Diary from Dublin: The moving house
In her fifth diary entry, Ruth Powell feels unsettled by her recent house move and a student complaint but is soothed by a spot of belly dancing and a cup of Earl Grey tea.
I have been moving house recently. An eternity of packing and re-packing, unpacking and discarding. Conversations about throwing away old VHS tapes and discussions about the merits of holding onto old Christmas cards. It has been all-consuming and so much more difficult than any of my other nineteen moves since 1990. As the gods of unfairness and the fairies of trickery would have it, that same week the module in one of my classes was Homes and houses so even in my few hours of sanity from the world of cardboard boxes, I had to teach a whole group of unsuspecting individuals the differences between detached and semi-detached houses, houseboats and chalets, log cabins and mansions. Brilliant!
The main purpose of moving into my new flat was to have a spare room and a small backyard where I can grow carrots and strawberries. Yet ever since moving house, it’s been raining so much in Dublin that all I can think about is the potential flood damage should the rains not stop. The extra room remains full of boxes and it has not magically turned into a creative study-slash-meditation area, which should be its final guise. This movement has made me feel very temporary about myself, to quote Arthur Miller, and not even listening to my husband singing She’s always a woman to me at our local pub’s karaoke could make me feel any better. Brown eyed girl didn’t help either. Something was wrong.
A movement can be so positive, it intrinsically implies progress, advancement and a march towards a sunnier garden and an extra bedroom for guests. But what happens when the movement is more negative and feels more like a shove and a push, a climb and a departure? I was feeling very unsettled.
The week passed and the new keys were cut and I was just about to take a sigh of relief when all of a sudden, a student complained about me!
“Holy methodology, Batman; a student complaint!”
Yes, a student complaint will send shudders through the shoulders of even the most experienced and wizened old English language trainers of adult learners. We may seem like a resilient and mobile group of egotistical maniacs, but even our cloaks of invincibility can fall like dust to the ground when a student complains. I don’t know any teachers who can handle this side-effect of our chosen careers well. One day all is well – your students are happy and clapping and singing and smiling. The next day the earth moves and your feet are no longer planted safely.
When the complaints come, rare though they might be as even the sun in Dublin, the teacher feels so sad. It reminds me of my niece, Sorcha, who took a terrible shock on her first day at school. She came home to her parents saddened and bewildered after her first day, and when they asked her why she didn’t enjoy the exciting experience, she told them it was because “not everybody thinks I’m great!”. The horror, the horror of not everyone thinking you’re great. I don’t know any teachers who, on some level, don’t want everyone to think they are great.
Thankfully though, the week ended wonderfully with a whole piñata, origami, belly-dancing session. I’ll try to explain. I had previously given a rather vague and unconvincing explanation about the differences between the present perfect and present perfect continuous tenses. Students were confused and the day had left us all shaken. So instead of continuing on this moonbeam of grammar, for homework I asked them to prepare a five minute presentation entitled ‘How to …’ with the objective that they should teach their fellow classmates how to do something the very next day.
So, the very next day Carlos from Mexico taught us how to make a piñata and we all enjoyed that thoroughly. Yuriko and Haruka from Japan taught us how to make a crane using origami and Aseel taught us some belly-dancing moves for beginners. The students were using all sorts of grammatical constructions during their presentations and we all had a marvellous time. I managed to forget about the earlier complaint and indeed the moving house.
I went home after the class and the sun was shining in my new backyard so I made a cup of Earl Grey tea and sat there quietly. Things are still swaying in this moving house but foundations are settling.