Archives for posts with tag: Teaching
lady like in my yukata...

lady like in my yukata…

Or ‘Has Japan finally made me a lady?’

The New Year for teachers occurs at a slightly different time to the usual January celebrations. August and September is our New Year, a time for reflection and anticipation, new beginnings, a time for change. A fresh pencil case, filled with resolutions to mark more regularly, to plan more effectively and to create the perfect classroom display.

I like this time of year. I like the sense of new starts, the possibilities for change.

Yesterday was my Japnaiversary, one year in Japan and also a time for reflection.

A male colleague accused me of not being a good listener and as I replied, “I do listen, but only if people have something useful to say.” I reflected on my listening skills. I know I can be a bad listener, over eager to contribute and share, I can interrupt and talk over people. Like an annoying child trying to get the grown ups attention my voice cuts in over people who are still formulating thoughts and sentences. My tolerance for listening is better with children than adults, like so many things I am far more forgiving of young people than I am of my peers.

Over the past year in Japan I have been advised variously to ‘get more results with sugar than vinegar’, been told more than once I don’t listen and also accused of being patronizing and unprofessional. In darker moments I think that my passionate emotional nature has no place in Japan. That in this space I become a large, rude, boar, trampling over delicate flowers, smashing porcelain ornaments with my oversized opinions. In Brazil I felt embraced by colleagues and friends, we were all passionate people, overflowing with love and care. We drew together as a team and we gained strength from each other. I felt Brazilian, I felt part of that community, my big bum and big voice found a home there. I felt able to contribute to Brazil, my passion carried me forward, through the project we ran with the local school, through the creation of a new department, through friendships built and through the important changes I went through in my time there. That passionate country wonderfully healed me.

Japan is different. Japan is bringing lightness in to my life. Physically I am becoming lighter and stronger and maybe my interactions could also become lighter and stronger? My main sources of communication outside the workplace at the moment are smiles and nods and I can feel myself take on a foreigner version of the Japanese female submissive persona to excuse my mistakes and confusion. From the little I have seen Japanese women are not as they first appear, underneath the geisha image of servitude hides a steely strength. Don’t underestimate Japanese women; they are not as feeble as they may first appear. Perhaps I need to embrace some of this poise and humility whilst maintaining my fiery nature?

To a certain extent I have no desire to lose my Brazilian passion, if it means I sometimes talk over people, so be it. Most of my favorite people are as speedy, passionate and sharp as I am and our conversations zoom around losing each other and then reconnecting again.

But as my world grows and my horizons expand I am also connecting with wonderful, intelligent people who run at different speeds. They are sharp, smart, thoughtful and kind. They deserve my full attention. So part of me does need to change. I need to learn to listen.

For a long time this move felt like a temporary change to my life, that I would go ‘back to normal’ once I returned to the UK. But as my sense of what my normal is changes so does the thought of going home. How can I go back? I’m not the same as I was when I left. Two things terrify me about going back. Firstly, that I am so different that I am unhappy back in England and secondly that I end up being exactly the same as before and undo all the hard work of the last three years. So I stay away until the changes become sure and solidify, until I am ready to be different in the same place.

So, I try to hold back some of my over flowing emotions, thoughts and passions, I try to run, lift and jump, I try to choose better and more wisely, I try to be different and yet the same, I am afraid to change and yet so much more terrified of staying exactly the same.

So can Japan make me a lady? I doubt it, but it might make me a better listener.

If rage were a drink...

If rage were a drink…

I could map my journey through life as the distance between an angry young woman to a seething old lady. Along the way I have moments of intense rage giddy euphoria, frustration, elation, confusion, bleak black dogs, searing highs and piercing lows. You can chart some of these mood swings with the changing of the tides and passage of the moon but in general, I think, they are manifestations of a soul on fire.

I am proud to be a passionate person. I intend to remain passionate for a long as I can, embracing my raging fist shaking nature, continuing to fight and battle and believe that I can make a difference because, who wouldn’t?

