Essentials for nomad teachers

“Μετακομίζεις;”
There’s some Greek for “Are you moving house?”. And that’s the comment I received once from a friend, when I joined her for a rare, middle-of-the-day coffee. I remember looking puzzled, at her first and then at myself; and I found myself carrying a handbag on each shoulder, a smaller one hanging in the front and the laptop on my back. Judging by her wide-open eyes, my face must have looked equally burdened.

Almost all the turning points in my life have suddenly clicked in my head because of someone’s comment. I’ve said it before and still swear by it, thought bouncing is the best thing ever. It’s slightly worrying that it didn’t occur to me I might have been burdening both my body and my mind, but the truth is I very often forget to check if I’m ok. Thankfully, the energies of this universe usually send a reminder.

In the few seconds it took to reply with a No!, a laugh and a “let’s have that coffee” to the question above, my brain nearly exploded with further questions.
Do I look horribly tired?
Why am I carrying all these?
Do I need them?
Where am I going to put them now?
Does she think I’m crazy?
Did I make the right choice in working on my own?
But we were having coffee, and all I really wanted was to sit back and enjoy.

Later that day, I made it home and put all those handbags in line in front of me. Right, what’s in here? Unsurprisingly, a whole bunch of unnecessary, but self-reassuring, stuff; from books and printed materials to all stationary known to man. I counted twenty pencils and fifteen erasers in there, and it hit me, very acutely, that I was somehow trying to compensate for not being a school. As if that’s what mattered in the lesson, having enough pencils and erasers or countless sheets – in case of extreme-writing, perhaps? Or as if you need a specifically set amount of books, notepads and walls to actually learn.
So I started removing, while asking myself, what is it you want to do? Teach and learn. Good. Let’s make this work, Miss Nomad.
I can’t put to words how liberating this process was.
When it was all done, I was basically left with two pencils, a green pen, an eraser, a notepad, my GoogleDrive and myself.

Admittedly, ourselves is the most important part of our kit. I sometimes miss my days in schools, where there was my own cupboard with all my things in one place, yet, thinking about it, what I miss is that superficial feeling of security, not the stuff or the cupboards. These days, lessons find me everywhere, in living-rooms and kitchens, in offices, in parks, online more and more altogether and in a few school premises. Is that the definition of the nomad teacher? Maybe it is. All I know is that it works for me. The lessons where you mainly bring yourself in and work with what you have in front of you. That’s what makes me happy and that’s what I try and do.

So yes, I need those two-three little things, and, stationary and tech aside, this “self” needs a couple of more things while on the move – we all do. I need a book to read in transit, a wallet and headphones. And a make-up/first-aid kit (that’s the girly side, I tend to have those even if I never use them). Other than that, though, I make more effort on keeping the self in a good place; it doesn’t always work, but at least there is effort on my part (she says to herself), and it includes:

-starting the day with Greek coffee and a smile, no matter what
-choosing shoes for the day

2016-10-11-13-31-20
-writing what comes out of my head
-keeping ears, eyes and soul open
-Did I just make a list? I think I did 🙂 –

We all have different ways to keep us forward. What’s yours? (yes, an open invitation to everyone to share)

 

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.

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)

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?

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.

Thoughts & New things on the Blog

Where is this going? The blog, I mean. Does it have to go anywhere even? I started blogging three years ago, not because I had anything important to say, but because it seemed like the best way to share thoughts and invite more thoughts to bounce along my own. There could be a better idea out there, a stronger word. It was also a way of organizing my chaotic brain.

In terms of bouncing, it’s worked 100%. I’ve had inspiring and empowering ideas to add to my own and I’m so grateful for all contributions and feedback. I’ve been asked interesting questions, like ‘why don’t you write in Greek?’ or ‘how do you decide what to write?’. Um, I don’t know and I don’t know. Some things come naturally and I prefer it that way. Other things are planned and they’re fine too.
Organizing is a different story. It’s been impossible to keep typed thoughts in order; pencils seem to rule that domain, and pens on and off. Different notebooks for the several different things I’ve found myself doing, which might sound like it’s making the chaos worse but it isn’t. There are quite a lot of coloured pens and pencils and endless rows of sticky notes as well. It works. And makes the blogging easier, actually.

So where do we go from here? To the two thoughts that led to the two new sections of the blog.

The first is the result of bouncing happily online, from a random comment to a new idea and story.
Stories are as significant and versatile as each and every one of their readers. It’s not about somebody writing a piece or two, it’s more about the ones who sit and go through those pieces. They might find something new in there, or perhaps something old. They might find themselves, or someone they know, or even meet someone entirely new. But they will discover. Something is always twirling in your mind and there’s a unique kind of joy when someone sees it, grabs one end and starts pulling it out. That’s what Sylvia Guinan did at some point, by inviting me to write a guest post for WiziQ. And so this whole thing came to be. Thank you Sylvia.Time to let those true tales breathe out in the open.

Tales4ExamTakers

The second is simultaneously personal and professional. I’ve been a freelance teacher for over a year now. Had a lot of feedback, which can be summed up in those two statements: ‘you should have done this a long time ago’ and ‘ you’re crazy, you’re supposed to seek security’. Frankly, that’s exactly how it’s been in my head as well. Did I make the right choice? Does it work for me? Will (or can) I keep it up? So, a new series of posts on exactly that: the attempt to organise my thoughts on what it really is I’m doing. It might work.

FreelancerDiary