Archives for the month of: December, 2011

I don´t like routine. I never leave the house at the same time each day. I never do the same thing each morning. I don´t like seeing the same faces on the way to work. I like difference, unfamiliarity and change.

Recently I made a big change in my life. After 10 years of living and working in the same town. I packed up, threw out and moved to Brazil. I do have the tendency to be a drama queen, but I feel like this change has saved me.

I don´t drive so I don´t know what you should change if your car starts to spin out of control. But I have danced many times in high heeled boots on slippery, beer covered dance floors. I have had to make some quick changes to my dance moves to avoid falling on my arse! In making these changes I discovered some amazing new moves. I had to make a change to avoid things going wrong and the change gave me some slick routines! If you are in a spin a change can help get you back on the road, stop you making a fool of yourself in a nightclub, or find you a new life.

I believe in change as force for good. At times, I have also used change as an avoidance strategy. However, I think the ability to seek out and manage change is strength. The ability to cope with change is a skill. Moving here was hard. After four months I still struggle to complete even the smallest tasks. Being away from everything that is familiar and safe, is hard. But it is so good for me, I appreciate the things I left behind in ways I would never have done if I had stayed. From friends and family, to beautiful Brighton beach, the shops, the pubs, the changing seasons and the cold weather.

We use change at school all the time. When you start teaching you quickly realise that although you have to plan, schools are dynamic places, you never quite know what is going to happen next. You need to plan but you also need to be ready to adapt, to a fire bell, a fight, a broken heart, an interruption, a last-minute assembly, or an absence.

When I had a classroom I would change the desk arrangement every few weeks. I liked the way it made the pupils move around, they had to engage with each other in different spaces. I like the way it set up an air of unexpectedness. They didn’t know what would happen when they came in the room. A slight uncertainty to avoid complacency.

Some SEN pupils struggle to manage change. That doesn´t mean we should avoid change to keep them safe. The world is an ever-changing space and they need to be ready for it. In difficult situations at school when I could feel that a confrontation might be getting out of control a change in tone, gesture or question could turn the situation around. If a lesson was spinning out of control, the pupils didn´t know what they were doing, the task wasn´t working, I was getting frustrated, you had to know when to say stop, scrap it, make a change, and do something else.

As teachers we can often feel there is too much change in the education system. We are subjected, through political whims, to constant new initiatives, new drives, new solutions. But, I don´t think I could have stayed in teaching this long if I hadn´t been able to change, schools, jobs, lesson plans, ideas, techniques or colleagues.

Change doesn´t have to be painful, stressful or frightening. This latest change, my biggest challenge, has bought me so many gifts; people, places, opportunities, experiences. I don´t regret a second of it, making this change has allowed me to change.

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I don´t know if I’ve mentioned it before but I’ve moved to Brazil. In Brazil people speak Portuguese. I can´t speak Portuguese. I’m trying to learn but I’m  slow, very slow. It has been a frustrating experience to have my ability to use language to communicate effectively removed.

At times, however, I have taken a perverse pleasure in the obstruction of not being able to use words. It’s like having one of my superpowers removed. Like all good superheroes this has only made me stronger. I have learnt to rely on my other superpowers; smiling, eye contact, gestures, mime, listening, more smiling. My mouth is starting to ache. I haven´t smiled this much since Arsenal won the double.

My life is now free of the clutter of unsolicited conversations. I can´t chat to the cab driver, the person in the shop or the man in the street asking directions. You may well want me to sign up to help Save the Children or Amnesty International but I won’t be able to help because I don’t have a clue what you’re saying. It’s hard to trick me or scam me when I don’t understand you. I usually find no is a good answer to most things I am asked (this might have also been a sensible response to some other situations I have been in but that’s another story).

I am getting used to not understanding what is happening round me, I can tune out the world more easily. I don’t find myself forced to listen in to dull conversations about what you are having for tea just because I’m sitting near you on the bus. No one can try to sell me stuff or talk to me unless I make the effort. I can say ‘ Eu não falo português’ , I don’t  need to learn much more than that do I?

I am going to learn Portuguese. In all seriousness I would consider myself pretty rude to come and live in another country and not learn the language. But it is hard, very hard. My tired old brain, weakened and wasted after years of abuse, doesn´t learn so well anymore. I’m starting to regret each brain cell I carelessly tossed aside in my 20s.

I can’t remember vocabulary, I want to, and I can almost touch the words with the tips of my thoughts, but it’s so difficult. I realised I need my teachers to be energetic, fun and memorable. I need there to be a clear structure. I need to know what I’m doing and why. I need to feel like I am making progress. I need to apply my knowledge to real life situations.

It sounds a bit like OFSTED lesson observation criteria.  Please don´t tell me they were right all along…

I’ve lived on my own for 13 years now. I would consider myself independent and self-sufficient. Any crisis that occurred I had to sort it out. Pigeon in my kitchen, broken fridge, TV not working, locked out, locked in, furniture removed, furniture to buy, banks to phone, bills to pay.

I had help sometimes but usually I could use my communication skills to negotiate a solution. Here in Brazil, I can’t. I have no linguistic skills. I have to ask for help to communicate. It is hard to ask for help. I want to do it myself but I have to be aware of the limitations of my knowledge.

Losing my language has taught me many things:

  • There is a whole world of communication which exists beyond words. These are some of the key skills of a teacher. We are constantly using non-verbal communication to encourage, support and manage our students. A smile is a powerful thing, it can change a situation, it can get things done and it can make you feel safe.
  • Learning new things is hard but it is made easier with good, creative, funny, resourceful, and passionate teachers.
  • Finally, I need to ask for help and accept it when it is given, but truly great help strives to move me to a point where I can do it for myself.

I will learn some more Portuguese. Despite my addled old lady brain and my hard to please teacher as learner mentality, I will learn more, but I hope I learn more than just a new language.

Obrigado pela leitura

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