Sandwich reflection

Along with several other bloggers, I was invited by Joanna Malefaki to reflect on my recent academic and professional achievements as well as weaknesses in a kind of ‘sandwich reflection’. After reading Vedrana Vojkovic’s great post, I realized I should roll up my sleeves now before it’s too late. The thing is that the holiday time is turning me into a version of my favourite cartoon character – Garfield – the permanently lazy and hungry cat. I hope I won’t put on the weight I’ve lost over the past couple of months (one of my greatest achievements – obviously not suitable for a post like this :-))

Let’s start with a few professional successes, then. As I already described in one of my recent reflective posts, this academic year has been special for me – for the first time ever I got the opportunity to examine students at the final state exam. For me it was the icing on the cake; at last I could see in reality what the final outcome of all the endeavour looks like (or should look like) and what the effort is actually for. This is an extremely helpful insight for me as a teacher because from now on I’ll be able to keep clearer objectives in mind when preparing my future students. Metaphorically speaking, I know where the path leads and I can adjust the content and methods accordingly.

I was also pleased to learn that a group of young learners I’ve been teaching for three years had done very well in a standardized test aimed at juxtaposing the skills of grammar school and primary school students from various regions of the country. This is a very important result for our school, though I admit it’s not just the outcome of the students’ hard work and my immaculate pedagogic skills; it’s mostly thanks to serendipity, so to speak. I happen to teach a group of talented kids. Full stop.

On a slightly negative note, I experienced a very disappointing feeling when I read my senior students’ anonymous feedback back in April. I described the situation in this post and I don’t want to delve into it again since most of my regular readers are already familiar with the details.

Back to the sweet part; I’d never boosted my professional development like in the 2013/2014 academic year – I attended conferences, workshops, and webinars. I started blogging, using Facebook and Twitter and I became a member of several online groups such as #Eltpics, #Eltchat, #Czelt, #30GoalsEdu, We’re on Air, Reflective Practice Blog Challenge and more. All in all, it’s been an exciting and prolific year.

I believe my enthusiasm and excitement have not remained unnoticed because I’ve been offered the post of the head of the English teachers department (sounds more prestigious that it really is). It only means I’ll have more duties and responsibility, such as observing classes and organizing competitions, but I’ll also have to handle the red tape stuff, which is not my cup of tea at all. Moreover, for the first time in my life I’ll be a class teacher, which I always wanted to be but I never dared to ask for it because other class teachers had warned me. To put it bluntly, nobody wants to be a class teacher once they become one.

A lot of unknown is ahead of me, with its roots in the previous academic year. It’s not easy to create an action plan because I need the experience first. All I know is that I’ll do everything in my power to stay sane and enthusiastic. I’ll need to manage my time carefully, plan everything in advance and in small steps. My motto will probably be something like: Less is more. I suspect I’ll have less time for blogging and my online life may suffer a little in general. But I’m ready for the sacrifice because I feel it’s an inevitable part of my personal and professional development.

Apparently, I’m an optimist and the positive preveils. It’s not because I’m so self-assured or even conceited, but because it’s been a good year. Overall, the 2013/2014 was a concentrated and condensed mixture of small successes and new experience, and it wasn’t spoiled by the very few failures I came across on the way. I hope the next year will be at least as pleasurable as the previous one.

The one student

It was a normal class; as usual, we were checking homework at the beginning of the lesson. The students’ task was to answer questions including a new grammar point have to/ don’t have to.

Does your mother have to do the shopping every week? 

It was Kate’s turn to read her answer from the workbook. She said: ‘No, she doesn’t.‘ I nodded and wanted to go on but somewhere at the back of my mind I realized that the answer was a bit unusual – it was not what I would normally expect a girl to say about her mum. As I wanted my students to provide true answers, I decided to look into this discrepancy. My own daily routine ran through my mind and I listed the arguments; first of all, I definitely need to go shopping every day. I can’t imagine a situation when doing the shopping once a week would suffice provided I need fresh food. Maybe if I lived somewhere off the beaten track, I would only go shopping once a month, for example, and stuff the food into the freezer. Maybe if someone did the shopping for me, I could say that I don’t have to do the shopping every week. One way or another, I stubbornly expected Kate to say that her mum has to do the shopping at least once a week. So I asked her a few additional questions in English to cast doubt on her original answer. She answered patiently, but rather curtly. The interrogation had only taken a few seconds before someone shouted out gravely: She doesn’t have a mother. At that moment I realized how stupid I was. Of course, I knew Kate’s mum had died. Kate’s class teacher had informed us discreetly at a staff meeting. And only an idiot can forget such a thing! All I was capable of was: Oh, I’m very sorry, Kate. But I could see her eyes were already flooded with tears. And so were mine. She didn’t burst out crying, though. This 11-year-old managed to control her emotions. I think it’s because she’s so brave and never talks about her sorrow, one fails to remember its existence.

