An ESL Teacher in Quarantine

I didn’t see it coming. But then again, did anyone?

The topic of the Covid19 came up in class. Or rather, the topic of how the company would react, preparing an emergency plan of action if an employee was found to be infected.

We all thought it was perhaps exaggerated. We logged onto the WorldMeter site and looked at the statistics. We watched videos showing in 3D how the virus spreads. We listened to a doctor telling us there was nothing to worry about.

But the headlines became more serious. The news bulletins changed tone.   

Then, it became real. A corporate email invited employees to work from home.

Oh, wait a minute! What’s a class without students?

“Could you offer online classes to my students over the following three weeks?”, HR asked me. 

I didn’t feel ready. I was rather tempted by the idea of having three weeks off. In my imagination, I was already seeing the spring skiing, having time to read, taking my time to prepare new recipes…

HR spoke to me on Friday. On Saturday, I did spring cleaning to prepare for life at home. On Sunday, the ski center was closed. On Monday, I was gearing up to give classes online, the only way to ensure a) my livelihood and b) my mental health because I love my students! To me, they’re not just students, they’re people sharing this road on this part of my life’s journey!   

However, what surprised me the most was reason c) this is an amazing opportunity to try something new. Every crisis comes with the possibility for innovative creativity.

As Kenneth J. Gergen wrote in his book, An Invitation to Social Construction:

It’s time to let go of the old and let in the new. Even for an ESL teacher, like me. As the laws of natural selection state: if you don’t adapt, you won’t survive. 

I’m choosing to adapt. How about you? How are you adapting to the new reality imposed by the Covid19 pandemic? Let’s get a conversation going in the Comments section below.

Take care, stay healthy and keep learning!

Claire :O)

[Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash]

Who do you choose to be?

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day; it’s a time to remember the soldiers that gave their lives to counter the forces that were jeopardizing the freedoms we take for granted today. As I ponder their sacrifice, I can’t help but see a certain, though obviously not so dramatic, parallel between the challenges they braved and the future described by the author I was reading today. Those soldiers, and so many civilians, courageously chose to stand up and fight impending disaster to provide a better life for us today.

During a discussion at university on Friday about the challenges of resonant leadership in the face of opposing values or ideologies, my professor dropped the expression islands of sanity as he explained that a leader in this kind of situation needs to focus on what they can do to change things, rather than what they can’t, to create a refuge of hope in a sea of disorder and chaos. Just like those soldiers did during the First and Second World Wars, and our armed forces continue to do throughout the world where freedoms are threatened today.

The expression, islands of sanity, is used by Margaret J. Wheatley in her book entitled Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).  I ordered the book online and was ecstatic to get it already today. I was mesmerized right from the first page. Here are a few challenging thoughts I came across while reading.

Warning: This is no feel-good book; rather, it is a call to arms in an era that is increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

  1. Wise leaders are willing to give up the delusion that technology can save us, or that we can master the Universe. We must face the reality of decline and choose actions that support people, not technology. The choice couldn’t be more clear. Or consequential.  (p. 41)
  • A culture focused on individual freedom can only result in narcissism, polarization, conflict, estrangement, and loneliness. What is the meaning of life if it’s all about me? (p. 69)
  • We could have been anything we wanted, yet free-floating individualism has taken us far from community, contribution or connection, the very things that truly give life meaning and purpose. (p. 70)
  • Cultures focused on popularity have no depth or resilience. They are superficial and ephemeral: tastes change; fashions come and go; fads rise and fall. Always changing, such a culture increases our sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. We may be popular now, but beneath the surface our anxiety and stress keep growing. Will you still love me tomorrow? (p. 72)
  • More speed, new apps, artificial intelligence, more connectivity through technology is not the answer. Sane leadership is. (p. 74)

Certainly, we are not facing the same challenges as the generation that celebrated that first Armistice Day in 1918; however, we all have a choice to make in terms of who we desire to be and which values we desire to defend. Personally, I am thankful for the choices made by my own Grandfather Todd (WWI) and Uncle Tom (WWII), and feel challenged by the words penned by Wheatley to our own generation:

Who do you choose to be for this time? Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce and persevere? (p. 11)

How do these quotes resonate with you? Who are you thankful for this Remembrance Day? Share below.

– Claire :o)  

[Image: musicman/Shutterstock]

The Call of the Open Road

No, I don’t know what I am going to do next, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s time [to go].”

A friend and I were discussing her recent discussion to leave her job. She talked about the subsequent reactions from friends and colleagues: surprise, consternation and wonder, bordering on envy. She told me she was comfortable with taking some time for self-reflection before jumping immediately into another employment opportunity.

When she said that, I read her the following excerpt from the Leaves of Grass poem by Walt Whitman I had seen just this week in Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.

