Empathy Inspiration

Back in 2014 my friend Malu Sciamarelli asked me if I’d consider writing a guest post on her (then) blog. She was looking for a post on a “moment of inspiration.” I am not sure if the post I wrote qualifies but I think about the story from time to time and take some inspiration from it. I am re-posting the story here with Malu’s kind permission. I hope you enjoy it. Instead of giving an introduction about what it’s about I will just let you dive right in. 

He was a good player, the kind of player you could win a few games in a row with. He was a tenacious defender and he despised losing. He was aggressive in that kind of gentlemanly and grown-up and not annoying way. He was an extremely capable shooter, especially with a deadly baseline jumper, and knocked down shots as they came to him within the flow of the game. He was also unselfish and was happy to pass for a better shot.

I remember the first time I met him. We were on the same team at the weekly “Men’s League pick-up game in the small town I grew up in. He got me the ball where I wanted it and encouraged me. He even called me “Griff,” which I thought was pretty cool because to my knowledge we hadn’t even met yet. Other memorable things from that night were his fitness level, socks pulled up to his knees, and super nerdy goggles. This guy in his mid thirties was running with the high school kids and winning and rocking the RecSpecs all the while. He was like some sort of dorky super-hero with his stamina, crisp chest passes and commitment to defense and the fundamentals. Even with all these memorable things I don’t think I paid Ray Boucher much mind after meeting him that random Tuesday night.

Later, in what was not at all random but might have seemed so at the time, we found out he was the new junior varsity basketball coach and thus the assistant for the varsity team. I don’t think it took long to become fascinated with this fiery, eloquent, kind, and perhaps peculiar man. Before games he used to come to the back of the bus and we would grill him with all sorts of strange questions which he patiently answered. I remember how he went to college in quite a few different places because he wanted to get a taste of some different places in the US. He was very forthright about his views and life experiences and I found this endearing. He was patient with the not-so-polite questions he was asked by a group of maybe not-so-polite high school students.

We grilled him about every little thing and I ended up finding out much more than I ever needed to know about the duties and responsibilities and inner conflicts of a state assessor for the purposes of eminent domain. Speaking of jobs, his wife was a lovely woman who worked as an ESL teacher. She might have been one of the first few people I ever met with this job. Maybe there was some inspiration there for me in this fact and possible career that got tucked away in the back of my mind.

Coach Boucher was certainly an inspiring guy for me. I was always impressed with what seemed to be his principled take on life, strong will, honesty and care for others. These are all qualities I believe are worth aspiring to. In addition to being a good role model and a good person there is one more way he was a source of inspiration for me.

empathy plate

Aside from the Rec-Specs and the combination of patience and fire there was something about this man that seemed strange at the time. It took a few question sessions at the back of the bus before we finally asked him about his license plate. It had just one word: Empathy. We even called him “Emp-ah-theee!” as a nickname behind his back. It seemed like a weird thing to have as a license plate. Especially, you know, to go through the process of picking it out specifically and actually paying more for it. So we finally asked him, “What is up with your license plate?” He took a measured breath and said, “Well, I think that we don’t have much of a chance to communicate with most people we ever, or actually never even meet. Like people we see or drive by. We never get a chance to say anything to them. This is the one word and idea I want to share with other people in that short moment they see my plates. I think it is one of the most important words out there and I want to share it. Maybe this little bit can help. Maybe it can give someone something to think about. Maybe it can make the world just a little bit of a better place.

I wish I could say that 17 year old me was suddenly and immediately inspired by this explanation and that it changed my life then and there. I wish I could say that but it is not really the case. Coach’s message took a lot longer to sink in and I am not sure it fully has yet but the man and his license plate are two things that come to mind when I think about the word inspiration.

Terms I don’t like: 1 of 11

Are you in a band? Are you a model or something? Do you want to be? Otherwise, why are you using the word “gig” to talk about a teaching job? 

