“Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young” (Mary Schmich)

The Appetizers

Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist, was strolling along a beach when she noticed a small group of young girls sunbathing. She automatically wondered if they wore sunscreen and this instinctive thought triggered a series of other thoughts that led her to write an article, back in 1997, with the title of this caption: “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young (read it here:  https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/chi-schmich-sunscreen-column-column.html). The article got viral and soon Baz Luhrmann, an Australian music producer, among other things, turned it into a song that had equal success and impact. You can listen to the song here- please do it now as it can help you connect with the rest of this article -:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5giWfpANMac.

Schmich wrote the article as a tribute to the missing wisdom nobody cared to offer her when she was younger. She decided to change that by offering some of her life experiences in the form of condensed tips younger people may find useful while claiming their independence.

Text by: Dimitris Maroulis

The Main Course

What do we know we can share with our younger colleagues? What do we know that we wished to know when we started working as language teachers? Let’s dispense these insights:

  • The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde) is an example of what we need to avoid. It is better to be yourself and not any character.
  • Cultivate and foster emotional intelligence: Learners feel first and then they learn, they learn better if they feel safe, and foster a non-threatening learning environment.
  • Be inspired: try to learn from any possible source, then blend this knowledge with your lessons; the most powerful method of teaching is storytelling.
  • Make learning visible: use learn-how-to-learn strategies and invest in them. Nobody can learn unless they know how. You should remember that most of the things you ask learners to do have no background teaching, this is not helpful.
  • Be prepared: spend time to learn all about your learners, what they like, what they dislike, who they are, what their dreams are, what they expect from you, why they learn English, what kind of learners they are. Visualise your lessons before delivering them and think: how much this lesson gets from the learners?
  • Praise and encourage as much as you can trying to be fair and reasonable. Praise the effort not the result. Encourage all learners without exception. Learning languages is genetically programmed, everybody can learn languages; you are responsible to make it happen.
  • Have fun and be active in your personal life with your family and your circle of friends. It is important to take care of your well-being. Do not worry if you need a break or if you feel exhausted, try to make a list of things that exhaust you and manage them. Make time for yourself, spend some time on your own.
  • Daydream often and colourfully. Daydreaming is our brain’s main mode (default network). This is so because we think better, and we are more creative and resourceful when we are in this mode. Do not underestimate the power of daydreaming, let your learners daydream too, it is therapeutic, rewarding, and relaxing.
  • Do not depend a lot on technology, it is not a panacea, on the contrary, it makes us lazy and overconfident. Use it wisely and to the benefit of your learners and your lessons. Do not forget that the basic cognitive functions and developments need pure brainwork, invest in it.
  • Work for a charity or do something pro bono. We as teachers do care jobs, the nature of these jobs has got to do with the psycho-social rewards for the general good. They say that no one can be anything else but a learner, so imagine the importance of the teachers. However, we get paid, and this sometimes pollutes our sense of duty. To balance this, it is good to do things as volunteers. In this way, we keep ourselves in shape with our main duty: to educate.

The Fortune Cookie

The first time I read Schmich’s article I thought that even if someone would share this advice with me, I would probably ignore him and move on consuming my own mistakes and mourning my own failures. She knows that herself if you happen to notice. It is indeed difficult and needs great self-awareness and self-regulation to follow other people’s advice. On the other hand, I would appreciate if someone had told me all these things. The gain is that now whenever I come back to Luhrmann’s song, any time I listen to it, I discover even deeper meanings of its lyrics. The bottom line is we learn with the hindsight, and this is most of the times painful but equally rewarding.