Why wouldn’t you want to try and make the world even just a tiny bit better, to make things a little more fair, just, smooth, happy beautiful, funny or loving.  I want to always be enthusiastic about people, places, ideas, music, art, stories, words, creation, EDUCATION.

I feel so lucky to be part of education, but I wasn’t always this way. In those early days of teaching sometimes it just seemed such a thankless task. Every morning as I travelled nearer to the school I would start to feel a little sick, and the nerves and stress and fear and frustration would grow. And I would count down the days until I could have a week away from the classroom and the constant falling short, of never quite being good enough. Because if you didn’t know, most teachers exist in a fog of guilt, always thinking that they could do more, that they don’t do enough, that they did it wrong. Almost without fail when I have worked in colleague’s classrooms they would stop me on the way out to tell me what went wrong, what they missed, what they could have done better. Because we know, we really do know that we have been entrusted with a precious gift and that we owe those young people and their parents the best, but after a while the pressure of that gift weighs heavy on them, weighs them down and you see them droop or drift, survive or fall.

I was lucky. I am brave/foolhardy and in my moments of falter I would CHANGE, move to another speciality, move to another country, move to another school and I believe this has kept me strong. Plus I had my rage, my passionate burning rage and belief that I could be a voice for those without one, that I could use this loud abrasive, assertive, big voice, big body and big personality for good rather than evil.

My rage has propelled me across the world to Brazil and now Japan and here in this quiet country of bows and nods and formalities of language I can’t even begin to understand my rage continues to energise me. The more that silence is expected the louder I get, the more they think I will shut up the more I want to shout.

My now beloved Americans, with their eccentricities of language were tying me in loops when I arrived. I didn’t understand the smiles and compliments delivered with dead eyes. This along with the Japanese habit of having meetings to discuss decisions already made, being agreed as if they were being made in that exact moment. I didn’t know where to place my British pragmatism.

Now I am literally translated by my American colleague, I send him my emails scribbled in fiery fury, metaphorically scratched out in my own blood and he gently changes a few words and points out passages that will alienate and antagonise. He prepares me for meetings, acting as my language coach, I rewrite my questions and answers in advance following advice trying to make sure I get it right.

I am afraid of losing my passion and fire. I am enjoying my ‘American Language’ training, I like learning new skills. BUT I must never forget that sometimes I might choose to antagonise and challenge. Sometimes I don’t want to get more with sweetness and sugar, sometimes I want to squeeze lemon in their eyes, rub salt in their wounds, drink tequila and dance with the devil.

You can read all the posts about Brazil in one place. I have edited them in to a small book. Available on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Saved-City-Lucinda-Willis/dp/149433495X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1386657746&sr=8-2&keywords=saved+by+the+city

Graffiti outside Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago. A man who would not be told what to do.

Graffiti outside Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago. A man who would not be told what to do.

One of my more annoying traits is my childlike response to being told what to do. When advised not to do something my immediate response is to do the opposite. Nothing is more likely to bring out the teenager in me than well meaning advice. My usual reply would be “Don’t tell me what to do!” possibly with the addition of a sexual swearword…

As you can imagine this policy is not always the most productive. Well meaning advice is given for a reason, it is well meant and it is often thoughtful, kind and considerate. So to have a blanket refusal to act upon friends gently offered and sensible suggestions has often resulted in poor choices.

However, this does mean I can empathise with 14-year-old boys who refuse to remove their hooded tops in class. Although being an (almost) 40-year-old woman myself perhaps it’s time to grow up and stop rebelling? Strangely, despite my refusal to listen to others, I spend much of my working day telling people what to do and trying to sound like I am not telling them what to do. It is a fine line and one that I sometimes fall off.

