on ends.

Normally I would begin with something along the lines of “it’s this time of year again” or “another school year came to a close”. But not this time.

This time things are different; deeper, more emotional and, in certain odd ways, more uplifting. The background seems familiar: a number of students trusted to you just about a lifetime ago, an approaching results announcement, a circle that has become so tight, so focused and so loved that it seems impossible to consider daily workings without it. The foreground though, oh the foreground…full of smiles and pats on the back and happy words of upcoming departure to new, undiscovered universes.

Don’t get me wrong. No one could feel more fulfiled, more elevated than me at this moment. We have achieved what we set out for. We have achieved the set goal and many more that came along the way – the ones we couldn’t plan, but embraced when they emerged. But.

But over the past months I went back to feeling weird – feeling caught in some sort of a standstill; caught in a web if you like, an odd tangled fusion of the things that were and the things that could be. I’ve done many different things during this period. I’ve undergone training and trained groups myself. I’m half way through an MA. I’ve studied. I’ve presented my projects in four languages (and French was a freakshow – must remember not to do that again). I’ve written (in Greek, so the depth was remarkable but frankly, who cares). I’ve become an editor. I’ve translated. I’ve travelled. I’ve taught. All in all, I have been out there and I have been quiet.

Freelancers ought to be quiet about certain things, I was told. I still wonder what those ‘things’ are. I’m a quiet person, not a quiet freelancer. In those freelancer shoes my voice sounds certain, deep and reassuring. It surprises me, even. Perhaps it’s an automated reaction, or an unconscious action. In any case, it has worked so far. The freelancer shoes still suit me (If I remember I have them on, that is).

What doesn’t suit me is this end. The idea of an end. I have been a language teacher for eighteen years and this summer feels like a tangible end. My ducklings have grown and flown, what am I doing? New flocks arrive but I’m tired and demanding of new terms. Everyone seems to bow to them but I’m sceptical, I’m selective. I have stopped adding and started removing.

And I have this niggling thought that maybe, just maybe, it’s time I reconsidered my position again. Out of all this rummage of tasks, the one I most feel at home with is teaching – where have I left teaching? Where have I left this incredibly active collaboration and research?

Even though it all seems uncertain, there is a whole month ahead for considerations. I’ve already half-planned some sort of a gap year. I’m already running about places and I won’t stop until I’m certain of what will take me forward. In the gut-feeling sense, I mean. It’s coming.

How does the line go?… anything that comes before a “but” is most likely irrelevant and quite pointless…
 Was it Stanford? Maybe. Whoever said it anyway, I couldn’t agree more.

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Ventures in Vocation – rants and prospects

As months keep flying by in 2017, I’ve found myself in exceptionally busy and challenging environments, so blogging – or rather, posting – fell behind a little. Writing has always been a different story altogether; I always reflect in writing but, lately, sharing those thoughts simply hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s time it did 🙂

For about eight years now, half of my teaching and learning time has been devoted to adult esp courses – focusing on tourism & services, real estate and my long-lasting love with legal English. The new year, however, arrived with an uplifting challenge: teen & young adult groups attending vocational schools – studying in tourism again & automotive technicians for a change – and quite a change, as to this day I couldn’t care less for cars and all. I did ponder whether I should take that up, and for a substantial amount of time; given though that it was two former students of mine who were now pursuing further expertise that their general knowledge of English wouldn’t cover, I said yes. A ‘yes’ that brought me face to face with an inadequacy I didn’t really care to modify and fill into at first, but which also massively annoyed me – it just didn’t sit well in me to abandon the effort. A ‘yes’ that suddenly multiplied the learner group – as those two former students brought the whole class from school with them.

What I didn’t know in the beginning was how much more annoyed I would become during the first couple of lessons. It was annoyance on a multi-level scale too, which made it even more difficult.
Having mainly focused on teenage learners for over a decade, the challenge wasn’t the group, but the subject. How could I sustain my own and the learners’ motivation working on something that does not interest me at all and on which I have next-to-nothing to work with?
Any hopes I might have had for at least some relevant material from official sources, i.e. the vocational school, were very quickly shattered, as the only thing those learners had in their hands was a set of photocopied mainstream elt coursebook pages with grammar rules. Here’s where my annoyance levels begin to go up:

  1. It’s a vocational school. You’re expected to have bibliography on relevant subjects for all your students.
  2. “Just learn the terms by heart. That’s all” – the answer the school English “teacher” gave to the students’ questions about learning how to do their job in an English-speaking environment. When I visited the school, he refused to see me – well, there you go.
  3. There are amazing, passionate and hardworking colleagues in public vocational schools. Shouldn’t there be a database of their produced material available to all students?

