In my first two posts in this series on Discipline, I mentioned some of the proactive steps which I believe we ought to take in order to avoid creating a classroom atmosphere which may encourage undisciplined behaviours.
morgueFile free photo
In this post, the third post in this series on Discipline, I would like to mention a few points about teacher traits which may cause students not to be the angels we would like them to be!
But first a little bit about me as a student
In primary school, I was one of the naughtiest pupils; my teacher often told my mother that she had to watch where I was or which way I was catapulting about during recess, in case our paths crossed, for fear I would raze her down !!!
From BGW 2 by Marisa Constantinides
In high school, I was even worse. I was known to be so unruly (together with my best friend who was just as unruly as I was) that for the last 4 years, our desk was placed on the side of the classroom, separately from all the other desks in the class (a traditional class with rows of heavy desks) so that all the teachers could keep an eye on us.
This did not help much because we found numerous highly creative ways of spending our time, inventing secret codes, drawing wonderful caricatures of all the teachers, writing our own silly poetry, reinventing language in the way teenagers do and living in a secret world of our own in which teachers trespassed only on very rare occasions, i.e. when something caught our interest – which was not very often.
But when this did happen, we were both models of good behaviour and two teachers stand out in all these years, which, thinking back to my school years, is really just not good enough!!!
All the rest of the sorry educators I had to suffer through displayed a number of traits which I would call….
Classic Mistakes made by my Teachers
They screamed and shouted
They punished unfairly and harshly
They humiliated students publicly
They insisted on having the last word
Their body language was negative
They used violence
They never praised anyone but the top students
They had irritating quirks, like keys jangling in pockets, scratching in strange places, odd gestures etc
They never moved from behind their desks
They had really boring voices!
They recited the book and made no other effort to animate the content
They made sarcastic remarks if you made a mistake
They ridiculed weaker students
They had favourites
They were unfair
They sulked and were unforgiving
They made irrelevant comments
They accused anyone or everyone
They were vindictive
They often lost control of their class
They were not always well prepared
They could be easily confused by student questions
They made weaker students feel stupid or inferior
So you see, I am something of an expert in what causes students to be naughty!
There were other things, too, which made us misbehave
A teacher who dressed very sloppily
A teacher who was personally not clean or whose clothes were dirty or stained
A teacher who had unpleasant personal habits, such as picking his nose, or, in the case of some male teachers, adjusting their, well, hmm… jewels
A teacher who was known to be unfair only to hit the parents for private tutoring time
A teacher who smelled really musty!!!
Students are ready to jump at every opportunity like this, especially if some of the other behaviour traits are in evidence, causing them to be bored, anxious, fearful, or feel unfairly treated.
Here is a great video I found on You Tube – it was made in 1947 and it’s great to see how it repeats much of what I said above!
How many of those mistakes have you made in your teaching career?
What were the results?
Do you have any stories to tell, stories which made you realize that you needed to change your tactics?
If you do, please share them in the comments.
Turn all the classic mistakes into positive teacher behaviours!
In the first blog post of this series on discipline, I looked at some of the causes of unruly behaviour in the classroom and got started on the path of what teachers can do proactively!
I think that one of the best quotes I always remember, is one by my colleague Olga Gounis, an ex-TEFL teacher and manager who went on to study psychology and is now something of a specialist in Prebirth Psychotherapy.
When asked by one of the teachers in a workshop we were doing on improving relations with students and parents the following question:
“What do you do about discipline problems? How do you deal with them?”
Her response was
” Discipline problems? I never have any. I make sure I don’t from Day One. “
This is a great retort by someone who knows full well that we ourselves may often create the conditions which generate undisciplined behaviours in our learners.
I also mentioned, albeit briefly, the importance of being a good role model for discipline yourself:
Be a good role model for disciplined behaviour. It doesn’t work, you know, if you yourself are always late to class, forget to do things, are badly organized, etc. Students learn more through good example than through verbal instruction,.
All teachers (and parents) ought to follow this first, very simple, but very important rule. You cannot be asking your learners to be quiet if you are shouting while doing it, for example. The subliminal message is not the right one and will generate a class that shouts. Teacher shouts, class shouts, as simple as that!
