Archives for the month of: August, 2012

The Sao Paulo Metro

I have no sense of direction. If I needed to go right guaranteed I would go left. Despite instructions, or directions I often end going the wrong way. I have been saved many times by the GPS on my iPhone. But slowly, I am starting to find my way. The longer I live in the complex city of Sao Paulo I can feel the map in my mind start to gradually piece together. Streets building on streets, not so lost, finding ways to link the parts of the city together. I have never really known where I was going. Too busy looking around me, too busy talking or thinking to take notice of my surroundings. I relied on friends to take me where I needed to go.

This is true for more than just travel. I have never really known where I was going, and even when I looked at a map, made a plan I would make a wrong turn and end up somewhere else. I envy people with a good sense of direction, the ones who know where they are going the ones that travel the straight line. Someone gave us advice on managing in Brazil. They said ‘There are no straight lines in Brazil’ to manage here you have to be prepared to change routes, go in a different direction, try another way.

Is it important to know where you are going? In teaching we are told to always share the learning objectives. This means sharing with our pupils at the start of the lesson what we will be doing and what they will be learning during the lesson. This is one of the things you have to do to get an  ‘excellent’ from the teaching gods, OFSTED. And yet this constant sharing of what is going to happen and checking if it has happened can be stale and boring. Where is the mystery? Where is the adventure? A friend is an early years teacher and she told me about ‘stunning starts’, how at the start of a unit they would try and generate interest and enthusiasm in the pupils. For example; they hid a letter from the big bad wolf in the sand pit, the pupils found it and this led them to excitedly exploring the story of the three little pigs. I tried to this with my own pupils. I was planning a unit on the supernatural, looking at fiction and non-fiction texts, we started with a Halloween party, apple bobbing, games, sweets and fun. These were disaffected pupils I had to hook them in or they would be lost, disengaged from the topic.

I was arguing with a teacher the other day, he was advocating never sharing learning objectives but he’s a music teacher, a rebel who never wants to do as he’s told. I disagreed with him. Despite my own lack of direction I can see the benefit of showing the students that I knew where I was taking them. I need to create a balance between mystery and surprise and the sense of security that comes from knowing where you are going and why. The issue I have with any of these teaching strategies is the wholesale application of them with no sense of the individuals or the long-term processes that happen in classrooms. OFSTED are concerned with a snap shot, a single glimpse in to a lifetimes work. The direction I have led my students down in the past, I know they haven’t seen the route until they are far along it, finally realising after they’ve passed through the classroom the direction they are taking.

As I get older I watch the people around me, some of whom had a certainty about the direction they were going, who had looked at the map, planned their route with precision. Then all of a sudden they came upon unexpected roads, dead ends or sheer drops. I watch them come to terms with the different direction their lives have taken. Having a good sense of direction might not always take you where you want to go, in fact it could led you off course, make you miss something beautiful. We have to try to take risky decisions, a path through the forest, a different corner, a U-turn in the road. I jumped out of my life in the UK, in teaching, in my career, to this unknown entity of Brazil, and what riches I have found. My lack of sense of direction, my right turn instead of left led me here. I still don’t have a map but I can’t wait to see where I go next.

A carefully constructed first impression

I like to imagine I come sweeping in to a room sophisticated yet humble, an enigmatic smile followed by a warm greeting. The reality of my first impression is probably the sound of my overly loud voice followed by a large body stumbling drunkenly in to the room and making an inappropriate joke before apologising. Or, the horror, people meet me and the only adjective they can find is ‘Oh she’s nice.

Now I am an ex pat, an international teacher, in a transient world the possibilities for reinvention are limitless. First you have the opportunity, on arrival in your new job, school, country, to present an improved version of yourself to the world. Then each year people leave and new people arrive, you can readjust that version, cut off the corners, smooth down the edges. Not only that but my online worlds like Twitter and Facebook also allowed me to create the better version of myself, funnier, kinder, wittier. So underneath all this possibility for presentation can you hide the real you? Will those true traits come seeping out anyway? Oozing through the carefully crafted persona? Infiltrating the well-designed Luci 2.0?

I don’t consciously want to deceive people as to my true nature but like to make a good first impression. As I went to meet a group of new teachers, I thought carefully about what to wear. What image did I want to present of myself in those first few seconds? Serious? Sexy? Cool, sophisticated woman of the world. Would it matter? Would Luci still peep out from behind the layers, saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m an idiot”? I strive to be true to myself, I am not looking to significantly change. I believe that in essence I am a good being, and the people I want in my life will find me as I find them.

In teaching we have to consider first impressions. In that first meeting with a new class you can set down the boundaries, which last for the whole year. But a mistake at the start can take the whole year to undo. I struggled at the beginning of my teaching career, to find Ms Willis and balance her with Luci. Who was the teacher version of me? I knew Miss had to still be me but that I couldn’t be exactly the same as I was in RL, the swearing and drinking had to stop for a start…

I am comfortable now, after 15 years, can easily swap between the personas. Know who I am in the classroom better than I know how to be outside it. I am comfortable with the presentation of Miss; I’m just not always sure who Luci is.

So as I meet another group of new people, armed with my list of goals for the year, still using my Brazilian adventure to try and wipe off some of the stains on my character, can I succeed? Do I even want to? The endless battle between wanting to change and then the comfort of slipping in to easy interactions with people who have known you for years. I struggled with being back in UK as I could feel the ease in which my old life would return. Would all the Brazilian polish be lost as the safety of the familiar wrapped around me?

I want to take this opportunity to make a good first impression but I also want to find away to clean up. I don’t need dramatic change but I want to be different. The life I have now allows for reinvention but maybe I can use it for a quick tidy up. Chuck out a few of those bad thoughts, bad habits, laziness and doom that have haunted the recesses of my personality. This is an opportunity to change habits and expectations. If people have no preconceptions of you then it is easier to polish up and be a slightly improved version.  I will run an update, some of the bugs will be fixed, until the next update is needed.

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