TeacherHub discussions #FreelancerDiary

Quotes About Moving Forward 0001 (6)

Third year in freelance teaching…it’s a little overwhelming, I guess, but on the whole the rewards have been multiple and coming from unexpected turns of time –  which means I’ve found myself experiencing good, only taking a lot of time to realize it. Yes, everything remains uncertain, after all I live in a country where we all float in doubt and it’s only a weird, idealistic persistence that keeps me here still, along with some family obligations.

Those words there on the left seemed quite appropriate in my case, I did make that decision a few years back. Given that nothing was as it should be, it felt the time was right to do what I wanted and see where it led me. And it led to more openness, exploration and a reaffirmation of my main approach to learning and teaching: community. There are things we can achieve on our own, because we wish to pursue them, because we love them, because they mean something to us – but finding another, or many others, who share that love and meaning is an incomparable feeling. Since my first days in education – those non-official, teenage takes on teaching – the world around made all the difference and showed the way to how things would develop, even if I wasn’t experienced enough to see it back then. With great big gaps in community presence through the years, as alone time equally means a lot personally, I’ve come to realize that in our connection with others there are simply choices we make and their consequences. Extending this thought on what we commonly refer to as a PLN, it seems that we sometimes count numbers instead of quality moments – we’ve all probably done that at some point; we chose to do so. Yet, community stands as we do. We might not match with everyone but there is always something we can learn and something we can share.

And though this post might so far seem too general or irrelevant, it actually came to be because of a recent discussion with a younger colleague, a passionate educator I used to teach about seven years ago, who came to my learning hub with enthusiasm but also complaints.

For the sake of ease (and against my innate aversion towards list-y things), here’s roughly what she brought to us:

  1. “I keep hearing and seeing the same things going around. Nothing new, nothing original. The same activity, just shown in a different way. And how can I choose between the common and the not-really-new-but-almost?”
  2. “It seems that other teachers are against me, even hate me, for whatever reason. Every time I try to discuss a practice, an idea, or something I’d like to do, most [of other teachers] either say ‘oh, we’ve done that’ or ‘it’ll never work’ and then I see them using my idea with their classes.”
  3. “There are personal comments too. I mean, I found out that another teacher spoke badly about me to our DoS and some of the parents, one of the parents told me. How do you deal with that?”
  4. “What can I do when I’ve seen there might be some learning disability in a student, but my DoS says to not mention anything because it will upset the parents?”

Oh my. I really have no idea how a trainer would approach these; I’m only a sharer, simply another teacher there to listen and perhaps give a little bit of thought and insight. Still, I’ve been through all this before and, in a way, it was refreshing to revisit those scenarios – well, facts.
Keeping the group sentiment aside (a group of seven language teachers in their mid-twenties who immediately protested against all the above-mentioned points), it felt like certain things needed to be clarified first.

Originality.
How many things can we truly call “original” these days? It seems to me that it’s the approach, not the activity, which holds the essence of innovation. We are not necessarily doing new things, yet we have the chance of doing them our way, and our way can certainly be original. Getting to that point, however, might take a second or a lifetime.

The “bad mouth-ers”
From the moment you put an idea out there – whether in person, online, on the phone, or whatever other means of sharing there is – it’s up for the taking. And it should be. Exactly because originality isn’t a given anymore, your take on something might be helpful to someone at the far ends of this world. Yes, you could monetize on it. If that’s your goal, don’t share it freely. If you don’t want others claiming it for their own, don’t share it freely. It’s up to you.
When it comes to personal comments, a huge debate lurks in the background. Being me – i.e. someone who believes in asking, doing and having hands-on experience – a) don’t believe everything you hear and b) don’t dismiss someone without a discussion on the matter at hand. Nobody needs a drama and we all have better things to do, yet if something is bothering us, it should be addressed.

“Director’s cut”
From the first moment A. started sharing, my thoughts were “there’s clearly no support there’. That DoS has failed in keeping the team going. Unfortunate, but common. Especially when talking about franchise schools – and A. works for one of the most well-known ones here in Athens – where what matters is keeping the royalties and name going, rather than making learning happen. Two points to make, out of personal experience:
When the DoS doesn’t hold one-one teacher sessions regarding feedback and conduct, there’s a problem.
When the DoS tells you to be quiet about anything concerning your learners, there’s a problem.
And that problem isn’t yours, the teacher’s, but it is you who has to deal with it and make it either stop or find your way out of there.

Again, that’s just my take on things. It’s what I shared in our little TeachersHub, and which was received with a slight surprise as I’m rarely openly assertive. That meeting has a few follow-ups to go through before it’s considered covered and closed.

I’d love further ideas, as always, and if you’d like, TeachersHub is open to all -just let me know if you’d like to come join us!

