‘My passion is being lost’ by Anita Lewicka

My passion for teaching is being lost.  Or, I’m losing the passion as the world around me seems to be giving up on me. In contrast to the world, however, I haven’t given up yet! So, below you may find some flicker of hope when carefully reading between the lines of self-portrayal. My thoughts present here are indirectly linked to the apparent discrimination against non-native EFL teachers in the Netherlands (not Dutch teachers of English). Besides, these free and somewhat disquieting thoughts here are directly linked to and stem from my personal experience and insightful observations. No offence meant! This is an absolutely intimate confession.

Why do it? Well, to put it bluntly, I’ve had enough! Well, I want to see if there is still any tiny spark (not a former shower of sparks) within my motivation and life drive! Well, I keep repeating to myself umpteen times that I’ve made the right decision having come here to pursue my career as an EFL teacher and/or teacher trainer! Since “passion” seems the key word here and the key word in my life, I’ve, therefore, decided to introduce some famous quotations to guide me through my writing and to help me logically present my story to you:

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.” /Maya Angelou/

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been into teaching, into languages and into own development. My dear place of work, about to be closed down, Teachers’ Training College in Toruń (Poland), always inspired me in my professional development. Not the building itself, though located in the beautiful green scenery, but the people who made the place. I can sincerely say that the inquiring minds of my former students, the intense involvement of some of my colleagues in the didactic process were truly exceptional. To me, it was an incredible place to work at and to passionately thrive for almost eighteen years.

“The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it’s possible to achieve the (…) dream.” /Tom Hilfiger/

Gradually building my career was motivating and it undeniably navigated me in the seemingly right direction. Teaching the History of the British Isles, Integrated Skills (B2 –C2), supervising the B.A. EFL Diploma Projects or training / mentoring my teacher trainees were great moments of professional fulfillment, seeing the young minds, usually inspired to study and to become English teachers afterwards.

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Co-developing innumerable supplementary materials for the Practical English modules as well as generating my own syllabus and handouts for the CLIL-focused British History course were inciting steps in my professional progress. I was convinced I was able to achieve anything.

 “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” /Harriet Tubman/

Not enough strength in me, though! Why? Last year I gave up teaching at my Teachers’ Training College knowing that 2015 would be the last year for the College on the educational scene in Poland. Why? Again, politics and short-sighted politicians who can’t see any need for teacher trainees to be educated or for INSET teachers to refresh their EFL methodology, etc. According to the Ministry of Education in Poland, such institutions are no longer effective because of the dwindling population in my country and because of the overwhelming number of teachers in schools. Besides, exorbitant funds to maintain such institutions! Or maybe “funds” should come in the first place?! So, because there are too many teachers in Poland (soon there will be too many unemployed teacher trainers in Poland), there is no point in training new teachers, etc. The authorities and the ministry are relentless; although numerous repair plans had been drafted, no positive response, no good will.

Therefore, “the passion to reach for the stars” and to further develop, was somehow lost! Or, when looking at the situation from a totally different angle, the decision of the politicians might have been an eye-opener in order for me to grow professionally somewhere else.

“Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and, above all, don’t let anyone limit your dreams.” /Donovan Bailey/

How ironic! Unfortunately, my dreams were limited, if not taken away from me completely! Beforehand, wanting to learn and develop continuously, I’d also graduated in Italian Studies and hoped to combine two foreign languages in my professional life. Silly me! All in vain, even at my other place of work! Besides teaching at Teachers’ Training College, for ten years I had simultaneously been a part-time EFL teacher at the Academic Secondary School for talented students.

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This is a particular school designed for exceptional students from all around Poland. Based in Toruń, it’s one of top secondary schools according to the Perspektywy national  rankings. Nevertheless, for some years now the school has been trying to grapple with one essential knotty problem: how to prevent the school from being closed down? Again, money seems to be the main issue here as the school is too expensive to be maintained by the local university and the students choose to study in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Cracow instead. To cut a long story short and to come back to my experience, I decided to leave the place because its future is uncertain and, apart from that, I wouldn’t be able to combine English with Italian in my teaching. So, “Arrivederci.” Besides, a colleague of mine was desperate to get my teaching position and, in my generosity, I recommended her for my post. My dream was to spread my wings and to soar to new destinations. However, I miss my students from that school: so inspiring, open-minded and conscientious. A teacher’s dream to have such students who follow their passions and motivate you to follow yours. Self-made materials and individualized approach characterized my teaching there. It was the students’ involvement and their hunger for more and more that gave me a lot of ideas for my publications for Cambridge University Press. As the coursebooks I co-wrote were focused on developing EFL integrated skills at A2-B2+ levels, the CLIL approach held the key there.

