Category Archives: contemplations merely

Thoughts from and on Vietnam

Hello and welcome back to my blog, where I welcome you and myself as well. This has been the longest stretch of non-writing in the 7-year-old history of my blog, and for the first time I am not feeling bad about it. There were things to do and worry about, there were people to talk to about teaching in the actual offline world, there were friendships to be nourished. At 32, I now allow myself to take it easy(ish) and practice focusing on what’s right in front of me and what’s most important. This paragraph could run for many more lines, but nobody really cares about non-writing, so I’ll get to the writing then.

With similar experiences of creative blocks silence in the past, I’ve learnt that the easiest blog post to write upon return is a random listicle of loosely connected thoughts, ideas, facts, news, impressions. So here goes…

 

***** What’s on my mind on August 21st, 2018, in Nha Trang, Vietnam *****

(1) Vietnam is a beautiful country and I have pictures to prove it.

(2) The Vietnamese people I’ve met who speak English make next to none grammar mistakes. Teachers, students, nuns (more on the nuns below). Vietnamese learners I’ve got to know appreciate feedback – in fact, directly ask for it! And they seem to be really willing to work hard on their English. They want to be your Facebook friend – and your friend. They are easy-going, friendly, nice, and very open.

(3) For slightly over a month I’ve been involved in something special, something different, something that’s giving me back all my energy to think of teaching creatively, with a purpose, with enthusiasm, with emotional rewards … teaching the way I’d sort of got out of touch with. I was invited to be a teacher of English (with a focus on developing speaking and listening skills) in a Facebook group to over 1300 practising Vietnamese Buddhists, both laymen and monks/nuns living in temples and pagodas. It’s a closed Facebook community and the safest, kindest online learning environment I’ve ever encountered. It is TRULY full of gratitide, love, and respect (well I feel that way). I am not a Buddhist but I am a teacher, and I wonder if such ELT strand as EBP (English for Buddhist Purposes) already exists – or if I’m the pioneer ūüôā Anyway, doing this has been bringing me TRUE joy in the teacher fulfillment sense (as well as many online blessings and general good vibes and thoughts). It has also made me go outside my comfort zone and create… a YouTube channel for the learners to have easy access to the videos and tasks. I have not yet learnt to make the videos look “cool” and properly “vloggy,” but I have learnt to edit automatically created transcripts. Baby steps. A crucially important aspect of this non-job has been getting to know SO MANY friendly, interested, dedicated to learning people of all ages!!! In my 12 days of vacation in Vietnam I have received many invitations to meet – and in fact, met one of the students (a nun) from this Buddhist learning community. I feel Vietnam has its arms ready for a big embrace for me (I am naive and impressionable!). By the sheer length of this point in my listicle you might figure out how excited I get talking about this… Will there be other blog reports about it? We don’t know (but likely)). This teaching makes me happy. Moving on to next point.

(4) I helped to organize excitELT conference in Tokyo in May. I loved all about it and felt especially good about two good deeds: we collected a box of used and new graded readers and sent them to a high school in a small provincial town in Vietnam (a country where for many teachers getting graded readers to use in class with their students is utterly impossible – so isn’t it but just a little bit unfair to go and tell them how amazing extensive reading with those readers is or can be?… just thinking outloud..); at excitELT this year we also offered mentoring to presenters who felt like they wanted help with their presentation prep (it was a great experience for me and I think I’d like to do more of it! That is, help.).

(5) I feel like a list of 5 items would be good, but what’s my number 5?… Oh yes, I’m looking into finding a job in Vietnam and moving there here. If you want to hire me or know someone who might be interested in hiring me, or just know someone or something – do leave a comment. =) Thank you kindly!

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Thank you for reading.

Come again, I might write more soon. ūüėČ

 

 

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On things that were and might be, musings

I welcome 2018 in an idle state of mind. I wrote elsewhere that reflecting on the year that passed did not come natural this time, and it still holds true. Every time something important (and even unimportant) happened, I talked it over and in detail and the matter ceased to exist or bother. When and if it didn’t, I blogged.

