A Poem: The Red Life Belt

SCELTConference, ELT, Main, Reflections on Teaching and Learning

At our last conference, SKA2017: UKF Nitra, we held a poetry contestEach participant may submit one original poem […] directly related to either the theme of the conference or something specific learned at the conference.

The theme of last September’s conference was ‘Lifelines & Life Skills’. The lifeline theme, with a dark red life belt, ran throughout most of the conference materials and was also on the conference bag.

We had numerous entries, but one stood out.

The Red Life Belt by Jana Zrníková

Your swimming begins to slow down.
The banks are steep, it seems you’ll drown.
The darkness drags you down,
Into the deep.
You doubt you’ll see another dawn.
Your limbs heavy, your voice is wan:
“I don’t have the strength.”
You weep.

Open your eyes, lest water kill.
Look! Do you know rescue? You will.
Someone throws a red life belt.
Hold tight.
Open your eyes, take a deep breath.
Now you’re safe, no drowning, no death.
Just light.

Then someone asks you: “Want to fly?”
You’d love to, you want to try.
Towards the sky, you slowly rise,
Not sure if you can trust your eyes.
For nevermore is the world a muddle.
And those dark waters are only a puddle.


What were you thinking when you wrote the poem? Where did it come from? 

I was thinking mainly about the teachers. Many of them are burned out. However, there was no one who would have thrown them a ‘life belt’. Your article [ed. note: SKA Chair Lynda Steyne’s welcome in the conference booklet] was a great inspiration for me:

“This year’s theme ‘Lifelines & Life Skills’ was born out of a trip to IATEFL 2017 Glasgow. While there, I noticed the life belts on posts along the river, ready in case anyone fell in. It made me think of our own Vážsky Canal in which several people drown every year because there is no way up of its steep concrete walls. There are no life belts or even stairs. And I thought that that’s how it often feels for us, teachers: we’re in over our heads, the challenges are overwhelming, there’s no way out, and we feel like we’re drowning. There is no one to throw us that life belt.  Life is much the same for our students once they leave our classrooms.

“So, this year, we wanted to focus on finding good life belts and developing real life skills. We have teacher trainers from all over Slovakia and Europe who have come to share their survival strategies – to help us out of that deep water so neither we nor our students drown.

“When we leave here, it is our hope that each of us will take at least one ‘life belt’ that we can share with an overwhelmed colleague and one life skill to help our students be ready for the real world outside out classrooms. We share because the more we help each other, the farther both we, as teachers and human beings, and our students will be able to go.”

I realized that it’s not only teachers who feel this way but also people of other professions and what’s more – even students! We have all experienced such moments in our lives. We all sometimes feel like we’re walking in the darkness (or swimming in dark waters) without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But then someone touches our shoulder from behind and shows us that the light was always there, and we were just looking in the wrong direction.  So, my wish for everyone who got lost in the darkness was to find that light – to find something that would brighten their days, to find their sun, to find, and more importantly, to accept the help without feeling ashamed.

Jana Zrníková is in completing her Masters in Teaching English Language and Literature at the Department of Language Pedagogy and Intercultural Studies at Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Slovakia. She comes from the village of Ľubochňa and spent a few months in Dublin. Since graduating from Milan Hodža Bilingual Grammar School in Sučany, she has taught EFL at the Private Bilingual Grammar School in Ružomberok. As a translator, she’s worked for several companies, as well as working on English-Slovak and Slovak-English translations in Hong Kong and Austria. Her fields of interest are primarily in multisensory approaches in teaching, teaching through emotions, and psychology. Her focus is in finding ways to make English language learning more effective and enjoyable for learners. She hopes to continue her research as a doctoral student. Jana is also a great fan of historical fiction and fantasy books, and hopes to publish her own stories in the future.

Editor’s note: Thank you, Jana!