I wasn’t trying to avoid preparing material – it just shocked me to see that even though those students were expected to study and take exams on their subject, all the material provided was on general English and several levels below their competency – something common, as I’ve been since informed. We’re in 2017. I might have been too hopeful but having known how colleagues put their heart in teaching and produce materials, I expected those students – and their school teacher – to have access to it.

*rant over*

I decided to make it all interactive – I might have known nothing about cars, but I’ve been good at completing tasks 😉 Obviously, so are my students. We’ve been working our way through terminology and functional language on Car Mechanic Simulator – found through STEAM. The students are divided in five groups of three and each group “owns” a garage – myself and a couple of colleagues pose each week as customers 🙂 The groups are responsible for the smooth operations in their garage, appropriate task allocation and production of three weekly reports (Tasks Performed, Financial and Weekly prospects) as well as a monthly report from the “manager” (selected and appointed by the team members).

I’m not sad to say that I still have no interest in anything automotive – not in handing it, I mean, I’m quite happy to enjoy their service. I am, however, thrilled to admit that my students’ enthusiasm fires me up beyond expectation!
Even though I remain angry at the lack of care, of perspective and of prospect – as  those students are seeking a future away from here and who can blame them? – it’s our duty to pursue shifts in anything that does not work to our own and the future generations’ benefit.

Keeping it Practical – TESOL with Greek pulse

Reviews and reflections coming soon…for now, the traditional yet unparalleled vibes of TesolGreece -well, a small taste at least…A big thank you and a big hug to all!

Here we are:

Just being there…#TeacherHub Discussions

It’s the first steps in March and things are on the whole going well. So well, it’s almost scary. There has been a lot of work and preparations in the background and it hit me once again that I haven’t posted for a very, very long time. I’ve been writing, yet not sharing. Somehow it seems I’m only just beginning to accept how much of a slow learner I am.

I keep going back to the posts on the blog, either because someone re-shares them or I happen to notice a “spike” in stats (thanks WordPress). And I can’t help but feel overwhelmed – not because of numbers, there are some 70 or so posts here – but because it’s a pretty weird feeling to see what you’ve actually been sharing. There’s always the urge of self-correction, but then again, each post represents a moment in time, how could anyone correct that? Though it is ultimately comforting to accept yourself exactly as you are, there is a constant self-doubt that emerges, somewhat unnoticed. Which is fine. We certainly know very little about the world around us and accepting that is a brilliant first step to becoming better.

Just a couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend – a heavily burdened friend who I hold very close to heart for a number of reasons – and he kept talking about his place in the world, how he sees no reason whatsoever to stand and talk and do. I couldn’t pinpoint what was actually bothering me; his desperation, his lack of confidence, or perhaps my own inadequacy in helping him. He mentioned my persistent, stubborn take on positivity and how he finds that impossible and all I could answer was that I’m positive because I have a choice, as we all do. This choice, however, is not something simple, and I have no recipes to make it happen. We cannot shape the choices of others, not if we care for them, in my view. Everyone deserves to go on their journey, see what they can see, ask when they want to know, be who they wish to be – we can be there for them, that’s all. And this conversation led me to thinking further about the learners trusted to me – do I do enough to give them the space to be themselves? In theory, yes. I don’t feel happy in the know-it-all teacher shoes. But is that enough?

Probably not. The idea that we know and they don’t is something puzzling to me. We all know things, from different perspectives perhaps, but at a given time we know and we won’t easily give up on what we know – why should we? Being open to suggestions and advice is a very different thing, it doesn’t challenge exactly what you know, but rather the way you perceive the things you know. The more these thoughts twirl in my head, the more I think basing lessons on the people I work with matters. Is that a revelation? Well, no. As an educator, what I find most significant is to sit quietly and guide when I can. It has nothing to do with what I see fits best, because most of the times I’m not sure what fits best. The day-to-day interactions depend on who I’m working with –  and I’m blessed with a variety.

