The bravery of seeded apples

So we’re sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, silent but determined. It’s a Sunday and we’ve got a crate of pomegranates to sort through; he has that faint smile, like he knows something he won’t share just yet.

“You always do them in fives. Hold it steadily and trace a line around the top, where you’ll be carving. There’s no need to rush”.
I immediately take six in front of me and begin. Tracing seems easy, I finish all six in less than a minute. Carving…now, this might as well be a full-time job. The skin is too hard, it just won’t give way to the knife. I change positions: tilt the knife slightly to the left, then to the right; maybe vertically? No. I move to the other chair, straighten my legs; then I sit up straight. Still nowhere near the desired result. Over on his side, five pomegranates stand carved and ready and he is still smiling.  I sit back down and as I take a breath, strictly-coursebook-day images begin to spring up: Maria is struggling with her sentence. how many pens do you have got? – do how many pens have got you? – how many pens do have got you?, and she flutters about in her seat and looks at the page in despair while everyone around her has moved on to the next sentence. Let’s make this a group activity – let’s work on something relevant – let’s play with those words. Yes, much better. A good argument to how your brain just downloads information in moments of need. In Maria’s case, group work made all the difference; here, however, it’s only me.

“Did I show you how to carve?” No. I assumed I could do it. “Did you ask me how?” No. I assumed I could do it! It’s expected of me (and is welcome) to seek assistance, but that doesn’t sit well with me at all – not until I’ve tried my hand at something myself. I feel slightly annoyed too, probably because it’s him telling me to ask for help. Could it be an authority issue? More importantly, is that how Giannis and Mike felt everytime I reminded them of my presence and my offer to assist? Possibly. I’m trying to think when and how we reached the point of good communication between us, but all I see is their frustrated faces.

“You’re too focused on the task. But what we’re doing here is simple: hold, trace, carve, scoop out. You just need to remember two things”.

What two things? What things? – I’m thinking but not asking out loud, as my first pomegranate sits in my hand and I’m ready to scoop out the seeds. They’re called arils, I inform him, and in some places this fruit is called a “seeded apple”. Do we have any other words for it in Greek? The spoon stumbles on some black, shrivelled seeds and I feel a sting in my heart. What happened here? And look, there’s a whole cluster of them – yet the fruit has grown around it, all red and plump. Life miniature in a pomegranate; isn’t that true about everything, really? No matter how many difficult moments come, we seem to manage to grow around them.

I know one word only. They must have had a reason to come up with more. Don’t worry about the rotten ones, it happens. Take them out”.

I place that dark cluster carefully on a napkin. Even though it happens to find some rotten ones, it seems unfair to just throw them away. In a rushed attempt to hide how profoundly this little chunk of dead arils has affected me, I explain the origin of the word pomegranate to him; but all this Latin and French and fancy descriptions don’t fool him – he’s still smiling. He might be right, maybe I focus too much and sometimes on the wrong aspect of something – no, not wrong, the less important one. Don’t miss the woods for the trees, shouts professor Katsivanou in my head, standing in front of that huge, scribbled blackboard. She was right too.

We’re nearly done, aren’t we? Two or three more and I can go back to finish that crossword. Popular French comedian and actor, first name Louis – who is that? I’m missing that one”.

De Funés; I remind him of the self-important conductor Stanislas, sneaking around in the kitchen with a lit candle, and he nearly bursts laughing. Somewhere in another pocket of my mind, Mike and Giannis are crying with laughter, while we are watching Peter Kay’s stand-up performance. That was the moment; a good laugh together. Not long after that, they both told me they are glad to know I’m there – they would always try on their own, but knowing someone would jump in if necessary. 

Now there are heaps of seeds and about forty hollowed pomegranates on the table; in keeping with our family Christmas tradition, the first will turn into liquors and jams, the latter into alternative gift wraps. But that’s for another Sunday. 

“What two things should I remember, dad?”

“Be brave but ask for help when you need it. But you remember them anyway, don’t you?”

Looking at that smaller heap of black seeds next to me, I suppose yes, I do. And I know that nothing compares to father-daughter moments.


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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.

11 things 2016 (Blog Challenge)

It’s been a long time since my last tag in this challenge, but hey, love it! Thank you Joanna Malefaki and Maria Theologidou for this new round in sharing 11 random things 🙂

I’ve decided not to come up with 11 new questions or tag anyone; instead, I’ll invite anyone who wishes to join to share 11 things that make them happy every day 🙂

Even though it took some time to actually sit and do this (life has a unique way of getting in between the things you want and the things you have to do), here goes:

Joanna’s questions:

1. How do you spend your free time?

Isn’t free time a weird concept? I guess the short or long walks around the city, the quiet Sundays with a book, blog reading and coffee and the impromptu meetings with dear friends in all the chaos are my favourite ways of spending time not dedicated to the have to’s.

