I was about to turn off my computer after finishing my first post for this series, when I glanced at a tweet and immediate was swallowed by the developing news about the tragedy at the Boston marathon. I couldn’t think about anything else the whole day. I was in a shock. In the morning, I was reading posts on Facebook by a friend how excited she was about her sister running the marathon. A few hours later I am reading and watching horrific stories about what happened. (It was a great relief to find out that she had passed the finish line about 20 minutes before the explosions.)
And of course there is the selfish, “this-has-to-be-about-me” thing. A couple of weeks ago I decided that I would run the Beirut Marathon on 10 November this year. The last few weeks has been all about marathons on my mind. Registering. Complaining about the organisers not taking any responsibility. Paying twice as much as “arabs”. Finding the best app for tracking my preparation. Creating training plans and schedules. Putting together elaborate playlists. Trying to convince myself that I can do it.
As I was watching people falling to the ground not from the sheer exhaustion and exhilartion of competing something I consider to be one of the greatest physical achievements but from a bloody bomb exploding right when they are about to cross the line simply broke my heart. These people and their families have gone through years and months living with the idea of this race. They completed the race with a time I can only dream of (04:09:52). And for this to happen…
I have spent the whole day thinking about how I should feel. I wish I could say that my determination was reinforced byt the feeling of defiance. I never wanted to look at the run as an act of bravery. I’m not a brave person and I sometimes wish people were more clever than brave. I decided to go on though. I’ve got 207 days of preparation ahead of me, and I will have to try to put the images of Boston out of my mind. I want to do it because:
I want to know if I can do it. – It’s the single greatest physical challenge I have ever attempted.
I need to work on my commitments. – I have given up far too many things in my life and I hope this will be one I can complete.
I want to make my children proud. – I don’t think there is a greater way to motivate and encourage my childrent than showing them that their “old, fat and ugly father” (this is a running joke in the family when describing daddy) is willing to sacrifice for something he is passionate about.
I have to overcome some age-old negative beliefs. – I absolutely agree with J.K. Rowling when she says that “there is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction” (if you haven’t seen this talk, do yourself the favour and watch it). On the other hand even now, my father’s first reaction was that “it was OK to give up” when I told him about my plan to run. And it still hurt. Of course this can be interpreted as a good thing, meaning that it’s not whether I complete a marathon or not that determines his feelings for me. But I don’t think that that’s what you tell your children. You encourage them by saying that you are supporting them, excited for them and believe in them. Of course, your children should know that your love and appreciation does not depend on what they achieve. Love for your children is a given, and they should know that, what they need to feel is your unconditional support and belief in them. (Yes, I know. I am dealing with it )
And yes, I believe this experience will make me a better teacher, too. Looking at the four points above, I can see how these goals will have a positive impact on me as a teacher.
1. I will go on experimenting in the classroom and with the teachers I work with.
2. I will learn to stick around even when the going gets tough.
3. I will be an example of learbning for my students just as much as I am for my own children.
4. Your students know if you have self-image issues and they will confront you with them and (quite often) take advantage of them. By overcoming some of the issues I have I might be able to focus more on my students and less on my problems .
So yes. I’ll go on with the preparation fro the marathon. Time will see whether I get there or not but I have done mores already than I would ever have imagined. (Eg. got up at 2 a.m. today to write this post and then go running before the children get up.)
Going from pretty much being paid to think about finding ways of spending more time interacting with teachers and learners to focusing on the daily demands of a 2-year-old and 4-month-old was probably the greatest challenge I have had to face so far.
Looking at my facebook updates, one might get the impression that it’s all smooth sailing and I enjoy every moment. Well, the truth is that there are times when I just want to run back to an office, turn on a screen or just go into a classroom full of difficult 17-year-olds. Even after 13 months I get itchy feet and want to run away at least once a week.
One of the things I find most difficult is remaining part of a community and keeping up professional realtionships. Many young mums must have this problem when they go on maternity leave and lose touch with colleagues and professional communities becuase they are exhausted from not getting enough sleep. They also have two million tiny things to keep an eye on every waking minute from changing nappies to making sure that the kids don’t fall off the curtain rail. They have their thoughts and sentences interrupted at the most unexpected moments in the most unexpected ways. (Case in point: A previous version of this post was ruined by Jasmin pouring a bottle of water on the keyboard and shutting down the laptop while I was preparing her lunch
This picture was posted on Facebook by the brilliant local mothers’ group who were so very nice to accept me as a member. (It’s not as natural as tyou would think ther was a grouo who thought they would find the presence of a man intimidating…..) I thought it was funny just replace mother with Stay-at-home-dad.
When I consider my professional relationships, I often face some unpleasant questions (especially when momentuous events like IATEFL-UK are happening): Do I still belong to this community? Do I in any meaningful way contribute to the discourse? How much longer can I tag along without actually contributing? Am I still learning? If yes, is this learning useful or relevant for me?
