Category Archives: contemplations merely

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

 

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,

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

10856621_10153179024543695_8452947408000280810_o

 

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.

————————————————————————————————————————

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.
IMG_6948
Thanks for reading.
Tagged , , , ,

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.”

–  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, лук-порей… 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!

 

They just want to make a mouse.

Billy has spent the last six weeks constructing a small mouse out of bits of felt, then he gets ‘sheets’, which ask mysterious conceptual questions. I looked at the latest sheet: “What do you want to achieve by making the mouse?”
Billy and I looked at each other desperately. How global do they expect you to go with a question like that, I mean in a philosophical sense? I handed Billy a pencil. He sat down at the kitchen table and wrote, then handed me the sheet.
To make a mouse.

 

This is a passage from the latest Bridget Jones book. Yes, I’ve gone Bridget for quotes and literature references for my posts and at the moment they make more sense to me than Dostoevsky. This short nighttime post is a reminder against overthinking.

 

I’ve previously mentioned it in my post here that hearing students introduce themselves with English names in Korea was puzzling to me. One university student gave me a neat comprehensible explanation (and correct me if I’m wrong as I’m recalling that from a conversation that happened more than 2 months ago). Korean kids are made to pick an English-sounding name by their teachers either at their regular English classes at school, or at a language school they are most likely all attending in their after-school time. The latter variant was the case with the student who gave me this explanation. She said she had actually searched the Internet for the name. So, when Korean kids (and apparently university students as well) talk to non-Koreans, they use their English names ‘because they are easier to pronounce and remember’. That whole fact was bothering me for quite a while in Korea. Yes, it’s true that Korean names are not so easy to pronounce but neither would be Russian names to non-Russians. I’m not developing this into a list of nationalities but you see where that is going.

 

And you know, I think we actually have a similar thing going on with names in Russia, too. So many of my students, during our first lesson together, introduced themselves under a pretence English name, which would, however, phonetically resemble their own name. I’ve got a pretence name myself! ‘Ann’ is a variation of Anna that I adopted for signing my English lesson papers at some point at school because it sounded “more English” than Anna (or Anya) to me. No one told me at that point that my name is actually international and that change made no difference. It might still be fair to mention that I was not made or forced to adopt a new name. (I will also use this chance to publicly assure you I have no issue with being called either, and I’m sorry if that has been confusing.)

 

Well, anyway, getting back to Bridget Jones and Dostoevsky. In one of conversations with some bloggers you might know it was legitimately speculated that we teachers make a whole lot of fuss about things – or nothings. Basically, we overthink. Kids love trying on another hat and playing the game, and then for some that John, Andrew, or Sophia could stick, so what’s the harm? While some of their *thoughtful?* non-Korean communication partners will ponder how this double name scenario ‘ruins the integrity of their personality and identity’ (or something), the boys and girls may just still want to make a mouse.

 

*****
In addition to all said above, I was very glad to see ‘sheets’ in those inverted commas. I’ve seen ‘sheets’, I’ve downloaded ‘sheets’, I’ve made my own ‘sheets’. Sometimes my sheets included questions that students chose to skip, for no mind reeling on their part yielded to any answer that would match the depth, intensity and demand of an open-end question ‘that would help the teacher’.

 

 

The middle of the night is a great time to do proper overthinking or write a blog post. I’ve done both and I will do so again. Thanks for reading.

5 things I want to be less

I have all sorts of work and writing to do, as well as exciting projects to think about and delve deeper into at the moment, all involving high concentration, focused attention, action research, and clear thinking. Yet here I am, dissecting and exposing my personality flaws that so aggressively jumped out at me during my recent time in Thai. I’m now less emotional than I was a week ago but I still feel like writing this down and having it out.

I have a theory why this blog has become more of a personal journal. I haven’t taught a university class since June. I haven’t taught a class in a real physical world room since September. As disappointing as it is to realize for me, classroom communication with its varied dynamics, personalities, challenges and successes is what drives me to think ELT, read your blogs and get inspired for teaching and experimenting with teaching.

Right now my mind seems to be in the condition of stagnation, professionally. It’s not easy to put the focus where I must, but speculating on self appears to come round naturally. So I’m embracing it while it’s here.

 

*****
5 things I want to be less – for myself, people around me, my students (since they also fall into the category of people around me), my colleagues, better communication, and clearing my sense of guilt.

1. Forceful.

I want to be less forceful. It’s a quite recent discovery. As soon as I start talking about the things I believe (maybe even mistakenly) to be true, I let it pour out of me with intensity I neither control or approve of. My overconfidence might look so aggressive at such moments, it’s appalling when I manage to take a side look at myself, post preaching. What I want to be more is distanced, in a good sense of the word. I’d prefer to be milder, more willing to stop my talking and just listen without having the load of my own opinions hovering over.