Be a Most Excellent Class Manager
Here is my personal checklist. When I recall the few occasions when I have had discipline issues in one of my classes – and I promise you I have so few, that they really stop me on my tracks and get me to reflect and think through what I did or did not do; more often than not, it’s because I have been remiss and did not follow my own advice!
My instructions are simple and clear
My instructions are carefully checked
My class is always well prepared for activities (words, ideas, grammar, knowledge)
I check again and again
I monitor their work
I show interest in their ideas (not just the language)
I assess their performance but remember to tell them what to do to improve
I give feedback in a pleasant and tactful way
I remember to praise, too
In adult classes, if you are remiss in any of these areas, you may or may not have discipline problems. Adults don’t get rowdy (but they get passive, bored and disinterested) when they don’t understand but children and teens find this an excellent opportunity to get up to all sorts of naughty actions – but remember, it’s not their fault!!!! It’s never their fault if they don’t know what to do or how to do it.
A fun role activity – Fashion Show
Develop a Great Classroom Personality
Remember to learn something now and then; something which will remind you of what learners go through, a foreign language is ideal, but some new skill or knowledge is also fantastic! I remember when I was trying to learn how to ride a horse, I had great issues with my riding instructor who used to shout and not allow me to say anything! Can you imagine me, someone who tells other people how to teach, being shouted down by an aggressive riding instructor???? Aaargh, not a a good experience!
No wonder I never continued with these lessons! ( A small but disturbing point: this instructor did not just make this particular learning experience an unpleasant one; he stopped me from continuing with any other instructor)
Here are are some good traits to aspire to:
I am a good learner role model; I share my learning efforts ( and my difficulties) with my learners so they know I understand what it is to be a learner and that I haven’t forgotten what it feels like
I show my learners that I love my job.
I can use my voice effectively – I am lucky in this because I have had a lot of voice training. Well, if you haven’t, get some for yourself!!!! Your voice is your instrument! Having a whining, irritating voice, or a voice that is flat and never modulates, or too loud and high pitched is really not going to help you gain control a class or be as effective.
My body language gives positive messages; videotaping yourself is a great way to find out if you have any traits or unconscious gestures or expressions you were not even aware of!
I move purposefully around the class – I don’t prance around like a whirly dervish or pounce on my learners and I certainly don’t sit still throughout the lesson!
I am fair and not vindictive – if I have had to deal with some unexpectedly undisciplined behaviour (in my case it involves teachers not submitting their assignments on time) I will tell the guilty party something privately and then I will forget this during the session!
Thou shalt not sulk, look mean, be sarcastic, hurt people’s feelings, say negative stuff when they cannot deal with your questions or your materials/activities – learning is not easy for everyone and some people need more time than others
I am a fun person to be with – I often choose materials and activities for the fun factor!
But I am serious about my job and my students know this! They know that I blog, I talk at conferences, they know I am keen on my professional development
I am patient and tolerant – I understand learning difficulties, both because I keep being a learner myself, but I also inform myself and read the relevant literature and research on how people learn and what may cause learning to slow down. I don’t consider this dry and boring ‘theory’ but crucial to becoming a better teacher.
Watch this spoof presentation of Pecha Kucha ( 6′ 40” – 20 slides, one every 20” ) in which I mention every possible mistake you can make as a class manager!!!
Make it possible to be successful
Include a variety of activities
Are balanced to give everyone a chance to shine
Include some games or gamelike activities
I try to involve all types of learners in some way (visual learners, auditory learners and kinaesthetic learners)
I am well prepared for my classes
I know my subject matter well; I am a lifelong language learner and am on a constant lookout for new information on language. I don’t hate reading grammar books or discourse analysis!
My aims are clear to me and my learners
My aims are achievable by my learners
A Suggested Strategy
I gain everyone’s attention before I start
I explain my objectives and give clear instructions
I monitor my students to check if they have understood what to do
I am a good role model
I use non-verbal codes
I am in control of the learning environment
My interventions are low key
I program students for disciplined behaviour
I respect each one of my students and show this
I expect the best from each and every one of my students
I give my students a lot of responsibility
I train my students systematically
I train my students how to be better learners
I use positive language rather than prohibitions
At the end of an activity or a lesson I give motivating feedback
I try to assign homework that students are motivated to do
I have a clear and simple set of routines and rules which everyone know from the first day (e.g. posters on the walls
I try to create a positive and interesting learning environment; my students find the classroom a pleasant place to be
I systematically reward good behaviour rather than punish
Which teachers made you naughty?
