This lyric comes to mind.
Still don't know what I was waitin' for
And my time was runnin' wild
A million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me…
I was fifty this year. Not a great achievement, it’s just one of those things that happens. But when it does, the phrase ‘life’s too short’ rings ever truer. Particularly as I had a hard winter, and not just because of hoar frost or icy winds and cobbles. I found myself doing several things that I enjoy but doing none of them well. I was doing too much, too often and too late into 7 nights a week. I actually spent my 50th – a Sunday – at the computer, trying to meet a deadline. Did I meet it? I don’t remember. What I’ll remember about that day was not sharing it with people I love – with anyone, in fact. I’ll remember that I was working. And unhappy. In July, I also missed sharing one of only three and a half days in Scotland with my younger son and father, as I was chained to my laptop at Dad’s kitchen table. My time was certainly running wild, but I wasn’t enjoying the wildness.
So change is necessary. I knew it was necessary right back in February and it is now here. September. Do less, do it better.
Taking the decision, though, is hard. I write, I teacher-train, I travel, I teach. I enjoy it all. But it’s too much, so where to make the cut? I also enjoy getting involved in stuff – eltpics, cultural things in the town I live in, an English Club. And, hey, I have a private life, a personal life. So. I think it’ll go like this.
The No - No local training (and some non-local). The local teacher training last year was difficult to fit in, took hours and hours of preparation, only involved 4 trainees and was riddled with logistics hiccups. I didn’t actually learn anything from it, either, it was all ‘trainer-fronted’ and, although the trainees were lovely, life’s too short. So it’s No to Trainer-fronted training where I don’t learn.
The Yes – more ‘unplugged’ training courses, possibly some online training and continue with one-off workshops. All of these keep me in contact with teachers in a very hands-on sort of way, and show me aspects of teaching in very different contexts, aspects that give me food for thought that I can then feed into my own work and self – especially the unplugged courses. I’m a writer and trainer, but also a teacher and being part of a learning group of teachers, a team, is a continual development thing. I need to keep that. In my workshops, I’m inevitably the focal point, but my ‘style’ is to mingle and create links between members of the audience, try to pull the audience into a group dynamic and encourage dialogue across the room, no matter how big or small it is. I’d always rather be part of a bigger thing and listen to other voices than stand at the front, separate, in the spotlight and be the only voice or the loudest one. I aim to start a training diary this year and keep my reflections and what I’ve learnt in there. I already started one in Devon in July, thanks to my co-leading a course for SOL.
The No – this is the word I’ve started using when offered some jobs. I’ve always found it hard to say, fear of the famine, but I’ve decided that No is what I should have said to a lot of things, either because I then ran myself into the ground trying to meet deadlines instead of sleeping, or because I wasn’t really the best person for the job, or because, frankly, the work was boring and, as with some training, added nothing to my life, I got nothing from it beyond a cheque. So if you offer me work and I say Yes, it means I want to do it, I think it’s interesting, I’ll be motivated to do it by something other than (as well as – don’t get me wrong) the mortgage and two growing teens, and I’ll have time to do it well and efficiently. I’m not going to base my professional decisions on fear. Life’s too short. So it’s No to Fear.
The Yes – I’ll take on jobs that offer me something intellectually, something in terms of learning and satisfaction, I’ll experiment and try new directions, I’ll work on projects that really interest me and I’ll give my best. I’d like to write short stories, graded readers, a book for a friend, books/courses with people I like and am on the same wavelength as (co-writers, editors..), I want to reflect on my teaching and training and write about it, or about the issues that crop up, I’d like to write articles based on webinars I give, as I often think the really interesting things are happening in the chat box, so I can read back over that after webinars and write summaries of and comments on both the content and chat issues.
So the big Yeses are training and writing.
The No – huge numbers of institutionalised classes, where students are interested in diplomas and CEF levels, and not on actually learning a language. Too many coursebook-driven classes, where students complain more about the cost of the book and the fact that you don’t use it much than about the lack of learning when they DO use a coursebook. I’ve noticed this year that students realise how little they’d learned from the coursebook-only teachers or classes only AFTER they’ve taken (and failed) exams. And then they realised that what they had needed was exactly what they had railed against earlier on. Life’s too short. So it’s No to Selling Out and going against what I believe works, letting stroppy students bully. And it’s No to being seriously over-worked at some points for poor pay.
The Yes – teach a few classes. A handful. I’m a teacher and I love it. I’m going to teach some unplugged courses (two or three) to reflect and learn, as I’ve done three this summer and they’ve worked incredibly well – but five or six weeks is not the same as an academic year, and they’ve very energy-intensive when you’re with the students. I have to observe far more, be far more present in an unplugged class, be ready to respond, react, be more than awake, so the interclass relationships gel better, the students learn more and faster, become more confident BUT these classes are tiring, so I’ll have to be careful. Probably the biggest challenge this year will be to keep some energy for me and my private/personal life.
So that’s it. These are the challenges. Prune my bonsai, weed my garden and if it doesn’t work – prune and weed again at Christmas. Looking forward to it.