Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Category: adulting (page 1 of 5)

It’s okay not to be okay

Turns out 2020 is not exactly what we have been hoping for.

Actually, it has been the complete opposite: seeing half of Europe quarantined, in lockdown, and hearing presidents, prime ministers talking about closing borders, closing schools up till September(to name a few), well, nobody thought about it.

Since the beginning of this whole lockdown thing, I have seen, heard, read about numerous ideas about how to cope with this difficult time. Extremely motivated people, some of them being my friends, seemed to have a lot of projects: “It’s great,” one friend told me, “you are going to be able to focus on your MA!” “I have decided to work out every day,” another told me. “I am going to learn Korean!” “I am going to learn how to cook!” “I am going to write a novel!” “I am going to read Lord of the Rings!” Let me tell you, the list was endless. And it made me feel like shit.

What have I done since the beginning of this nightmare? I called my parents, who are in Brittany, so roughly one thousand kilometers away from me every day for at least one hour. I binge watched Hannah Montana the second Disney + was available in France and The Chilling adventures of Sabrina before that. The only book I managed to finish was edited by Disney Press and is a part of the Twisted Tales collection (A whole new world – what if Jafar got the lamp before Aladdin?). I have worked maybe two hours on my MA because the current module is annoying me so much that I can’t focus on it. I have worked A LOT on my Italian because I can’t wait to go back there. I worked out a week or so, and gave up. I adopted a puppy. I haven’t written a novel, a short story, or even an article before this one.

The truth is, we don’t know what will happen. It’s hard to focus on the future when you don’t know what it will hold. Sure, it was okay for a few days to hang at home. It was (and it is still) an interesting experience to teach online college students and senior students. I am nowhere near to leave my current job to teach online full time though. As I said, it’s an experience, but I’ll be damn glad when it will be done.

Come on, I am not going to complain: my job will still be here at the end of this dreadful moment (actually, I’ll have a better job at the local college), I have a nice apartment, I have my husband, my cats and a lovely puppy who is glued to me 24/7. But I am also a teacher who is fighting against inequalities, who thinks that everybody should have the same chances, and who knows that the gap between the students is getting wider by the minute.

So now, I am not okay. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back home (my real home – Aosta Valley, Italy). I don’t know if my students are going to find a deeper motivation within themselves. I hate the uncertainty. I hate to ignore where I am going, it has been giving me anxiety for the past thirty years; imagine how terrifying the world is to me now.

But I am not going to write a book, start a blog about cooking, learn an exotic foreign language. If I am considered lazy, or depressed, or whatever, well, be it. I am not going to pretend that it’s all going to be fine because it’s important to stay positive. I made peace with the fact that I’m not okay, that I am nowhere near to be okay, and with the fact that pretending is not gonna work for me. Self-acceptance, you say?


This week, a campaign was launched, I am sure you saw it: #AntiBullyingWeek. The numbers of bullied people increased drastically over the years, and we can thank social networks for that. Before, bullied people were harassed at school, but were done back home. Now, it’s everywhere, all the time. I am not saying that because I wanna be trendy. I am saying that because I have been bullied for years.

I was too tall, too nerdy, I had glasses, and I was the scapegoat just because I was there. Nobody tried to save me, nobody lift a finger. They (teachers, principals, adults in general) didn’t say a word to stop my abusers. Until I punched them back, when I was fifteen. Don’t worry, I didn’t get in trouble after all, because other students stepped in and testified on my behalf.

Do you think that story changed something in my high school? The answer is no. Bullies continued their dirty work, and nothing changed. But in November 2006, it was too much for a friend of mine. He couldn’t stop the constant insults, the anonymous scathing letters he was receiving on his bag, and it was the beginning of AIM. Back home, he was getting insulted on the Internet. He told people about it, his friends, his teachers. Nobody, including me, did a thing. We all thought it was just a rough patch.

He hanged himself before turning 18.