I couldn’t help but think that Dewitt Jones, former photographer for National Geographic, would agree with the sentiment.  In his TEDx South Lake Tahoe talk of January 3 2018 entitled Celebrate What’s Right With The World, Jones eloquently reminds the audience and viewers through awe-inspiring photos and a skillfully crafted narrative, that there is a world of possibilities out there, and that there is more than one solution to the challenges we encounter.  

I especially liked the way he summarized his main point: “Change your lens, change your life.

My friend has changed her lens. Her life is about to change. Who knows what she’ll do next? Does you always have to know? Regardless, it’s her life, her choice. I’m convinced whatever she chooses, will line up with her values, beliefs and personality.

I wish her well; I can almost feel the waft of freedom and excitement on my face as I see her in my mind’s eye walking out the door of this life to embark on a new journey towards new horizons.   

Walt Whitman was a man who obviously knew something about the abundance of possibilities and the exhilaration of exploration and discovery. He expressed it well in his poem Song of the Open Road.

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me.

The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune – I myself am good fortune;

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Strong and content, I travel the open road.

Safe travels, my friend, and keep learning!  

  • Claire :o)

[Photo Credit: Dominic Lelièvre, 2019.

Poem Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman in Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, 10th Anniversary Edition, Hyperion, NY, USA, 1994, p. 35.

TedxTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gD_1Eh6rqf8

Poem Song of the Open Road: https://www.bartleby.com/142/82.html]

Outer mess, inner stress?

“Tell me something you don’t like”, I asked my student.

“I don’t like when things are messy.”

“”Really”, I responded, “why? “

I don’t know.”

“Okay, well, what does it make you feel?”

“No idea.”

“You just don’t like it. You prefer when things are in their place, organized, structured?”

“Yes, let’s say I arrive at someone’s house and it’s a mess. I feel like taking a huge garbage bag and shoving it all in! “

I wasn’t really surprised. She works in administration. It’s her job. But also, I surmised, a part of her personality. Someone who likes everything in their right place.

Right place. What a concept! Is it possible we polarize things right down to our belongings?

Reflecting on ideas I’ve been reading from Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and from my Authentic Leadership course at university, I mused on that right and wrong reflex we develop from such a young age.

From what I’ve gleaned, our polarization is a prehistoric reflex we develop to ensure our safety and security; once we learn to distinguish the presence of objects outside of ourselves, we start categorizing them into good and bad, nice and mean, right and wrong.

Of course, we need to differentiate if something is good for us or not, however when it starts influencing our inner states of well-being or ‘rightness’, it may have become a little excessive.

Let me share one of my own typical personal default settings. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do when arriving in the kitchen is to scan for orderliness and cleanliness. If it doesn’t meet my standards, I start putting things away.

Why? Otherwise I just can’t relax.

Okay, so you’re saying you’re the same as your student?

Yes, guess so!

You may now well ask: what can you do about it?  

I must admit it’s not an easy reconfiguration to make. However, my university class is challenging me: what belief does that discomfort stem from? What is the deep-down need that is being jeopardized?

Ouch! For me, I realized that I was taught: work, before play; you can go out once you’ve done your chores; you have to clean your room before you can go and play.  

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Good work ethic, but is it always realistic, to keep everything in order, structured, under control? No, it would perhaps be healthier to learn to accept that I can’t always be in control, that there’s a time for everything.  

Upon deeper thought, I realized that that work ethic was instilled in me at a time that it equated acceptance and love, and a sense of security.

Yikes! Does that mean my OCD could stem from that?

Perhaps yes, perhaps not. I’m just saying our behaviors sometimes stem from a deeper belief that may not be entirely appropriate now that you’re an adult.

Does that mean anyone’s OCD stems from that?

Only they know that! Maslow’s pyramid of needs refer to physiological, security, love & belonging, self-esteem, fulfillment, and transcendence. Only they can know what need was at stake when they developed the automatic behavior, which instilled a foundational belief that would guide future action.

Final thought: when you’re getting all worked up from the visual chaos, you might want to ask yourself:

Why am I getting so worked up?  When did I start reacting like that? What is the underlying belief?

Maybe it’s time to let it go and be a little more realistic – and at the same time become a little easier to live or work with!   

Does your inner level of stress grow in proportion to the outer mess? How do you deal with it?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

[Photo: Conrado/Shutterstock]

Teachers, you lead your students, but do you lead yourself, too?

Brené Brown defines a leader as one who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Dare to Lead, Random House, NY, 2018, p. 4).

That is what you, as a teacher, do every day. In and out of the classroom, during school hours and after, when the course is running or not, in front of students or away from them. It is inherent in your genetic make-up.

You just can’t get away from it: you care.  

You spend hours poring over material, lesson plans, tests and report cards – and even more hours wondering how your students are doing, hoping they are okay, trying to figure out ways to reach them and help them understand and to know you have their best interests at heart.

You can’t help it: you care.