For resolutions, I found that for me writing them publicly almost equals condemning myself to failure. Sure, I can tell you I plan to create routines, and practice Japanese, and write diligently every day (just like I recommend my students to do, hypocrite), and study something new, and so on and so forth. The truth is known – I likely won’t. I do crave writing though, so on this cloudy yet beautiful day on a beach somewhere in Myanmar, instead of starting off the year with a post that is doomed disappointment, I will muse and ramble. No shame in that.

***** A few random thoughts on the beach, Year 2018, Day 2 *****

  1. I feel proud when I see former students writing in perfect, complex English sentences on social networks. By “proud” I mean proud of their effort and success. At the same time, I feel just as proud when I see former students writing in short and simple English sentences on social networks, because it takes courage to start and overcome the barrier, even if the wall is digital.
  2. Last year I sounded critical far more often than I intended to, in various situations related to work. If I made resolutions, one would be to breathe deeply and give myself time before offering any opinions, however important they seem to be at the moment. In fact, especially when I feel that my opinion is the right one and thus so “necessary” to be shared immediately. I will keep practising deep listening.
  3. Related to the previous point, one of the presentations I’m planning to do this year will be about Buddhist ideas that impacted my teaching. I quite look forward to that.
  4. It should not be viewed as official statistics but I feel like the majority of my colleagues have part-time jobs in addition to the main, if not too demanding, full-time job in our university. People work as IELTS examiners on their one and only day off (Sunday), give classes in other universities or language schools, do translation work, etc. This leads me to contemplate my own strong choice of NOT adding more PAID work to my day. It is pretty clear to me that I love teaching, so why wouldn’t I teach more? Why wouldn’t I add more variety to the somewhat¬† monotonous life within a unified curriculum, a classroom life that repeats itself day to day, week to week, semester to semester?… The answer to these questions to myself is, I enjoy exactly this. Having the time to leisurely stay at work after work and do things at my own pace; organizing reflective practice meetings each month and investing my time and energy in what is going to happen there, because it’s something I truly care about at the moment; curating and editing iTDi Blog issues on a *mostly* monthly basis; being involved in a few projects at work at the same time; presenting at conferences; organizing a conference; and doing my many hobbies off and on. It is good for me. But… might I enjoy a side job, too?… That’s something to ponder this coming year.
  5. In March I will go to Vietnam to give workshops and volunteer as a member of the Teachers Helping Teachers team (a JALT SIG I mentioned previously in my posts). Maybe I will decide it is what I want to be involved in more. Maybe I will like Vietnam so much that I will choose to live and work there. Maybe it is a passing stage and I will keep looking for what it is I want to do next with my career. In 2018, I’m open to maybes.
  6. Along the same lines, I recently heard from a colleague about opportunities to (volunteer to?) teach English to North Korean defectors. If there is a way to do it online, or on a short-term basis (my trips to South Korea are frequent but never longer than a week), I would jump at the chance.
  7. Finally, I want to apologise to all I have left waiting for something from me: emails, comments, responses to requests… I have not been very organized. It has not always been easy to face communication and/or making decisions. Sometimes I am efficient, other times I dread the pressure.

 

*****

Aimless, I step into 2018.

I know I will try to be the best teacher I can and be kinder to my students, my colleagues, and myself.

I want to try to keep up the rejuvenated spirit of socializing offline.

I might try to be a better communicator online, too.

It is kind of exciting to not have a big plan of what happens next and make adjustments on the way.¬† It’s fitting this way now.

Onwards!

