I’ve just finished interviewing Naomi Epstein (@naomishema on Twitter) as a response to Brad Patterson‘s great blog challenge. As soon as I saw his challenge, I knew I wanted to interview Naomi. She’s the most regular commenter on my blog, and her own blog, Visualising Ideas, is a fascinating read. After a few technical hitches, we eventually managed to chat through Google video and here are the results.
Naomi lives in Kiryat-Ono, Israel with her husband and two sons (one of whom has his birthday tomorrow – happy birthday!). She has been teaching English to deaf and hard-of-hearing students attending Yehud Comprehensive High School for 21 years. As well as five days at school, she works as a counsellor on Thursdays, helping other teachers who have deaf or hard-of-hearing students in their mainstream classes.
For the challenge, Brad gave us five questions to put to the interviewees. This is what Naomi had to say:
1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?
I’ve been thinking about this, and it all depends on which student you ask and what day it is. The kids I work with don’t mince words, and will tell you exactly what they think of you with no inhibitions. I think they would all agree that I’m unfashionable – I wear sneakers to class, don’t paint my nails and always wear casual clothes. But they would also say I’m patient and always there. I don’t go to the teachers’ room very often, and the kids are surprised if I’m not in the English room. Some of them must think I live there!
2) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?
Most of the interviewees seem to have pretty empty fridges, but mine is the exact opposite because I have a whole family to feed. I cook all of the time, although blogging seems to have got in the way a bit! It’s time-consuming too because my husband and younger son are vegetarians, while I and my older son aren’t, so I need to make something for everyone. I have baked ratatouille pie and majadera (a local dish of rice and lentils – not something my parents ate!) in the fridge at the moment, and it’s well-stocked with basics like bread, milk and cheese too.
3) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?
This is a really difficult question. I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
When I was in my first year of college I worked in a chain store selling everything you could possibly need for a new baby. The best bit about the job was explaining to people why they needed all of these things, but I wasn’t a very good salesperson because I would explain, then tell them to shop around and come back if they wanted to. So it was the teaching I liked, not the selling!
4) What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?
You’d think that after teaching for 25 years, I would tell you about something from the beginning of my career, but actually the hardest thing about my job is and always has been behaviour problems. In Israel, there is a strong push for children who have hearing problems, but regular intelligence and no other problems, to be put into mainstream education, so the children who attend self-contained classes become more and more difficult, especially behaviour-wise. Some can be agressive and it never gets easier teaching them. For example, this year there is one boy who comes to my classes even when he’s not supposed to, because he wants to be there. The problem is that he’s the class clown and wants everyone to look at him – it’s hard enough teaching him when he’s supposed to be there, without him coming for extra classes!
But I love adapting materials for the students [you can see lots of these materials on Naomi’s blog] and it can be very rewarding sometimes. There are real ups and downs: one hour can be great, and the next really depressing. [This is one of the reasons I wanted to interview Naomi – I wanted to know how she could have stuck at what seems to me to be an incredibly difficult job for such a long time. It really proves how patient she is!]
5) What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?
I’m a book animal! Every Saturday I blog about the book I’m reading. At the moment, it’s a book calledStones from the River by Ursula Hegi. It’s set in Germany, starting after World War One, and I know it will continue to World War Two. It’s beautifully written.
My husband and I enjoy watching international films. Some of the good ones we’ve seen recently were a Turkish film called On the Edge of Eden and an Iranian film called Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame, about a girl who desperately wants to go to school to learn to read and write (highly recommended, especially for teachers). We also loved The King’s Speech. Most of the films we see aren’t at the cinema. We tend to record them off the TV with our DVD recorder. I would recommend getting one! We both work very hard, so we watch them when we have time.
The DVD Extras
The main thing I wanted to know was how Naomi got into teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the first place. On her blog she says “I got my B.A in Education of the Deaf, my B.E.D in EFL and my M.A in Curriculum Development.” but that doesn’t tell the whole story. When she was little she always wanted to be a first grade teacher because she loved reading so much. After high school she did some substitute teaching at an Elementary school and decided that 40 kids per class really wasn’t for her. Now she teaches up to ten students, although with that many students, each with their own problems, it can be very challenging. Ideally, she has six in any one class, which is made easier if she has help/good volunteers.
Her other motivation is that she shares her birthday with Helen Keller, so it was clearly meant to be!
For her counselling job, Naomi supports teachers across Israel. The tendency towards mainstreaming mentioned above means that many teachers have one or two students with special needs in a class of thirty to forty students. She sometimes visits schools, but mostly sits at her computer/on the phone giving advice about how to help to adapt classes so that these students learn too.
I really enjoyed interviewing Naomi, as I find her such an inspirational part of my PLN. She definitely deserves her holiday in Alaska this summer!