By LYNN FRANCIS
—A story tells of a man walking down the beach and he sees thousands of starfish on the shore. A woman is picking them up one at a time and putting them back in the water. The man says to her, “There are so many starfish here, how do you think you can make a difference?” She picks one up as she puts it in the water and says, “I made a difference to this one.” And she picks up another and says, “And this one too” (adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley.) Some of us make a difference in smaller, deeper ways and others in big, broad ways and everything in between.
Probably most of us, if not all of us, entered ESL in some capacity because we wanted to make a difference—not because we needed any old job. We loved the students, the diversity, and for many, the travel. We flourished in gathering resources, methods, techniques, activities at workshops and conferences, and shared and collaborated with others. We returned for graduate studies and/or presented our own workshops, created curriculum in a never-ending force of creativity, joy, and hard work. We developed friends and were guided by mentors. And then … after a time …
Disillusionment hits us. As defined by James C. Price of Refresh Leadership, disillusionment is simply “the displeasure in discovering something isn’t as it was expected, from life situations to personal relationships to career paths.” And, perhaps, disillusionment is just developmental as we struggle to accept reality on its terms, integrating our own sensibilities with our experiences at the workplace.
As we spend time and grow in an institution, at some point we start noticing some of the policies, decisions, and hiring practices seem highly unfair, repressive, oppressive, ridiculous. Contracts, class closures, assignments, and number of hours you can work or sub do not match up with how we think things should be. Presidents, deans, and managers come and go, bringing with them different and conflicting decisions. Some go by the letter of the law, some by the spirit of the law. Isolation patterns set in without opportunities to meet regularly with other teachers. Appreciations and acknowledgments fall by the wayside. Perhaps these are some of the signs of disillusionment you have wrestled with and tried to make sense of. But wait! There is hope!
Longtime ESL teacher, life coach, and marriage family therapist Lynn Francis is interested in the inner life of the teacher. She writes, “Because the tools of our trade—methods, techniques, theories, activities—are so well covered at workshops, in-services, and conferences, I felt there was a need to address other aspects of the teacher that are not covered.”
It is possible to create the opportunity for self-growth and a greater understanding of our place in the world in a deeper and more meaningful way. The direction I found for reconciliation between having this amazing job along with the disillusionment of what I mentioned above was basically to know myself better and to understand my surroundings. I needed to know what I wanted in a job, what I was passionate about, what depleted my energy, and what invigorated me. I needed to know my personality type, which has been extremely helpful (INFP if you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile). I needed to understand myself spirituality and move toward that which was fulfilling, connecting, inspiring (the soft skills). I also needed to understand my emotional makeup and projections onto a company and other people. My own reactions, perceptions, expectations, and beliefs were contributing to my own stress and distress.
With increasing self-knowledge I have choices to make changes. I can find support. I can make the decisions about what to get involved in (committees, curriculum development, workshops) and how much time I want to spend. Some people enter more fully into the company and that becomes their full-time vocation. Many adjuncts opt to have second careers, so to speak. I became a therapist/life coach. We all make our own decisions about how to have a meaningful career within imperfect systems.
Education is the field that we have chosen. It is a highly creative field. Self-empowerment comes from knowing who we are and that we have choices. Disillusionment fades as gratitude for what is already fulfilling, creative, and working well increases. Creating balance in our lives becomes a priority—mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Finally, a reconciliation, a synthesis, and integration of who we are and what we do happens with increased awareness as we find meaningful ways to try to make a difference. We learn to accept what we can change and what we can’t, with the wisdom to know the difference (the “Serenity Prayer”)—finding fulfillment, peace, and happiness from the inside out.
Lynn Francis is a part-time instructor for San Diego Community College Continuing Education. She has been a teacher trainer for more than 30 years. She also has a private practice as a life coach and licensed marriage family therapist. Readers of Inner News can reach her at lcfranci@sdccdedu.
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