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Archive for October, 2007

Going for a goal goal

It’s time for a new challenge.

But where to find one? Of course, there are countless lists of things to do before you hit 30, 40, 60, or the big snooze button.

Sadly, these are often lists of how to rack up mountains of debt in a short period of time: Go on a world cruise, watch the World Cup final, buy a Scottish castle…

Or they comprise lame attempts to be outrageous: Get drunk on absinthe, set off a fire extinguisher, drive at more than 200 km/h…

Not really what I have in mind.

But why the need for a challenge?

Well, I’ve got used to having a long-term goal as part of my life.

The latest bout of must-have-a-goaldom began in 2003. I’d just started running again after a year’s recuperation from a disc injury. I promised myself I’d run a marathon the following year.

After building up the mileage for twelve months, I started the full training programme on January 1st, 2004. I found the book “Marathoning for Mortals” a tremendous inspiration.

Two lines in particular have stuck in my mind:

“In the end, it all comes down to a single final step.”

“There comes a moment when you know that you will finish.”

I know there are thousands of similar quotes, but these two, like the best ones, hit the right spot at the right time. I taped them above my desk.

I ran my first marathon in May 2004. It was a stunningly beautiful spring day.

hurtling to the finish line

The most poignant moment was indeed the moment when I knew that I would finish. This was about 2km from the finish line when I could hear the announcements drifting, with erratic volume, over a rippling blue Lake Ontario.

The moment I finished the 42km race, I vowed I’d run another. I didn’t want to be someone who said they’d never do it again. 

Five months later, in driving Toronto rain just a few degrees above freezing, I ran my second marathon. Better prepared, I beat my previous time by thirty minutes.

anyone got a spare foil blanket?

Someday, I’ll write more about these races.

Following this physical challenge, it seemed right to go for a change of focus.

A master’s degree beckoned. For various reasons, I had hoped to avoid this return to academia, but the circumstances seemed right.

So, I enrolled at a university back in the UK, and spent the next two and a half years completing this distance learning course.

The final results have just come through. This, I hope, will be the last of the major qualifications relating to teaching/education that I undertake.

Taking a short digression from self-deprecatory, be-hairshirted, blowing-up-of one’s-own-trumpet Britishness, my teaching “credentials” now include:

* PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) – the British secondary school teaching qualification, which allows me to teach French and German to kids aged 11-18. I am very very unlikely ever to need this piece of paper for any practical purpose.

* DELTA (University of Cambridge Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) – a course for experienced teachers that has rigorous practical and theoretical components. If you have this piece of paper, employers know that you have the nous to cut it in the classroom. When you put your mind to it.

* MA TESOL (Master of Arts degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) – this says nothing about my teaching ability, but proves that I can knock out a mean research dissertation on task-based learning. If any of you have insomnia issues, I might be able to help…

“Ah but this blog is soporific enough, thank you very much, Mr. Wapentake.”

OK, OK, let’s get back to the goal goal.

I’ve gone from a physical to an academic challenge. Now, I have to come up with the next venture.

I like my goals to require a bit of concerted effort and to have a definite ending.

Suggestions anyone?

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Moaning markers

Before I start this uncharitable rant, let me list a few of my personal commandments. They include the following:

1. I will not consume sugary snacks before lunch (reckless abandon thenceforth [sic] is freely permitted).

2. I refuse to accept that pants is an giggle-free synonym of trousers.

3. I will NOT complain about SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME MARKING STUDENTS’ WORK.

Followed by another hundred or so articles of similar gravity and moral rectitude.

Most tenets of my personal faith may be broken at will by the rest of the world’s population, with the exception of number three. Plus a few dozen others.

Having said that, transgressions of THE MARKING SIN by novice teachers are begrudgingly allowed. With experience enlightenment will come unbidden. One hopes.

For seasoned classroom practitioners, however, breaches of THE MARKING SIN are allowable only on rare occasions of extreme marking stress.

Such as when end-of-term exams clash with the World Cup. Hypocrite lectureur? [sic again] Moi?

At work, we currently have a wanton serial sinner in our midst.

I put her first two excessive marking mentions down to carelessness on her behalf – minor social gaffes that anyone could make.

I tarred and feathered forgave and blessed her accordingly.

But a worrying pattern emerged. The slightest effort at social pleasantries on my part would be met by graphic depictions of hardcore marking sessions.

For example, this Monday morning’s exchange went something like this:

Me: Morning, how are you?

Manic Marker: Surviving.

Me: How was your weekend?

Manic marker: Well, I just spent two whole days in this corner, marking essays and homework.

Me: May I point out that your comments are a flagrant contravention of Tenet Three as decreed by The Way I Reckon We Should Go About Doing Stuff?

My actual response (reaching in my locked drawer for my dolls and stick pins): That’s too bad.

After this episode, I wonder if I can trust myself to engage in social niceties with someone who sees the most inocuous social intercourse as an opportunity for flagrant oneupmanship (Oneuppersonship? Oneupism? Oneupness? Sanctimonious bollocks).

But in the spirit of pedagogic togetherness, I would like to offer this advice to any experienced teachers and professors who are teetering on the brink of casually mentioning how singularly burdened with marking they are:

* You probably are not.

* Other educators do not want to know.

* You need time management skills.

* You don’t fool me.

* You should give more focussed feedback.

* You are overburdening your students with excessive feedback.

* You are much missed by your friends and family.

* And your thirty six cats.

* You will not look back on your life wishing you had devoted more weekends to marking.

* On second thoughts, people like you just might.

* You may find yourself the target of one of my notorious Saturday blog rants.

It’s not too late to change. Career, even.

Think on.

Mark my words. 

Must go now. I have absolutely piles of, you know, stuff to do.


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Free Burma


Free Burma!

 Stand with the Burmese protestors

Here are some photographs taken in Burma, January 2007.

A beautiful country under an ugly regime.

sunset over popa mountain burma

Sunset over Popa mountain. 

sunset over bagan temple burma

 Sunset over Bagan temple.

sunset at sagaing burma

 Sunset at Sagaing.

fishing boat burma

Sunset over fishing boat.

And may the sun set with haste on the junta.

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