I recently finished a 5 week intensive TESOL training course at the end of June.
Initially, when the suggestion was made that I do it for my own professional development and growth, I had already been in the ESL field for almost 7 years, and I was rather reluctant, the foremost reason being the toll it would take on energy and time in the midst of a hectic transitioning point in the institute. My wife Lydia had done it two years ago, and I had seen, then and subsequently, the labour all the trainees have to put in, and I was loath to have it take its toll on my family through me.
Well, as it so happened, Dan my director’s reasons for my doing it outweighed my own reasons for his doing it as a trainer, and after talking it over with my wife and working out the logistical details, I committed myself. Then started the ride, and right while chafing in the first couple of days, I felt God drawing my attention to something I had written in one of my earlier posts Feel the heat, or see the colour. I had to ‘withdraw’, deal with my attitude and make myself open to what God had in store for me during the training, and then the journey really started.
The organisation that did the training with us (Asia’s Center for TESOL) had a programme that was clear, intensive and demanded attention, sincerity and hard work. Anyone doing the course who wasn’t clear about these would certainly burn out. That was obvious very quickly, however, what was unusual and enormously encouraging was the pastoral quality of the trainers. These weren’t trainers doing a sort of ‘corporate style’ job; these were teachers who were deeply interested in people – building them, encouraging them and challenging them. These were people who would do everything possible to enable you to understand the concepts and achieve success in the practical aspects, and who challenged us at the core of our selves. The whole course built up bit by bit, precept upon precept, growing from strength to strength, and in rigour, and there was no compromise on the practical aspects. Everyone of us had to physically in our demos and actual classes, demonstrate all the components of what was being taught.
And actually, isn’t that what teaching is about, whether ESL or a K-12 classroom? Once I found that most aspects of the training matched what I really believe in and resonate with in teaching, of course, any sense of chafing disappeared. And the years of working in international education, having experienced multiple perplexing situations, educational impossibilities in the practical work field and very unreasonable work loads, had helped lay down the critical habits of planning, focus, hard work, problem-solving and creativity. These habits and the grace of God saved me from burning out, and enabled me to finish all assignments well and in time. For anyone who has experienced the love of God in Christ and is interested in education and second language acquisition, I would highly recommend connecting with Asia’s Center for TESOL and doing one of their programmes.
However, all that is written above to help create the ground for the foil.
I was utterly unprepared for how the course ended up being used by God to point out areas in my life that still needed change in. In the midst of the hard work, study, discussion and activities came many, many ‘triggers’. Things people said and did, things that happened that I somehow missed understanding properly, and no longer being in the ‘guise’ of a teacher, as a student I found myself suddenly reacting in weird and disturbing ways. I had flashbacks into painful incidents in the past, experienced frustration, demotivation and anger just as if I was still in college as an immature, angry young man. Each situation had to be dealt with and overcome so that I could continue with intact relationships and focus. In many ways, I found myself at the bottom of the ladder again. It was puzzling and felt very weird. However, I became really intrigued when one of the trainers told me that it was common for similar ‘triggers’ to show up with people during trainings, and I began to reflect on it a little more deeply.
It seems to me that if an activity is only a programme and just a cognitive engagement, people are really not going to be challenged at the core. One can engage with many meaningful activities and emerge transformed at the skill level, however, if a programme or activity touches the core of a person and demands integrity, character, discipline, focus, honesty, high standards and hard work, I do believe sparks are going to fly. There is within every one of us, something that is intrinsically, deeply hostile to God, and by extension, if we are challenged to change habits and attitudes that connect to our character, an entire resistance movement starts bringing into play a whole battery of weapons like angry responses, resentments, manipulation, self-pity, etc. I believe this is what was happening to me.
My responses contained core things I have wanted to be rid of and have been working on to have them out of my life. The new vehicle of the training showed up the fact that I still needed to change; that there was a lot of work that the Spirit of God had left to do. It was a worrisome and troubling experience, but knowing how loving and deeply persistent God is, I have started to feel a sense of joy that He is continuing to work in me, continuing to draw my attention to areas of my heart that need to change. This is one of the greatest blessings that I received during the training, regardless of how unexpected or uncomfortable it was. Every situation that we go through that challenges us is going to bring with it the chance for us to change.
And it makes a lot of sense now. The training was all about being an effective teacher with a deep concern for students and their growth and transformation. Of course, God would point out areas of my life once again that need change. Teachers need to change first, or engage with the process of change before they challenge their students. And so do parents. And so do bosses. And so do leaders. And politicians. And shopkeepers. And people.