That’s more or less what I shared in last week’s TeacherHub and was greeted with silence. Even though at first this silence appeared as an obstacle, as a wall I’d managed to build up between myself and our Hub, it turned out that similar thoughts were running through each of our heads – only we couldn’t put them to words. Looking around the room, I could see those same thoughts on my Hubbers faces and stances, so it felt more efficient, applicable and awesome to put each thought to action. Show each other what our vision or fear looks like.

Maybe we should set our minds on recording those meetings. I mean, it’s nearly impossible for me to portray in writing everything we have experienced. In brief, very – very – brief, here are some of our trails:

  • We need a certain amount of standing, sitting down and moving around during class, listed from less to most. The most responsive and productive seems to be the moving around, the involvement in each instance.
  • Listening is easy. Comprehending is difficult. Adjusting practice and material based on what we observed always involves the danger of becoming too leading. (Reflecting on balance is next month’s task).
  • Music is crucial to all of us. Let’s choose a playlist for class.
  • Learning to keep silent -or unlearning to dominate discussions – is a huge challenge. Let’s just let them talk.
  • Involve them. Yes, how? We all come into lesson with one issue or another, let’s use that. No, we can’t have pre-prepared material for every single topic. Yes, we can modify – it’s our plan, after all, and it might as well go out the window when we notice that one sparkle in their eyes.
  • Our presence means something. Usually something different from what we expect. Often something we fail to notice. Can we practise in this?

Those Hub meetings, I love. Just being there.

To all good things coming up #spreadthejoy

January 1st, 2017 – sounds nice!

People say that however the first day of the year finds you, that’s how the rest of the year will go. If I take this literally, I’ll be spending the whole of 2017 with a slight cold, surrounded by people I love and who love me back, over a table full of homemade foods and drinks and with a head bursting with ideas. If I’m more philosophical and take this in a less literal sense, still it’s the overwhelming feeling of love, homely warmth and curiosity that will dominate the year. I’m happy with either.

Many things happened in 2016 and I’m grateful for all of them, the good and the not-so-good. Nothing bad, really, except perhaps for a little sadness and disappointment in some people – but that’s common, we can’t keep everyone happy and certainly shouldn’t focus our energy on that, especially when it’s a lost case. Still, I’m grateful for that disappointment too – it’s remarkably liberating to know exactly where you stand and have no regrets, only great memories.

On with the good things!

2016 came to an end with the completion of small and bigger projects with my students – but more work and new sparkling ideas are to become a reality in the new year. More projects, more collaborations, more sharing; it’s what we’re here for!

The end of 2016 also saw the end to several of my courses, but instead of keeping the bittersweet feeling of that last lesson before December’s exams, I keep the joy of growing along those students over the years and the pride in their accomplishments. 2017 will find me sharing and exploring with different groups, more teens and young adults and much more within vocational and ESP contexts – I see this as a challenge to my creativity and hope for the best!

Apart from teaching, I’m also looking forward to as much learning as possible and there surely is a lot around to choose from (I think I’ll put together a list (!) of seminars, webinars and courses sometime soon).

Last, and certainly not least, travelling will also take up a great part of this new year – some for projects, some for conventions and some just because I love travelling! 

I won’t make any resolutions (because I usually break those, almost on principle 😊) but will express the hope that I’ll make it through seeing the good things, will have the patience to write about it all and will carry the feelings of this first day wherever 2017 finds me.

Special Together #KindnessHunt

Every school year begins with the same project for my younger learners: a lively language hunt, which is then held every two weeks around the area they live in, as learners form groups and head off to discoveries together.

It takes some time of course to organize, so I usually get in touch with local stores, schools and the -amazing- people who are to take part around August. During September, I put my creative shoes on and try to come up with different routes around the areas, various generic clues to be filled in accordingly when lessons start and progress and, by the end of the month, everything is ready for my little hunters.
It’s always a great opportunity for them to practise what we learn together, only outside our safe circle this time, and a wonderful way to involve their parents in the learning process.

Usually those language hunts stop somewhere before Christmas break and recommence in the new year; it has always seemed to me necessary to pause them during that time, thinking that students would have already been ‘overworked’ and tired.

