By Chris Mares
When I left Japan, I pledged to myself that I would never commute again. If I walk to work, it takes twenty-five minutes. If I cycle, twelve minutes. And if I drive, one song (currently Wild West End by Dire Straits). Every morning I feel gratitude. No traffic. The river. The same people walking or jogging. Rural New England at its best.
I get up early. Very early. And write. I have different projects. ESL related blog posts, fiction writing, and a story-telling project. I write for about an hour. In the dark. In silence. Slurping my way through a pot of tea.
The early mornings are my time. I hear the first birds. See the sunrise. Feel the day slide into being.
I go to work early and arrive around 7:00 a.m. I can get a lot done before anyone else arrives. Email, lesson prep. Fiddly bureaucratic stuff. Letters of recommendation. Inquiries.
I teach three fifty-minute classes a day. Currently these classes are English through Film, Reading Fiction, and Special Topics. I love to teach. I always have. I care about my students and I give a lot of myself. My students are currently from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea, Guatemala, and Brazil. They are wonderful. Bonded through humor and mutual interest. Gentle with each other and interested in me. And I in them. I’m fascinated by where they come from, what they think, how they react to Maine, and what they plan to do with their lives.
I am an American citizen but obviously English. This gives me a certain cachet I don’t deserve but I get it anyway. Plus, I look like Bruce Willis – I tell them that Bruce Willis looks like me.
Last week I began working with a group of Mandela Fellows from twenty five African countries. My sessions are focused on giving TED Talk like presentations. This morning I have a three-hour slot and am looking forward to firing the students up. “Get in circle. I will give you an instruction. You do what I say. OK?” They will look bemused. Feel slightly anxious. And then we begin, “Walk like you are carrying very heavy luggage.” And off they go. Then a story in which the structure of a presentation is revealed. It will be fun. Productive. Rewarding.
Two weeks ago I taught a one-week TESOL Certificate Program. Sixteen delightful students all giving up a week of their lives, taking a gamble that it would be worth their while. It was a blast. For me. For them. For the students they observed and did their practice teaching with.
It’s a great job. A great life. And I always want to go to work.
And so it was a shock to get a call from my union representative a couple of weeks ago. A Thursday morning. Out of the blue. I barely caught his name. But I did catch the phrase, “bad news”.
We are a fee supported unit. The revenue we generate from students pays our salaries and for everything else. For the nineteen years I have been director we have stayed in the black. In fact, our surpluses have been used by the university to fund endeavors such as the Faculty and Undergraduate Research Project.
And then the shift. Our numbers are down. I have had to lay off teachers and now the administration wants to phase me out. Reduce my contract from a twelve-month contract to a nine-month contract.
Suddenly my world has been rocked. We currently have seventeen students. Less for our second summer session. And perhaps even fewer for the fall.
There have been cycles before. Peaks and troughs. But this is different.
And so, at fifty-nine, I find myself pondering the future. However, uncertainty can lead to opportunity. It’s time to rethink how the next few years will go. I had imagined continuing as I am. In Maine.
But now I am reminded that there is a whole world out there. Where I could teach, or train teachers, or consult.
And I will.