This morning I was talking to a friend in England about a meal I had had and as I recounted the dishes a memory returned to me. Before I moved to Brazil I never travelled. I only listened to others stories of their travels and the food they tasted. I had one holiday in 10 years, a singles holiday to Crete; I don’t want to tell you what to do but NEVER GO ON A SINGLES HOLIDAY TO CRETE. It was not fun. There is an underlying air of sadness on singles holidays, which permeates everything. In particular, I remember looking over at the group of singles, as I downed vodka on my balcony to block out the experience. They were looking wistfully at the pool whilst drinking afternoon tea (provided free as part of the single’s package!). In the pool was a beautiful young Greek couple cavorting madly. The expression on the singles faces was doglike, that expression a dog has when you are eating and the dog looks mournfully at your plate like it’s starving. I had to quickly drink more vodka before I threw myself in the pool and attempted to drown myself under the lovemaking couple‘s contortions.

Whenever friends went away, which they seemed to do far more frequently than me I would ask them in detail about their travels and about the food they had. I loved to hear about it but I only lived vicariously through their experiences. I am sure than many of them told me what to do ‘You should go on holiday Luci.’ Or ‘Stop spending all your money on stupid crap you don’t need and go on holiday Luci’ or ‘Stop asking me questions about my holiday Luci I have been talking about it for 3 HOURS!’ I ignored them, because I won’t be told what to do and I continued to holiday in my own flat, avoid singles holidays and ask friends endless questions about what they ate. Till finally I realised that some of the advice was useful, that perhaps spending all my money on crap and never leaving Hove wasn’t the best life plan and I came to Brazil.

Even as I planned to leave, more advice ‘You’ll hate living in a big city’ or ‘You can’t runaway from your problems’ or ‘You’ll need to learn Spanish’ most of this advice was wrong. I love the big city, my problems are far more manageable with 5000 miles between us and I needed to learn Portuguese anyway.

This week, I have been working with another teacher watching his lessons and planning together. We have a tricky group, it is hard or them to follow instructions. As I watched his lesson I could see that the giving of instructions, telling the children what to do was at the heart of everything that could make the lesson work. If they didn’t know what to do they wouldn’t learn, they could feel stupid, they would lose interest and the lesson would be wasted. The art of giving of instructions, of telling someone what to do, has to be clear, make sense and be delivered without being patronising or demanding. Once we know what to do we can be so much more successful.

So, back to me, yes we had been off that very important topic for at least a paragraph. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do and even if I listen to instructions or let people tell me what to do I am still not convinced about the right course. I have an innate mistrust of what people say. Above all else I find it hard to trust my own instincts and judgements. I make mistakes; I have made errors many times. But to come back to a reoccurring theme, errors and mistake can lead you to new adventures and new beauty. I love mistakes in language; they create wonderful perfect descriptive phrases. I need to celebrate mistakes in my choices too.

So, we listen for instructive advice, ignore it, worry over it and dismiss it or follow it. Today it feels like a set of instructions to follow or ignore would give me a clearer idea of what to next, knowing what not to do can be as helpful as knowing what to do.

Please, dear friends, continue to instruct and advise me and I will try to ignore the teenage wail, which erupts at the thought of being told what to do and listen to my inner adult. Or I will ignore you, stamp my foot, make some bad decisions, laugh, cry, avoid singles holidays and see where I end up.

One of the familiar sights of Brighton beach

One of the familiar sights of Brighton beach

As my time in Sao Paulo draws nearer to its end I see the city transform before me. The once sinister and confusing cacophony metamorphosed in to friendly bars and smiling faces. Light seeps in to the darker places, infusing them with safety and normality. What once seemed so different, so other, is now mine, my own familiar world. No longer inhabited only by strangers, now friends and familiar faces.

On Friday I went out later than usual and on my own, travelling across the city in a taxi. A simple and common enough task in my old Brighton life. In that world I would zigzag the city throughout the night seeking out friends and entertainment until the sun rose and I found my way home. But not here, not in Sao Paulo. It was, in part, a conscious decision. The new lifestyle, the new me. But it was also fear of the unknown. I was afraid of so many things in this wonderful crazy city. Where I was going, how would I get there, would they rob me, shoot me, crash in to me. Danger lurked in every unfamiliar corner.

