As I confessed in my previous post,
I'm currently going through one of my zen periods. This happens to me once in a
while and there's no way of influencing the when and answering the why.
Although something probably constantly brews within, it always comes out unannounced. This
usually means that I lose interest in earthly possessions and I get into all
sorts of esoteric and metaphysical literature. I replace rich social life and
the hustle and bustle of big towns and shopping centres with solitude and
I must admit that this metamorphosis is not bad at all; I think it keeps me sane and eliminates the dangers lying
hidden in ambush; the dangers waiting patiently for most of us involved in the teaching
profession. For me this change is the philosopher's stone; it's the secret which gives me comfort and limitless hope. There's no point in discussing
whether it's real or imaginary as long as it makes me feel better.
But even during
these ethereal periods of zen contemplation my feet are firmly on the ground; I never stop thinking of my students and my profession. My teacher self is there - it's part of me, impossible to uproot. So when reading
books that have nothing to do with my job; books I read because I want to stay
away from everyday problems, I keep stumbling upon remarks and allusions
which direct me back to my calling - or at least I think I see the connections.
There's no point in arguing whether the connections are truly there as long as
they make sense to me.
Take this example I've just come across: "Zen tradition speaks of a beginner's mind: those who keep their
minds open to new concepts - those
whose cups are always empty -
will always move to higher levels of achievement and fulfilment. Never be
reluctant to ask even the most basic of questions. Questions are the most
effective method of eliciting knowledge". To me this sounds like a perfect
opening passage to a reflective post. I don't know whether it was the word
'elicit', one of the most common concepts in ELT, or the phrase 'never be
reluctant to ask questions', which transferred me from my comfortable chair
back to the classroom. It just happened and I caught myself making mental connections.
And now this one
about setting and achieving goals: "Step one is to have a clear
vision of your outcome. Step two is to create positive pressure to keep you
inspired. The third step is a simple one: never set a goal without attaching a
timeline to it...... and remember that a goal that is not committed to paper is no
goal at all. Go out and buy a journal..." If you didn't know the origin of
this excerpt, you may think it's taken from an ELT methodology book. To my mind
this bit may well refer to learning an L2, namely a way of becoming a fully
autonomous learner. It can also describe a way of becoming a better teacher through
And finally this one:
"Every event offers you lessons. These little lessons fuel your inner and
outer growth. Without them, you would be stuck on a plateau.......most people
have grown the most from their most challenging experiences. And if you meet
with an outcome you did not expect and feel a little disappointed, remember
that laws of nature always ensure that when one door closes another
opens". It's no surprise that whenever I hear the word 'lesson', almost in any context, some invisible buttons get switched and I'm a teacher again. Also, I must be a lost case but when reading this passage I immediately
thought of the intermediate plateau, one of the most debated ELT terms these
days. What also sprang to mind was the concept of demand high; an approach
whose proponents argue that tasks should be challenging but doable. The door metaphor made me remember the fact that we should
encourage and motivate our students, and even if they fail, they should know that there's
another door waiting to be opened.
Every person will probably interpret the passages above slightly
differently, and their interpretations will be based on who they are and what
they believe in – they will draw on their experience and knowledge. But this is
the point; I see the examples as metaphors which offer a variety of views. Obviously, not everyone sees teacher metaphors everywhere they look. But as far as I'm concerned, no matter how zen I am or try to be, a tiny part of me is probably reserved for my teacher self. I think it's because I really love what I do and you simply can't ignore things you love, even if it's sometimes to the good...
References: Sharma, Robin S. (1997). The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. HarperCollins.