2. What’s your favourite song?

Impossible to answer this! Every song carries a moment, a feeling, a thought and a truth 🙂
Three songs always make it to the playlist and my mind, each for a different reason:
“Handbags and Gladrags” – Stereophonics
“Some lessons” – by Melody Gardot
“Get behind the mule” – by Hope Waits

3. What’s your favourite food?

I’m very much a pasta girl – in any shape, form or flavour.

4. My guilty pleasure is…….. (fill in the sentence).

…persistently sitting quietly looking at the ceiling when I have a zillion things to do.

5. Share a picture. What is of (inspired by Clare)?

20160430_154818

My first step in the sea this year – nothing like being in the salt and air 🙂

6. If you could go anywhere in the world to teach, where would you go and why?

That would be wherever I could share and learn, so I suppose anywhere would do. Can’t say I have a favourite place in mind.

7. What’s your top tip for new teachers?

Learn to listen, to feel, to trust and work on your abilities and keep moving forward.

8. What’s your top tip for teachers who feel burnt out?

Take a step back and stand still. Breathe. Think where you want to be. Make this sequence a habit.

9. If I wasn’t an English teacher , I would be a/ an…….

I just don’t know. We all are many different things apart from teachers, but what has always defined me has been the potential of sharing. From the various faces of an educator, I’d choose the crafty, maker one and always explore this aspect, further and further.

10. What’s the funniest thing that has happened during a lesson?

Slipping while walking around. I don’t know who to blame, the cleaner or my own imbalance – still, it’s by far the funniest random thing!

11. Describe a typical work day.

Waking at 6:45 or so and enjoying my double Greek coffee, my crossword and the silence. Writing in my journal for some (highly debatable, depending on the day) time . Cooking, housework and dealing with home needs for the day. Spend an hour exploring news around the world, gathering ideas and preparing internally for the day’s lessons. Teaching and learning from 10:00 until 22:00, with intervals of connecting with friends. Some more journaling, and lots, lots of quiet until the next day.

Maria’s questions:

  1. What would make you happiest on a busy work day?
    A good laugh, just because.
  2. What is your dream holiday destination?
    Um…the world? Yes, a round trip 🙂
  3. What advice would you give to your 50-year old self?
    Don’t stop being and doing, keep learning.
  4. Which part of the day do you like most?
    Dawn, the beginning of everything.
  5. What’s your most/least favorite type of music?
    That’s quite hard to answer – there are different kinds that perfectly accompany different moments. I’ll have to admit though that I rarely like pop or those pointlessly loud, making your ears bleed, types.
  6. Which is one mistake you’ve never learnt from and continue making?
    Assuming – I’ve always thought that assumption kills thinking, but still make assumptions that blow right back in my face. One day, one day I’ll stop!
  7.  If you could turn back time, which era would you like to live in and why?
    Should I choose one only? Truth is, I’d like to spend time in each, from prehistoric up to now, to witness and be part of evolution in everything.
  8.  What’s your favorite super hero and why?
    Donna Troy, primarily because she kept going, returning and then going again and also for her acute healing power – totally relate to her, or perhaps I sort of see myself similar to that.
  9. If you could be an animal, which animal would you be and why?
    A cat, no doubt about it! I might be a cat already, just lacking tail and whiskers…Why? Well, why not?
  10. I’m proud that I’ve …………… (complete the sentence)
    …always found the way forward so far, in spite of whatever bad life has thrown at my head and because of what life has delivered to my soul.
  11.  What is one thing you always put off doing?
    Ironing! Does anyone do that happily, I wonder…

 

#TogetherWorks – Presenting at Greek TESOLs 2016

It is remarkable how many connecting points you can discover when talking to a fellow educator, most of them underlying, present at all times, surfacing gradually as you share your joy or worry over a cup of coffee.
Theodora Papapanagiotou and I first connected online three years ago and all through this time of sharing between us, both on a personal and a professional level, we always talked about presenting together. We felt we needed to share the love we both had for our learners and our profession and the commonality in our approach to teaching and learning. After several missed opportunities, for many different reasons (especially last summer on my part), the time finally came to put this together and invite our colleagues to discuss alternative and creative ways in exam preparation at the two TESOL Conventions in Greece.

Chris&Theo

The certificate-hunting culture still holds strong in our country, resulting in ever younger learners being pressured into taking exams, inevitably being forced to memorize vocabulary out of context and drilled into grammar rules completely unconnected to their function. We are still sacrificing fluency and meaningfulness at the altar of certification, of proven “knowledge”, and not only in foreign language learning. In full honesty, I don’t want my learners’ first question to be “what percentage should I get correct to pass the exam”. Unfortunately, it is the first question I hear from most of them. It is a challenge to try and shift their focus to their abilities and needs, to how learning a language can help them progress further in anything they attempt and to that any certificate is a positive result of their personal efforts, not the end goal.