 

Thank you for taking the time and reading to the end. I truly appreciate the fact. ūüôā

 

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On the current state

Today I want to write here some of my current thoughts about professional development, the possibility of a burn-out, my place in this profession, the changes in my interests in the six years that I can trace back with the help of this blog, and importantly, my thoughts about future. As in, my professional future. Tomorrow morning all of this might make little sense to me but as of now, it stands. I might feel differently ten days from now when I go back to work and have to plan classes again, meet students, spend hours with colleagues, work on projects. But now, lost in vacation, knee-deep in idleness, I feel that.

It’s been a month since I last stepped foot in a classroom, and I’ve learnt by now that long vacations are not exactly a good fit for me. Nearly every time I lose sense of professional purpose, but this summer hit me a little bit harder (though frankly speaking, it has been creeping in for a while).

“What is IT?” you’ll probably ask.

As I scroll down my Facebook feed, I see (this summer much like any other time in the year), an abundance of good-looking and not-so-good-looking resources, useful and toxic articles, thoughtful and all different kinds of blog posts. There’s a lot of everything – and there has been for as long as I have used social media for ELT, which is 6 years.

Yet barely anything clicks now quite the same way as it used to.

I am not drawn to webinars.

I am not willing to participate in Twitter conversations.

I don’t have the energy to look at my WordPress Reader.

You most likely don’t see my comments to any of the ELT discussions on Facebook.

You have not yet received my response to your kind, long and thoughtful comment on my blog post.

 

Burn-out?

I want to look six years back into the logs. Here’s what I’ve been massively excited about for something like 4-5 years:¬†activities,¬†professional communities aka¬†PLNs, technology (apps,¬†web tools, blogs, social media),¬†sharing students’ work,¬†etc. I am far less thrilled about most of those now. I sometimes even catch myself sounding skeptical, and I don’t want to become that person. I used to be so passionate about so many things. These days, I choose and pick, examine carefully what to be passionate about. And then become mildly enthusiastic. I have more criticism in me than I’d prefer.¬†I don’t use as many exclamation marks when I write. One could take it to mean I’ve lost some vigour, if one were to analyse that much.

And,¬†of course, conferences. I couldn’t get enough of them. I wanted so much to be everywhere, to meet everyone, to present and share what I’d done as a teacher. The kind comments, positive response of the audience, presence of those who’d become friends – it got me high and dizzy every single time. Together we make each other feel important. So much support, so much learning, and above all, our relationships growing deeper. We became each others’ stars.

Does it sound like I’m saying I don’t value any of that anymore?

That’s not what I’m saying.

I can’t seem to find my place, that’s what I’m trying to say. I don’t want to be the kind of presenter who shares own experiences in the self-centered way. When I go to a conference, I look to see who will be there. And then aren’t we trapped in this cycle of doing it for the same people over and over again? I don’t think I want to share for the mere sake of sharing anymore. I don’t always understand what and who the conferences are for, my view is blurred.

I wrote before that I want to participate in programs to “help teachers” in developing countries. I still do, but there’s this nagging voice at the back of my mind offering me a vague picture of what it might look like… me performing a role, albeit excitedly. Imparting whatever knowledge or skills or ideas I come up with when I write my abstracts to go. How can a short visit with a couple of workshops help anyone? Do I want to be a person associated with this kind of help? On the other hand, though, what’s wrong with it? Having never been part of it, why am I already doubting the impact?

That’s a rough sketch of where my mind is. Of the current state.

 

My own diagnosis is as follows: a time-out at the crossroads. Re-evaluating the purpose and meaning, locating professional self, contemplating directions.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Questions for discussion kind of post.

Today’s blog post is not a typical post. It’s not even a paragraph-blogging kind of post. Rather it’s an invitation to discuss some questions that are on my mind today, so much that I can’t handle thinking of them alone. 

If you have something to say, I’d love to read your opinion in the comments below.

*****

Topic: A teacher’s responsibility for students’ successful performance.

Questions:

1. How responsible are teachers for students’ successful performance of the target language they teach?

2. When do you know/feel you’ve done everything in your power to help students use the language?

3. How much control do/should teachers have over students’ ability to produce the desired output? 

4. In the case of a rigid, institution-imposed assessment system, what should govern us more, our own beliefs about what “successful performance” means – or the institution’s idea?