  • Is it to sound cool? (NB: It doesn’t sound that way to me)
  • Is it to sound casual and footloose (not to mention fancy-free)?
  • Is it to sound like you are in demand?
  • It is to give an entrepreneurial (edupreneurial?) spin to the act of teaching and creating a schedule?

Actually, sorry. This post is not about you and your word choices. It’s about me and my allergic reaction to this word. The post is truly about me trying to work out why the word elicits a strong negative reaction from me.

So, no disrespect to everyone out there hustlin’ and arranging side hustles. I don’t like the word is all. Why not? I’d like to offer a few potential reasons this term grinds my gears. Here they are in a convenient list: 

  1. I might have touched upon it above during the interrogation above but I think the problem is that it sounds so casual to me. It doesn’t strike me as a professional term for professional educators. 
  2. It sounds incongruently cool for teaching. 
  3. It also sounds like the most important thing is the conditions like pay and time of day. While these are of course important I feel like it doesn’t account for other factors like student motivation, for example. 
  4. I think the first time heard this term used in this context was at the dawn of the millennium in Northeast Asia and the first few people I heard use it like this were dickheads.  
  5. The braggadocious bros mentioned in point 4 were always blathering on ‘bout the sweet gigs they had. It was tiresome (which doesn’t mean that I never participated in such talk). 
  6. It’s also sort or boring. As a true EducaTOR, I’d prefer to hear more about reflections on teaching and lessons learned from that. I’d like to hear about challenges and solutions. I’d like to hear about students’ successes. There is so much to talk about. 

If I’m being honest, I think part of the reason I didn’t like this word at first is because it made me a bit sad to realize I’d escaped or avoided various rat races in my home country only to be in a new one in foreign land. Thus, this one word, gig, conjures up a lot of feels for me. 

Please note (especially before commenting) that this post is partially but not entirely, tongue-in-cheek. The man, Andy Allen, said he’d like to see some “You know what grinds my gears’ style” in my social media content. This is fulfilling that suggestion/request but it’s truly something that’s been on my mind for a long time. I don’t like the term gig in this context but in reality I am less judgy of those who use it than this post would suggest. I think people can use whatever terms they damn well please. 

I should also mention that I’ve held this negative feeling about the term gig long before I even heard the term “gig economy.” 

Other things on my mind as I muster up the courage to hit publish are “Maybe there would be less talk of gigs if there were more steady jobs” and “Maybe the bigger problem here is not the nomenclature.” I will leave that to others for now. I fully understand that being mercenary is often a requirement. 

I also realize that this might be very much a “white person in Asia” thing and thus not applicable to most readers.

I do feel a bit better after writing about this. It’s sort of cathartic.

Thank you for reading. Please stay tuned for this upcoming and ongoing series. I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings on this word as applied to what I’d call “teaching jobs” or “private lessons.” 

Help Jenny!

Hello! Long time no blog. I think I found a nice way to get back into it. That’s through an email from a former student. This student is fantastic at English (as we’d expect since she’s a translator.). Jenny (not her real name) was a very strong and memorable student even among future translators/interpreters. 

She wrote the following: 

…I guess my question is what is the best way to improve my fluency and my speaking skills. 

It’s embarrassing to ask this since my job is to translate, but often times, it makes me frustrated not to be able to speak good English (casually).
I am doing what I think I should to to this end (listening&shadowing) but not sure it’s the best way to do it. 
Here we mostly have meetings so we don’t get to do speeches as much as we did in school. It’s a different challenge. 
It would be greatly appreciated if you could give some of your ideas or opinions.
She also wrote some super nice comments to me, which humility prevents me from including (but apparently doesn’t prevent me from mentioning).
I was, in turn, a bit embarrassed by the lack of wisdom or ideas I could provide. I suggested more reading for fun and watching TV/movies. I suggested joining a club (like a book club or some sort of reading club.) I was going to suggest attending public lectures in English. 
So, dear reader, I turn it over to you. What advice would you offer to Jenny?
She told me that she will be checking responses and that the more ideas there are, the more experiments she can do.
Thank you in advance and thank you for reading!