Monthly Archives: June 2012

Role Model, Mentor, and Something Better

I’ve been meaning to post this all week, but the time has somehow gotten away from me. This post was inspired by a friend’s Facebook status, asking “Who’s your mentor? What did they do to inspire you?” I spent a few minutes trying to answer it on Facebook, but in the end I gave up for several reasons. First of all, there are too many people who inspired me in my life as mentors and role models. Secondly, when I think of my current crew of inspiring role models (including the friend who posted the question), I have trouble labeling them “mentors”. The mentor-mentee relationship seems very one-directional to me and I don’t really have anything equivalent to that anymore. I have something better.

Before I go into that, let me take a moment to say thank you to the mentors of my past. This is some of what I wrote last Monday.

“To me, a mentor is a person who takes the time and energy to listen, ask questions, and give guidance; it’s a person who doesn’t try to dictate which way I go, but supports me on the path of learning, through successes and failures.

I’ve had many mentors in my life, from Mr. Guritz, my high school history teacher who truly believed in me and helped me start to believe in myself, and Mr. Claudon and Dr. Epstein who taught me how to write and inspired my love for words and language, to the TA who taught my rhetoric class in college who was baffled that I was a physics major and not an English major, to Annie Barry, the secretary who employed me when I was homeless for the summer and opened my eyes to a wider world I hadn’t considered before, to the professor who gave me the opportunity to facilitate classes and ignited the spark that set me on this path.

When I arrived in Korea, I was 22 and had never left my home culture before. Mrs. Lee, my manager, taught me that even though culture is different, on a deeper level, people are the same. I landed on my feet in Siji – eastern Daegu – and soon met Julie Chase, who made it her project to get me involved and help me learn about the ways and means of the city. She inspired me to be inclusive when other new people came and make our community open and welcoming.

Many many years have passed since then and now I’m on a new branch of the path”

**That’s where my writing dwindled to notes. Talking about the present is much harder than the past. I almost feel like writing about it somehow cheapens it. But I’m going to give it a go anyway – with love to my friends:**

The people who inspire me these days are better than mentors because while they are role models and colleagues, they are also friends. Friendship allows for an exchange of ideas, debate, sharing information, and asking thoughtful questions that might be less comfortable in a more formal relationship. My friends are amazing people who have a deep impact on my life. Due to friendly nudges of “Hey, you might be interested in this….” (thanks Nina), I have met more amazing people, joined some fascinating groups, started my master’s degree, and within this community found not just interests, but passions that I never knew were locked inside me. I’ve also found that perhaps I have something to contribute, too. Therein lies the value of friends over mentors: I feel like a valuable member of a community among my friends.

I want to end by reflecting back the original question: who are your mentors? Or, like me, do you have a community of something better?

Things I learned from my father

My father was my first teacher in life and the lessons I learned from him have been a model for my life. My father died two years ago on his birthday, June 9th. In honor of his memory, I want to share these lessons here.


1. Do your best.

My father taught me that if I put my mind to something, I can do it. He patiently explained math problems until I got them. He taught me how to memorize spelling words. He showed me how to learn languages. Dad learned French in six months from audio cassettes and was able to communicate with the exchange student who stayed with us. He taught me that an intense desire to understand is the basis for learning. The only times I got in trouble about my school work was when he suspected (usually rightly) that I’d slacked.

2. Live with honor.

My father stood up for what he believed in, even if he it meant he was standing alone. I believe he got kicked out of several churches that way.

3. Have compassion.

My father was a giver. He gave his time as a volunteer. He rang bells for the Salvation Army in winter and he invariably came home without his hat or gloves, having given them away to someone colder than he was. Mom used to complain about how hard it is to replace hats and gloves towards the end of winter. My father sincerely cared about other people and put them before himself. From him I learned that all people are important, no matter what their race, religion, or situation in life.

4. Live in love.

My father rarely said, “I love you.” He showed his love in doing kind things for people – giving gifts, carrying heavy stuff, or just being there. He woke my mom up at midnight on her birthday to take her out for ice cream when they were newlyweds. My parents always said “More more” at the end of conversations. It took my whole life to figure out what it meant.

