Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Monthly Archives: May 2018

Jerusalem 2018, Here I Come with Poetry

As I read the news about Jerusalem this week, I am also preparing to give several talks first on the arts and inquiry at ICQI (University of Illinois); then in Jerusalem to various groups of educators interested in the arts and English language teaching.  I prepare to talk about the English language as an artful resource for communicating peace and humanity; for stretching outside of oneself into another language.  I prepare for these talks on the porch where a second mother bird has recycled the hanging plant nest for another set of eggs.  I can’t help but see metaphor.

Hatching one’s way out of nativeness to one language and culture into more than one, requires learners to break holes in the shells of one’s “home” way of thinking, being, and languaging.  A hard hook on one’s beak to peck at routinized thinking, to see outside of “the daily news” (Jerusalem Post? Haaretz? New York Times? Fox?)–leaving the nest of one’s own thinking is frightening.  You can learn a second, third, or fourth language and never peck your way into a new way of thinking –bilingualism doesn’t entail that kind of power.

“The press is always against us,” writes my Israeli friend.  My Kashmir and Jordanian and Palestinian friends might write the same thing.  Now more than ever we need new approaches to language, a kind of *trans-ness that goes well beyond the translation of verbs, nouns, or syntax.  Translanguaging is a kind of restructuring of the heart and mind, to be able to -no, to have no choice but to- see and live in the complexity of both/and; to separate oneself from facile, falsely divided categories of language (English, Arabic, Hebrew) or personhood (American, Palestinian, Israeli) or “banks” that are West or East, and see we’re always beyond the safety of our first nests.  Our survival may depend on leaving the old structures behind.  Yet those structures–such fragile beauty, such holy promise–they tie us to our definitions, our rituals for marking time, our tribal kinship, our leg up, our safe house.  Who am I to say step outside yourself when there may be an explosive? Who am I to stay stop your molotov cocktails and replace them with poetry?

I don’t dare touch these eggs.  I don’t want to contaminate them with my humanness.  But I would like to learn from them.  How to occupy a nest, only briefly.  Do what the body needs to do. Survive. Move on.




Plenary Presentations and Workshops: Jerusalem schedule

Dr. Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, Professor

University of Georgia

Invitation from ETAI [English Teachers Association in Israel] & U.S. Embassy through the American Center Jerusalem.

Talk Titles & Descriptions ~ July 2-5

 July 2: Communicative Input, Creativity and Comedy in the Foreign Language Classroom. Talk with the Chief Inspector of Israel for English teachers

July 3: TESOL & The Arts: New Metaphors for Practice (Plenary, English Teachers Association of Israel [ETAI], membership 700)

July 4: Writing the “Not Me”: Drama and Poetry in Qualitative Inquiry in Education (Workshop presentation, ETAI

July 4: Panel on TESOL in Global Communication (ETAI)

July 5: What hurts about being a Semitic educator? What doesn’t hurt? Presentation for the Diplomacy Youth program & educators (Jerusalem Center & US Embassy)

 TALK A: morning with educators of younger learners

Lunch Engagement with Whole Community

TALK B: afternoon with educators of older learners


Visual Broadsides — Naomi Shihab Nye’s Poems

Another round of wonderful & visual interpretations of poetry! Spring 2018 we had hoped that Naomi Shihab Nye would visit us in Athens and prepared by reading her poems.  Her physical visit didn’t occur, but students in LLED 7710 Poetry for Creative Educators “visited” with Nye’s poetry by responding through an assignment called the “Visual Broadside.”  Departing from purely verbal interpretations, students made visual choices to display the aesthetic process of understanding one of Nye’s poems as it sits within the body of her work.  Please see this beautiful video Kathy Barrett made as well as visual broadsides by Megan Graham, Kuo Zhang, Ming Sun, Xinyi Li, Charlee Cain, Pamela Paradise, and Yupei Tang.

Ellsworth (2005) describes how successful pedagogical [and physical] encounters with art, media, and architecture can generate for the learner “sensations of being somewhere in between thinking and feeling, of being in motion through the space and time between knowing and not knowing, in the space and time of learning as a lived experience with an open, unforeseeable future” (p. 17). Through the visual broadside assignment, these emerging poets and educators become absorbed cognitively, somatically, and emotionally within the materiality of the poem as well as thinking about their own future practices as second language teachers. These experiences invite these educators to consider the kinds of artful language teachers they might become. Here are some quick snapshots of this recent work.  To view previous “visual broadsides”–type these two words into the wordpress search engine to see the wide variety of visual interpretations students’ have used in previous iterations of this assignment.

Ellsworth, E. A. (2005). Places of learning: Media, architecture and pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge.

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