Take the Steps Which Frighten You

It has been a full quarter of a year since I’ve written anything here, but that doesn’t mean its been entirely uneventful. There’s been soul searching, a shift in teaching duties (I’m now teaching Primary 4 students as the main English teacher), and I’ve pretty much settled into a routine. But there have been a couple things worth mentioning beyond those things.

Almost two months ago, I was asked to be in a Myanmar TV show, an educational program for very young children, focusing on teaching A,B,C,D only…(one appearance only). I am not a television personality. I won’t lie, I agreed to do it….and it was pretty bad: my ability to remember and repeat basic sequential lines repeatedly and in a way that matched the limited direction they gave me is not among my strong skill sets.

I’m guessing that it was SO bad, actually, that they have just decided not to call me for the continuation of “E,F,G,H…”

Or perhaps for some other reason entirely. Who knows?

When several members of the crew, the PR people, showed up at my school to talk to me about this, entirely unbeknownst to me, as I hadn’t contacted anyone for it….they specifically told me they wanted a teacher for this…a REAL teacher, who could TEACH the children (these two things were emphasised greatly), and who is also a native English speaker. Apparently my Midwest accent is finally good for something after all! Well intentioned, and on the right track for aspects that will lead to clarity in learning like US public television, but…still not enough upon which to base this kind of casting decision. I don’t know a whole lot about making TV magic, but I can pretty guarantee the skill sets for teaching and for being in a TV show don’t sync up very well.

First of all, the children helping me were about 10 years old, and the material was meant for 5 years olds. You can’t be genuinely, consistently, captivatingly excited about learning something you already know. Can’t be done.


Secondly, when you have a script with specific talking points, the riffing and adapting, essential to teaching, used to get the material through to you audience isn’t an option; and isn’t necessary when your audience already knows the material…such as when you’re working with 10 year olds instead of 5 year olds.

It was a very long day, and I was mostly very happy to help… but also have been a bit relieved to have it be a one time experience. I’m sure they had only the best intentions to have “a real teacher TEACH” but it doesn’t work like that. I didn’t teach anyone anything, except that maybe they should stick to using real actors and people who maintain a certain comfort level under pressure (i.e. not me.)

So…that happened. It was terrifying, and tested my patience for things that frustrate me, but I did it. Not sure if its going to make it onto my resume or not, but its an experience all the same.

The other semi-noteworthy thing that happened (and which is of a bit more substance) was in stepping into a pseudo-Human Resources role at my own school.

In a primarily Buddhist country, it seems a bit strange to give a significant amount of time off during the Christmas holiday, and in our own school the holiday coincides with the week after midterms, so students get two weeks off….while only two days were allocated to the staff: Christmas day, and New Years day, both National holidays. I’m not sure about the public schools, but because International Schools operate in formats that meet International educational standards, though the UK’s or Singapore’s curriculum and expectations, it seems that expectations for holiday/vacation time accompany it.

I have no other means to make causal relationships among the concepts, but that’s my best guess.

With the arrival of international teachers, comes the expectation of fair-work. And having a teacher inservice is expected, but not at the entire expense of a holiday vacation. The local teachers here work incredibly hard, and they work hours that are entirely too long, and yet they still show up every day and can control a classroom better than I could hope to. But they weren’t going to be given a holiday to recuperate and rest. And they hadn’t had (a Christmas holiday) one in over five years.

So I wrote a memo making a formal request, and the staff signed it. And that was that. I wasn’t sure if it would done anything further for the situation, as they had been making the request on their own.

But apparently it was effective; not only my school, but all the affiliated language schools, were granted a 5-day break, something that was seemingly huge to the staff. Its astounding to me the things that go overlooked when brought up by the people in this country, but which are listened to when they come from someone else. My qualifications to be here, to teach, are that I am a native english speaker. That’s it, honestly. The TOEFL courses I took didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know, they just told me what format and behavior suits a classroom. And sometimes the methods they introduced work, and sometimes they’re useless, plain and simple. You can’t have a universal format for education, period, whether its in your native language or in a second language.