But on Friday as my taxi zoomed the busy streets and I remembered how I once was so afraid, afraid  that it was dangerous to drive, afraid that I would be in an accident, attacked, lost, sold in to slavery, missing, murdered, remembered the doom scenarios constantly filling my gringo mind. Now, as the taxi made its way to a new part of this world I didn’t know, I realised, I was comfortable, and maybe that was why it was time to go.

When I arrived in Brazil almost 2 years ago I relished the unfamiliarity and challenge, I thrived on not understanding the rules or language. Now I contemplate a return to my familiar world in England I feel so sad to let it go. I have become addicted to unfamiliarity, obsessed with not understanding, proud of survival.

In my moments of homesickness I longed for the familiarity of home. The normal tastes of English food, sitting at the bar in a pub, my beloved and beautiful Brighton beach on a windy day, the friends who had known me for more than 10 years, they who had already forgiven me for foolish acts in my 20s and loved me in my 30s. On those days I craved familiarity. Sought to recreate a little piece of England in my flat, eating roast potatoes, drinking tea, British TV blaring, sending messages home, connecting to the familiar.

I have grown to love São Paulo. When I flew in from my last trip to Nicaragua I felt like I was coming home. I was coming home, home to my familiar life. I wasn’t lost or confused, I knew the route the taxi would take, I knew what to do, what to say. But a small piece of me is saddened by the loss of mystery. Of course I will never be a true Paulista, a Brazilian, totally immersed, but I can see how it would be easy to stay, I can see how I could adapt, that this could be home.

So I have decided to leave, I’m still not sure yet where I will end up next. I have been given a very dangerous gift. The gift of choice. I have a whole world to choose from. Safer now in the knowledge that I am able to make a home in amongst unfamiliarity. That I even enjoy the confusion and struggle of the new place.

I want my classroom too, to be a space filled exploration, discovery and unfamiliarity. I don’t want my classes to know what to expect when they enter the room. I want them to be occasionally surprised, shocked, confused and excited by the lessons. And I want this for myself too. I am most afraid of returning to the UK and returning to my old apathy, sunk in to a life of frustration and laziness. The electric shock of unfamiliarity Brazil gave me has bought me back to life. I think I need the unfamiliar to continue to feel alive.

Can you imagine your perfect beach? I may have spent Christmas on it. I was in Costa Rica, staying in a tiny beachside apartment in Samara. The beach had fine pale sand, you have to avoid the dried horse turds, but sight of the horses running on the beach at dusk is worth the mess. The impacted sand makes it easy to walk across the low tide to the soft undulating waves. People learn to surf here, I watch a young girl riding the low waves in to the beach as I swim. There are no high rises, no real buildings at all. Only tin roofed restaurants. We have an iguana living outside our window. He attempts to get in the bedroom, tapping his claws on the corrugated iron roof, we lock him out and scare him off eventually, he is like the Tico men who attempt flattery on the gullible gringas “Hey Chica, muy guapa!” they are also scared off and kept out…

photo copyPalm trees, banana trees, mango trees line the beach. Noisy birds and geckos everywhere, Costa Rica is alive and moving. This country is beautiful but the Americans and Germans have arrived in droves and the accents jar slightly against the tranquil beauty. These accents are indicating change rolling in. I wonder what Samara will be like in 10 years time when the moneymaking potential of this little paradise is recognised and the new international airport in the north of the country grows to accommodate more and more gringo visitors.

As I travelled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua I became aware of a tension. The desire for ‘realness’ to not be a tourist, whilst simultaneously being one. A need to be the first, to go somewhere undiscovered or unspoilt, to capture a place at exactly the right moment before it became ‘too touristy’ or ‘too westernised’. I struggled with this. I don’t view myself as a traveller, I see myself as a tourist, a western tourist. I try to be respectful. To not trample over other cultures. Only tasting tiny pieces here and there. Not ticking off my list, done, done, done. But the fact remains, I am a tourist. If there is a search for an experience of truth or beauty. I am looking for the beauty, the building the landscape, the waterfall, the mountain. I find the search for truth, for the authentic experience sometimes troubling. We must get the local bus because that is what the locals do. I don’t think the locals would choose the bus, I think they have to get the bus because they can’t afford anything else.

