Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Month: January 2020

Why I am taking a step back

2020 is going to be different. I am not saying that because it’s January, or anything like that, it’s not a resolution. It’s simply a fact: this year is going to be very different.

Before you actually start reading, you must consider that these opinions are mine, and that I am not criticizing anybody.

You may remember that I only started within the ELT field three years ago. I started online with the TKT, then I did a French degree in education, which allowed me to work in a bilingual primary school. We all know I didn’t get the job after because I was not native (this is not an assumption, the management explicitly told me so) and I continued, with a CELTA. I started to get involved in TESOL association, to read a lot about Second Language Acquisition, about methodologies… Which led me to start a MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. In other words, I am still a baby teacher, a rookie.

I admit that my first year of MA was quite disappointing: a lot of theories, not enough cases, and I guess I had another vision of it. Nonetheless, I am quite happy I am doing it (I just finished another Module) despite some setbacks. Alongside my MA, I started my Delta, and well, I have written a lot on this topic already. Saying that Delta didn’t go as planned is the understatement of the year, but it made me realize that my priorities were not straight.

But the thing is, I worked non-stop for the past three years. I went to conferences, I met people, I did some research, I didn’t stop reading and I worked on several projects. I wanted to develop some CPD workshops in Lyon, France, where I have been living. I wanted to develop my academic research, despite not feeling academic myself, because I wanted to show that I was a good teacher. And I wanted other teachers to become more aware of their environment, to create interesting sessions.

Boy, I was a bit presumptuous. CPD workshops are a great idea in theory, but after organizing two workshops with an attendance close to zero, I just decided to spend my Saturdays elsewhere. Attending conferences are great, but expensive, let’s be honest, and is it really interesting and relatable? And if I spent a great deal working on some research, it was not always related to my context, nor my students. I won’t say it was a waste of time, but I could have used this time differently.

I have been teaching in a local college for five months now, and it’s probably the best gig I had so far. The students’ general level is quite low, but the degrees they are studying for is interesting. It’s not 100% academic, which is fine by me, because I am not 100% academic. I seemed to forget that before being a teacher, I graduated with a BA in management, another BA in business and worked six years in real estate. It’s a real added value that I didn’t really use properly, obsessed over the fact that my passport was less important than my degrees. So, when this local college asked me if I were interested by teaching something else than English, I said yes.

Teaching English is, and will always be, what I prefer to do. I love this language way more than I could actually explain it. But I also live in a country which doesn’t fully appreciate other languages, in which teachers are not being recognized, in which native speakerism is all over the place. My MA is not going to change that. If I ever get tenure in that college, or in another school, that won’t be because of it, as the national education system doesn’t accept it. If I ever finish DELTA one day, once again, it will be for me.

I feel better writing these words, almost liberated. I put so much pressure on myself for so long that it feels amazing just to say “I am doing this for myself”. Working in ELT is not easy, it can actually be quite vile and I won’t apologize because I have decided to step back from the whole academic world. What really matters here is the person I am in front of my students, and the quality of my work, not if I transcribed correctly in an presentation.

Writing here is still very important to me, and despite being non-academic, I’ll continue to do so. I still have things to say, even though I am not a part of any TESOL or IATEFL association anymore.

What I’ve read in 2019

Last year, I had quite a long list of resolutions, mostly professionals, but as you may know, it didn’t turn up the way it was supposed to be. In other words, I am going to take a break from the whole Delta mess after trying LSA4 another time. I’m not ready for Module 1 just yet, maybe I’ll never be, and it’s okay. Today I’m not writing about Delta or MA or even about my job.

Today is about another resolution I took: trying to read as much as possible. Here is the list of all the books/short stories I read in 2019 and some of my impressions. So yeah, it’s a long article today, sorry.

