Saturday, 31 March 2012


Today this blog reached 1000 pageviews. I'm really chuffed about that. Thanks to everyone who's contributed even just one of those, and especially to those who've told me they enjoy reading it. It's a nice feeling to know that. :)) More to come!

Sunday, 18 March 2012


It's long been my experience that life delivers messages and benedictions, if you want to hear them and can understand them - but they are never what you expect!

Some back-story. I've been having difficulty teaching a group of 11 and 12 year olds, on the basic level of the children's behaviour and classroom discipline. At one stage I thought I'd made some progress, but then, the next time I saw them, their behaviour was the worst I'd experienced, the class was completely disrupted, and I really lost my rag with them, banging books on the table, shouting, telling them I was appalled by their rudeness and their behaviour, their parents would be told, etc. etc. (Such is the reluctant lot of one in a position of authority, even when that one is, by nature, something of an anarchist!)

Subsequent to that, much searching for ways to handle the situation better next time, me talking with the head of children's teaching about working with this age group and these particular students, alternative approaches, tips and strategies - anything that might help me do a better job. (I don't like not doing a good job.)

Fast forward to the next time I was due to see them. Immediately beforehand I was, unexpectedly, asked if someone could sit in on the class. She was an older Ukrainian woman, who'd been a schoolteacher in the past, and was observing classes, with a view to doing some teaching at the school herself. You can probably imagine that, at first, I wasn't best pleased to be asked - not this class, on this occasion, when I feared that all hell might break loose, and the chances of me appearing competent and professional were very low indeed! I could've refused, but at the same time I thought her presence might have a positive effect on the children's behaviour - I'm quite sure they take advantage of the fact that I don't understand what they say to each other, and they wouldn't be able to do that with her.

So to the class, with a couple of new strategies in mind, and now a different classroom dynamic. It went very well. The children behaved considerably better than usual (I'm sure the presence of the former teacher played an important part), and we even managed to do some work! A much better experience in every way. But that's not the point of the story.

I got to the end of the class, and of course I wanted to know what my observer - a trained, experienced schoolteacher - would have to say. Would she comment on the lack of discipline in the class? Would she talk about the behaviour of the children? Would she make any observations about my approach? Eventually we did talk about all those things, but her very first, unprompted, words to me at the end of the lesson?

"You obviously love children."

That was not what I expected to hear. Talk about coming out of left field ... But, hearing her perspective, instantly my whole experience of working with the group was re-framed. That's not to say that I suddenly realized that classroom discipline was of no importance, but rather that I was too hung up on it; nor that I suddenly abandoned my determination that the children learn some English in the classes, but rather that I understood I already had the most important quality for bringing that about in abundance. The mind of course quickly jumped in with its disagreements ("but ... no ... really? ... but it can't ...what about? ..." etc.), trying to re-establish the status quo, but the message had already been delivered. Straight to the heart. I'm still absorbing its impact.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Aaaaaaaaand I'm back!
My long silence has been the result of really needing to concentrate on teaching, getting settled in to my new situation and new daily activities. I feel I don't need quite the same intensity of focus now, so can include other things in my view, like the blog.

There are quite a few potential entries jostling for access to the blog, and I'll get round to the ones I like best soon. But to start off with, as something of a contrast to a photo I posted earlier (!), here's one of a group I've just been teaching:
They're not quite as pretty as the other class ;), but they were very "real" and I enjoyed teaching them. They're Ukrainian merchant mariners - captains and chief engineers (no erroneous, Pugwash-themed jokes about Seaman Staines or Roger the Cabin Boy, please) - who work on dredgers, all over the world, for a Belgian company, imaginatively called Dredging International - tsk, those Belgians, they really know how to come up with a snappy and allusive brand identity, don't they? The guys were doing a 40-hour intensive course to improve their English, which the company had paid for (its concern for CPD evincing a more modish business acuity than its marketing!) In truth they were more interested in talking than learning grammar, so we spent quite a bit of time doing that. The conversations were interesting, full of enquiry, and very good-natured, but it's rather a shame that there wasn't an opportunity for us to include some beer in the proceedings, as I think that would've made them even more so! Needless to say, we talked about the frozen sea (did I mention that already?), and I learned from them that it was about twenty years since it last happened, but this time a much larger area was frozen; also that the Sea of Azov (look it up) was frozen solid!!!! Apparently this was not such an unusual occurrence, though, as it's only a few metres deep on average.

In the spirit of the title of this blog, I rather like the fact that I've chosen to publish this entry on International Women's Day. It wasn't deliberate, it's a connection I've made just now, while writing it. So, dear readers, I send you my best wishes for International Women's Day (pozdravlenya s Mezhdunarodnym Zhenskim Dnem', as they say here), from one bloke among many.