Of course this may be an intellectualising of my own laziness and the ‘truth’ is that I prefer the ‘beauty’ of the taxi ride because it is easier.

I have always loved storytellers, constantly attracted to those who can weave narratives for me. A friend of mine often says ‘never let truth get in the way of a good story’ as his slightly exaggerated versions of events portray us in less than flattering ways. And as I upload my holiday photos to Facebook this comes to my mind.

I look at the story unfolding in those pictures and I see the beauty, and of course the pictures don’t show the whole truth. The catcalls and grabs in the dark street, which make me uncomfortable (but the female Nicas assume me are safe and normal!). The rats in the market. The cockroach and frog I shared the shower with. The beggars, the crazies, the missing limbs, the children around the restaurant, constantly chased off but coming back for more scraps. The homes which are only two walls and a roof, people burning rubbish in the street because no one collects it. The sense of lethargy that pervades when there is (apparently) 70% unemployment.

However truth doesn’t completely override the beauty. I suppose it just means that travel, like life, is made up of a million different shades and hues.

So perhaps in a search for truth or beauty, the most important thing is just that, the search? The ability to look and see and consider.Why am I a teacher? I think fundamentally it is because I am interested in the world and I like to share that interest. I find that everyone I meet or teach has something to tell me or show me. Some topics are more interesting to me than others but everyone has something to share. In being an educator I am seeking to share both truth and beauty. As an English teacher with passion for language I share my love of words and that wonderful moment of connection when you read the words which express something you struggled to articulate. That is the essence of truth and beauty captured in a moment. The same way that when a crowded local bus moves as one to ensure the man that needs to get off can get out. That despite the heat, the dirt, being uncomfortable, and slightly angry that I am even on this dam bus, I see the beauty of connection flit across the moment like words on a page.

My favorite Brazilian flavour

My favorite Brazilian flavour

I have a question, when you ask for the bill across a crowded restaurant what do you do? Do you mine an action to indicate to staff that you have finished and want to pay? What is this action? I have spent 15 years miming an elaborate version of my signature, signing my name with a grandiose gesture. I recently discovered that not everyone mimes signing their name, in fact many other people are adding up the bill in their mime, or mime the action of the staff writing out the bill. This has generated drunken debate and discussion, as we argue, should it be adding the bill or signing? There seems to be a gender divide, males preferring the adding gesture and females the flourish of their name. This is very revealing of the differences between men and women…

Whatever you are miming, a symbolically phallic column of numbers or a soft undulating signature, the understanding is still same, I have finished and I want to pay. People understand. There is a universal communication.

After 16 months in Brazil I have become skilled at communicating without much language. In my previous existence I was a language ninja, using it to weave webs, taking pleasure in its vowels and consonants. Drawing people in, telling stories, listening to stories, sharing stories, laughing. Endlessly debating, bantering, charming and talking, talking, talking. Now I smile, I touch your arm and search my brain for the memory of a single word to reply with. Am I still English in these smiles and gestures? Do I continue to signify my nationality in these movements, the way I signify my gender in the dancing signature I mime to the waiter? My ‘otherness’ is apparent in Brazil. I stand out as not Brazilian. Maybe American, maybe European. I feel reduced by this sometimes, becoming a place instead of a person not I’m not just British, I’m Luci. A friend of mine confuses people here by stating he is not from England, he is from Liverpool, resulting in a Colombian colleague confusedly consulting a map. I am drawn to my gringo friends, not because I don’t like the other nationalities surrounding me but with them I communicate with ease, with word play and shared cultural references. But even amongst the Europeans there is difference, my Spanish and Belgium friends describing themselves as being ‘mainland’ to my ‘island’ mentality. I am forced to unpick my edges and look at how I am constructed and hope to find there is enough of a commonality to connect me to most people I meet.

