Thoughts and reflections

Expectations satisfied?

Around this time last year Hana Tichá took a small step for her, but a giant leap for the ELT blogging community. She tagged me.

If you feel the above claim is a tad exaggerated – fine, I was looking for an effective opening. But it _is_ rather better than saying, “This post is going to be about [insert topic here] ”, don’t you think?

I’m very much the type of person who likes poking her nose into other people’s makeup bags, reading lists, family albums, music collections…you get the idea. On the hunch that there may be some kindred spirits out there, a bit voyeuristically inclined where ELT blogging is concerned, I thought I would take a look back and see if there’s any insightful conclusion I can draw at the end of my first year. Although I’m not at all sure that there will be, so no promises.

Looking back at 2014
Looking back at 2014

My first post was Eleven, which I think was a great way to start, as everybody and his sister was doing it and it was quite clearly not meant to be a post replete with significant contributions to the collective wisdom of language teaching. As subsequent posts naturally turned out to be. 🙂 I set myself some homework in that post, listing a couple of topics that I thought I wanted to write about at the time. This seemed to be prudent because I have found that am more likely to stick with something if I commit to it publicly. Looking at these topics now, I see that I managed to address – sort of – a grand total of two: #1 in Some perks of teaching online, and #10 in Customer satisfaction. It turns out that I’m not at all concerned about that; I might come back to the others at some point. Or not.

In February I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the chief reasons that there _is_ an online ELT community – the pretty amazing Mike Griffin, whose name I shall not misspell on my blog twice – included my blog in his post …In with the new. I thought that was really optimistic of him as the blog only consisted of three posts at the time. So I decided that I would try and post twice a month. However, with a total of 14 posts in 2014 even I, mathematically challenged as I am, can see that I’ve fallen a bit short of the mark. Turns out I’m not concerned about that either; in fact, I think I did pretty well. You see, the thing is, I take quite a long time to get started, and then even longer to finish a post off. No hitting publish for me unless I’ve quadruple-checked everything, slept on it, quadruple-checked again…Yes, I realize that’s sort of not the point of a blog, but there _is_ an upside: generally, I can go back and reread my posts without too much cringing. At least that’s what I tell myself. I should probably emphasize that I cringe at the smallest details. In my writing, I hasten to add, not other people’s. I do admire people who can dash off a post, hit publish, sit back and relax. How do you do it? Any practical suggestions?

Given the above, it’s probably ironic that the post which got the most views was the one I wrote with the greatest degree of spontaneity – The fear of being unemployable. I think I only let it sit a day before I posted it, and I didn’t edit much. People still occasionally read it now, which is amazing. Obviously it’s not that I think they shouldn’t or that it’s bad, but as mine is still a fledgling blog, a part of me is always filled with mild disbelief that there are people outside of my immediate family who would want to read it. In fact, it appears the blog has had views from 53 countries – an astounding number to me. Oh God. It has just occurred to me they could be mostly bots or something! Well, if they are, most of them come from Croatia, which is strangely comforting. Seriously, though, if these are real Croatians, that’s also great, because in the first couple of months I got very few views from Croatia.

Following on from this, most people seem to have found the blog from Twitter, which does not surprise me in the least. I’ve only recently (and reluctantly) joined another major social network, and frankly, the deal there seems to be mostly about personality quizzes, baby pictures and cat videos. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, you understand. I do love a good cat video. I also confess to being extremely disappointed with the lack of interesting search engine terms that brought people to the blog. All year I’ve been coming across people tweeting some truly bizarre – and cool – terms that brought visitors to their blogs, but the best that I’ve got is “apple shaped wordle”. See what I mean?

Croatians may have been my most frequent viewers, but they were a little reluctant to like posts or comment on them. That actually _is_ pretty much what you’d expect from Croatian readers, English teachers or not. They’re very restrained. Unless they’re commenting on something to do with Croatian politics or the economy, when they have been known to turn abusive. With good reason, I might add, but this is probably not the place… Where was I? Oh yes, likes and comments. Of course, you’re not supposed to act as if you give two hoots if anyone reads what you’ve written, because you’re writing for yourself, to help you reflect, and if someone reads it, cool, and if they don’t, that’s cool too – only the former is way cooler. I would therefore like to thank everyone who has read, liked, commented on or shared any of my posts, or followed the blog. At the risk of leaving someone out – because I have no stats on this – I would especially like to thank three ladies who often seemed to react to what I wrote and whose support has meant a lot: Hana Tichá, Ljiljana Havran and Zhenya Polosatova. I don’t know how much, if anything, I should read into the relative geographical proximity of the countries we come from? Probably not much though, if the restrained attitude of Croatians is anything to go by.