5. What do you do when you realize/assume students’ (under)performance may be affected by your plan or your skills as a teacher?

6. In the case of #5, would you want help from others or would you prefer to deal with the issues alone? (only you know your students..). Would you want to talk about it? If so, how?…
*****

I wonder what you think, and of course understand that every teaching context is different. Your answers would enrich my understanding of these questions, whatever context they’d be coming from. Food for thought!…

Thank you for reading.

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No blog no more, I think I know why

I absolutely love it when reading academic articles takes a sudden turn, hits just the right cord – and I see in a new light what I was struggling to see or explain for a long time.

Reading Sarah Mercer’s article on the complexity of learner agency. Slowly, I get to understand that learner agency is a system of factors related to and determining  the learner’s capacity to act, language learning wise. In short, what makes me the learner that I am, at any given time, is a complicated universe of its own. Of my own parameters, that are, inconveniently for researchers, always changing. “Everything within the system is in the constant state of flux.” Mark that.

Page 52, the place of self-beliefs in the system. That’s when I am struck by the memory of a certain summer about 10 years ago, an experience I always, without failure, give to my students as an example when I want to address the importance of constant language practice.

It was too obvious but I was too young to see it coming. For the whole of the summer I did not touch a single English book (or textbook). I did not use the Internet in/for English back then so social media, movies, news was out of the question. As a result, the memory of my first class back in the university that September is still very fresh. Well, the excruciating pain of it. I could not make a sentence come out of my mouth! All the words I needed – and I knew I’d known! – were all but gone, just a faint trace left behind to tease me. I simply could not remember the vocabulary I had used in classes 2 months before. I felt humiliated, tricked by my own conscious.

Since that summer, I can safely say I made sure I’ve had English in my life every day, in this or that form.  So what, you might ask?

Here’s where this is going. Since I moved to Japan a little over 2 years ago, I have lamented my deceased blogging not once. The feeling of unfulfillment, failure to reach my own standards, inability to string myself up to WRITE… in general, being unhappy with both my writing and non-writing. These have kept me a prisoner in my own mind. And now reading the article, it struck me. The fundamental, unspoken reason why I blogged so feverishly and passionately was that it was my English practice. The practice channel that I could sustain independently. The language companion I could rely on at 2 am in the morning, my typical writing time of that life I had in Moscow. While I had a few hours of English classes to teach on most weekdays, my reality was all but English. So I unconsciously created my own self-regulated syllabus. It was an all-skills course:

  • extensive reading – always a book by my side;
  • watching movies, shows, and TED talks;
  • speaking in the classes I taught – and in the tweets, blog comments, Facebook threads;

Finally, there was the much loved writing. This blog.

So why did it all have to change in Japan? It didn’t all change, in fact, just the writing part somehow. My shallow self-analysis tells me that what would otherwise be the content of my blog posts, became topics for easily available discussions at my workplace. Suddenly, my colleagues are speaking English to me. The particular concerns of the class and the day are poured out on that same day. And then, the vessel is emptied. The mind is relieved. The hand pushes the laptop aside and takes to the coloured pens.

C’est la vie.

 

A book hoarder that I am, I keep buying the titles about writing. Books about the struggles of writers, their personal styles of managing and shaping the creative process and making it work, these fascinate and draw me in. They fill me with hope and excuses. Remember, everything is in the constant state of flux.

 

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The Chuck Effect

I was reading a collection of essays by John Steinbeck and one on literary criticism had this simple idea that hit home with me:

“Here’s a thing we are most likely to forget. A man’s writing is himself. A kind man writes kindly. A mean man writes meanly. A sick man writes sickly. And a wise man writes wisely.”