How well do you think they did on each one of my checklists?
I would love to read any comments you have on this.
This post was originally written in 2009 on this blog which was very very new and had very few readers. I have updated it with two videos of a Pecha Kucha which was inspired by it and you will find them at the end of the post. Both post & original talk and PK’s are spoof, delivered tongue in cheek and I particularly enjoyed doing them. I hope you will find some use for them.
This short post includes my notes from a presentation I did some years ago at a conference for Foreign Language School Owners in Greece where I was specifically asked to present a workshop on good classroom management. At that time, I had been training a group of directors of studies and had used Gilbert’s (1978) excellent “Behavior Model for Creating Incompetence” . You will find this on page 87. This inspired me to use Gilbert’s model, in some cases with phrases lifted right off his table (p.87) and in many cases, adding my own ideas to categories of teacher behaviours typically associated with good classroom management. The idea generated this worksheet. The participants were, at some point during my workshop, involved in commenting on the statements below and, of course, turning them into positive, empowering teacher behaviours.
Handout given to participants:
Rapport – classroom atmosphere
Scowl and frown as often as possible – this should make you look serious and busy
Never smile or show warmth – familiarity breeds discontempt
Encouraging smiles are for young classes – adult classes don’t need such nonsense
Avoid jokes and humour – the classroom is a place for work
Create an atmosphere of high anxiety
Threaten students with spot tests and low performance ratings as often as you can
Setting up activities: guidelines to students
Make your guidelines as confusing as you can
Never check to see whether your students have understood your instructions
Don’t bother to help or support students or groups who are lost
Avoid explaining the purposes of activities – you were not meant to give your students free teacher training!!
Give them as little guidance as possible and only if pushed against the wall
Never show them how to perform well
Hide what is expected of your students as much as possible
Never tell them what you expect them to do in case they might get smart
Don’t mix or match groups according to levels of ability or personality
Make sure the loudest, most domineering students are working with the shyest ones
Never allocate tasks in group work – your students should already know how to work in a team
Training your learners
Leave training to chance – you are there only to explain grammar & vocabulary
Your students should already know how to participate in class activities – so they are OK
If you decide – against all good judgement – to do some learner training, make it unnecessarily difficult
In that case, also make training irrelevant to your students’ needs and objectives
Never give your students choice – this means you might have to do more work
Design activities and materials without ever consulting with your learners
Schedule difficult activities for times when your learners are not at their sharpest
Avoid using activities that your learners could find motivating or pleasant
Teacher’s Position and Movement
Always remain seated behind your desk – learners must know where to find you
When you do move, pounce! This should keep them on their toes…
When the students are working in groups, butt in and participate
In fact, that is an excellent time to tell them some choice episodes from you personal life
Eye Contact & Attention Spread
Avoid looking at all the students; too much eye contact breeds familiarity
You should only look at your favourite students – ignore everyone else
When a student is talking, do something useful, e.g. write on the board
Always ask your best students – ignore the rest
Ask your weaker students questions you know they could never answer
When a weaker student is talking, remember to glare and show disapproval
Your Language & Using your Voice
Treat your learners as if they were five year olds – talk to them simply and very loudly
Call them ‘children’ as often as possible – establish your authority
Being polite is not in your job description – you need to assert yourself over them
Avoid using simple language everyone can understand – show off your knowledge of terminology
The more abstruse and vague you are, the more respect you will inspire
Giving Students Feedback
Give your students misleading information about their overall performance
Never let your students know how well they are performing
If anyone makes a mistake, do not neglect to comment on their low IQ
Name students who made serious mistakes and laugh at them to motivate them to study
Correct everything – preferably while a student is talking, for a lasting effect
Never correct any of your favourite students – praise them warmly instead
Make sure that poor performers get the same marks as good performers
See to it that good performance gets punished in some way
Please feel free to use this as a handout for your workshops or discuss during teachers’ meetings on the subject.
Finally, someone who has recognised, applauded and wrote a follow up post to highlight my words of infinite wisdom…. A Model for Classroom Incompetence by TEFL Tradesman – what other laurels would I need? Edublog awards, eat your heart out!