January

I love Dick – Chris Krauss (didn’t like it, tbh) / Becoming – Michelle Obama / Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – Oscar Wilde (LOVED IT) / The portrait of Mr W.H. – Oscar Wilde (I have the entire collection I must admit) / High Fidelity – Nick Hornby (I preferred Funny Girl from the same writer) / The rules of attraction – Bret Easton Ellis (it was actually the second time reading it)

February

I never knew that about..the royal family – Christopher Winn (I read the whole series to be fair) / The wicked wit of Princess Margaret – Karen Dolby (I have to admit that I chuckled more than one time)

March

Victoria Revealed (500 facts about the queen) – Deirdre Murphy (I visited the Victoria exhibition at Kensington Palace so of course I bought the book) / La Saint courtisane – Oscar Wilde / The picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde / La Sirenetta (the Little Mermaid, in Italian, yeah, I had to start somewhere)

April

A .45 to pay the rent – Charles Bukowski (that was a refreshing change from Oscar Wilde!) / Doing time with public enemy number one – Charles Bukowski / Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson/ William III and Mary II – Jonathan Keates (I love this collection, from Penguin, short, yet complete) / Elizabeth revealed : 500 facts about the queen – Lucinda Hawkley (blame The Crown on that one)/ Playboy – Constance Debré (a book in French! It happens sometimes, and this one is amazing.)

May

The Prodigal tongue – Lynne Murphy (bought it at the Harvard bookstore, which is always a nice memory) / the Great zen wedding – Charles Bukowski/ Reunion – Charles Bukowski / The Hollow Crown – Dan Jones

June

White – Bret Easton Ellis (read it in three days) / The wicked wit of Prince Philip – Karen Dolby (gift from my mom, but didn’t like it, not remotely funny)/ Goodbye Watson – Charles Bukowski / Il Re Leone (yes, the Lion King in Italian!)/ Matilda – Road Dahl (with my students, tbh)

July

I shot a man in Reno – Charles Bukowski / Wife-wooing – John Updike / My thoughts exactly – Lily Allen (which was quite entertaining) / Henry VIII – John Goy (same wonderful Penguin collection)

August

The handmaid’s tale – Margaret Atwood (the BEST book I have read in 2019, period. Read it in two days.) / Mary I – John Edwards / The White Album – Joan Didion (didn’t like it) / Edward VIII – Piers Brendon / 99 glimpses of Princess Margaret – Craig Brown (I took a LOT of planes in August)/ Buffy: high school is hell (comic book)

September

The Etymologicon – Mark Forsyth (incredibly interesting) / The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (couldn’t stop it, read it in four days) / the wicked wit of Queen Elizabeth II – Karen Dolby (also from my mom, but that one was funnier at least.) /American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis (can you spell “masterpiece”?)

October

And then they were none – Agatha Christie (last time I read it I was eleven, and it’s still as good as then)/ La regina del ghiaccio (Frozen, but in Italian. Baby steps, guys, baby steps!)/ US History for dummies (this is not a joke, as I have an “Introduction to culture and history class”) / The Crimes of Grindelwald – JK Rowling (definitely the worst thing she has ever written)

November

Rebecca – Daphné du Maurier (I would like to thank forever the student who gave me that book. I forced myself to read only one chapter a day so I could appreciate fully the story!) / The story of English – David Crystal (this is technically a book about English, but in a funny way and not related to my MA) / A rainbow in the cloud – Maya Angelou (aka the most incredible author ever. It should be mandatory to study her art.)

December

The adventure of English – Melvyn Bragg (also about the English language, but in a nice, entertaining way) / Elizabeth I – Helen Castor / American Boy – Helene Combe of Glencoe (well, okay, I may have also written that one)

I hope you survived through this incredibly long article, which was not meant to make you snore, I swear. I didn’t include the numerous books I read for my MA and Delta module 2. If I have to suggest only one book for you to read, it would be The Handmaid’s tale by Margaret Atwood. I couldn’t let it down, and I felt terrible once it was finished. I haven’t purchased the sequel for now, because I don’t have the time to read for now, and I want to have all the time in the world for this one.

© 2020 Helene Combe

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