After I wondered for a minute about how I write, I thought of different ELT blogs I’m most familiar with and the people behind those blogs that I met. It just made perfect sense. Steinbeck’s was instantly the clearest, most logical explanation of why I feel drawn to some blogs while others leave me indifferent (or even repel me) and where this connection comes from when we meet for the first time offline. Their writing exposes their character, whether they intend it or not.

Today’s post is the effect of one man’s writing.

 

Chuck Sandy writes here¬†about the importance need for listening to each other, and this couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m deeply bothered by the fact that students are not talking to me or interacting with me in a genuine, personal way, the way I know it, the way my job works for me.

I want to tell them about my day, about my life, about what makes me not just “sensei” (oftentimes nameless). It’s invariably painful when I’m addressed like that, even if I know it’s in the culture. I want to find words to reach out to them so that they know how that feels.

I want to tell them that I took an online sketching course and felt so excited to see I could have a little success, one at a time, and create something. I want to show them those photos of my sketches I shared on Instagram, because that’s something that gives me energy for teaching, it makes me myself now.

I want to tell them I started doing yoga and swimming regularly, and that I feel proud of myself for taking my own baby steps and carrying on with it for about a month.

I want to tell them about the book I’m reading and how interesting it is (or not).

I want to tell them about my dreams and hear theirs and talk about them together.

I want to tell them about my desire to travel all across Asia. I would tell them that I spend many of my evenings watching travel shows and taking mental notes of where I absolutely need to go in my lifetime.

I want to complain that it’s tough for me, too, to get up early 6 days a week, but that spending time in class together with them makes me feel better. That I relish their smiles (it is true).

I want to do this and yet I can’t, or I can but I don’t – because I’m shy, because I have a plan to follow and this would be wasting time. Because I heard student-talking time should be maximized. Because after the bell goes, they pack up their things and rarely say goodbye to me unless I say it first.

I want to tell them that I feel distraught and lost when sometimes they come 15 minutes before class starts and sit together in silence, not uttering a word to each other. At the same time I want to tell them I understand that this is just another class, and I understand they don’t have to actually like the people they share a class with.

I wish I could tell those things. I wish I felt comfortable telling those things, and it mattered that I shared them.

 

As I’m writing this, believe it or not, there’s a lump in the throat and tears welling up (which I stopped as proceeded typing feverishly).

I guess it’s true what Chuck wrote about becoming part of their lives. I want us to be part of each others’ lives, even if a little, even if for a short while, but genuinely so.

The teachers that I have warm memories about were the teachers who were empathetic, who said I was special, who genuinely praised me, who were real people above all. The teachers I didn’t want to upset by not coming to class or cheating on homework. The teachers in whose classes I felt comfortable sharing my views, even if contradictory to most others’, openly. I knew that they would accept and recognize me for me.

 

I started by the wise words from wise Steinbeck. As reading Chuck’s post drew me to the keyboard in a way I couldn’t resist or delay at midnight, I conclude and confirm for myself yet again that Steinbeck was right. A man’s writing is himself. So I call this post The Chuck Effect, because inspiring me to be pulling out the uncomfortable truths and writing from my heart is this man’s effect.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

It will get better, it always does.

***** Part 1. Frustration. *****

  1. Write.

  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

 

This is the procedure I haven’t been through for quite some time, at least in a way I would find satisfying, for the writing I would consider coming from my heart. And I want to know why, because it is devastating to my soul and literally makes me feel¬†sick. In these months, everytime I traced a thought worth¬†being expanded in a post, I opened the blog and saved the notes, or more often the title,¬†in a draft. I¬†then stared at the blank¬†screen of the new post,¬†blankly. The right word would not be found.¬†One word would not follow another.¬†My mind would drift away,¬†unwilling to witness¬†the shrinking of¬†self-esteem. For whatever excuses my mind would gratify me with, paragraphs would simply not form. This fact undoubtedly adds to my adjustment to living in Japan, and by “adds” I mean¬†aggravates it.¬†Writing in the staff room is not possible as I cannot hear my thoughts. Writing at home is not happening as I am exhausted of the heat and mental pressure of the day, so all I can force myself to do is mindless cooking, watching endless shows on ororo.tv, or colouring mandalas. Considering my *ridiculous* dream to one day¬†wake up¬†a regular contributor to¬†a magazine, a columnist, and/ or eventually¬†a writer, the situation I’ve landed in, well, in¬†one word,¬†sucks.