In the classroom and in my own learning I very strongly believe in the potential of learning by contributing. I believe that the most lasting learning experiences come from actually being a part of a creative process and meaningfully contributing to it. Otherwise learning is like pouring water on sand – it seeps away and disappears without a trace or consequence. This kind of information hoarding is completely useless and pointless.
I had to realise that a regular and permanent kind of engagement is pretty unlikely to happen at the moment. Instead, I try to focus on events and I try to put my utmost into those. This is why my appearance-disappearance might look sporadic and erratic.
This however comes at a great price: I miss out on a lot of the friendly banter, the great conversations, the exciting debates. I miss these a lot. I think partly the reason for this is independent from the change in my circumstances: a lot of the conversation moved from Twitter to Facebook. I still find Twitter much more useful and engaging professionally than Facebook, which is more visual, more entertaining and (apart from a few exceptions) much more superficial. Digesting an hour’s worth of Facebook posts demands a fraction of the effort you need to catch up on an hour’s worth of information shared on Twitter. At the same time I seem to notice Twitter becoming less of a communication tool and turning into a cacaphony of people sharing. Of course Twitter chats are an exception, the conversations going on there are still great fun to follow and be part of.
Nevertheless, the questions above are still revelant, I think. There were two negative feelings I had to get rid of first: guilt and regret. Once I learnt to appreciate however little I managed to achieve, instead of trying to be extra efficient and keep up things in the same way as before, I felt much better. Yes, I have probably engaged fewer people and missed out on a great number of fantatsic conversations, but I try to focus on the few great ones I have had. I regretted not being able to do more or better. I tried to turn this into something a bit more positive and try to focus on what I can do.
I’m here to stay. Perhaps a bit sporadically but I love the people I am learning from, I love the honest dedication to sharing and learning together.
I also love the great things I have been able to do in this year:
- A teachmeet with Arjana (the next one coming up this weekend)
- A couple of MOOCs I have participated in with more or less success
- A trip to Jordan with Macmillan Education
- A 5-week mentoring EVO session, meeting people like Rose Bard, Roseli Serra, Yasemin Yelmaz, Asli Saglam, and many others
- 3 fantastic days at TESOL Arabia
- Working with the brilliant Dubai Chapter of TESOL Arabia
- The iTDi Community. The inspiration, love and passion this amazing group of people spreads every minute of every day.
- Putting together a few presentations for OUP
There are many more things in the pipeline.
I’ll keep bobbing my head up and hope to see you.
Casually scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed this morning, I found a small unassuming short status update among all the big beautiful images with life-changing wisdoms. I always stop and look at what Tyson has to say. He has been one of the people who really influenced me with what he does and how he does it eversince I started following him on twitter. This time his post was simply this:
I really needed someone to just say this much. I have been putting off writing for such a long time again and finding a way and a reason for starting all over again is always a bit difficult. But Tyson sorted it out for me. Check out his blog (well, much more than a blog, it’s an awesome website with really useful materials) for his posts and to find out who else takes part in this blogathlon. Five posts in the next five days. It should be fun.
I have been thinking about this the whole day yesterday. Once I decided to write the five posts I wanted to come up with the five topics:
1. Getting over the “missing out” syndrome: this has been the longest ever I have been away from a classroom. It hasn’t always been easy and I still get pangs of doubt but then I look at the other side of the equation and I feel I am learning, empowering myself and becoming a better person.
2. Conflicts and managing them. Yes, I got into trouble again. I have been putting off talking about it but blog posts have been great in helping me see things more clearly. I’ll give it a go this week.
3. Running a marathon…. What? Who? – Yes, me. Two days before my Sophie daughter’s birthday, at the age of 42.5 I’ll try to run 42.2 kilometres in Beirut. – Why am I doing it? Am I going to do it? How will it help me be a better, happier person, father, teacher, huband?
4. Living in Dubai. – Yes, I know those who have followed this blog would remember the 5-part series of why I was going to leave this country. Having been back for over 13 months, it’s time to have another go at 5 things like and 5 things I will probably always dislike about living in this city/country.
5. This is the bravest. I think. I want to drag this idea I have into the open beyond half-drunk musings with friends in a pub. I have this utopia I really want to write. It’s a story about world where people are motivated by the prospect of self-actualisation. This idea has been ticking away for quite a while and I feel it’s getting ready to take shape. Why not start the experiment here?
So, this is what I am thinking about doing in the next few days. One of these every day – not necessarily in this order but I would like to get round to talking about each of them.
This was post zero to get my head round what I want to do.
Betting on whether I will complete this is on at the major bookies. Taking my recent history into consideration, the odds are high but the is high if I actullay pull it off. We’ll see.