Writing through the Teacher-Person #RedThumbForLove

I’m a teacher. I’m still not entirely certain on how I became one, or why. It was one of those things that come and take their stand in front of you and you are called to decide whether you accept or decline the offer. When I said ‘yes, I accept’, I was not prepared for it. I just let it happen to me. I struggled, I asked for help, I learned, I trained, I struggled more. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. I became the teaching, even though I can’t pinpoint exactly when that was settled.

You have hopefully taken note of the personal pronoun so far. For quite some time, and time that is generally accepted and described as ‘the best years of one’s life’, this was my supposed inner truth: this is what Ι do, therefore Ι have to cope with the struggle and Ι will make sure it gets better. Ι have to plan, Ι have to scrutinize the plan, Ι will get it wrong ten times and only once right. There, a teacher-person with a proclivity for relentless self-criticism, the non-productive kind. It had never occurred to me that, as with most things in this life, it’s almost never about you. Or it’s almost never just about you. What you say and what you do is heard, it is noticed. It can leave a good mark or a bad one. It can plant the seed for new trails or it can halt everything.

When the person is not well, how can the teacher be?
While teaching a class, one of my students looked up and said I seemed ‘agitated’. Clashing thoughts: excellent, recycling vocabulary of their own accord – oh no, they can see how I feel. Masks off, you are no longer the teacher, you are the agitated person sitting in the middle, clenching an observation sheet. I wrote ‘’agitated, me, resolve’ on that sheet. As such moments kept multiplying, the sheets all had random words on them, on the margins, under tick-boxes, next to time frames and though the teacher was apprehensive, the person felt better. For fear of my supervisor noticing, which she didn’t or never mentioned it, post-its found their place in front of me. I kept writing the words that stood out, the ones I had caused to be spoken, the ones that materialized in my head in unpleasant moments, the ones that were unexpectedly heard and prompted a thought. This became a habit because it seemed to unburden the person and made way for the teacher. I still have those pieces of thought, in a box somewhere. They gave their place to a notebook very soon and the notebooks multiplied too. Flicking through one of them not so long ago, I noticed that at some point not all the words were negative, there were some pleasant feelings coming out of the pages. Further down there were more words, paragraphs, with uplifting vibes. A break into optimism which has kept with me ever since.

You don’t, however, know if what you do is right or even enough until you see an outcome and you cannot silence your inner critic so easily. A dear friend noticed one of my notebooks on my desk a couple of years ago and in my panic I let her read it. I could only ask what she thought of it, of me actually, when she was done. She said she knew all that. The only things I hadn’t mentioned, she said, was that I had forgotten how to breathe and let people be there. Where would we be without the other? We are so diligent in giving advice yet so reluctant to receive or follow it. The critic always stands there, dutiful. But all we have to do is listen. I don’t think that friend knows it, but she pushed me to get back to the community, the space where thoughts are shared, all thoughts; the motivating, the constructive, the bitter, even the malevolent. Thoughts are meant to be shared because they teach you, as much as everything else teaches you.

The critic is always there and there is good reason for it. Being compassionate to yourself does not mean you constantly pat yourself on the back nor that you keep beating yourself up for mistakes. It means you listen to yourself and in doing so, you open everyone’s ears to what can go wrong and what can work out fine. There is a very special kind of connection to the world when you embrace compassion.
Don’t scrutinize; allow yourself big, long-term ideas and many short-term plans. Write down both the good and the bad. Try to listen, to yourself and your world. Practise breathing again, but do so in a community. That’s what I have been doing. And I’m still a teacher-person.

theteacherperson


Thank you Josette LeBlanc, for bringing #RedThumbForLove to us and for knowing that there is the right time for everything. The words are already a year old, but I’m celebrating their anniversary with a new photo. I hope we can all find our own way to listen.