And just to loop it round my – vague, admittedly  – theme, this freelancer doesn’t have all the answers, she only has a thing or two to say about getting yourself out in the teaching world; we need effective training, clear objectives and steel-like patience to pull this through. But together, we’ll make it happen.

Game it!

I might be away on project work, but great things are in store and just wanted to share the excitement 🙂

So here’s a little preview…until the end of September when I’ll be meeting & sharing with excellent educators at the TESOL Greece Start-of-the-Year event!

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…

 

#MindtheGap

And…it’s been three months since my last post – normally I’d wonder where all this time went, only I know quite well where and since that’s a place I have moved on from, what better way to celebrate than with some writing here?

Gap

Those three months were basically full of two things: work and worry. Not a good combination, I should point out. How can you work when you worry all the time? Ok, you can, but maybe the outcome isn’t what you were hoping for – at least it wasn’t in my case. Through my superficial reflection it seemed that taking up many responsibilities was the problem, but the truth is: if you naturally worry too much about things it certainly affects your balance, no matter if you are doing one thing or ten – which sounds perfectly logical now that I have written it here, but took me a useless right hand, (too) long hours of sulking and deep reflection to realize.

Not all was bad of course.

*Reminding and convincing myself to use the left hand was fun, not to mention what a breakthrough it felt like to actually manage it. My biggest issue with that no-good right hand was that it affected my expression -as I talk with my hands too, at times it seemed I just wasn’t getting through to anyone. I couldn’t write either, so I spent many hours hating that right hand; but it also led me to the smoking-free zone, and I remain there.

*Kids. And teaching. When your doctor has scared you so much that tomorrow seems, if nothing else, horrible and improbable, all you’ve got is now really. Spend ‘now’ productively and keep trying to make a difference in one or a million lives. Unsurprisingly, your learners are there for you and the only way is forward.
(/end of empowering message/)

*Goodness in the background; and by that I mean all the wonderful people who still went ahead with me in mind, so now that I’m the right place, in more or less all aspects, there are great things for me to do. In most cases, I didn’t even say a word –  thank you Universe of Thoughtful People.

Standing too long in the gap might be frustrating, but sometimes it is necessary; so is silence and being mindful, towards yourself and everyone.
This is not a revelations post, no.
It’s a reaffirming, getting back to where you should be post. And I used both hands to write it.

Forward, then?

(PS: interesting search results while looking for an appropriate image – gaps of all sorts are apparently a much debated topic online.)

#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.

Only good and forward

2015 came to an end and what a year it was. Full of learning and meeting people, full of hardship and sorrow, so full of single moments making it all worthwhile. It had been two months since the last post on this blog before the end of the year and though I had been writing traditionally, in my silence and on my paper, it seemed better to keep that writing to myself. You see the blog is all about bouncing thoughts, but not negative ones. I won’t allow them. I decided to let the time pass and bring goodness back and, not surprisingly, I’m already on that track. Stubbornly positive me.fb146373008214a6504c4270a5e7a2ef

Instead of lingering on things passed, which are nevertheless kept and worked upon inside, let the first post of 2016 be about now and the hope for tomorrow.

The here and now

  • Still on my holiday break, the perfect opportunity to prepare for when lessons begin in about ten days. Most of the classes and students I’ve taught for years have reached the end of our journey together, but the new year has come with a great gift: new journeys are due, with teens and, after some time for me, young learners. I simply cannot wait!
  • Still (and always) a language learner. Last time I checked, I’d left my Turkish at B1 and hadn’t taken up Arabic yet. Time to move forward.
  • Back to translations. It was only when I submitted a sample that I realised how much I love and miss this challenge.
  • More writing is also due. Here and elsewhere. I don’t see myself as any sort of expert nor a writer, it’s just that writing has over the years become supplementary to breathing. And as most things matter when they are shared, I have said one or two yes’s to writing outside my silent notebooks and my vibrant classrooms.

What tomorrow holds

  • Two projects that I’ve been working on, almost sleeping and waking on actually, are soon to materialise. It means hard work, travelling and some wonderful people stand at my doorstep. More on that in the near future 🙂
  • Gaming has always been part of my life and a solid building block in the connection with my learners. I suppose coding was only natural to come along too. As a hands-on learner, and quite a hands-on teacher to be honest, my understanding of things is shaped by action. And as I thrive while jumping in deep waters, the idea of building a website from scratch stuck to my head and then my hands followed. Learning as I go along the idea and soon to publish, it seems I made just the right choice.
  • Conventions are coming up and I’m really looking forward to them, hopefully present at them and get the chance to see friends and make some new as well.

 

In making the choice to see and share the positive things I’m blessed with, I’ll have only one last look at something from the year that ended; someone I loved dearly, and lost abruptly in September, had given me a piece of advice some years back. Another dearly loved someone reminded it to me just this morning. In praise of all things simple, here goes: ‘Always look Up.’ And that’s my single New Year’s resolution, with all the thousands of small and big goals it carries.