Image courtesy of CameliaTWU
One year. On May 17, 2013, I started this blog as a way of creating a separate space for me to reflect on what I was doing, learning, and thinking about as an ELT instructor and educator. What I didn’t expect was that anyone would actually read it. Seventy(!) posts later, here I am wondering what it is I have accomplished over this time. Did I really learn anything? Did I actually help anyone else along the way? Is it what I expected it would be or has it evolved into something different? Am I better for having taken the time to write these posts or could my time have been better served elsewhere? Lastly, if I was to close the virtual door on this site, would anyone actually care? Would I care? So many questions.
My posts typically start with a story to illustrate what I am thinking about, and this is no different. Yesterday, a photo with a story from an NGO appeared in my Facebook feed which intrigued me. It was about a project being done in the Democratic Republic of Congo amongst the Pygmee people. To document the work that was going on there, the local office sent in their communications director to interview people and take some photos. Some of this is for media purposes, but it is also an important part of fulfilling funding requirements and tax reasons. After taking some photos with his digital camera, the communication director showed the photos to the inquisitive children hanging around. For them, this was the first time seeing themselves, not just on a camera, but at all. For them, there isn’t the need for mirrors and their houses don’t have windows so they don’t even catch a glimpse of themselves in the reflection.
Contrast that with our culture that is obsessed with how we look. We can’t help but go throughout the day seeing ourselves multiple times. The problem is that these images are distorted, and I am not just talking about the visual. We only see what we want to see. For many people, that means we see ourselves as fat, ugly, old, wrinkled, plain, bald, etc. But this isn’t how others necessarily see us. Other may see us as pretty, confident, wise, distinguished, humourous, and so on. Even when others try to convince us otherwise, we continue to see ourselves through the lens of our experience.
As a child, I remember being fascinated with my reflection in the curves of a simple spoon. On one side, I was this big, fat head that had huge eyes, while the reverse offered this tiny head that barely could be made out. This, of course, is a matter of optics, light reflecting at different angles. The beams of light enter in straight, but are driven out at various angles due to the depth and angle of the spoon. This is the same when it comes to how we perceive ourselves. When circumstances change, causing use to move off of our direct path, we can become frustrated and fail to see the positive results and changes that have happened.
I called this blog ELT Reflections* because I wanted that to be the focus of what I did. I wanted to look at what and how I did things and wanted to see how I could improve on that. Celebrate the success and move on from the failures. What I fear is that I have become too obsessed on my ‘appearance’ and I have failed in many ways to take distortion into account along the way. Maybe I was in a bad mood that day, or it might be that I was to rash in my judgment. No matter the reason, my lens became distorted and I was unable to see myself as others see me, whether good or bad. What I believe I need to start doing is to be more like those Pygmee children who only see themselves by what is ‘reflected back’ through others. My actions need to drive and also be receptive to change based on what happens around me. I should never be focused on myself, although I have been guilty of it throughout this process. I have things to say, but these need to be tempered by how I can help others grow. Yes, there are going to be those around me that do not reflect back due their obsession with themselves, but maybe that is why they are there. It just might be that my actions precipitate change in their lives.
I don’t know where this blog will go. To be honest, I am still working things out. In the meantime, I think it’s time for me to look through the window instead of focusing on the reflection.
*Note: When I chose the name for this blog, I was a bit too hasty and did not realize that there was another blog fantastically written by Chris Ożóg with the same name, only with a change in the URL by one letter. If I had taken the time to find that out in the first place instead of months down the road, I wouldn’t have chosen this name. In time, I will probably move this blog over to another URL in order to remove any confusion along these lines as a matter of respect to Chris and the work that he is doing. I do feel terrible about doing that, even if it was completely innocent. I just needed to get that off my chest.