One tends to forget that Kate had lost her beloved mother because at first sight, Kate is a happy girl. She’s a self-motivated, enthusiastic and disciplined kid, never demanding extra attention. However, when observing her closely, one notices she is somewhat different. Although you can often see her smile, she’s more serious than other kids of her age. The other day we watched a cartoon in class. Shaun the Sheep is fun and the kids regularly burst into laughter. But Kate never did. She obediently watched the screen and whenever the kids laughed out loud, she just looked around, a little puzzled. At that moment it occurred to me that she simply doesn’t need fun to be happy – she needs love and care, something that the other kids have and take for granted and that’s why they can laugh, have fun and enjoy life so easily….

My blog – my castle

This blogosphere craze is simply fascinating. Everybody seems to have a blog and I’m convinced that those who don’t have at least once in their life dreamt of starting one. I’ve never personally met most of the bloggers whose blogs I follow, but peeking into the virtual rooms called blogs is like dropping in for a visit. Like our homes, our blogs reflect our personalities – they reveal a lot about what’s going on inside of us. And it’s not just the words we write – it’s the design which we choose that makes a difference and shows who we really are.

Anna Loseva’s blog is painted white. I associate this colour with purity and virtue. Anna might have chosen aggressive red or striking green, for example, but she didn’t. Although she is a very creative writer and I find her posts little pieces of art, she chose a very simple template for her blog. Nothing disturbs the reader – eyes just skim the white plains without being distracted by loads of images or conspicuous colours. I guess it’s because Anna doesn’t want to be intrusive – she wants us to create mental images for ourselves.

Rose Bard’s posts and the accompanying images are telling – they reveal a lot about her and her humanistic approach to teaching. She looks so content, natural and compassionate being surrounded by her happy students and family members, even though she often talks about some really worrying issues on her blog.

Roseli Serra’s blog is colourful and friendly. From what I know about Roseli, it perfectly reflects her personality and it’s exactly what her home looks like (as far as I can tell from her Facebook posts). If visual styles hadn’t been abolished, I’d say that Roseli is definitely a visual type learner and teacher 🙂 And yes, she loves coffee. That’s not really surprising; she comes from Brazil, after all.

Dear Vicky Loras and her wonderful blog… It’s so neat – everything is in the right place, absolutely flawless. I suspect that her teaching is the same. Judging by the current cover photo, she adores books and reading. Yes, she does. And she loves poetry!

Like Anna’s space, Mike Griffin’s blog is not too embellished. But I suspect that Mike chose the design for strictly pragmatic reasons. Mike doesn’t need pictures to tell his story – his weapon is eloquence. I love Mike’s uninterrupted-stream-of-consciousness-like style of writing, and one has to be alert not to miss a tongue-in-cheek remark.

Divya Madhavan’s blog is dressed in deep red – my favourite colour. I would have chosen it for my blog as well, had I had the courage. I think the shade perfectly sits with the topic Divya passionately discusses on her blog – critical pedagogy – as well as with the image of the Eiffel Tower on the right. I don’t want to promote stereotypes but I associate red with Paris and France in general.

When I heard Sandy Millin speak for the first time, I thought: this woman speaks briskly and to the point. Now, whenever I read her blog, I imagine Sandy reading the lines out loud for me. Sandy seems to like images a lot – but again, they are always to the point – not just a means to decorate.

David Harbinson’s blog is well-arranged and uncluttered. Nothing seems redundant. The graphs and images he chooses reveal his interest in technology. The way he writes is transparent, professional and restrained – his blog reminds me of a renowned broadsheet, and I think this is the way David wants to be seen by his readers.

I love coming back to Josette LeBlanc’s cosy space. I go there when I need to calm down and recharge batteries. The colour which seems most dominant is orange, even though I have no proof of that. It must be the energy that feels orange – the colour of candle light and flames. For me orange is about harmony, aspiration, sociability, contentment and intelligence. I’ve never met Josette but I imagine she’s just like that.

There are bits and pieces of green in Vedrana Vojkovic’s space. Not too many, though. I’m trying to figure out if it means anything at all. Is it mere coincidence? I hear that researchers have found that green can improve reading ability. This may be related to the fact that Vedrana teaches writing and she does everything in her power (maybe subconsciously) to make her own writing intelligible and reader-friendly. Also, green is thought to relieve stress and it has a calming effect. And that’s how I feel when I visit Vedrana’s space – relieved and relaxed. 🙂

Finally, Anne Hendler’s blog …. it’s a puzzle for me. It seems that it’s hiding more than it reveals. When I look at the design, I imagine a square. I have no clue why but I do. Squares represent the natural (structure) order of the universe. I think of foundations, like building and homes. Yes, it’s a humble home – pure and simple. But I know that apart from being modest, the owner is also very sensitive and perceptive, something that she can’t hide behind the imaginary straight lines.

They say that we shouldn’t judge the book by its cover, but I believe that the way our blogs look may reveal a lot about us – they may show whether we are serious, humorous, creative, playful, reflective, honest, open, reserved, chaotic, cynical, sensitive, organized or sloppy.

That’s how I see it but I wonder how people perceive me through my blog 🙂