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This post is based on three activities on video with a young class in their first year of English videotaped as part of a training project for a course on teaching young learners. At the point of being video-taped, this class of Greek children attending classes in a small language school in Athens, had had about 40 hours of English in total, mostly concentrating on oral work.
The children were at the initial stages of being introduced to reading and writing . Most of them were 8 or 9 years old but there were also one or two 7-year-olds in the class as well.
I taught the class myself, so I am “the teacher” mentioned in the activity descriptions. Although I was not the class teacher, I had already taught the pupils at least four or five times prior to having their lessons videotaped. We had also videotaped them on two previous occasions to get them used to the presence of the camera. In this lesson, they were more or less used to its presence and, for the most part, ignored it.
Compliments – total time 6 minutes
This activity involved familiar language which the teacher intended to revise, i.e., various items of clothing presented in previous lessons, and was organized in three stages:
The teacher complimented one or two students about their T-shirts, dresses, etc. by saying a simple phrase: “Nice dress, Eleni” and generating the response “Thank you, miss”.
The teacher directed various pupils to ‘say something nice’ to each other, indicating what to comment on, e.g. clothes, pencil boxes, shorts, pencils, etc.
The students were organised in pairs and small groups and asked to think of something nice to tell each other. Pupils replicated the teacher’s comments (from stage one) but some were also overheard commenting on hair, schoolbags and one or two pupils asked the teacher for words such as “cardigan” and “ hairband”, which the teacher supplied.
Activities promoting a pleasant classroom atmosphere, and establishing a climate of positive feeling and mutual awareness and respect amongst the pupils should be used early on kapitzvirt
The element of personalisation involves and motivates pupils to talk and provides endless opportunities for communication activities; although 9 year olds are beginning to ‘de-centre’, this ability is not yet fully developed and they are more engaged when the lesson is about themselves
Revision does not have to involve the pupils in doing “ busy work “ type of written exercises
Pupils enjoy the personal contact with the teacher who may comment about them and uses them as the “ subject” of the lesson
A Jazz chant – total time 12 minutes
The rhyme used for this chant had already been introduced to the class in a previous lesson
In stage one the whole class chanted the lines rhythmically, prompted by the Teacher using a set of picture flash cards.
In stages two & three the class divided in two teams, “the Lions“ and “the Tigers“, chanted Questions and Response lines alternating roles .
Where’s my little mouse?…………………I’m here! I’m here! I’m in the house!
Where’s my little cat? ……………………… I’m here! I’m here! I’m in the hat!
Where’s the red fox? ……………………….. I’m here! I’m here! Behind the box!
Where’s the green frog? ………………… I’m here! I’m here! I’m under the dog!
Where’s the honey bee?………………… I’m here! I’m here! Between the two trees!
Every time I watch this, I cannot help but noticing how the children’s level of comprehension was much higher than their ability to produce language.
Another interesting comment has to do with the difficulty the children had with the last line of the chant. The structural complexity of the last line is to blame, of course, and the fact that possibly the different rhythmical pattern may have confused the class.
This was clearly a bad line and a mistake on my part when writing the chant; the children had enough to do what with memorising the lines, the animals, the prepositions…. having to deal with this suprising complexity was a little bit too much for most of them.
Comment: Despite the point just made, I am always surprised when I watch this video by the fact that some children were in fact able to reproduce this uinecessarily complex line. Some learners do learn despite their teachers!!!
Principles drawn from this classroom event
The Teacher’s language is a rich source of input and, though simplified, can enhance comprehension and promote acquisition.
The lesson should include lots of short 5-7 minute activities as children lose their concentration quite quickly.
The Teacher encourages the use of team or group names to promote group membership and help classroom dynamics.
The children repeat a poem or a rhyme to satisfy their need for repetition, rhyme and music- even if they do not understand all the words or grammar of the language included.
The “Please” Game” – total time 10 minutes
This game is an adaptation of the well known “ Simon says” listening game, in which the children are not supposed to perform a command if the teacher does not include the word “please” in it because it’s not “nice”.
In stage one, the teacher gave a variety of commands to the class, which also included the prepositions of relative location introduced earlier in the chant. The teacher preformed the actions at the same time as the children to facilitate understanding and promote acquisition of the items.
Individual pupils were then invited/encouraged to give the teacher a variety of commands using or not using “please”. The teacher was instructed to run, jump,close her mouth, ( ! ) , * speaking, etc. The teacher followed the pupils’ commands but did not correct accuracy errors like the one noted above.