How far is the ability to communicate effectively a product of our culture or personal history? If we all spoke the same language would we still misunderstand one another? My school is international but the language of instruction is English. English, the language of imperialism, the language of colonalization. They mainly speak English or Portuguese, imposed languages from Europe on this beautiful Latin American country. And when I tell one of my pupils, stop speaking Portuguese, you have to speak English, and he is actually from Lebanon and tells the class the loudest noise he ever heard was a bomb exploding, then the plethora of communications and experience that exist in my classroom are bought sharply in to focus. I am uncomfortable controlling language, no pleasure for me in finding a misused apostrophe or a grammatical gaff. I revel in mistakes, contradictions and language rule breaks. I care only for communication, understanding and connection

I am surrounded by second, third, fourth, fifth language users and they use the English language better than me, taking familiar phrases and energising them with fresh life, and making me laugh in the delighted newness of a familiar word. One colleague described another’s ‘purity’ in his approach to teaching, another using ‘snooked’ to describe taking something in a sneaky way. My friend who loves people and asks them questions about life, love, family and friends was described as ‘luring’ someone out. Someone saying swimming trousers rather than swimming trunks, making me laugh at the perfect symmetry of the unfamiliar combination.

I am in this rich linguistic world, surrounded by professional language users, adults and children. Their skill amazes and humbles me as they switch between languages, cultures and communications. I feel as though I am standing in the centre of this whirlwind of words, most of them buffering me around from here to there, constantly turning my head to catch what is said, to understand. In amongst all this, there is usually a smile on my face, because I get to be here, to hear here, to hear all this and every time I say Tudo Bem? And get an answer and I’m a tiny part of another place, I feel pride.

I was blown here on the jet stream of a thousand conversations, woke up in my Brazilian castle on top of the world. In 6 months I will be saying t’chau t’chau to my temporary adopted home, and goodbye to all the warm wonderful people I have met. This makes me sad but the gifts they have given me in every tiny communication, in every gesture word or deed, these are gifts for life.

When I see the Brazilian finger wave, the gesture I love, which seems to mean, ‘no no, no way’ or someone slap the palms of their hands on the back of each other to say ‘no thanks, I don’t want that.’ When I see someone in swimming trousers and laugh at the words, or when I hear the lilting melody of Brazilian Portuguese with its x and chi. When I lift my imaginary pen to mime signing the bill. I will take you with me wherever I go, I will continue to try to understand.

Brazilian commitment

For the month of November 2012 I am trying something very new and very difficult for me, commitment. I am not a committed person I am a fly-by-night, faddy, over enthusiastic, easily bored, wilful female. I usually start fantastically, have a good steady middle and then fade out at the end when I run out of steam or get bored. I have never been married, never owned a property, and barely had a serious boyfriend. I dislike routine. I don`t even like committing to a single brand of toothpaste of shampoo!

I like change, variety and difference. I struggle to make a commitment to most things. I have been fortunate in that the teaching profession allows for diversity in what you do and that I have been able to move around within its parameters. Starting out as an English teacher and ending up teaching History in Brazil. I am committed to teaching but only because it has allowed me to constantly change and grow and develop, if I only I could find a man like that too…

This month I am committed to the new love of my life, writing. One of the most life changing events of the life changing event of moving to a new country has been finding the inspiration and commitment to write. This is my 22nd Blog post; each post is about 800 words that is over 17,000 words written about my experiences here so far. I have penned a poem in Portuguese for a book the Portuguese department have put together (you can read it at the end of this post if you like). I have been writing other bits and pieces of poetry, putting together a documentary for a film course I am doing and trying to write a play. I am not intending to stop being teacher and be a writer but it feels wonderful to be writing and creating.

November is Nanowrimo, National Novel writing Month and so this month I am trying to commit to writing every day. The aim of nanowrimo is to write 1667 words each day, I am well below that target (day 9 and I have about 8000 words) but I have written something everyday. It`s not a novel, it has no narrative, no plot and no real characters. It is a meandering waltz through droplets of ideas, but I don` t care, I am writing.

