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)

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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.

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.

In Reverse #firsttimeteaching

Let’s get back to challenges…I’ll start with this one, coming from my dear friend Dora, who invited us to share our first time teaching a class. It was such a joy going back to remember that first time, what led me to it, what it meant to me and those students – friends, actually, learners riding the same wave with me.


 

community-roundtable

There are some ideas that can take us further than we could ever imagine.

When you’re seventeen, you really don’t know much, but it feels as if you know everything, you say and do things with ease, you feel fired up by literally the tiniest spec of anything. In 1999, I was volunteering for my local youth club and, having experienced the wonders of community as a child, it was only natural I would be getting more actively involved in it all. It was supposed to be a general, relaxed discussion on the club’s future projects; however, all of us involved felt we were part of a great family, and families are often called to make important decisions. There was one thing I loved (and still love) dearly, languages. So my suggestion as a future project was language courses, starting with English. Get a teacher to design, organize and give our members an amazing educational experience. I didn’t expect an approval. I didn’t expect to be asked to do it myself, as finances were unfortunately scarce if not non-existent. I didn’t even expect that I would say yes. But I did. And that’s how it all began.

I realized very quickly that I had no idea how to do this. I absolutely adored English, yes, I had already passed my C2 exam three years earlier, yes, but teaching my cousins and friends was really very different. The only thing I could think of was asking my own English teacher for help. He awarded me with a strange, indefinable look, the urge to consider this decision carefully and a pile of books. Grammar, Course Design, Language Study, Poems, Prose and Satire. ‘Where should I start?’, I asked. ‘With being happy about it all’, he replied. And I was.

During the four months of preparing everything, I didn’t spend much time with friends and family. My companions were Adler, Lynch and Bailey, Larsen & Freeman, Thornbury, O’Connor, Avery & Ehrlich, Yule, Short and Lederer. It was my teacher’s selection, and I remember thinking ‘my, he’s obsessed with grammar! At least I get some literature’. I made plans for the whole course and my teacher reviewed them. I presented them to the club’s Board and they approved them. We were to begin that October. There had been a lot of interest, mostly from members my age and a little bit older, so we would be having three classes.

Nothing prepares you for a class. You can have all the plans in the world, design them to the last detail, the last second to be used, still you’re not 100% ready. And that’s a good thing. It is people you’re dealing with and that is the most significant part of teaching. I was so nervous before I went into the room, knowing that thirty-five people were waiting for me. When I walked in, though, it was obvious that there were thirty-five friends waiting. How do you start? With a deep breath and a big smile. I used about 40% of my plans for that first lesson. I wanted to share my love for the language, its potential and that’s what they wanted too. Perhaps I was lucky, I’m not sure. We went through the alphabet, common words and expressions they wanted to know and use, we talked about why we were there and what we hoped for. It could be defined as a conversation class. I could label those classes in many different ways, now that I know what they were and what was happening during the three years the project lasted.

Three years down the line, I got my first qualification as a foreign language teacher and though I had chosen to study Pre-School and then Primary Education first instead of English Literature, language teaching was just what it was going to be for me. Again, it was the sharing and the potential that fascinated me. Working on the roots, working with what matters – and that will always be guiding people to their future – can happen in any language. In fact, language being our common root makes everything so much more essential and wonderful.

I have made many mistakes along the way. Working in reverse, I like to call it. You do, you get feedback, you rethink, redefine and rework. You aim for the best, you train more and further and you keep making mistakes. You bring the world in, you use yourself, you make your students part of it. You can pile up degrees, certificates and skills but remember to work with the ones you’re teaching because they teach you in turn.

My initial thought was to dedicate this post to those first students, but we are still in contact and we know what it meant to us. I’ll dedicate it to Roger; the teacher who showed me that what teachers say is not gospel, but what they do stays with you forever.

 

 

Step One – Around & About Freelancing

Dreams & Ambitions, Greece

*image credits: Dimitris Primalis, for ELTPics

 

It’s hard sometimes, to begin. It’s even harder to begin again. And very often you don’t even know where to begin. You must do so, though; for all that is expected of you, for all that you can do and give and above all, for yourself. For everything that you can learn and achieve. You can take small steps, you can try a long jump, you could even fly forward. But you must.

Two years ago almost, I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life; and having been ‘at work’ ever since I was fifteen, that was quite the strike. Things hadn’t been going well anyway, the absence of my DoS should have been a clue,  not being paid properly, on time, or at all should have been signs, but I clearly wasn’t paying attention. I was in the almighty comfort zone. Exactly the point where things decide to hit you, and they hit hard. And, in any case, no matter what goes on behind the scenes, I would never just get up and leave my kids behind. I think it’s exactly that trait we teachers have that makes us vulnerable. We’re fierce when it comes to doing the right thing for our students, but we’re much more lax when it comes to what is right for ourselves.

A step, I thought, I need to take a step forward. How hard can a step be? The problem there was not so much the step, but the direction in which it should be taken. The word ‘safety’ kept appearing around me, because we didn’t just sprout from the ground, there’s family, there’s friends, there’s a whole world around us. And I gave that word some thought. Are we ever safe? My answer was simply ‘no’. We might think we are, it might feel as if we are, but we are not. Because we (thankfully, in my view) don’t have a say in every single thing. Because our work depends largely on people and people, as wonderful as they might be, always find a way to surprise us.

I kept options open. And it was quite a sad moment when I realized that in my crisis-driven country, education was the last thing on people’s minds. Education in its proper sense I mean, not the certificate-hunting culture that has always stood strong. The education that takes you forward, that broadens your mind, that makes you active. I turned stubborn. There was no reason to work for anyone who didn’t agree with me. No reason at all to be employed and paid if I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Suddenly, the world came together and all was clear. We can do what is good, what is right, even if there’s only one person there to listen to us. And good and right things have the tendency to multiply, remember that.

BeOpen

The rest of the world stepped in the scene. All the things that had happened up until my first day as a freelance teacher came together. Both the good and the bad. Everything that you call part of you, your life, can give you the opportunity to teach yourself and others. Yes, you need to keep yourself open to everything. You need to see whatever comes your way as a chance to learn and stand ready to share what you have learned. You’re certainly not always right, so listen, ask and talk things through.

When the freelance ‘me’ came to be, I felt totally unsafe. And that was liberating. We can’t know everything, but we can try it all and see where it takes us. I still don’t feel safe most of the times, but I refuse to stop. Because I’ve seen first hand that we can make a difference, even if it’s only in ourselves; which it isn’t, trust me.

You can start at any given time. You can restart, as well. I started again by doing the exact opposite of what I used to do, but there’s no rule. Just decide and keep going. Keep open, first to yourself and then to others. Only good things can come out of that.

From a step, that could be a leap, but turned into a magic carpet ride. There’s more to come.

Keep Moving Forward – An Interview with Christina Chorianopoulou (@Kryftina)

Meeting online friends 🙂 still online, but #hugfest won’t be long now! Super educator Vicky Loras doing me a great honour by interviewing me! It’s us!

Vicky Loras's Blog

1016688_10151558577278358_481848980_nFor April, my birthday month, I am very happy to present you with another super educator I admire tremendously for her creativity and optimism, Christina Chorianopoulou! Christina lives in Athens, Greece and she teaches students of all ages and levels.

She blogs at My Mathima (which is the Greek expression for My Lesson) and is very active on social media. She shares and writes and constantly creates something – either in education or as one of her hobbies!

Watch her extremely motivating interview:

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