WRITE. The word keeps ringing in my head. It is unbearable as I know I will suffer through the process and with every minute I will spend racking my brains for words, I will hate myself more and more.

 

***** Part 2. Drowning. *****

The term is over, students are gone, school is empty, my day at work is anything I make of it. So I started reading, as I see it one of the major reasons why my wrtitng does not tick anymore. First, I got back to reading The Tale That Wags but I can only read at home in the comfort of my bed, which seems to be the most welcoming¬†area in my apartment. At work I turned to reading the blog posts I missed, the iTDi Blog issues,¬†and¬†the brainpickings.¬†A¬†more thorough look through my Facebook feed led me to this page. Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s essays¬†got me¬†all warmed up inside once again, as I returned to¬†imagining my own writing on the digital pages of The New Yorker some day. Laugh all you can and¬†scoff at¬†the daring, one can dream.

The most extraordinary, shocking thing happened- I realized my eyes slip line over line, not concentrating, drifting further and further away, hands clasping mobile phone suddenly and unnecessarily. What is happening??! Reading brings about just as much pain as writing. Trying to balance the unbalanced, reading to revive writing, I ended up drowning.

 

***** Part 3. Questionable wisdoms. *****

Desperate in my search for reasons I fall through with my attempts to write successfully¬†in Japan,¬†one click after another and I found myself on this page, where Stephen King details everything one needs to know to write successfully. So here’s what disturbed me:

 

4. Remove every extraneous word

You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

 

The questions I asked myself and found my answers unsettling:

Would my writing have a point after the excess garbage is removed?

Would I “impress” anyone (most importantly myself) should I choose to not look for better, more suitable words in thesaurus?

Will I ever be content with my vocabulary?

What’s my problem with sitting down to write and just writing?

Why is it that my brain hates me so these days?

 

***** Concluding complaints thoughts. *****

I feel hurt by my own self. Not same as¬†guilty, but causing myself true¬†pain – all because I can’t seem to do what my whole being craves. I struggle to transform my daily classroom and life experiences into letters and words on page.

I feel jealous of people blogging incessantly. I feel down I cannot find the right words.

I keep losing faith in myself.

I am not publishing this post to attract attention or fish for head-patting. I am not finding more excuses, rather spilling the heart and pain in it (which is real and tangible) on the page, in no hopes it cures or magically causes catharsis.

It is so different now,¬†and while I’ve certainly¬†settled down in my routine both at home and at work, this one aspect is my daily torture. I do not¬†clear the bar I set myself.

 

Yeah, it will get better.

 

Thanks for reading.

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A bizarre case against nice colleagues

I was wandering around a park in Tokyo today and my mind was filled with … nothing. It was, in fact, not a bad feeling since I could enjoy the moment, uninterrupted. This is what I’ve been facing lately, still much to my regret and frustration – absolute lack of a connected stream of thoughts in my brain, a trace of something that could lead me to writing.¬†I’ve written two blog posts since I got to Japan, which is more than 2 months already. As it goes, I’ve given myself excuses:

(1) This new life is exhausting to both my body and brain. I simply cannot muster up enough energy for writing, much as I want to.

(2) Speaking English all day long, as well as actually being social all day long, is way beyond my endurance. I want to seal my mouth (figuratively) as I step out of school.

(3) I’m getting less and less confident of my English speaking, let alone writing ability. I don’t read much, which also has a negative effect. I’ve often felt down for those reasons.

