a Greek market. I was immediately offered a teaching position in Thessaloniki, my father’s hometown. I had just graduated from university, had never really travelled outside of North America before, and was ready to live in a picturesque coastal city which enjoyed much warmer winters than my native Canada. I envisioned weekend getaways to exotic destinations and dinners overlooking the beach. What I hadn’t expected was teaching more than 300 students in 16 different groups, some of whom I met only fortnightly. More important, I had not foreseen the immense moral responsibility involved in teaching.
I survived my one-year contract in Greece and escaped on to graduate studies in England. I did a MA in War Studies but I did not want to abandon TESOL entirely, so I simultaneously pursued a teaching qualification. I assumed that an ESL situation would involve more motivated, less problematic students. On my first day of practice teaching, I realized this would not necessarily be the case as my meticulously prepared lesson on describing family members brought my randomly assigned class of former-Yugoslavian refugees to tears.
Despite what seemed like a fatal classroom disaster, I passed my teaching practicum with my cognitive focus on teaching and learning firmly intact and the affective side tucked safely away. I then went on to work in Korea for two years, followed by a five year stint in Israel. I very much enjoyed my time in Korea but the punishing workload quelled any real possibility for self-examination. In Israel however, I was limited to part-time work at the University of Haifa. In Haifa, I had the pleasure of teaching very diverse groups of students including Arabs, Jews, Ethiopians, and Russians. Because of the intense political situation, many issues arose in class that could not be ignored. It was my first real experience coping with (rather than ignoring) the more delicate side of teaching and learning. At that time, I brought a lot of myself into the classroom but found exploration and analysis of this part of my teaching to be complex and overwhelming.
I have now been in Japan for over six years. After paying my dues at various conversation schools, I was able to afford pursuing an MA in TESOL. I was pleased I was able to focus so heavily on the more personal aspects of teaching during my degree while still concentrating on cognitive issues. Since graduation, I have had more time to reflect on what I want to focus on as a teacher: presenting multiple perspectives in the classroom and fostering more critical thinking. Of course, this requires sharing personal feelings and opinions, something I’m shying away from less and less as I move forward in my career.
In addition, I have also become more active in professional organizations such as JALT, where I have discovered a supportive network of committed teachers with whom I can share ideas about self-exploration. Recently, I was inspired at the Pan-SIG by Maggie Lieb’s presentation on personal ethics in English language education. Also, I attended Andy Curtis’s plenary address entitled “Know thyself: What can we learn about reflective practice from other professions?” at PAC-KOTESOL in October 2010. At the end of his talk, Dr. Curtis expressed his belief that “teaching is an affective, heart-level event based on good relationships between teachers and students.” His comment challenged me to take a deeper look at how I may be able to harness the power of personal qualities, both my own and those of my students, to make a stronger pedagogical impact.

Jennifer Yphantides is currently a lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba. This academic year, she has enjoyed working on two literacy development projects. The first involved students writing their own graded readers. The second was holding a readathon during the school festival to raise money for shipping books to a girls’ school in Varanasi, India.

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