A Professional Journey of Exploration, Experience and Expression

Bal Ram Adhikari*

This paper recounts my professional journey as a university teacher that I started nearly one and a half decade ago. In this narrative account, by exploration I mean textual exploration, experience stands for direct contact with language, working in and through language, and expression has to do with communicating ideas through writing.

Underlying assumptions:  i) learning ceases with over-repetition; exploration gives continuity and safeguards against fossilization; ii) language has to enter into and move through the experiential zone; iii) expression is vital for communication; communication failure leads to professional alienation.

First two years and repetition of sickness

When I started teaching at the university, the entry requirement I possessed was the Masters degree. It was the only professional competence I possessed to teach Masters course. I had some level of confidence because I was going to teach the same course I had studied. The campus where I started my university career was like my home. However, I did not have extensive reading and writing experience apart from coursework, particularly the Masters thesis. My knowledge in the subject was limited. I was confined to the given course, but the subject I thought, for example, Translation Studies demanded interdisciplinary readings in Linguistics, Applied Linguistics, contemporary critical theories like post-structuralism. Apart from reading across these different subject courses, the courses also required me to have experience of translation.

When I recall those early days, particularly the first two years or so, I was a course-teller rather than a teacher. Gradually, I felt more comfortable with the course content, since I had repeated the same course. Also, I felt more secure in the class. However, the lack of job satisfaction led to the devoid of academic charm. I was suffering from what Nietzsche has called “repetition sickness” (Myerson, 2001).

My key professional responsibility

What lies at the heart of my profession is teaching the prescribed courses to prospective English teachers. That is, my first and foremost duty is to stand in front of the class and deliver lectures to the students in the classroom. Other professional responsibilities include supervising researchers, training teachers, designing courses, compiling and editing course materials. Again, all these revolve around the key responsibility i.e. teaching.

Classroom teaching has limited reaching

After some years when I started attending the conferences and visiting the academic forums and creative writing workshops, I began to realize that classroom teaching has limited reaching. I was alienated from the broader academic community. It often struck me that only by confining myself to classroom activities, I might not be able to expand my professional presence beyond university premises. Only by teaching one cannot grow professionally. This feeling would often strike me.

I often asked myself:

  • To what extent can I call myself a professional teacher?
  • Do I only teach or do I also READ?
  • Do I only teach and read or do I also WRITE?
  • Do I only teach, read and write or do I also SHARE?
  • Do I only teach, read, write and share or do I also CARE the emerging writers?

These questions were in fact inspired by Penny Ur’s (1991) notion of professionalism. The questions like these urged me to set on the journey of exploration, experience and expression by means of reading, writing and translating documents.

Desire for expanding my professional presence

I prefer not to limit myself to the reading and writing within my profession. I love plunging into the open space of reading and writing beyond the given profession so that I can traverse neighbouring disciplines, and bring back insights and information to expand and strengthen my profession. I have sensed that it has helped me expand my core identity as an English teacher. Apart from a teacher, now I can also call myself a writer and translator. Translation and creative writing have connected me to the broader audience.

Reading for exploration and experience

Reading is a process of exploring texts as well as information. I normally explore three zones of texts. I often begin with the core zone i.e. the texts prescribed in the course. It’s vital for my professional survival and success of my students in the examinations. However, reading the course texts is not enough. Then, I explore additional texts related to the core zone. I call them the texts from the peripheral zone. I need to deepen and widen my reading experience. To this end, I site the prescribed topic or text in the neighbouring disciplines like linguistics, literature, philosophy, and also refer students to such disciplines to broaden their understanding. Whenever I have time, I choose one of the areas and take to independent reading. I call this the texts from the outer zone. Let me give an example, poststructuralism and translation, a topic from the course. The course requires me to deal with the topic from the linguistic perspective only. Apart from linguistics, I move to peripheral texts that shed light on the topic from the literary and philosophical perspectives. Later I suggest students to carry out an independent study of poststructuralism when they have time.  Thus, as an advanced academic reader, I encourage my students to move to the outer zone from the core.

This exploration helps the reader experience the content and language from different disciplinary perspectives, with varying degrees of intensity. Moreover, it is the process of reading across the disciplines. With such exploration, we become the members of broader academic and creative communities. However, there is a risk involved in such a reading. The reader should not forget to return home i.e. his/her own discipline, say ELT in our case. The only aim of reading beyond the home profession is to enrich one’s professionalism in terms of language and content, not just to become a textual wanderlust.

