This post almost didn’t happen, not because I don’t want to reflect a little on last year and start thinking ahead to next year, but because I wanted to start with a little blurb about the Roman god who gives his name to the month. But then I looked it up on Wikipedia, and, well, I got a bit lost in the mythology.
What did stick out for me as a nifty conceit was the idea of hanging this post around the different epithets granted to the god. Traditionally, Janus was the was portrayed as having two faces, earning him the epithet geminus, one looking forward, the other backward, a sort of proto-reflective practitioner, perhaps. He was, as the name suggests, the source of the name of this month, and had a number of epithets, suggesting different roles. These, pulled off Wikipedia, I’m afraid, included:
Pater – Janus the father
Patulcius and Clusivius – open and closed doors, the gatekeeper
Iunonius – patron of the kalends, or of the months
Consivius – the sower, a reference to conception and birth
So, in honour of his role as geminus and traditional guardian of this month, my reflections and resolutions will follow those themes.
I have been a father for a little over seven years, and last year was a top year in that regard, although I would probably have said that every year. It is, genuinely, one of my favourite things, and certainly it was the strains of last year, particularly the first six months of it, that really consolidated for me the idea that as much as I love my job, and the work I do, ultimately, it comes significantly below “children” on the list of “things I care lots about”. Certainly there were moments in the first half of last year where “work” me had a bad effect on “Dad” me, which was roughly the point when I k ew things had gone too far, and I needed to make some changes.
So this is about work-life balance, really. My “Dad” persona is essentially the most extreme form of who I am when I am outside the work context, but there are other things there too. Fitness is a big one. One thing I realised last year was that I treat stress with sugar, and sugar is a tough drug to quit. There are definitely several extra pounds there that need to come off, and to force me to do so, I’m going to sign up (on payday so I can pay the registration fee) for a Manchester-Leeds charity bike ride in September hoping that this will help force me to exercise more and eat better. The charity aspect will keep me on the straight and narrow better than setting specific goals, so watch this space for tedious posts about cycling and, of course, requests for sponsorship.
Janus Patulcius and Janus Clusivius
Open and closed doors. Gosh, I could write a ton of stuff there. I think I closed the teacher training door last year, apart from CELTA. It was at least partly the fallout from the mistakes of 2013-2014 academic year, where I took on far too much, and lots of it stuff I didn’t like, meaning that I didn’t put enough effort in where it was needed. But also ESOL teacher education in the UK is a tough affair. Inevitably, given cuts to ESOL generally and the small number of jobs available, there will only be a small cohort of teachers for the Level 5 ESOL Specialism. As a result, getting any institution to run that course will be a fight and a half, and I’ve sort of given up there, as well as probably having sacrificed a chunk of professional capital with which I might have been able to fight. Closing doors also means a recognition of limits, and acknowledging what is realistically possible: essentially saying “no”. I’ve learned to use this word, quite forcefully, and it’s been quite an enjoyable experience. It’s a word to use with care and caution, of course, but it’s been good to use. The door to teacher education is slightly ajar, perhaps, but for now, I don’t plan to re-open it.
But opening doors! I am researching again, properly and with financial support, which is good. And it’s a little controversial and likely to be unpopular, which is also a source of pleasure for me. I want it to ask awkward questions, even if the answers are not what I expect them to be, and challenge perceptions a little. In other words, I like the idea of principled pissing people off. It makes my brain fizz, and it’s not done that for a long time.
And refocusing on my own specialism, rather than moving towards the generic principles of teacher education is actually an opening not a closing. People at my point in their careers usually go one of two ways: training or management. I’m taking time out from the former, and the latter is of only limited appeal for the time being: beyond a certain level, I don’t think my skills lead that way. Being a specialist means I get a secure base for exploring other directions, and directions that I do enjoy lots: writing, workshop leading, blogging lots, researching, conferencing and maybe doing stuff completely unrelated to my job.
So what do the months ahead mean for me? I have challenges for sure: my role as Coach is under scrutiny like never before, with clear financial implications if it doesn’t work out. I am developing as an ICT teacher for ESOL learners, although I’d like a bit more of a balance with “straight” ESOL in future. I want to get back to reflecting and changing my own practice properly, so I can be better at helping other people do it. Essentially this is about stasis and movement: for a time there I was in developmental stasis, and I need to refocus on movement and change. I want to try things out and make mistakes, rather than kowtowing to meeting standards for lesson observations. I want to challenge and discuss and argue, not just with others, but with my own practices.
The Sower. I think there are some seeds that I have planted, some ideas and plans conceived and ready to go. All that remains is to see how they grow and how they develop over the coming year. Happy New Year!