(4) With this new lifestyle I can’t afford nighttime writing anymore. Since that type of writing has been found most fruitful and fulfilling for me, the shift of regime for writing, a new habit has not yet developed (to be honest, I don’t even know where to start building it).

Today I’ve been hit by Excuse number 5. It can be an interesting and unusual answer to my pains and struggles, an unfair treatment, or ¬†just a nonsensical supposition that tomorrow will look bizarre. In any case,¬†I’m going to blame my colleagues.

Did you just sniff? Raise your eyebrows? Did you jump straight ahead into judging me? That’s understandable. Yet there is some truth to what I just typed.

 

As I’ve written before, I consider this new job to be the first real experience of working in a team, shoulder to shoulder with colleagues. I used to teach a class and commute to another one, replaying scenes from the lesson in my mind, typing out my thoughts on the phone, talking to and questioning myself. I had long stopped labelling myself as a “lonely teacher” since I have this astounding and precious online community on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. It’s more support and wisdom than any staff room could offer. Actually sometimes more than I can handle without being overwhelmed, but that’s the beauty of the online staff room – it hurts no one if you shut it down (since it is literally just the browser closed). Anyway, here, this blog used to be the place to talk teaching and life for me.

Now what? I teach a class, go down the stairs, flop into my chair and … talk about this class. Out loud, to my colleagues, who listen and empathize, nod and join me in breaking the lesson down to little pieces. I vent, speculate, describe, reflect, and think of alternatives for my next class. I share funny moments and uncomfortable moments. I think out loud and learn to listen. And in the evening, as I walk home, all that fills my mind is … nothing.¬†All that is left on my blog is the titles of drafts,¬†those clever paragraphs I could have written.

About classes which went wrong and made the teacher shrink inside.

A letter to this teacher’s older teacher self.

A message to students about the things the teacher will not promise to do.

About n things that the colleagues (who we are still blaming)) taught me this week.

About n things that the students taught me this week.

About a training day with John Fanselow.

About 9 towns of Russia.

About my decision to go to teach in Japan and people’s reactions to it.

 

 

 

Of course, I don’t seriously blame anyone. I do feel bitter about missing the mark.

If you can, give me 5 counter-excuses, powerful enough to send me to face the keyboard…

 

Thank you for reading.

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On the courage of losing sight of the shore (or lack of such)

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So I’ve moved to Japan, like I dreamed to, like I made it my Goal to, like I planned to. Yes dreams do come true once you stop thinking of them as of dreams. Now it’s time to find out how it feels to have made your dream come true, how to live that dream. That’s what they don’t prepare you for. How to remember why you aspired for this in the first place.

And if you can ever get close to regretting your choice of dream.

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Inspirational quotes tell us in powerful phrasing to be strong and aim high, yet they don’t mention how many tears there would be shed after you’ve made it. Because that’s where and when you’re most fragile. Having a goal you believe in and smashing everything on your way towards it (or taking each and every step with care and due precision) is like running your distance. As you cross that long-awaited finish line, you’re thrilled but out of breath and your heart aches. Well mine does.

It’s all good to have the courage to lose sight of the shore, yet in order to actually cross that ocean you need more than just that. You need all that courage to keep going all the way you have so bravely planned, plus a whole lot of other supplies.

 

*****

The following part of the post was typed at various times during my first days in Japan – in the street, on the metro, at my workplace (more about that in future posts).