Writing for exploration, experience and expression

I realized, very late though, that writing is equally intensive and hard to reading, but it is also a source of self-satisfaction. This exploration needs more physical and mental preparedness, more commitment and more motivation than reading. While writing this article, I am exploring my inner and outer worlds simultaneously. Writing requires me to explore my own consciousness by reflecting on professionally who I am, what I am doing, what my expectations are, what my students expect from me, and how I can contribute to my professional community. In a similar vein, I need to explore relevant information available in the textual world to such questions. Writing is the combination of information that I collect from various sources.

Writing is an event. It is the event that engages the writer in language, in content and in context. For example, I, while writing this article, am experiencing English directly. I am not just thinking about English but thinking in and doing through English. I am face-to-face with its components ranging from spelling at the lowest level to discourse at the highest.

I always find myself in crisis while writing because every time I am unsure of spelling. I look for suitable words, proper structures, natural flow in the texture, effective rhetorical devices, relevant information and striking insights. Moreover, by writing I am linked with my students beyond the classroom. It has extended my presence beyond the classroom and multiplied the number of my audience. It has also helped me become a producer of knowledge rather than a mere consumer.

Translation for exploration, experience and expression  

Translation has been instrumental in shaping and expanding my profession in terms of language, content and my identity. My early inclination to translation was due to my desire to improve my English. Later this inclination morphed into a life-long passion and profession. When I start translating a piece of work, I find my English inadequate. So, I need to search English dictionaries for better words, suitable expressions, natural sentence constructions and effective rhetorical devices. It has compelled me to be a tenacious language learner. Moreover, supplementary reading is a must in translation. In order to translate a Nepali book in English, I need to read peripheral English books. For example, when translating Yasodhara, a poetic play in Nepali by Sharada Subba, I had to explore several books and even movies in Buddhism. That led me to the path to Buddhist literature. Old Path White Clouds is one of them. Apart from being helpful in translation, insights from reading of the books like this have broadened my understanding about life and my relationship with students. This book has changed my attitude to teaching as service rather than merely a means of livelihood.

Moreover, while translating, I am engaged in the double helix of reading and writing. My reading is directed to writing. I need to read the text in the deepest possible level and (re)write it in the most accurate way. In both the cases, I am in intimate contact with language. Drawing on my experience, I agree with Sujeet Mukherjee’s (1981) revelation – Reading for translation is the highest form of reading. This acute process of reading has given me a means of expression. I have been expressing myself through translation for many years by now. I believe that I can contribute to the disciple by translating and writing about translation.

Benefits I have reaped from this triune journey

I have reaped a lot of benefits from this triune journey. Some of them are as follows:

  • Contribution to university courses: Selecting texts for such courses as Interdisciplinary Readings is next to impossible without wide reading. With this, I have been able to contribute to university reading courses, particularly in the text selection from literature, philosophy and critical theories.
  • Exposure to language and content across disciplines: I find myself shuttling back and forth across different reading zones. It gives me a sense that I am studying about language, content and its style. This makes my reading interesting and exciting. I can directly experience English used in other disciplines. Such reading exposes me to a variety of language and content. It has helped me guide students, earn their trust. This has improved my English and given me content to contemplate, to teach and to write.
  • Safeguard against professional lethargy: Constant reading, writing and translating has freed me from professional lethargy.
  • Knowledge contributor: My role as a teacher is not only the consumer of knowledge but also the producer of knowledge.
  • Sharing beyond the classroom. I have been able to share my ideas beyond the classroom by means of print and electronic media.
  • Self-humility: Finally, the journey has taught me self-humility i.e. I don’t know but I try to know.

References:

Mukherjee. S (1981). Translation as discovery. India: Allied Publishers.

Myerson, G (2001). Nietzsche’s thus spake Zarathustra. UK: Hodder & Stoughton.

Ur. P (1991). A course in language teaching.  Cambridge: CUP.

 

*Mr Adhikari is a lecturer of English Education at Tribhuvan University. Moreover, He is also a translator, editor, poet, and essayist. You can follow him on Twitter @balaramadhika14/bal ram adhikari

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