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Applying some #Chaos

The first step was taken. Let’s try this freelancing for a while and see where it takes us. You know, it has been difficult, as it can prove extremely hard to break habits you have had for years. A school environment can offer an abundance of opportunities, set you in a norm, train you to operate and be an efficient collaborator; it can also facilitate, in a way, your being a teacher, deal with bureaucracy, so you can focus on the teaching. In theory. While discussing my choice to freelance with colleagues I received some rather peculiar feedback, in my mind anyway: ”you will now be solely responsible for everything”. Two arguments there: 1. Why should this be a problem? Aren’t we supposed to be responsible for what we say and do? and 2. No, I will not be solely responsible, since I do not control the world.

image credits: stockphotos.com

There are a number of things that could go wrong when you are trying to organize your freelancing life.
You might not get the number of students you wished for. You may not know how to deal with paperwork and finances. You might feel excluded from the teacher community and deprived of development opportunities. It might turn out that you prefer the, sometimes false, safety of a school.
It seems to me that it simply cannot work if you see yourself as a school teacher. In fact, when you’re freelancing only one word should go next to teacher, the one that describes your context. I could generalize and state that the same applies to all teachers, regardless of their state of employment, but I won’t. What I will say, though, is that more or less the same thoughts go through our teacher-minds, with only slight variations.
The decision to go freelance was made at a difficult time for me, on both a personal and professional level, and my difficult times are usually cured by lots and lots of reading and a fair amount of writing. Among other pieces, I particularly enjoyed Lorenz and his Chaos Theory, which led me to the Turbulent Mirror by F. D. Peat and J. Briggs, which in turn opened the path to a serious number of articles, approaches and further inner dialogues. When I came across the term self-similarity, another door opened, to the patterns that form from the same elements or original pattern, but are never the same. I kept thinking that there was such a commonality between where I stood as a freelancer and what was being described in all those readings. Could they actually be applicable in what I attempted to do?
Not so long ago, Achilleas Kostoulas wrote an article on Complexity in ELT, sharing a definition and an insightful approach on the connection between Complex Systems Theory and Linguistics, which brought more ideas to surface along with even more queries. I urge you to read it.

I decided to give chaos a go, on all levels. I’m not necessarily in the position of giving advice, but I have made certain discoveries for myself that I’d like to share.

-What I had to alter was not the practice, but the scope. The idea that we can plan things in detail seems rather ridiculous after two years of embracing chaos, yet it used to be my empowering move for a long time. Make small plans and leave room for improvement and external influences.

-Being open is misunderstood and somehow it feels it always will be. Again, it depends on how one approaches it; to me, open means curious. There are so many wonderful and scary things out there, it is such a shame to miss the chance to experience them and make them work for you.

-Curiosity leads to an even more open world. It is admittedly hard to be objective, to know what you should and shouldn’t do, but you might just miss the opportunity of doing something brilliant. Even, or especially, in freelancing what matters is keeping yourself trained, available and flexible.

-Things happen and you cannot control them; you can only control how you react to them. Our days are series of nonlinear movements and accepting that sets us on the path of discovery.

-Learn to notice patterns. We live and work in such dynamic systems, that self-similarity is real and all around us.  Learn to appreciate patterns, what they can offer you and what you offer them.

-Do things when it feels right to do them and don’t do them in expectation of a specific result. Do them because you and everyone involved agrees to them.

Does all this practically apply to the freelancer world? I say yes. Think of your student network and the word-of-mouth that keeps you going. Think of your PLN. Think of your presence in your community, be it real or virtual. Why not think of your presence in the world, as well?

When Lessons End #ThatFeeling

At best, a mixed day for this teacher.

Among the different numbers and details my head insists on safekeeping, June 6th will find its place no doubt. The day when those lessons are over, for good. The day when the final exam is taken and those students move on. I’d been thinking of that moment regularly in the past year. I knew it was coming and dreaded it. I’ve had many of those moments through the years and even though it has never turned out to be as horrible and heartbreaking as I’d imagined it, still the same feelings pour out and there is nothing I can do to stop them.

Feeling happy and sad simultaneously is almost imperative in my world. Six years of learning with those kids have come to an end. I’m proud of their achievements, our journey, of them. I’m even a little proud of myself, for having kept open as much as possible to what they had and could show me. It was not the case of incredible, it was only us keeping together for so many different reasons. And I feel so…what’s that word…gloomy, as well, because that’s it. Done.

I remember one of my professors telling me that a good plan is the best weapon in my arsenal. I also remember Not telling him that we are not at war. Yes, just wording. But words are immensely powerful. It took me some time to realize that ‘planning’ means nothing on its own; where do you stand in the plan? where do your students stand? Then I discovered the significance of continuity, in practice (theories, oh theories). With this group, like with many others, the years count. We grew together, I grew with them and had the privilege to be there as they became what they are. I helped them and they helped me and we all climbed higher together. We are lucky in the same way, all of us teachers. We are there.

I had to ask.
”How should we celebrate the end of our lessons?”
”But you’ll be coming over again.”

Yes, I will. Beginnings and endings are very much the same.