20 lessons from 2020

NOTE: I asked my students to write a list of 20 lessons from 2020 as a reflective, free writing activity. To be fair, I decided to complete the assignment, too.

I found myself writing much more than I’d intended and the more I wrote, the more a creeping sense of doubt emerged if I wasn’t digging too deep… revealing too much.

But, it’s only fair…

My 20 Lessons from 2020

  1. When the quarantine started, I realised I’d already been used to living in self-isolation, with little to no socialising outside school. This was both comforting and disconcerting.
  2. Transitioning to online teaching was, initially, a relief, even fun, but the more it lasted, the stronger the realisation of how much our current generation of students have been robbed of, irreparably, the chance of building relationships, experiencing the school, and having a sense of community…
  3. The blessings of having a life and a career that have not been affected all that much, and with that, a sense of responsibility to make it work as well as possible for the benefit of others. A sense of doubt about how important what I do really is.
  4. New LPs: Adrianne Lenker’s Songs and Instrumentals, Michael Kiwanuka, Kelly Oxford, Peter Gabriel, Fleet Foxes, Dire Straits’ On Every Street, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters… and Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares… Mac Miller’s Circles, and Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure?…
  5. And books, Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life… exquisite, beautiful. Realising that reading is the most effective way to have more time. The act of submerging yourself in it, the capacity to ease the mind and nourish the heart, expand and exercise empathy muscles, slows down time. And the heartbreaking quote in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty that ‘time is how you spend your love.’
  6. No amount of reading seems quite enough.
  7. If opportunities for dating and having a relationship had been limited before, they now seem virtually non-existent.
  8. Journalling. The habit of making a journal entry before bed (in bed). The established regularity of clearing the mind, even with a brief, half-comprehensible entry. A sense of continuation, maintenance (how cheap the word ‘self-care’ now sounds with all the internet baggage that has been attached to it).
  9. I deleted facebook in March. Completely. And it deletes you from timelines (and, possibly, the hearts and minds) of those who use facebook. Which is (are?) many. There have been occasional urges to go back, or, more accurately, moments in which the advantages of having yet another communications channel with my students were obvious (not really used it with my family, as family seems to take up an entirely different section of my life). But deleting Mr Steiner’s at gbas (BGMH) Sučany, and all its contents… it was like I ceased to exist. Evaporated from timelines, not showing up in ‘liked’ posts, popular content, not having the addictive spotlight, and a reaffirmation of one’s ‘value’ in society by receiving ‘Likes.’ I do crave attention, hence the instagram and Twitter, on the side, as a quick fix. How many people do not exist in the eyes of those who use facebook? How does it feel to be outside the social media bubble? You delete your profile, and you cease to exist. The silence and lack of interaction become glaringly obvious. Is it a silence that’s felt? Is it a moral obligation to stay on and push back against the ignorance and toxicity of online discussion? That’s why facebook feels so essential. It has seemingly completely taken over our sense of worth and a sense of belonging. Creating a false sense of community that now barely exists outside of it. It (facebook) has turned people against one another by feeding egos. A big price to pay for ‘staying in touch with friends.’ 
  10. My life mostly consists of being at, thinking about, talking or writing about school.
  11. I miss our Prom.
  12. Documentaries completely overtaken films or TV shows, which have little appeal to me now, for some reason. Documentaries hit the spot (pre-history, human evolution, art and art history, sociology…)
  13. Podcasts and Audible’s lectures, How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, History of Languages, Kevin Stroud’s History of English podcast, Anthropocene Reviewed, and the occasional Rogan, to stay ‘open-minded.’
  14. The change of leadership at gbas. A sense of relief, a sense of ‘out with the old, in with the new,’ after years of built-up resentment from clashing world views, traditionalistic, somewhat technophobic, although well-meaning, but limiting, especially with all the tensions and major movements in society. It was high time for a change. And change we got. With the paradoxical voices defending the old and accusing the new. On the whole, the school will stay, but the freedom to contribute to its day-to-day existence is key and, hopefully, it will carry us through this perfect storm of events, transitioning to a completely new reality almost immediately (how desperately slow, even non-existent, progress had seemed in the previous years), and a hopeful mood, a willingness to contribute. With, of course, the inevitable counter-balance of critical, unwilling, un-cooperative voices thrown into the mix, which are inevitable with any attempts at changing things. What’s the right balance between maintaining traditions and making a change?
  15. How much people resist change, how desperately they… we…  cling to the old ways, how completely we tend to throw urselves into the hands of ‘but it’s always been done like this’, and, most harmful of all, how quick people are to turn against one another online. Also, how willingly people tend to sway from one extreme to the next, how short-sighted the thinking of society seems to be, fast to judge, failing to remember the lessons from history, embracing ignorance and stupidity, fear-mongering and trading lies, being charmed by lies and giving way to fear, supercharged by a changing discourse online. All of that, instead of patient and compassionate consideration of fellow human beings for the benefit of many, rather than one’s own.
  16. The more you’re willing to look into anything, the more you see not only shades of grey, but the whole visible and invisible spectrum, infra, ultra, omega, x- rays… and the more you do so, the less you’re prone to making black and white judgements. This is a good thing, but it seems to be disappearing. Surviving mostly as a cheap knock-off in the form of motivational online ‘content,’ ‘influencers’ who suddenly become self-reflective and admired for their ability to read books. It takes the form of yet another way of drawing attention to oneself, getting likes, boosting sales, selling merch, dealing out ‘wisdom’ in easy-to-digest ‘content.’ This is far removed from the self-reflective, critical, compassionate, self-exploratory and self-reevaluating attitude, which is not done in public, and which is getting overwhelmed by lack of compassion and the loudness of narcissism and aggression… The self-confidence of ignorance. The Dunning–Kruger effect…
  17. The benefits of silence. Good, regular sleep, avoiding refined sugar, being able to home-cook, home bake, grow plants, be aware of the delicate interconnectedness of everything and everyone… It has been easier to be aware of this when the rush of the everyday ceased.
  18. And with that, the urgent realisation – the awareness of how MUCH our school suffers due to noise pollution – a complete rethink and re-imagination of our relationship to the physical, but, mainly, auditory environment in our school are absolutely essential – almost every single classroom has terrible acoustics – each noise multiplies through delayed echo, leading to a need to use louder voice, creating even more delayed noise, thus creating a vicious circle of loud vs. even more loud, and an impossibility of having a calm, natural conversation, a patient, meaningful interaction, instead, having shouting matches. The need to speak more loudly, because of noise caused by the need to speak more loudly. The root cause are the reverberating walls, the flat, narrow surfaces that, instead of softening each sound wave, multiply and amplify it. And this is such a subtle effect, paradoxically, that it may be impossible to make people truly understand what a big impact it’s having on our every-day school experience. How important it is, and, how effective it would be if we invested into improving the acoustics of the classrooms (if we ever teach in-person again), with acoustic foam panels, or soft, noise-absorbing surfaces serving as noticeboards… The canteen is the most extreme example of this. All the chairs dragged on the tiled floor creating a noise storm that reverberates through the canteen like in an ice cave. It’s impossible to have a conversation, but we’re used to overcoming it by shouting over it…  People with naturally louder voices drown other people’s thoughts. We need to create a softer, quieter, more nourishing environment, because the noise obviously is such a major contributor to increasing stress and anxiety levels. How much time it took to acknowledge the dangers of air-pollution… And it is the same with noise pollution. Its effects are subjective, psychological, rather than tangible, and we know how difficult it is to acknowledge the dangers of something that’s invisible. 
  19. There is always a way forward. Humanity has gone through much worse, and survived, and adapted, and thrived. The pandemic won’t kill us off. Our inability – or unwillingness – to adapt and learn, might.
  20. Everything is interconnected. No matter what your interest leads you to, pursue it, go for it, be guided by it, follow it through, be excited about the journey of discovery that you’re enjoying so much. Everything informs everything else, the knowledge of the world, the underlying principles that make up our experience, everything adds to a more detailed, sharper, truer image of the wondrous fractal image of existence.