In the US, we recognize there are many different types of learning, and we teach to that. We embrace it, and generally try to integrate it into the expectations we have of students, and into the teaching duties of the staff. We learned about it when I was in primary school, so I am assuming this is still the case; it can’t have gone by the wayside that quickly.

Anyway….those two examples are the main point that I can write about in a semi-succinct way.
And they’re both things to tack onto the list of things I’ve done despite being scared to do them; the top one on this list being coming here in the first place. A very dear friend recently reminded me about something we talked about last year, before I knew for certain I’d be on this half of the globe. We were talking about the basic fear that goes with so many of our little daily things, and how being afraid causes us to miss out on so much. …we decided, then, that if little things (like a daily commute) scare you as much as the big things (like moving across the country or world) then you should simply do whatever you want, because small “safe” things can be just as terrifying. Its something to think about. What would happen if we constantly walked towards the things that we fear most?

Other teachers have arrived via the same organization I used, two who now live with me, and four others, who arrived several months ago, and who are scattered around the city.

Its been much easier feeling like I have a life here with these people as a support group. I really do enjoy being a bit of a pioneer, and doing things on my own, but…even after getting here, a lot of the small things were scary again. We can amaze ourselves when we take that first step towards something that seems impossibly, but we need other people to remind us that we can stand on our own. Sometimes we need an outside perspective to remind us that we’re doing just fine; we don’t have to make astounding breakthroughs every day. Sometimes just getting through the day is enough. It took me a few months to find friends here, but the best friends I have found were brought TO me, an unexpected bonus to this endeavor. When we get together we reflect our own potential back at one another, and it is a truly brilliant sight to see strong people supported by other strong people.

I certainly wouldn’t be here had it not been for the love and support of friends and family back home, but I would not have made it this long without the new friends I’ve found. Its been an amazing journey, though you probably can’t tell it from these blog entries alone; they leave out a lot of the daily stuff that doesn’t really translate to grandiose storytelling.

As December winds to a close, I find that I am mentally ticking off the weeks I have left, not because I am looking forward to leaving…not at all, actually. I know I am going to be a hot mess when I have to leave all “my babies” behind. But counting is a way to keep track of all the things that concern, frighten, and worry you, and I’ve been counting everything here because that’s what I was doing before I even arrived: counting the days until I left the US, counting the days I would spend in Thailand with the other teaching initiates, counting the money I brought with me hoping it would be enough, counting the weeks until my next visa run, counting the times I wished so-and-so were with me to see what I was seeing and to laugh or groan at it with me, counting the times that I secretly wanted to go home because this was too big and scary, counting the times I made myself leave the house even though I was terrified to do it on my own, counting the days I spent alone because I didn’t know anyone yet, counting the hours until I could see my kids again because they really were and are so spectacular that Sundays seemed too long…

I’m always counting, trying to get to the next thing, trying to gauge how far away it is, how much longer I have to wait for the thing to bloom into existence, because if I can quantify it, I can remove some of the scariness. At least, in theory…so, always counting. Waiting for the next thing, the next marker, the next day of work, the next day off, the next time I will see someone I miss and who is the only person I feel can understand some particular situation or joke. Because if I can get a definite mark on it, whatever “it” is in that moment, maybe that will help alleviate some of the fear that keeps me from embracing it fully.

I came here to make a difference, both to myself and to a corner of the world that needed help. And I’m still scared of so many things, but I’m still here. As the saying goes, “courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it,” a quote attributed to no one in particular, because it is a view so commonly thrown around in such a variety of situations. People are afraid of so much that it stunts their potential.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson. These are also words I can get behind.

I think I’m making steady, meager steps towards my own goals, regarding achievements, ¬†actions and mindset. But part of the process is realizing our patterns, so we know how to change them, and knowing we can continue even when we are scared.This week I’m working on being and doing instead of waiting and counting. Reflecting instead of regretting. Sending love and happy thoughts out instead of worrying that maybe our best isn’t ever quite enough. And remembering that progress is a constant state; we take steps forward and back, but the fact that we’re moving at all is a reminder that we can move in any direction.

Happy Holidays, everyone. May you all take steps in the directions that most frighten you.