5. Tell the truth.

My father was a firm believer in truth. I learned from him that life is easier when you tell the truth. And along with truth comes apology. My father taught me to apologize when I’m wrong or have made a mistake. The relief that came with truth and apology is something I will never forget.

6. It’s never too hot for a hug.

Even on the hottest and stickiest days, there were always hugs.

7. Say please and thank you.

My father taught me the value of manners. Saying please when I want something and thank you after I get something is basic. He taught me to consider other people’s feelings when I speak.

8. Don’t be a bully.

Bullies are everywhere and always have been. When I was in the third grade, I had a teacher, Mrs. E, who was a bit of a bully – the only teacher who ever hit us. I came home crying one day because she wrongly accused me of adding my name to a sign-up list. My father stormed into school armed with all my notebooks and proceeded to 1) prove that I had done no such thing (handwriting, see) and 2) have a talk with the teacher about the way she terrorizes students without cause. I learned that it is important to stand up for myself and that there are peaceful ways of resolving conflict.

9. Homemade pizza is best.

My father had the best pizza recipe. On pizza making days, the kitchen was covered in flour and pizza dough. He must have made eight at a time. Maybe more. He let me help sometimes and from him I learned to cook.

10. You can do it.

My father taught me how to fix the plumbing. He taught me how to hammer a nail. He taught me how to put together shelves without the instructions. (^^) He was ahead of his time in his belief that girls can do the same things that guys can. I learned never to say “I can’t.”

I’d like to say thank you to my dad and happy birthday.

Noticing Happiness

One of the plenary speakers at this past May’s KOTESOL National Conference was Marc Helgesen. He spoke about “Well-being 2.0”. A video of his talk is here and I highly recommend it. There’s just too much there to blog about the whole thing. This post is about the first ten minutes of it. Seriously.


Well-being has been a hot topic in Korea for some time now. Starting a few years ago, stores, restaurants, and products started advertising themselves as “well-being”. At first I assumed it meant “healthy”, but when I started seeing “well-being fried chicken” and “well-being pizza and spaghetti” I became less certain. Now I’m certain that I have no idea what “well-being” means in Korea.


But Helgesen’s idea of well-being is what I wish it meant and what I want to introduce to my classroom. There are good reasons:


“Happy students learn more. Happy students work longer at tasks. Happy students approach tasks with more enthusiasm.” Marc Helgesen


Happiness creates a positive classroom environment. It is a sign that needs are being met. Happy students are more easily motivated and more willing to take risks, try new things.


Hegelsen cited this research, from “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky, which identifies eight behaviors that come up in happy people:

Happy people:

Remember good things

Take time to say thank you

Do kind things

Take time for friends and family

Forgive (others and selves)

Stay healthy

Notice good things as they happen

Deal with problems


Helgesen reminds us that, as English teachers, we already deal with a lot of this stuff: as topics (Health, Friends and Family); grammar (Remember good things, Notice good things); speech acts (Thanking, Forgiving). This should not be difficult to incorporate mindfully into our lessons.


Next, he went on to introduce the PERMA model (by Martin Seligman in Flourish), on which the rest of the talk is based.

P is for Positive Emotion, which is happiness.


Helgesen recommends a quick activity: 3 Good Things. (Please visit for copies of handouts. I just did a search on the website for “3 Good Things”.)


In this activity, students identify three good things that happened in the past 24 hours and why (why it’s a good thing or why it happened).


This activity helps them to notice good things and expand on them to increase positive emotion.

Hegelsen said that research shows that after students to do this for one week, six months of positive results follow (along with six months drop in depressive symptoms).


This leads me to another good reason this interests me. The following photo appeared in my Twitter feed last week:


My best friend posted this heartbreaking writing assignment from one of his students with a request for help. Of course, no one knew how to help. Right now, the only thing standing between this 12 year old boy and the other side is fear of death. The teen suicide rate in Korea is one of the highest in the world. I wonder if, if we teach students to notice the good things in life as they happen, if we teach the science of well-being using the materials from ELT and Happiness in our classrooms as language points, we could reduce that rate.


And so I’m going to take “3 Good Things” into my classroom and begin to help my students to notice the good things in life and why they are good. It’s not going to make the challenges they face go away, but it might help them remember, during the difficult moments, that there are good reasons to keep trying.

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