Often teachers expect a high level of commitment from pupils, they should be committed to their studies, to doing their best. I wrote about motivation before, where does this intrinsic motivation come from. I`ve always loved writing but never committed myself to it before, so what`s changed.? Me. If something has been imposed on me from outside I will fight it, indeed if you said you want to be a writer sit down and write everyday I wouldn’t do it, I’d have got angry with you and told you all the reasons why I didn’t have time, had too much to do, was too tired etc. etc. etc. We can`t expect children, especially teenagers to be any different. Why would they be committed to their homework when they are more likely to be committed to updating face book? We have to support them in finding intrinsic motivation, why would you want to do this, how will it help you?

Brazil has infected me with its intoxicating fever of possibilities, and as I see new things and have new experiences, I feel the freedom that this life brings me and I am less afraid. I am less afraid to fail here and that has helped me to commit. I think the move to a whole new life away from expectations also allows you to try out other aspects of your personality. I just wish I had done it before, in the UK, and not been afraid of looking foolish or giving up. And now after 15 months, I have a decision to make, to commit to Brazil for another two years or finish my adventure and get back to real life. Will I be able to carry my new commitments back with me or will they remain in Brazil? The decision to leave is much harder to make than deciding to come. I want to make a commitment but as always, it fills me with fear and the urge to move on is strong. I am committed to Brazil and my new life her but as Paulo Coelho writes in the quote which opens this blog, you have to choose to commit to what is best for you and once I work that out, I will definitely commit to it….

A Historia da minha Viagem

A cidade,

Um estranho.

Saudade.

 

Saudação.

Saúde!

Saudável.

A cidade me salvou.

 

 

Learning English

The unfamiliar can so quickly become familiar, a stranger becomes a friend. How soon a change becomes a life. Is there a compulsion to create stability for ourselves, to settle in to routine? I think I have become addicted to change and challenge. I dragged myself out of my familiar world, 12 years of teaching and living in the UK. I have been energised by the move to Brazil, I have found new interests, been more proactive, made changes which would have been harder to make in my Brighton life. But I am a selfish being and it’s not enough. I can feel the creeping hand of boredom starting to descend. I’m ready for something else. I crave that delight I had in the absolute newness of my arrival. Like the first hit of a junkie, constantly trying to get back that first time feeling, looking again for that celebration I felt in the first few months. I’m here, I made it, I can do this.

Now I just, live in Brazil, I don’t feel the same excited gurgle in the back of my throat as I say it out loud. I plan travels and talk as though it is normal to discuss Patagonia versus Guatemala. Twelve months ago I struggled to travel from Hove to Brighton for a night out.  I want to appreciate the moment, I want to stand still and look around me at the privilege of this existence. But I still find myself wanting to peek around the corner, what’s next, what else?

I travel with the students from school once a week to Parasiopolis, a favela in Sao Paulo. When I am there supporting our students I am focused on them and what they are doing, they teach English to the children. It is difficult and they do an amazing job. One day as I walked around the school, I managed to take a second to think. I am here, in a school, in a favela in Brazil, and it feels normal, how the hell did I get here! I want to fight complacence, keeping stopping to see where I am. I want those new eyes that I took back to Brighton in July to stay with me here too. I made a photo album for my Brazilian friends ‘ Brighton for Estrangerios’ (Brighton for Strangers). I wanted to see my beloved city as they would see it, though fresh eyes.

I try to take on new challenges, this year I am teaching History and I can see how it is improving my teaching. It’s like going back to the start of my career. I have to think about each lesson, plan carefully but take risks. Some lessons work better than others, but I’m enjoying it. I am addicted to challenge and change, but I am also rooted in the familiar. As I look around this home I have created in Brazil from nothing, I wonder is it just the same as the homes I had in Brighton? As I cook familiar dishes, watch TV from England. I wonder how much challenge have I really taken on?

And so to the classroom and the students we teach. They too need a mixture of challenge and comfort. They need to be encouraged to take another look, a risk, to step outside of the familiar. We have a responsibility to keep our classroom safe, familiar but also challenging. I need to be bored; it stops me from spending my life under a duvet watching reality TV shows. Boredom is good, I don’t want to stop getting bored.

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.

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