Making the exam preparation process meaningful for them is not difficult really; as with all courses, we start with the learners and build on what they have, what they want and what they hope to achieve. We can do this through projects, through adding creative tasks to the material we are using, through exploring different approaches and giving our learners the space to find their voice. We can get a learning community going, blend our lessons and use appropriate technology effectively and encourage self- and peer- assessment to keep learners motivated.
Moving away from traditional quantitative into qualitative assessment, by building personal and class portfolios, gives both our learners and us a clear view of what we have achieved and what we still need to work on.

We will both be sharing more in future posts and articles. For now, a big thank you to everyone who joined us in our talks in Athens and Thessaloniki, for their input and feedback!

You can view the slides of our presentation here

Links and webtools presented during our talk here

#TesolConventions 2016 in perfect Greek style

In the build up to this year’s Conventions, the inevitable worry that there won’t be time for everything I’d want to be part of or to catch up with all the people I’d promised to see just set a little cloud over the third week of March. And, as every time, all it took to cast the cloud away was the very moment of stepping in front of the registration desk – already seeing familiar smiles, acknowledging arms waving, being seconds away from warm hugs.

This is a post full of the hope I felt, first during TESOL Greece in Athens and a week later at the TESOL MacedoniaThrace in Thessaloniki; it has been so uplifting to witness the creative hard work of so many colleagues in my country and to be inspired by the insightful input of great educators from all over the world.

I couldn’t possibly deliver every single inspiring and learning moment, this was more of a “you had to be there” situation, but I think I can pass on the vibe.

TESOL Greece Highlights – more on their YouTube Channel here

TESOL MacedoniaThrace Northern Greece Highlights – more on their Blog here

A big thank you to both TESOL Boards for all they offered us yet again and I have to say: excellent to see many of us from Athens heading north and I definitely like what’s happening in Greece.

Tiptoes in the System #TimeParadox

”Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn

Human Clock - Original artwork by HandMade Theatre

Human Clock – Original artwork by HandMade Theatre

This will be a short post, as time is limited. Freelancers become in this time paradox. There is time for everything and no time altogether.

How many things can we fit into each day? Working, teaching and learning. Listening, noticing and creating. Walking, commuting and waiting. Breathing, eating and drinking. Wondering whether we’ve done all we had to do. Making someone happy. Making someone mad. Thinking and reminiscing. Living. Evolving.

Our only constant is perpetual motion, and this ongoing back-and-forth gives us an edge over the paradox: we can make life happen. Perhaps not a great life, but a life up to our standards. We can do it alone. We can invite others to join us. Some may join uninvited (and I love them most).

Let more grains fall on the chessboard. Wait for the proper-sized pebble to ripple the lake. It will happen, because those things just do. Use time and do it all.

(and Complexity will be hitting this blog soon)

Self Q&A #LateReflection

There are a couple of things I’m sometimes seriously, almost physically, afraid of; feeling inadequate, not delivering what’s been requested, not achieving That goal, not knowing how to deal with That particular behavior…the perfectionist keeps screaming in my head. I have had a big share of that over this summer and though I got reminders (mainly external) that I just need to go easy on myself from time to time, it was the finality of loss that woke me to another truth: life happens now. I won’t discuss fairness, as that depends on the systems we survive in – yes, fair should be one and only for all, but it isn’t. Tough.
I won’t discuss grief either, since we all have different ways of dealing with it and learning from it. And each of them is perfectly correct and fine.

My mind works in questions, so the inevitable sequence of ‘what happened? – are you ok with it? – how can you use it?” just sprang out. I would really like to say that I know the reason why things happen and save myself and everyone the trouble, but I don’t know. And that got me thinking; am I supposed to know? Probably not. Or not yet. In my mind, we are here to do three things: discover, create and share. We can do all three simultaneously, too. That is my current short term plan.

As September was coming to its end, a new set of boxes formed in my mind (I’ve stopped numbering those, completely pointless after years of thinking). Actually, they were more like drawers this time.

What happened? You’ve lost someone dear to you. Not unexpectedly, yet loss is always a hand that dives into your chest and clenches your breath. Then releases and clenches again every time you are reminded of the moment and the connection.

Are you ok with it? Ultimately, yes. Everyone, everywhere loses someone or something daily. No matter how sorrowful each minute feels, it is hard to dismiss that you are still here. Instead of standing in grief, move forward in light.

How can you use it? The idea of hiding. Do you really believe it possible? Whether fortunate or unfortunate, superbly telltale eyes and persistent jittery fingers don’t leave you many options. You know this, you’ve been here before. Not to mention how it throws right out your efforts to build trust.
We can’t be happy all the time, but we still think, work and produce. And when your goal is to impart a bit of knowledge, is there anything better than sharing this truth? Is there anyone better other than your partners in learning to share it with?

Accept and share. It looked like this:

 

Drawing on a recent comment on this blog, I remain stubbornly positive. Here’s to you, my dear learners.