I’ve quite often thought about another person in connection with my blog this year – a teacher who goes by the name of Kate Springcait. She was the only person (to my knowledge) to take up the challenge in my first post – read her response here – and I have since noticed that professional development is very important to her. I have followed what Kate has been up to with great interest. I have often thought how I’ve been lucky to work with many excellent teachers at Octopus, some of them experienced, some less so, but I don’t recall anyone who approached PD with quite the same zeal – at least not that I ever knew about. Kate is exactly the kind of teacher that I would hire if I were still in a position to do so, and if people willing to pay for language courses in Croatia were not about as difficult to find as the Yangtze finless porpoise.

Final thoughts

When I set up the blog, I wasn’t sure what to call it. I wanted the name to be short and easy to memorize. I also didn’t want to use my name. After what was probably an agonizing amount of thinking (shocking, I know), I settled on a name that satisfied all three requirements, and described why I chose it on the about page.

It should have been absolutely clear from the start that the blog would not be about Octopus. And it hasn’t – not a single post. There are references to the school in several posts, and there is even a post about the school I worked for before joining Octopus. But the posts actually do reflect the name of the blog. No surprises there, you’d think; what is this about?

Strangely though, I now realize I _am_ mildly surprised by this. It’s a bit as if I didn’t quite expect I would be able to move on and am watching myself from the outside, thinking in bemusement – now how did that happen? I’m not sure what to do with this bit of insight though, if anything.

All in all, blogging – if posting once a month qualifies as blogging – has been very enjoyable and definitely worth the time invested. Reading other people’s posts and (sometimes) commenting on them too, but that’s another story. Right now I feel very sure that’s a post I’ll be writing quite soon…but no promises.

Thank you for reading and I wish you all the very best in 2015. I very much hope to see you around!



Possibly my first post should have been about something more serious, or at least something more obviously ELT-related. In my defense, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for quite a while now, so being tagged in the recent eleven-random-facts challenge that has been making the rounds was an excellent reason to stop procrastinating. Plus, if I’m honest, the challenge was fun! I enjoyed finding out more about the people in my PLN.

These are the steps:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Here we go.

Hana Tichá, who tagged me, is an EFL teacher from the Czech Republic, and an #ELTchat blogger. I’m somewhat in awe of the fact that she only started blogging last summer and is already up to nearly 50 posts, as well as impressed by her many insightful tweets on #ELTchat (she is @HanaTicha on Twitter). Thanks, Hana, for giving me this gentle nudge to start a blog!

Random facts about me:

  1. When I was in elementary school, I lived in Tripoli, Libya, for six years, but sadly know only a few isolated words of Arabic. I can still read the script though, or at least like to pretend I can.
  2. I enjoy following Ruth Crilly’s blog, A Model Recommends. For the writing. Seriously. And the pictures of her cat.
  3. I used to have the most acute elevator phobia. The first time I rode in an elevator on my own was at the age of nineteen.
  4. I taught in high school for exactly one day. Then I ran quit. I have the utmost admiration for all teachers who work with young learners and teenagers.
  5. I’m supposed to be doing a PhD in Applied Linguistics, but it would take too long to go into why this is not going quite according to plan.
  6. Apparently, I’m allergic to octopus, which is mildly ironic seeing as the school which I co-own is called Octopus Language Services. I wasn’t the one who came up with the name, though.
  7. I’ve spent at least part of every single summer on the Croatian island of Vis, where my grandfather is from. This remote place – it takes two and a half hours by ferry to get there – served as a military base in the days of Yugoslavia and tourism is therefore still a relatively novel concept. I still marvel at the fact that we now have a phone line and wifi…ok, the neighbors have wifi.
  8. I wore contacts for a few years while I was in junior high. They were soft contacts, but wearing them was still extremely uncomfortable and I was relieved to be able to go back to glasses.
  9. If I start on a book, I make a point of finishing it even if it takes a while. “The Corrections” had been sitting on my shelf for at least three years until I finally read it last summer.
  10. Croatian is my mother tongue, but the last time I actually had Croatian class was in third grade. As a result, I’m slightly paranoid about my written Croatian and convinced it must be full of errors.
  11. I like the scent of basil, and candles when you blow them out. Preferably not at the same time. 🙂
View from the porch on Vis
View from the porch on Vis