 

2. Egotistical.

I want to be less self-absorbed. Here’s where I get trapped as I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with desire to think of your own benefits, well-being, pleasure, etc. Apparently the times when I’ll be able to think of myself as selfless are in the distant future. What’s erroneous and ugly about egoism is when this dictionary definition gets centerstage:

egotistical  characteristic of those having an inflated idea of their own importance; concerned chiefly or only with yourself and your advantage to the exclusion of others (also selfish).

So I want to be more unselfish and less centered on my own self there where feelings or others are involved. The combination of selfishness with other unflattering qualities in this list that I possess cause situations making me feel ashamed. The line is thin and there seem to always be potential victims to my wish to “have it my own way”, because, in fairness, I am the only one who is closest to knowing which way is good for me.

 

3. Arrogant.

I want to be less of I-know-it-all-better-and-consider-myself-superior. The ultimate reason for wishing to change this is it is simply not true. There’s a lot to be said (and even more to be withheld) about it, but there’s one example I’ll share. A couple of days ago I read this little piece on reading from brainpickings. It features a letter of 20-year-old Franz Kafka to his friend, and there’s this line that struck me: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” It is a powerful line, and I think maybe even dangerously so. For many years I have been placing this kind of books (and indeed films as well) on top of my favorites, and that’s what I would openly admit to reading. Just like Kafka (haha, really..) I used to think that “we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us”. Ask me who my favourite Russian writer is and you’ll hear Dostoevskiy in response. How does that relate to my arrogance? Well there seems to be a lot of posing in this attitude. It makes you seem different and/or more intelligent/ thoughtful/ intellectually deep than the crowds who read mass-oriented and served product. The crucial part of analysis of this extensive flaw of mine is that this perspective means I’ve missed out on so many stories just because I was assuming (with no good grounds) they were not worthy. I wanted to protect myself from mediocrity and found myself getting narrow-minded. I’m now trying to break out of these confines and open up.

 

4. Judgemental.

This is in direct relation to arrogance. As long as I consider myself knowing better, I inevitably land on the judgement plane. Examples can be plenty: what teachers do in their class, what presenters talk about in their sessions, what bloggers blog about, what Facebook friends share in their status updates, and so on and so forth. This quality of mine used to be so inflated that it would govern a lot of my behaviour in and out of teaching contexts. The progress has been made though, and I’m happy the message that there’s more benefit for me in stopping the practice of persisting judgement sank home. Still polishing it and trying to avoid or ignore people who proudly scatter their verdicts left and right.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” I’ve been turning these opening lines of The Great Gatsby over in my mind for about 10 years. I didn’t at all understand what Fitzgerald was trying to tell me at first. At this particular point of my intellectual maturity I read it to trace a note of both judgement and arrogance built-in. I’ll certainly turn to these words again.

 

5. Snappy.

This last “thing” overlaps with many others already mentioned as it’s an outer manifestation of those qualities. Josette LeBlanc wrote a post back in December 2013 about her linguistic rebellion, which was, as this circle of blogosphere goes, a spark to get 4 more people to write about theirs (links at the bottom of Josette’s initial post). I almost laid mine bare back then, but pushed the brakes as I thought that “the snapping side of me” (as I have it in my drafts) is too revealing. Now I feel fine about accepting it. Since I was about 12 I’ve heard my parents and people closest to me at this or that part of my life say that I “have a sharp tongue”. Many a time that meant some damage was done, people were hurt. I did not always feel deeply sorry about the effects my biting remarks had for members of my family. Then with time I started to call it sarcasm, or the extreme of it. Now I hope I’m in a better control of my language and my apologetic instincts are at much higher levels (sometimes fortunately even before the waspish words roll off my tongue). I can’t get over it completely, though. Luckily, you’re not going to be harmed, since it seems to be working in me only for my family, which adds pain to the fact.

 

*****

There are times I can physically feel the whole heavy weight of these things I want to be less on my shoulders, but most perceptibly on my mind and conscience. It causes headaches, tears, remorse, and guilt. Internet is great for making yourself look sticky sweet, or put on a trendy sarcastic hat, or remain impassively professional, or exaggerate anything to any extent. I’m not sure how great the Internet actually is for exposing one’s flaws in hopes to lessen the pressure of guilt. I am fully aware of the fact that it could be far more effective to talk about it in a more private setting, with the people who get affected.

Anyway, ELT-related blog posts on this blog are just round the corner. For now, thanks for reading what’s bothering me now.