Things evolved differently this year, however. My kids were thrilled with the hunts and even before November properly came, they were asking where they would be “hunting” for Christmas. I felt that, having already prepared in my head our seasonal project ideas, somehow we would have exhausted the theme, and wondered if we should do more; probably a combination of worry for the students and also myself (still feel I’ve been in need of a long, quiet break for some time now).
Then on one fine morning, I woke to a Facebook notification (to which I have not reacted yet, sustaining in my love-hate relationship with social media) that my dear friend Josette had added me to a group; do you know that moment, the very moment, when everything falls into place? When the puzzle forms into the whole picture – that moment.

The “People Being Nice” group set me off on a path of ideas and, eventually, I settled on organizing a Kindness Hunt for my young ones. In spite of my initial worries that it would not work for a million different reasons, particularly being organised on such short notice, this hunt was ready to welcome my enthusiastic, active learners this week, leading all the way to Christmas day.
In fact, everyone who usually gets involved was eager to participate and each invited more; colleagues, friends, family, the neighbours. Kindness to the power of n.

I’ve been following my young hunters around to be part of their sharing and receiving of kindness and will update this post later on with those magnificent gifts.

You can use or share the clues I prepared for this special hunt from here. They’re specific to the areas here in Athens of course, but feel free to adjust them or get inspiration to create your own.

To close for now, I want to immensely thank each and every wonderful person who helped make this possible and real:

-My kids and their families for their persistence, enthusiasm and love.

-The awesome fellow educators in the local schools – Marianna, Nikoletta, Evi, Antonis, Stavros, Sofia, Liana and Agapi you all make this world a great place to be in!

-The happy kiosk owners and their families, Michalis, Joanna and Giorgos.

-Emilia, Stathis, Giorgos, Anthi and Marina, the effortlessly smiling bank clerks.

-Our superb local café owners and staff, Foteini, Litsa, Andrianna, Sofoklis, Rallou, Jenny, Katia, Michalis and Giannis.

-Amalia, Kostas, Giorgos, Sevasti, Maria, Anna and Nikos, the persistently cheerful store owners.

-The tireless train station security guards, Kostas and Vasilis and their families.

-Father Ioannis of our local church and his family.

-Every random passerby who got caught up in our hunt and helped spread the kindness!

-Josette, for unwittingly igniting this and for being who she is.

I couldn’t help it here but think of Jan Morris’s answer during an interview I watched recently (and I’m almost sure I remember it correctly):
“What is your secret to a long, happy life?”
“Kindness. Be kind.”

Happy holidays and keep spreading the good out there!

 

To great beginnings…#littlereflections

I can’t think of a better way to start the school year other than diving into the learning zone; and not just any learning zone, but the one where you’re surrounded and nudged forward by excellent colleagues. There were so many moments to keep from the Start-of-the-Year event in September that I’d need post after post to cover them – so, instead, a little info and reflection coming below; just to send those vibes out to the world.

 

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Anna Petala took us inside a story – a truly wonderful way of presenting grammar, while making it relevant and engaging for young learners. Kings, queens and royal pets, swords and tiaras, all binding together and leading to solid learning. The crafting part was also a personal highlight; making our own reminders 😉
(Find more information on their website Europoint and on their Facebook page here.)

 

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Gwyn Owen then unfolded the magic of emerging language, something I love exploring and try my best to make good use of in my classes too. There is so much passion, creativity and potential in each of our students, and as Gwyn made obvious through his captivating presentation, it doesn’t take much to move what happens ‘on the side’ right to the center of our learning environment. Effort, yes; altering teaching perceptions, yes; And all worth it.

 

And then it was time for me to game the whole thing a little more…
There’s something truly unique in sharing with fellow educators, especially when the idea shared doesn’t follow the mainstream patterns but introduces an alternative.
I felt somewhat apprehensive at first; game-based learning might be gaining more and more ground globally, yet it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and certainly raises numerous concerns – when you haven’t tried it  🙂
Some points I’ll be further reflecting on in follow-up posts:

  • It’s always best to keep the talking to the minimum and maximize the doing.  – Verified (again).
  • Show the results. It’s all about the learners and they are the ones with things to say. – Still stand by this.
  • Feedback form. Hmmm. Given that an overall feedback form is distributed, a specific one per workshop might be too much. – Choosing not to hand out my workshop feedback form felt strange. Should I have stayed on principle and given it?
    (You can have a look at my presentation on Slideshare)

A big thank you to the TESOL Greece Board and family, my fellow presenters and everyone who joined us for that lovely learning Sunday at Ionios School!
(and special thanks to our dear Matina Katseli for her lovely photos!)