The pupils were then instructed to work in pairs and give each other orders or polite requests, “two each”. The pupils mainly replicated language used earlier, but were also overheard trying to create new combinations.
Pupil involvement, which was quite high, was perhaps because children love ordering the teacher and each other around (!)
The teacher explained the activity very simply and gave instructions, carefully checking and rechecking, as well as physically going round the class and dividing pupils into pairs, as well as
There was no error correction at all in this activity; there was a lot of error correction on the spot in the chant but none here
There are no discipline issues at all as the class was interested and engaged in the activity
When I show this to teachers in workshops, I usually hear voices of concern with the evident lack of correction at this stage; my own view is that overcorrection at the point the children were trying to create their own phrases might have been inhibiting and would have probably had not particular effect since children acquire new forms only when they are ‘good and ready’.
Comment: The confusion between the imperative “speak” and “speaking” which happened during the “Please game” is quite normal. At that time, the children were beginning to be exposed to ‘here and now’ activities using the present progressive; very often when a new form is introduced, it gets into competition with some of the previously learnt forms – but this is not a permanent error and eventually sorts itself out.
Principles drawn from this activity
The children should often be engaged in Total Physical Response activities; Listening to the teacher and performing commands is a natural way of acquiring language in a way which resembles the way they acquired their mother tongue, with their mother either describing what they were doing or telling them what to do.
The teacher does not frown or tell children off even if they are making mistakes in their own production but praises them even for just trying.
The teacher reinforces positively and avoids negative correction
The teacher sometimes asks pupils to play a circle game or do some other kind of high energy activity to release tension and increase motivation.
The pupils should already be familiar with the concepts in the English lesson from home or L1 class – in this case, it seemed relevant to teach the imperative but to lead children to the discovery of a familiar politeness rule in L2, that if they do not use ‘ please ‘, this form is considered rude.
All three activities were ‘micro-planned’ by using this simple outline:
Preparing the class by demonstrating what they need to do
Providing some oral controlled practice to establish the patterns needed during the game
Allowing the children to get on and try out the new language in pairs or small groups
Wrapping up the activitiy by praising children, asking them if they enjoyed the activity, laughing with the children…
I hope you enjoyed reading this post based on teaching a young class. One of the comments I would like to make is that even today when I show this video to trainee teachers or colleagues, they have a hard time believing that these children had only had only a total of 40 hours of English so far. This says a lot about their class teacher, Mrs. Effie Kallimani, an absolutely superb teacher who was unfortunately camera-shy and refused to be filmed for this project.
In the following year, many of these children were taken by their parents to another school, because this teacher was not using a grammar book like that school next door…. A rather sad ending, isn’t it…
Teaching young learners is a very serious business but I am afraid that ‘serious’ is confused with ‘no fun and games in class’ in some contexts.
Do please leave your comments on this lesson or add your thoughts and ideas about teaching young learners.
The interest in the qualities of good teachers is not new. This post includes some thoughts on a study I conducted a few years ago with two groups of different learners (50 adults and 60 young learners between 11-13). The adults who took part in this interim study were contacted by me directly. The young learners were asked the questions by my trainees who were their teachers.
Everyone was asked to describe a teacher who has remained ‘unforgettable’ to them, to tell us what they used to (or still) do and what sort of person they were ( or still are).
The second question invited the learners to give new or future teachers of English some advice so that they, too, could one day enter their students’ private “halls of fame”.
The questions were asked in English and in the students’ native language (Greek).
The list of attributes which follows is an attempt to present a mass of data which was not always described in the very same words by everyone – though there was no ambition other than to explore the views of learners and conduct an interim study which could be followed by more systematic work. Keeping in mind that this is not a numerical quantitative research, a rough ranking has been attempted.