BONUS: ‘Disco Elysium’ – the ultimate gaming and storytelling (and soundtrack) experience of 2020 (and beyond).


GBAS Year 1 English literature presentations

When reality surpasses expectation…

There’s an unlimited capacity to pleasantly surprise, in all of us. When one feels safe enough to show one’s true potential, unforgettable magic happens.

With Year 1 literature presentations at Bilingválne gymnázium Milana Hodžu, Sučany, Slovakia, this happened at a rate higher than I’ve ever experienced both as a teacher and a learner.

Dear Year 1, this is a simple thank you to all of you. Not only for talking about the book of your choice in front of everyone, but also for being so beautifully, wonderfully supportive, appreciative and motivating to one another.

It was a joy to listen to you present, ask and answer questions, give feedback to one another.

You’ve not only shown that you’ve got good English skills to do all this, but that you’ve got keen, observant minds and a desire to share what you think and feel.

Read the rest of this entry »

the (un)connected.

I’m writing this post in defence of those whose lives unfold in majestic privacy, while others crave views, mentions, clicks, and likes.

To those who can watch the rainfall in awe, while others pose, pretend, and stage the perfect shot.

To those who feel and know what it’s like to read and daydream, looking at nothing, but seeing all in the mind.

Those who look with clear and candid eyes, whose faces shine with bright emotion, whose sentences may be few and far between

but rarely begin with ‘I’.

P.S. The best thing about You is that You do not need any patronising defence online, because you’re happy with whatever you’re doing anyway. ;-)