 

***** First day things *****

As soon as I’m out in the street or even better on the subway, I start smiling involuntarily. That’s when I remember what I loved about this country in the first place and why I’ve come here at all.
Everything around me so far seems right and close to heart, like I got to know it and knew it to be.¬†Streets, neat houses, pavements, cleanliness, small private businesses, trains with their warm seats that make you drowsy any time of day, people who I’m not afraid to address for help, shop windows, little details I pay attention to, like a bronze owl placed on top of a very ordinary tiled column at a metro station.¬†The language that I want so much to learn as soon as possible so that I could belong to this place more.¬†Because I want to.
It is now more home-like in my apartment thanks to the things I brought from home, but it’s cold and lonely.
***** First week frustrations *****
When the initial shock of being away and alone wore off a bit and with the day spent at school, for a couple of days life got down to almost normal. However, Friday brought me back to tears in a new way. Frustrations that came out were about me not being able to communicate in Japanese. For the first time out of all my time in Japan I felt an alien, clearly an outcast.
In a nutshell, I went to a bank to open an account but the lady refused to deal with me because I could not speak the language.¬†She kept repeating the same thing over and over again and it just did not help – besides, I got stuck, paralyzed and couldn’t utter a word in Japanese, or English, or even Russian. My face must have looked dumb and eyes welled up with tears.¬†When I was out in the fresh air and about 3 minutes passed, I knew it was all fair. I am a foreigner, they don’t have to speak English, I should have taken care of this communication issue myself as opening a bank account means you need to discuss important points and security. I felt low for the rest of the day and it even rubbed off on my English as I felt unconfident while talking with colleagues.
This unpleasant situation made me feel sorry for students who struggle understanding English in class if it’s the only language spoken by teacher. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it in my future posts, as soon as I get into an actual classroom and lessons begin.
*****
I would like to thank all those people who have wished me luck, supported me and keep doing so with their good words in public comments or private messages. I appreciate it ever so much. I would like to give a mostly useless but 100% sincere digital hug to the people who tell me they know it must be a hard time. It is.
Bottomline: a week and many tears past, I don’t regret my choice of dream yet.
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Thanks for reading.
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Celebrate well-wishing

leek_by_charln-d5163ki

with the leek

It’s easy to get self-critical in/ after an English class where you (teacher) are a non-native English speaker and they (students) are active and hungry for learning as many words as possible on any topic that randomly emerges during classtime. One of my classes is exactly this type and you never know which vocabulary you’ll end up doing, the fact which I, in fact, enjoy 93% of the time. It’s been mentioned before¬†that this teacher suffers from occasional memory blackouts in class in all kinds of situations. On sunny carefree days I, generously to myself, let these moments pass by without significantly rubbing off against my sensitive teacher skin. On another type of days, bleak and gloomy, the fact of “losing it” may backfire, and students’ reaction to my passing forgetfulness can become crucial. Reactions that don’t necessarily help my self-esteem are these:

– “You don’t know this word?”

– ¬†“Ok, it doesn’t matter.”

Р rushing into opening dictionary apps

– sizing me up and looking with what looks like contempt *for a while longer*

Well today there were cards to revise vocabulary that came up last class and this student wanted to say she loves all kinds of pies. She started enumerating actual fillings: salmon, cabbage, meat, cheese, fish, –Ľ—É–ļ-–Ņ–ĺ—Ä–Ķ–Ļ… I am racking my brains, I know it’s there, it must be, it was…. The other student opens Google but it takes time. This pie-loving student opens Google Translate app but it won’t load. Mine loads faster though and there it is, of course, the leek. I can’t explain why but this leek failure really upsets me in those fleeting 90 seconds that we struggle with getting the word, and so I mention it in passing, more like a remark to myself. The picture in my mind is a pot of shabu-shabu that I ate not once in Asia, and enjoyed so much. With lots of leek.

She smiles such a warm caring smile and says with genuine well-wishing, “It’s not a necessary word, it’s fine, don’t worry”.

A moment in class out of a million similar moments in hundreds of similar classes, I know. And I wouldn’t have devoted a whole blog post to it had this memory of a warm considerate student’s line not stayed with me for a few hours after the lesson, made me smile and appreciate the good attitude. I might forget the leek again, as well as may other necessary and unnecessary words. I want to celebrate the students’ well-wishing when it’s here and touching my heart.

Thank you to all students who care to be kind.

 

Thank you for reading!

 

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