The one-dimensional comments we make about teaching and learning–my students are shy, my classes are engaging–are not limited to teachers! Listening to commentators making comments about the tragic events in Japan we can hear many similar comments: the Japanese are stoic; the citizens of Tokyo are angry with the government because of its energy policy.

Why this seeming need to make the complexity of human feelings one-dimensional? A question we cannot answer but the question reminds us that we all have multiple feelings.

The catastrophes remind us also that much conventional thinking and many assumptions we make every day both about our teaching and about most events have to be constantly analyzed from many perspectives. It is tragic that we need such events to remind us of this need.

On a more positive note, I am printing below a poem Alan Maley composed during the TESOL affiliate meeting in Nagoya, Japan at the end of 2010. The theme of the Japanese Association of Language Teachers–JALT–was Thinking outside of the box, a rather trite expression we all overuse.

But I think Alan showed how we can enrich a cliche. He read the poem at the closing ceremony.

Outside the Box

Being inside the box
was comfortable
–warm and cosy.
We curled up
with cushions of routine,
wadded with words,
blanketed by books,
swaddled in certainties.
A bit stuffy perhaps,
and we sometimes felt cramped,
but never mind,
we were so used to it
that it felt normal –
and, as I said,

Out here we are exposed,
and cold winds blow.
We need to hold on tight,
keep our eyes open
for sudden snow squalls,
hidden crevasses.
It’s a precarious existence now –
but here we can move and breathe,
see clear to the far horizon.

And if we come to a cliff,
we know we can step off it
into empty air,
trusting it to bear us up.
We have no fear

Alan Maley. Nagoya. Nov. 2010