A journal of TMI

Back to the World

When I went to London for teacher-training I half had the notion of moving on immediately to other parts of the world to work. I was mostly fixated on Southeast Asia but considered myself open to other workable options. London itself seemed attractive enough to me, but there were many obstacles to remaining there. Britain’s visa rules begin with a point-based worksheet. Perhaps being the brightest teacher in my group would have given me more points, by making me irreplaceable to a London-based employer, but this was not so. I felt that I had a lot of rapport with my students, and some talent. I clearly wasn’t the worst teacher in the world- but striving in such a notoriously tough setting taught me that it was as important as it ever was for me to get more organized. On one illuminated evening in my college years I “realized” that being organized was an essential key to living correctly, yet I still struggled with the implementation of this directive. I had been through long periods in my twenties creating and studying systems that failed as a sort of scientific experiment, like blowing up a bridge to best understand its stresses, so as to build a spectacularly better one. In my research I added more and more categories to cross reference in my byzantine library. I curated stages of decay and growth and entered the junkyard as an acquisitions agent for my museum. Whatever these exercises taught me, it was not “organisation” in any standard sense.  The basic lesson that I learned was that, yes, I may need a non-standard system, one that is custom fit, but that I had to get more serious about results, as, like it or not, time is an important factor. I don’t remember seeming or feeling disorganized per se during my Celta courses- I think it was rather that I experienced a sense of shock at encountering what was for me, a successful system of organization. This sense of shock stunned me at moments, but it was a healthy experience. It still happens to me at some of the workshops provided by my new employer here in Vietnam and makes me feel quite dull even. It’s basically the same confusion I get when I have to perform simple arithmetic, or  remember someone’s name. These are tasks I could otherwise easily do, but I lost the ability somewhere, or more accurately, I stopped trusting myself. For example, there is an exercise language learners are sometimes asked to do called jigsaw reading. When we assign jigsaw reading to the students  we first divide a text into separate parts. These parts only tell the whole story when reassembled, similar to a jigsaw puzzle. Giving good instructions is considered an essential skill to the kind of teaching that I do and jigsaw reading potentially is the quintessential mind soup for me. “First you say we organise the students into groups of 3, then they report into groups of 5 and then assemble the text?” Or something like that. It’s really important to be able to make such things work. Thinking too much is really the pitfall- exercises like this are a plan of action, a map, not the goal itself. If you get the map right the students will wander around within it, but with a purpose. The lesson is hard to grasp at times: well-honed plans and organizational structures are dissolved into the experiences that they prepare one for. Since the experience itself is the paramount component, some mistakenly de-emphasize plans and organization, but you are never really without a plan.  Others over-emphasize structure and planning, as if the end result is this, and not the experience that arrives. The holy grail of it all is beautiful plans that seem to blend with the landscape, so natural in structure are they. They seem simple, but what is an orange, really? Is it a picture in a coloring book? Is it carried as pollen by a bee? When it grows and then is eaten or rots into the ground, what do we plan for then?

In any case, teaching was not the only profession I had trained for, nor was carpentry and cabinet-making. I was (am) also a fully licensed acupuncturist and had been invited to work in a clinic that shared my outlook. The selling point for me, and perhaps what essentially motivated the woman whose clinic it was (Jenny) to seek help was her pending maternity leave. The bonus was that without having to go through a lengthy process of building my own practice (which was not a practical possibility for me at this point) I could be seeing a diverse array of clients in an intensive situation that is the community acupuncture model.

My plan was to scrape by with some part-time carpentry in addition to the acupuncture, and also to volunteer as a teacher for adult ESL students.  I returned to Philadelphia in time for Halloween.

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