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re willing to take risks.” /Yo-Yo Ma/

At some point, though, I did take a risk; I gave up my work at that school as I gave up my work at the college. And then numerous impudent rumours started reaching my ears: “she’s left the sinking ship”; “she washed off her hands when the situation was hopeless”; “she thinks she’s better”, etc. My instinct told me to let go and to open up to new possibilities. Then I decided to give an explanation to the rumours. So, I left, which is the only fact in the rumours. I left because I saw no future ahead of me: Poland doesn’t invest in foreign languages anymore; teaching standards are dramatically falling because students are taught mainly to pass their examinations and the essence of teaching is being killed in the growing number of nonsensical ministerial changes. The teachers’ didactic input is being limited, whereas their bureaucratic workload is dramatically growing. Madness!

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” /Anthony J.D’Angelo/

It may be true as long as you are determined to go on against all odds. Once the decision had been made, there I was facing the music by facing my unfathomable future options. Having previously fallen in love with the serenity of the Netherlands and seeing here a personal chance to grow as a CLIL language teacher, I settled down in Zuid Holland (South Holland). It was in September 2014.

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I wanted to base my career here on my four professional points, namely on English, on Italian, on EFL Methodology, and on writing educational EFL materials as previously done for Cambridge University Press. I opened my own language company “Friendly Lingua” to attract some private students. However, what I really wanted was to have a stable job in an educational institution here. I sent all the required documents to the Dutch Ministry of Education to obtain the recognition of my teaching qualifications. It took me almost half a year to finally get my first-grade qualifications; the Dutch Ministry granted me permission to teach here at all levels of language advancement and, additionally, to enable me to grow here as a teacher trainer. Full of hope, I started sending loads of applications. Apparently, no luck for me here! Why? Is there any stigma attached to teachers from Poland here? Is it so hard for an individual to break the stereotypes that exist? Not every Polish person coming here is a thief, a fraud, knowns only Polish, or wants to take advantage of the state.

“Patience and time do more than strength or passion.” /Jean de la Fontaine/

I’ve been patient for a long time now but am slowly losing any glimmer of hope. I know the HR people at any place have to verify everything but deep down I feel as if the officials here smelt a rat in my documents. It’s my personal opinion, if not a paranoia already. Let me present to you one interview example:

Yes, I’ve been fervently looking for any job opportunities coming my way. Yes, I’ve learnt to humbly accept any refusal and / or any feedback they send me after having rejected me. Yes, I’ve attended some job interviews, the most desired and the most anticipated was at one university. I was meant to be either a freelance Lecturer of English or a full-time Lecturer of English. When invited to have the interview as a freelancer, I apparently made a very good impression on my prospective head, namely a professor and teacher trainer from the UK as well as on the Head of the HR Department. We talked a lot about methodology, teaching, they showed their timetable, asked me whether the time slots were convenient for me. Apart from this, we discussed my previous experience when teaching adults, instructing them in business English, etc. Everything seemed to click in place. Two weeks later, to my great disappointment, I got a letter informing me that they had hired someone else. I asked for feedback and never got one in writing but then again, surprise surprise, they invited me again for the post of a full-time Lecturer of English. I was full of hope thinking that they were giving me still another chance. I had even prepared a series of activities for business English based on their website. The Head of the HR Department was impressed and, at first, he gave me some oral feedback on my previous job interview. As it turned out, there was a candidate who had had much more experience in the sector, so they chose him/her over me. At the start of the second interview for the full-time position there, the Head of the HR said that they had very good and highly qualified candidates and I was one of them. I got the feeling, however, that they had already made up their minds about the other candidate and mine was just the standard interview they had to follow according to the law, etc. Instead of the British guy, this time there was a career adviser in his place. It was a young woman who told me at some point that I was too enthusiastic and too passionate about teaching. She seemed overwhelmed by the answers I gave them; I got the feeling she did not know my CV at all; the HR Head told her about my high credentials and Diploma Erkenning en Legalisatie (first-grade teaching qualifications). When I showed them my activities I had prepared about the school and started going over them, the man was impressed saying: “How lovely! I’ll show the material to the dean.” She, by contrast, said: “Thank you for doing your homework.” I didn’t know how to react. A friend of mine, who is a psychologist, told me afterwards that HR people play different tricks on the candidates they interview. She stared at my forehead for a long time, she yawned, she rolled her eyes – using such techniques, she obviously wanted to test me or anything of this kind. At the end of the interview I simply said to her: “Sorry for being too enthusiastic.” The man was friendly and approachable from the start but at the end I got the gut feeling that I wouldn’t be selected to work for them. I wasn’t wrong. It took them another two weeks to inform me that I hadn’t been selected.  No feedback, either. Tough luck!

