Questions we ask ourselves

Xin chào!

In the seven months I’ve been living and teaching in Vietnam, I’ve accumulated questions that seem to me tough to address. Coming from the professional stability that Japan offered into the abyss of the mysterious unknown that Vietnam was (even after months of research) took a toll on how I view my professional self and what that self can and cannot do.

After a few months of hard work and little sleep came a few weeks of well-deserved rest. And that’s when I think I regained my senses; I could see now that I needed my community – and that I now had the time AND mind space for the conversation.

My online RP community felt to be the right place to share my questions. So, in a session a couple of Sundays ago the three of us who could make it to that meeting took turns to talk about the questions that are important for us at this point in time. We didn’t seek to get the answers right then – and that’s important to note. The online room that we shared was to be a safe space to voice concerns and confusions, to talk it out: Where did the questions come from? Why is it those particular things that matter to us? Are there any common threads?… And as always, there were.

Below I’d like to share my questions with a line or two of explanations here and there, followed by questions posed by my reflective friends. Questions to selves. Questions to the universe. 🙂

A’s questions *to self*

  1. What strengths did I exhibit in 2019 that I can carry with me into this year? What can I build on those strengths? I never really asked myself questions that are formulated like that, and somehow this year it appears pertinent to do so. My current experience working in Vietnam is dramatically different from my last job in Tokyo, especially in the aspects of PD and community, the two spheres so important to my professional well-being (or so I imagine). I don’t yet know how I can “apply” myself here in that regard and whether what I was nurturing as strengths has a way to manifest here in this environment.
  2. What are commitments that I need to reconsider and let go of? Which commitments should I keep and/or revive?  
  3. What are my sources of inspiration? Inspiration for teaching classes, inspiration for keeping up the professional energy levels, inspiration for staying motivated? What did they (the sources) use to be – and what can they be now that so many things in my environment have changed? 
  4. How do I give back to the community? What IS my community? Back in Japan, I seemed to always be involved in projects: the mentoring project at my workplace, monthly RP Tokyo meetings, organizing excitELT conference, presenting at conferences… I knew I was part of something big and I could do something to contribute to it. Yes, I could also feel I was doing something important, and that was reassuring and provided meaning.
  5. What is the role of community for inspiration for me?  
  6. What’s the value and impact of my teaching, the time I spend teaching?
  7. How does my work contribute to the big causes?
  8. How do teachers (myself included) conform in our “industry”? This question goes way back to the summer of 2019 when I was actively looking for a job in Vietnam and got a fair amount of “consider doing CELTA” kind of advice. It was interesting to see how prevalent this opinion is, and how the abbreviation used on a CV is seen by some as the panacea. (I am wary of typing this as I imagine it could be an unpopular opinion, as well as admittedly not an eloquently expressed one. For a reason.)
  9. ELT as a business – is that right? Why does it make me cringe more often than not? What can fix me?
  10. What is it exactly that many EFL teachers (in my feed) are selling online as “teacherpreneurs” now, more and more? Services? Experience? Knowledge? Education? Does it matter?
  11. Corporate social responsibility in our field: What is being done? What is being done in my workplace? 
  12. And finally… Am I doing anything I believe is important and meaningful?
L’s questions

  1. Is visibility really important? What is visibility for teachers? Do we want to be visible because we are told so or is it our inner desire / need?
  2. Online teaching is the future, but what about those who don’t want to change a real classroom to a virtual one?
  3. Staff retention: what makes teachers change their jobs more often than in the past?
E’s questions

  1. It is ok to move away from teaching when one has been doing it for over a decade?
  2. What should teachers look at when they are considering how much they should charge their students? 
  3. What do we value in our teaching that we can put a price on?
  4. What should a teacher’s attitude be toward people who are not teachers (business owners, edtech developers etc) shaping the education landscape with their ideas and values? What if we don’t agree with what they are proposing?
  5. Should education resources be free for students? And if they are, how do teachers reconcile that with the fact that they need money to survive?
  6. How far can one collaborate with others whose values don’t align very well with yours? Is there a different way of looking at this concept of ‘aligning one’s values’?
  7. What is the bell curve and why do we need to adhere to it in education and assessments?

As we thoughtfully went through our questions, trying to make sense of them as we spoke, it seemed to me that this process was more valuable than someone all-knowing handing us down the answers. At that moment, it was enough.

 

If you ask yourself some of the same questions, or some very different questions, let me know. If you think you have comments – or the answers! – to our questions, let us know.

 

Thank you for reading, as ever.

UPD: That particular meeting seems to have been of a special reflective quality not only for me, but also for E. Read her post here!

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