(See table of results below )
Young Learners’ Ranking
Adult Learners’ Ranking
Are firm but not strict
Teach Motivating & Fun lessons
Involve all learners; do not discriminate
Have a good sense of humour
Do not burden Learners with busywork
Are passionate/ enthusiastic about teaching
Are patient/ tolerant/ sympathetic
Encourage & Reward all learners
Are calm and relaxed
Create an atmosphere of goodwill
Respect learners and their ideas
Can manage a class very efficiently
Do not dominate their classes
Their lessons have ‘surprises’
Don’t hesitate to improvise
Use audiovisual materials confidently
Are focused on the learners
Are calm/ cool/ relaxed/ laid back
Are creative with materials & techniques
Have good communication skills
Are knowledgeable about their subject
Are properly qualified
Can explain well
Are competent language users
Understand/know their learners well
Interesting as people
The rankings in contrast
What they all said
Rankings 1-10 received the highest attention mentioned by more than 60% of the respondents.
The rankings, show a tendency of younger learners to value certain personal qualities more and dwell less on subject knowledge and technical perfection, while adult learners value the teacher’s subject knowledge and technical know-how to a greater degree.
Adults are challenged by teachers who use sophisticated and motivating techniques, while children, even if bored to tears by the lesson, can be captivated by a high degree of energy, enthusiasm and a teacher who smiles and is affectionate.
What is notable in this investigation is the very great emphasis all age groups place on the personality of the teacher, a crucial key determinant to the success or failure of a lesson, a class, a learner – a factor often neglected by many colleagues who presume that methodology is the only thing that matters.
Unfortunately, this does not quite work out.
To reach the high standards of a professional educator, it seems just as important to develop personally as well as professionally in order to finally obtain one’s rightful place in one’s students’ “hall of fame” .
Adults and children agree on what teachers they associated with unsuccessful learning experiences were like or did (adults) or as advice to new teachers in terms of what to avoid (children).
In random fashion, as these are things are not mentioned by enough learners to really be able to rank in any way, they don’t want teachers who are:
… always in a bad mood
… do not inspire respect
… are always negative
… are indifferent to teaching
… show no love for their subject
… do not explain at all
… make them feel anxious
… rude to them
Can this be achieved?
Some teachers seem to be able to achieve ’hall-of-fame’ status without any great effort, while others struggle on.
Can this status be achieved – this is really the big question.
There is a very interesting series of videos on Teachers TV, called “From Good to Outstanding” and you might like to view one of the videos here to consider the whole notion of helping a teacher reach that status.
Google the phrase “good teacher qualities” and you will come up with almost 100,000 results…. may be that is how many educators are concerned with this issue. Without the quotation marks (Boolean search), there are many more. Less than 1/10 mentions any type of research and I wonder how many of those have involved students. There is an interesting citation here which suggests that the results of such investigations are powerless in improving the quality of teaching; however, my understanding is that the researches mention this in the context of attempting to quantify this type of research, something which may be very difficult indeed.
This is food for thought and further investigations to confirm or reject the suspicion that it is all in the teacher’s persona and personal aura (or ‘presence”), these being able to cover up for technical or other weaknesses.
The need for teacher education, continuous professional development, improvement of classroom skills , work on one’s language performance and awareness, and a broader view and depth of professional understanding are all seen as very necessary in any teacher’s life.
Personal Qualities Rule
Yet, the learners are telling us that all the knowledge and skills needed, expected and demanded, are as nothing if they do not pass through the filter of a personality which is mature, aware of self, sensitive and unbiased and ready and game for challenge and change.
The message from our learners is clear and unambiguous though this does not make the way to achieving those ends any smoother or easier.
It does present us though with an exciting challenge and, I should add, with food for thought and scope for work to last us for three, not just one lifetime.
Those who have the ‘passion and enthusiasm’ for the profession demanded by our learners will not be frightened, will find their own way to professional growth and personal and professional fulfillment, even though the task may look daunting. After all, isn’t this the reason they chose this job in the first place?
Perhaps, the biggest issue lies in the selection of the right individuals who have the potential to be great educators.
But that is where every educational system breaks down completely.
Some interesting further reading
Rosenshine, B, & Furst, N.F., 1971, Research on Teacher Performance Criteria. Research in Teacher Education: A Symposium, Ed. B.O. Smith, Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice Hall
Ryans, D. G. 1960, Characteristics of Teachers. Washington D.C.: American Council on Teachers
RSA/UCLES, 1997, Notes for the Guidance of the Conduct of Assessments, from the DOTE & DTEFLA manuals issued to all Recognised RSA Centres
The image used in this post is of a great teacher, Vicky Zurakowski, who was my trainee on a DELTA course (2007-2009) and is used with her permission.