“If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you – like a fever.” /Sam Walton/

Passion can be positively contagious! I know it too well from my experience. When I decided to open my language and methodology centre here, the first to respond were my former secondary-school students from Poland willing to develop their skills via Skype. Therefore, the only teaching link I have is still Poland. I teach young professionals who, being now lawyers, doctors, academic teachers, want to boost their language skills (B1+ – C2 levels). Some of the topics we discuss, develop and co-generate are the following: [1] Professor Zimbardo’s Time Perspective (with noun and adjective compounds for language focus); [2] Monica Lewinsky’s speech on the media, social media, etc (with adjectives and participles, with formal and informal registers); [3] Animated cartoons and concealed messages (with film-related jargon, with story-telling); [4] Energy drinks and rat race (with food-related compounds; data analysis – IELTS lexis), and so on and so forth. The sessions are truly inspiring for me; seeing my students’ fascination with the topics is genuinely rewarding for me as for their teacher.

Some may say: “So, why don’t you go back to your own country?”; “What keeps you here if your students are Polish?”. My response is: “I want to thrive, I want to project my enthusiasm about languages onto others, if given any chance in a foreign country.” I might have been a dreamer. I might have visualized my own life forgetting my limitations of an immigrant. I’m not be a native speaker of English and the local people here may have no trust in a Polish teacher of EFL or Italian. Because of the surrounding scepticism, my passion for teaching may soon fade away. But, to quote some lyrics: “I’m still standing.” My work has always been my vocation and it’s not my work that disillusions me. It’s trying to build my career from scratch in a totally new place that seems impossible.

Once, having sent one of the applications, I got a personalized response which made me cry because of my helplessness. The person told me that for them it was hardly possible that one person might have all those documents, awards, qualifications and diplomas. When someone is a teacher, they are a teacher, not publishing or choosing still another field of university study. It was indirectly suggested I might have been doing all the things but not dedicating too much time to them. Superficial work, in other words. At least, this is how I got it. It was in Dutch and my Dutch is just at the B2 level, so I might have misunderstood the letter but with a little help from my friends … . What’s really silly in all of this is my doubting my own CV. Whenever I look at it, I decide to delete one thing here, another thing there. Sometimes they make me feel as if I were living an imaginary life: in my second life I was a teacher, I did translations, I taught others how to teach, I conducted workshops and coordinated conferences, I wrote EFL coursebooks, etc. In my limited life here I seem not have any credentials at all. I may be no one to them here!

“Success comes to those who dedicate everything to their passion in life. To be successful, it is also very important to be humble and never let fame or money travel to your head.” /A.R. Rackman/

No boasting here! I might have done some a few lines back. Some people may see my “Friendly Lingua” website as a professionally designed one of a well-functioning language company. Well, my students from Poland are dear to me and our lessons function perfectly well. Well, I have always created self-made lesson plans and have given tips to teachers, which I can still do on my website. My blog posts are cheerful, presenting numerous teaching tips and lesson plans. This is the way I can develop professionally now, not having any offer from the Dutch educational market in the meantime. I know that I don’t want to become bitter but the world around me is making me turn this way!

“Keep calm and….keep calm” is the only hopeful slogan bombarding my mind.  Although I appear to have much to offer professionally, I may end up living a life of wishful thinking here. As the title suggests, “My passion is being lost”. In other words, it’s not lost completely. I’m still ready to send multiple applications. Am I ready to be rejected again? Well, this is a lesson for me to learn. The Netherlands might have given up on me but I haven’t given up on the country. Someone said: “Giving up is always an option, but never my choice.” I’ll stick to the core of the sentence then.

anita lewickaAnita Lewicka is a freelance teacher in the Netherlands. You can find out more about her business from her website Friendly Lingua. She can also be found on LinkedIn.

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