Answers to Hana’s questions:

  1. If you could change one thing about education in your country, what would it be?
    I’ve only ever worked in the private sector, apart from teaching at university, so I can only claim familiarity with the working conditions of adjunct faculty. The first thing I’d change would be the pay.
  2. Have you ever thought of quitting your job as an educator? Why?
    I didn’t plan on being a teacher. I thought I’d be a journalist or a career diplomat at university (and for some time afterwards). Now, however, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Running a school was partly an attempt to do something in addition to teaching, but even then I never considered giving it up completely.
  3. What’s your earliest memory as an educator?
    The first class I got paid for was with a group of doctors, nurses and technicians in an emergency room. I was in my last year of university and think I’ll always remember the slightly stunned faces. I wish it had been because they were bowled over by my competence and professional approach. In fact, it was because they had just witnessed the world’s shortest (albeit most detailed) presentation of the form and function of the past perfect, and their heads were literally spinning. 😦
  4. Is education valued where you live? If not, what is the main reason?
    I haven’t lived in Belgium long enough to judge, so I’ll stick to Croatia. In theory, education is valued – politicians are forever talking about how Croatia is “the country of knowledge” and how education will propel the country forward. In practice, most educators are underpaid and their working conditions are far from enviable. I cannot claim that it was much better before 2009, but things have certainly deteriorated markedly over the last five years, as the country keeps struggling to pull out of recession – and failing miserably.
  5. How do you think we could help to make teaching a more prestigious job?
    Frankly, I’m not convinced it will ever be described as prestigious, but I’m okay with that. Maybe time will prove me wrong. Until it does, I’m glad to be able to describe teaching as worthwhile, meaningful, gratifying, inspiring, fulfilling…and really mean it.
  6. Apart from burning out, what’s the biggest danger for a teacher?
    Thinking that there’s nothing left for them to learn. I briefly felt that way, a couple of years ago – for reasons that would take another post to go into – but was lucky enough to quickly receive a reality check.
  7. Did anyone try to put you off teaching in the past?
    No. That said, I can’t remember anyone actively encouraging me either. Maybe because I never actually said, “I want to be a teacher.” I’m happy with the way things turned out, though.
  8. Why do you think teaching can bring so much satisfaction but also frustration?
    I think any activity in which you are deeply invested does that. There’s also the fact that you connect with students in a way that you can’t with accounts or figures. But the human element is what sometimes makes teaching a “messy” job. It spills over into your personal time and is essentially a never-ending story. There’s always something to plan, grade, write up…and the effort is not always recognized. If there’s constantly more frustration than satisfaction, maybe it’s time to consider a career change.
  9. What makes you happy?
    When I force myself to do something which I know is the right thing to do, but I’m either too frightened or too much of a procrastinator, and so keep putting it off.
  10. When did you last laugh out loud?
    Yesterday, while watching The Big Bang Theory. Call me juvenile, but I love that show.
  11. If your child/best friend wanted to become a teacher, what piece of advice would you give him or her?
    I would probably find it very hard to restrict myself to one piece of advice. Today I think I’d say they should focus on making their teaching learner-centered. As a teacher trainer, I’ve often seen it take a while for new teachers to become comfortable enough in their role to be able to focus more on the student than on themselves. But tomorrow I’d probably say something different. 🙂

Now we come to the part where I’m supposed to nominate eleven bloggers. I’ve given this some thought and decided to change the final steps. Everyone I can think of (with a blog) has been tagged already, and most people more than once. Also, as I’ve only just started with this blog, I thought it better to set myself some homework.

The following questions touch on some of the topics that I would like to write about, so I’m going to attempt expanding at least some of them into posts over the next few…months, most likely. A lot of them may turn out to be too general and will probably need narrowing down. If anyone decides that they’d like to answer any of the questions on their own blog, please do let me know; I’d love to read your post(s)! So that’s a kind of tag, I guess. 🙂

  1. What are the pros and cons of teaching only online?
  2. Why are you enthusiastic about eLearning?
  3. Which (new) technologies did you try out last year?
  4. What do you like about Moodle?
  5. Can a teacher run a successful business?
  6. What do private language schools look for in a teacher?
  7. Should a DoS teach?
  8. What are the biggest differences between teaching adults (in-company courses) and university students?
  9. What are your favorite ice-breakers?
  10. How do you ask for student feedback and what do you do with it?
  11. Do you prefer working with a textbook or without one?