You do your best to meet ministerial requirements, parental demands, administrative conditions and colleague criteria. You go out of your way to keep up to date, to adapt and adjust despite seasonal illnesses, emotional upsets, physiological trials and relational challenges.

You have no choice: you care.

Your determination is greater than your circumstances, your commitment stronger than your frustration and your calling more sacred than the beckoning pleasures.

No two ways about it: you care.

However, you spend a lot of time caring for others so they can reach their potential, but have you thought about how you’re going to lead and care for yourself this year?

Sharing is caring. Let the community know below. We’ll all be better for it!

Cheers!

– Claire xx

Three Questions & A Birthday

Why can’t I say Happy Anniversary when it is someone’s birthday?”, many an ESL student has asked me.

That’s a great question and one that merits a post about to explain the answer – especially since I just attended a very special birthday celebration for someone close who was celebrating 90 years (name withheld to protect the identity of the person in question. Don’t ask!)   

Here’s the deal. The definitions of the words will help us out.  

Question 1: What’s the difference between the words birthday and anniversary?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, an anniversary is defined as: the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.

In English-language culture, this applies to notable event such as the following: the founding of a company, a wedding, a graduation, a natural disaster… however, it does not apply to a birthday! (Unless you want to say: Happy Anniversary of your birth!)  

A birthday, by definition, again according to the online Cambridge Dictionary is: the day that is exactly a year or number of years after a person was born.

So, if you want to wish someone well on the day they are born, the term that is used is birthday, not anniversary.

Question 2: Are there any other ways to say Happy Birthday?

Ah-ha! Another great question. You could say any of these:

  • Best wishes for the day!
  • Enjoy your day!
  • Have fun on your special day!
  • Many happy returns (British)!
  • May your day be filled with love, laughter and joy!

Of course, there are as many ways to wish someone a happy birthday as there are people. I won’t even try to list them here (just google Ways to say Happy Birthday for more).

Question 3: Are birthdays really that important?

I added this as the third question because the person who we celebrated this past week would have preferred us not to celebrate their special day, especially not talk about the number of years being celebrated.

My answer to this question is a resounding yes! Yes, yes, yes! Please celebrate your birthday and the birthday of those around you! A life is important, precious and unique. There is only one day in the entire year dedicated to celebrating the presence of that person on this planet and in your life.

Each person arrives in our existence for a reason. Yes, I believe that those skeptics and cynics may smirk and scoff. What reason you may ask? There is no one-size fits all answer.

The answers to that precise question lies in what makes you so incredibly unique. Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential.

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your special abilities?
  • What are your talents?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What moves you to tears?
  • What kind of music makes you want to get up and dance?

Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence, in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential. The number of years is inconsequential to your specialness.

I’ll leave the final point to Dr. Seuss, who always knows how to say things so eloquently!

It basically comes down to the fact that celebrating your birthday is a day to honour you, not your achievements or non-achievements, that you are, not what you are or aren’t.

Thanks for dropping in to read. What do you think: Why are birthdays important to you? Or are they? I’d love to hear what the youer-than-you has to say!

Cheers, and keep on learning!

Claire :o)

ESL Mixologist: What’s the deal?

I am never just teaching an English class! I am on the lookout for new insights or epiphanies I may have while talking about vocab, grammar or functional language.

ESL Mixologist is all about my journey as an ESL teacher who just can’t get over the serendipitous glimpses into the parallel universe of philosophy while teaching language learners.

It is an endless source of amazement for me to see how a verb tenses reveal psychological realities (example: Are you living in the present continuous or the simple past?!); word meanings disclose unexpected portals into past civilizations and faraway existences (example: courage comes from the Latin word cor meaning heart, or as Brené Brown explains, telling one’s story whole-heartedly); and discussion topics (example: If you were a star, what would you ask for from the show organizers?) open the mind to whole new possibilities and dreams.    

Just as a savvy mixologist combines sweet, sour and alcohol to create daring new taste experiences, ESL Mixologist takes you inside my language teacher’s mind where I experiment with continually changing combinations of syntax, semantics and pragmatics, to gain insights into some of life’s more major questions.  

Syntax (Structure)

Language: According to Google dictionary, syntax is “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.

Life: How can I get my life better organized for optimal enjoyment?  How does this all work?

Semantics (Meaning)

Language: Secondly, semantics (quoting the Google dictionary), “involves the branch of linguistics or logic concerned with meaning.

Life: What is meaningful to me? What is really important? What does this experience mean?

Pragmatics (Use)

Language: Finally, pragmatics (from the Google dictionary again) is “the branch of linguistics dealing with language in use and the contexts in which it is used […] text organization, presupposition, and implicature.

Life: What should I do? How do I deal with this situation? What do I say?

I never thought that teaching ESL could be so stimulating. It is so much more than vocab lists and grammar rules, handouts and tests. For me, it’s all about teaching (and learning) to initiate and maintain connections. What could be more meaningful than that?

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)