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]

Do you always need to have the last word?

Here’s one fancy way to do just that: use an epiphonema!

What in the world is that?

So glad you asked!  According to Dictionary.com, an epiphonema is, and I quote, “a sentence that is an exclamation, a general or striking comment, or a succinct summary of what has previously been said“.  In other word, it’s a fancy way to have the last word!

For an example, listen in to the following conversation:

Dan: I got my bike out yesterday, and it’s already at the bike shop.

Lise: What? How come?

Dan: Well, I cleaned it all up, tuned the brakes and the gears, checked and pumped up the tires. I figured I’d go for a ride before supper, but then my phone rang. So I left my bike there and went into the house. Came back out and what do you know? My son hit my bike with his car!

Lise: Oh no! Not for real!

Dan: Yup, the best laid plans of mice and men!  

Did you notice the epiphonema?

Exactly! The last comment: the best laid plans of mice of men – refers to English poet Robert Burn’s poem To A Mouse, where he writes:  

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/gang aft a-gley.

(Modern translation: The best prepared plans of a human often go wrong.)

Shall we try another example?

Anna: Hey, Laurence! I finally submitted my application for the Master’s program.

Laurence: At long last! Alia iecta est!

In this example, Laurence ends the conversation saying alia iecta est (meaning, the die is cast, or we’ll just have to see what happens), apparently said by Seutonius to Julius Caesar as they crossed the Rubicon River to begin battle against Pompey.

There you have it! Can you think of any epiphonemas you used lately, or heard someone else use?

Have a great day, and keep learning! (Wait! Was that an epiphonema?!)

  • Claire :o)    

[Sources: https://rhetconcepts.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/epiphonema-overview/; https://www.dictionary.com/browse/the-best-laid-plans-of-mice-and-men-often-go-awry; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alea_iacta_est]

In Honour of Father’s Day

How many ways do you know how to say father in English? Three?  Five? More?!

I thought it would be à propos on this Father’s Day (note that it is Father’s, the day of father, as opposed to Fathers, plural, the day of/for fathers) to write a post on that precise question, and perhaps provide a bit of insight for English language learners who may be a bit confused at the nuances of difference.

I was amazed to find 16 synonyms listed! Just have a look at this:

ancestor                begetter                padre                    sire

dad                        daddy                    papa                     source

parent                    origin                      pop                        forebearer

predecessor          pa                          progenitor             procreator

Obviously, some are more stilted (read, formal or scientific) than others! If we are talking about ‘Dad at home’, then let’s remove ancestor, predecessor, begetter, origin, progenitor, sire, source, forebearer and procreator right away!   

That leaves us with dad, daddy, pa, padre, papa and pop. Let me explain where you would probably see them used.

Dad – that’s usually the teen or adult’s way of addressing their father. 

Daddy – we’ll leave this one for the kids!

Pa – this is another way most young people call their dad, though there may be some adults too, who still prefer using it as a particularly affectionately way of speaking of their father.

Padre – I was a little surprised to see this one here, but since I know Spanish, I suppose you would see this one in families with Hispanic roots. Correct me, any of you out there who beg to differ!

Pop – that’s a familiar way many teens and young adults refer to their fathers.   

And let’s not forget father, which is a more formal way of referring to one’s Dad.

Around my home, we called our father, Dad (daddy, when we were young). He was a great man: energetic, intelligent (often pulling out the encyclopedia to answer our questions at the dinner table), interested in us (he bought me books to satisfy my inquisitive mind as I went through phases of interest in geology, wild flowers, archaeology…), disciplined and stern (there was no point in arguing when he laid down the law!)

I miss him dearly (he passed away of cancer in 2009) and think of him most often in two specific places. One is at work, since he was an electrical engineer who worked on the first flight simulators ever at CAE in Montreal, and I teach English to employees working in high tech. The other is in the garden, when I’m pulling out the weeds, pruning the hedges or tending my flowerbed. Dad loved to garden!

I am thankful to carry his name as his adopted daughter. I wouldn’t be what I am or have what I have today if it wasn’t for his patience, love and guidance.

So, on this Father’s Day, 2019, I pay him homage. Thanks, Harold E. Ford, for giving me a name and a future.   

Whatever the name you call your own father, I hope that you, readers, had an opportunity to thank him for his input in your life. I am well-aware that some people had experiences much less than ideal growing up, and I am so sorry for you. However, I invite you to look for the blessings in the input your male parent did give you: a life, opportunities, the possibility to change the past and do better.

I leave you with one question: What’s your favourite name for your father (or father figure, if such is the case)?

  • Claire :o)

Here’s to 2019!

In one word, how would you describe your Christmas vacation?

I gave each of my adult business English students a pale blue hashtag-imprinted post-it. The students kind of gave me a funny look, then took out their pens and began to write.

When they were done, I asked them to stick them on the conference room whiteboard.

“What should I write?”, I asked, thinking aloud.  

“Wonderful!”, someone quipped.

“Not so sure…”, I responded, then thought for a moment. “Sure, it was wonderful”. I repeated the word as wonder – full for extra emphasis.

“Teaching moment!”, I realized. I can teach them about the many meanings of the word ‘wonder’. I laughed. It was wonder-full. Full of wonder. Wonder can mean awe, surprise, to be stunned, to be amazed, to be impressed by something bigger than self.

I then asked the group to choose one of the papers and interview the person who wrote it.

Once we had reviewed open and closed question formation with past tense verbs, we began.

My turn. “So, why was your Christmas vacation wonderful?”, the student asked.

I explained. It had been a wonder-full period.

My brother-in-law passed away suddenly on December 31 from cancer. Shock. Disbelief. Anger at apparent medical error. Pleasure and pride to hear of how his colleagues had honoured him at work by wearing bowties, in his own signature style.

“How is that wonder-full?”, you may ask. Three ways. Three words: life, language, learning.  

Life. It’s precious, out of our control. You never know how long you have.

Language. The Saturday before passing away, Ben, my brother-in-law was looking through the photos of the trip to Switzerland he and my sister had taken last summer. My sister later shared some of the comments he had made about the trip. Those words became extra meaningful, and valuable, personal memories. Words are powerful.

Learning. I spent the first week of 2019 at my sister’s place. I realized firsthand how important it is to have records up-to-date, in order and accessible to get the legal and financial paperwork underway. I saw the cards and flowers and meals caring neighbours and friends dropped off, sent and had delivered. I witnessed my sister’s reaction to sympathetic calls and texts. I was floored. It was a sobering, yet essential, learning experience.

Throughout the year to come, we’ll all have our share of life, language and learning To what extent we make 2019 wonder-full, will be up to us.

To varying degrees, our language class ended with us all reflecting on the following three questions:

  • What can we do here and now to make the best of the life I have?
  • What can I say today to those around me to encourage and help them?
  • What can I learn today from what I am experiencing?

Whatever the following months hold, have a wonder-full 2019!

Any comments or ideas? Just drop a note below. I’d love to hear from you! – Claire