The Walking Dead
I’ve been immersed in Justin Cronin’s new novel “Passage”, in my free waking moments this week, and it’s one of those intensive “extensive reading” experiences, where you don’t want to stop, a real feast of darkness with the odd flicker of light promising redemption somewhere along the way. Anyway, I came across this part on page 204 (Paperback edition ) that I thought I’d share with you on my blog for the week, he’s talking about “the living dead” that you find in horror films. I know this is not the usual style of my teaching blogs, but bear with me for a few lines, it is leading somewhere, I promise:
“They (characters in the novel) moved heavily, their movements clumsy and imprecise, their expressions benumbed and incurious, like the living dead in some old movie. Corpses gathering outside a farmhouse, moaning and tripping over their feet, wearing the tattered uniforms of their forgotten lives: he’d loved such films when he was a boy, not understanding how true they really were. What were the living dead, Wolgast thought, but a metaphor for the misgotten march of middle age?
It was possible, he understood, for a person’s life to become just a series of mistakes, and that the end, when it came, was just one more instance in a chain of bad choices. The thing was, most of those mistakes were actaully borrowed from other people. You took their bad ideas and, for whatever reason, made them your own.”
I apologise for the rather gruesome feel to this but the character Wolgast expected to die at any minute, so of course his thoughts turned to his life and what he’d made of it. The point that struck me though was:
“Why wait? Any day is a good time to think about the choices we make, both professional and otherwise, although I was thinking, of course, about teaching. This was my alarm clock ringing to tell me it was time to rethink some of my own choices.
Why wait to question your choices?
This struck me so forcibly, perhaps, because I am very much aware of certain compromises that are made everyday in the workplace. Quality is sacrificed, or limited, because of financial factors, the god money is alive and well, and we all dance to his tune, particularly in Berlusconi’s Italy in the 21st Century, but I’ll ty to avoid politics for one day. I find myself doing certain things because they are expected of me, such as adopting a coursebook in class, when I would rather not, or spending an inordinate amount of time preparing learners for exams that I do not always consider to be the best assessment methods available. There is never enough time to do what you want to and there are often too many learners in one class to even monitor at all, much less really help in a substantial way.
I could continue in this vein ad infinitum but that would be a choice too and it is not one that I want to make, so I’m going to stop, right now, and think about the choices I’m making.
Choosing to give free public classes
I’d better add that it is not all doom and gloom and that many of my university students are making a lot of progress, and feel that their lessons are helpful, so I mustn’t get too carried away in my criticism of our work. I, however, have no intention of becoming one of Cronin’s living dead middle aged relics dressed in the tatters of her earlier idealism. Idealism is not only for the young. It can be preserved into middle age if it is tempered by experience and practicality. I recently made an idealistic choice to start doing free public classes on WizIQ, as some of you know, and was very enthusiastic both about the site and the people who are using it. The amazing Edupunk group, founded by George Machlan, whose approach is pure anarchy and who is supportive of just about everyone on WizIQ,and its whimsical teachers like Piyush Khatri, who does creative lessons such as “Draw your English”, just to name one, have been both a delight and an inspiration for me. There is also the laid back, but incredibly expert Nellie Deutsch and so many others, and that’s just in the few months I’ve been there! On WizIQ the line between teachers and learners blurs and this makes for something new, and exciting. Learners come from all over the globe and teachers go to each others classes to learn from each other and even… yes, for fun too!
( I went to a wonderful storytelling class by Terasee Morris for instance) and another great thing about this site is that there are video recordings of all the lessons so if you miss one, and sometimes the timetables mean that you just can’t attend, you can watch the recording later.) Obviously it is not all roses, there are lessons that teachers schedule and then do not show up for, and some teachers are not too skilled, but the good more than makes up for the bad and I love the feel of the whole thing.
I did a series of five lessons on this platform and was thinking about doing paid lessons too, but I have decided not to choose this route. It seems to be the norm: you sell your work, and I, like everyone else, do my fair share of this. It always, however, inevitably, seems to lead to compromise of the type mentioned at the beginning of this post.
That is why I have decided to keep to the free public classes and will be doing a series of them this summer on WizIQ. Why? Because if I do it like that I can experiment with exactly the type of teaching I want to do, learner centred, creative language production. I can choose, with my learners, what we want to focus on ranging from poetry and creative writing to discussions, songs, videos and vocabulary quizzes, and I can help my university students to have a place where they can continue their English in an unusual (for them) context, just for fun! I want to do this because I am fascinated by the learning process and the technological side too, and I want to do something, which is not determined by the economics. OK, this is just a small choice, but it is one that, I think, makes a difference, and it means that I will not be simply following the established route.
So, sorry for the slightly negative slant to things this week, but the outcome, at least, is positive, and WizIQ is well worth a visit.