It’s been twelve years now but I still feel the rage I felt that day. I remember everything: the person who told me, the way people looked at us, his friends, on the hallway. Everybody talked about the incident for months. Teachers admitted later that they knew, but they didn’t take the time to talk with him.

I am far from perfect, but when a student of mine isn’t okay, I talk with him or her, even if it’s just for five minutes, after a class. I just don’t assume it’s a rough patch. Because bullying can kill, and I will always recall the face of his bullies when they had to carry his coffin, back in November 2006.

Bullying is not a joke, and bullies must be punished.

How do you know enough is enough?

Over the past two years, I taught a lot of students. I did face to face with high school students, worked in a bilingual primary school, taught a bunch of retired people, started to teach in a business school. I am not entirely confident still, but I am starting to know what is fine by me or not. Before I left for Yale, I started to teach General English to adults here in France. It was face to face, which wasn’t my choice, but it was just for a couple of days. I stopped face to face with high school students last year because I couldn’t cope with it anymore.

After I came back from the US, several adult learners asked me to come back. The first two weeks were fine, the students were well-rested, almost motivated. But rapidly, they cancelled last minute, didn’t show any interest and of course, couldn’t focus more than ten minutes in a row. They were never rude to me, but their minds were clearly off.

Here is my question today, folks: is it okay to just drop it? Can we say, as educators, “I don’t want to waste my time on you, because clearly, you don’t give a crap about me?” Because they don’t, I mean, they waste their time, I waste my time.  Why do they want to pay for a face to face class if they don’t want to work?

If a learner isn’t motivated, as a teacher, can we say “I am done?”

Because I am afraid I’ll do so pretty soon. I have realized recently that I wasn’t comfortable with face to face classes anymore. I prefer the thrill of a group, the challenge it can represent. Maybe I am growing up, changing, maybe I am just fed up with unmotivated students.

But how can I say “this is not for me anymore” when the industry is so tough? Who am I to say so?

Let’s wrap it up!

What a ride that was. I arrived at Yale with all my naiveté,  my hopes and dreams. That was six weeks ago, and tonight is graduation. Real life will kick in soon, and I am not ready at all!

Truth is, I am exhausted. These past two years were a continuous rollercoaster: I did several training courses (TKT, CELTA, CertIBET, Yale…), I moved a lot (France, England, France again, England again, Connecticut..), I taught 20h/week (not bad for a newbie, right?).

The fog lifted, I know what I want to do next, and I can thank Yale English Language Institute for that.

So, I am going to do something really unusual for me: I am going to switch off my laptop and my phone!

I am going to enjoy my moment, to have fun, to frame my Yale diploma, and to come back in September 🙂

Happy Holidays everybody!

I care too much

There is something I realized last week, and I am not (really) proud of it: I care too much.

It’s good, as a teacher, to care for your students: you want them to succeed, you want them to understand, you praise them… Caring is undeniable for a teacher. You can’t be a teacher if you don’t care. Be a zookeeper or a supermarket security guard if all you care about is listening to yourself and ignoring your students.

But I do care too much. See, I was thinking about taking another job, and that would mean leaving my current students behind. I always found excuses not to leave them, for example:

-She will lose her motivation

-They are used to our habits and won’t behave well

-He will stop his efforts

-They won’t continue to learn

I am lucky enough not to have really difficult groups, nor students, they are, most of them, motivated, nice, friendly. Even my busiest student always tries to make an effort, because she knows I care. When I left BEET last August, I cried during my flight back home because my students had sent me a nice email and some lovely comments on Instagram. Maybe I am too sensitive, maybe I am just a newbie and I need experience, but either way, I couldn’t leave my current students and I decided not to get the other job.

For now, I don’t care about something else than my students’ improvement. I want them to feel good during our classes, and to enjoy them, as much as I do. I don’t know if I am right to care this much, but I am afraid that, for now, I am not able to be otherwise.

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