Wednesday, 5 February 2014

It's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap!

Imagine standing at the top of a hill. Excitement fills the air. A cacophony of sounds fill your ears. Fear fills your tummy: "What on earth have I done?" There you are standing at the top of a hill that suddenly seems a lot steeper than it initially looked (ok, Irish readers, it was twice the size of the hill in Griffith park. It's scarier than it sounds!) and sledding seems like a very bad idea.

This January, at the end of our week long English Camp (the theme was Around the World), we went to a nearby English Village. The highlight of this trip was sledding and I was super excited for it when my teacher told me about it. Although, I thought she said we were going "sleighing" and had an image of all of us in a sleigh with Santa going around the English Village much like how you see people go around Central Park in the movies (by the way, can any New Yorkers tell me if that does really happen?). I was a little shocked when I realised that it was actual sledding. However, I've been wanting to do a winter sport for ages and it just hasn't happened. So, after a cup of tea, and handing over my purse to my co-teacher, I headed up to join our students. I, luckily, bumped into one of them straight away and she took me under her wing. We got our sleds - they looked like inflatable rings that you use in the swimming pool but with a bottom that you sat on (when I sledded as a kid it was on a tray or plastic bag in the local park!) - and headed up a hill to join the other sledders. My students who spotted me were delighted that I was that brave to go up with them and the strangers who were there stared, pointed and chatted about me. Meanwhile, panic was starting to bubble up and I really wanted to turn around and run away: I was having images of breaking a leg or tumbling out of the sled and not being able to get on my plane home that evening. 

Then, a small hand tugged on mine and I looked down to see my student smiling and saying "Margaret Teacher - together." I was instantly grateful and I squashed down the fast building panic, rearranged myself so that I was holding on to her sled with one hand and she could do the same for me. A few seconds later the whistle blew and we were off.  I thought my heart would fall out of my mouth on a few occasions but it was so much fun. I did squeal but it wasn't from fear as much as exhilaration! I got up and, this time, I went with two of my students. 

One of the other teachers joined us on the next run but decided that hill was too tame for her. She wanted the higher one and encouraged me to join her. It wasn't until I was on top of that hill that I realised why the other one worked for me: Joining your students in going down a hill at lightning speeds is definitely easier - you can't show them your fear! However, on that second, higher hill, you could only go down alone. I still enjoyed it but I thought my heart would stop.

So, you might think I'm mad but that despite having a ton of fun, I've no desire to go back to that English Village, and in fact would strongly discourage others from going. The reason for this is (obviously) not the sledding but that I don't think that the program they run actually encourages students to learn English. The games they played (domino towers and musical chairs) don't practice any conversational English. Further, the market roleplay didn't teach target sentences that are appropriate to a class of mixed level learners (approx 30 kids from 1st to 4th grade). A higher level of English was required than I think should have been and all of our 1st and most of our 2nd graders were left floundering. They didn't make sure that all (or most) of the students knew the sentences before they started the roleplay and the general negativity energy coming from the facilitators was discouraging for me, my colleagues and our students.

Bad angle but these are the sledding hills!
However, leaving aside the dismal encouragement of English, this sledding, apart from my trip home, may have been the highlight of my winter. It was liberating, fun, and it showed me I could face my fears - even the little ones - I could make that "leap". So here is to 2014 and facing one's fears. No matter what they are, and how deep they are, let's try "defying gravity"! Except for snakes. That one is NEVER going to be faced. Uggggh.

PS This post was inspired by Wicked's  "Defying Gravity" and a wonderful few, bruising, hours of sledding!

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