Author Archives: Jessica Micallef

About Jessica Micallef

I am a writer of fiction and poetry. I am currently writing a six-volume supernatural series and a young adult novel, alongside inspired poetry. This is my journey.

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Turning a quarter of a century old comes with its own set of epiphanies and revelations. Like any other multiple of five, twenty-five rests in between two round numbers; two thresholds if you like – two generations.

But…

Given that the human lifespan is often less than 100, 25 comes with the epiphany that – scary as it may be – more than a quarter of your life has passed.

Is this sad? Kind of. Is this something to cry about? Definitely not. I love being twenty-five.

Standing splat in the middle between twenty and thirty, I realise just how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. This is the age where I can be whoever I want to be; it is the age where half my friends are engaged, married, mothers, or successful in their professions, while the other half are trying to get their bearings, furthering their studies, unsure of what career moves to make, and gallivanting all over the globe. It is the age of possibility. It is the age of being.

Reflecting on my life so far, I realise that my vision of twenty-five ten years ago looked nothing like my present reality. I have not yet started a PhD. I am not yet a published author. I have no kids. I do not own a house. And I still don’t have my own cat.

But I have so much more.

My life has been a beautiful maze of roses and thorns. The thorns have been obstacles which have made me grow in so many different ways and the roses have made the road smell that much sweeter. It is because of both that I am who I am today.

My life is blessed with wonderful experiences and lessons learned. I have seen so many different places and tasted so many different types of food, and there is still so much to see and taste. I have read so many novels, striking poems, heart-wrenching plays, and – let’s face it – Thought Catalog posts (we’re all guilty of that); and yet there is still so much to read.

My career is an open horizon; I can venture whichever way the wind might take me, but right now I am settled in this job that – although not permanent – fulfils me and makes me feel like I am a part of something greater than myself. I also form part of a great team; they make nine-hour days feel so much shorter. Thanks guys, for all the laughs. (And cakes and stuff ) I have also achieved so much academically, and my heart is still open to more. I can’t wait to write something bigger; something better – to further my knowledge and keep exercising my brain.

I am surrounded by people who love me. My circle is small, but I love how its size makes everyone so easy to reach. I can count my close friends on my fingers, but we have forged bonds that are hard to break now. I am blessed with a family that loves me and that has passed on to me principles together with the freedom and perspective to reinterpret them.

I live with a person who loves me exactly for who I am, and who has the most beautiful heart I’ve had the chance to encounter; we share our relationship as we share our lives – completely, and it feels wonderful to be in his presence; our love gives me so much joy.

Reflecting on my blessings, I stop and realise I have failed to mention one; myself. Being twenty-five is wonderful, because I know just who I am – enough to know that I will never be the same person I am today; I am an evolving chameleon of quirks and flaws which I am happy to call mine. And I am thankful that I am at a place where I appreciate myself for all that I am, which is – let’s face it – a pretty hilarious cat.

And then there are my words. I love my words; I love my outlet. Writing is a great part of who I am – throughout these twenty-five years, my writing has shaped me, and I wouldn’t be me without it.

So here’s to another twenty-five years of love, laughter, experiences and words.

Happy birthday, Jess – from Jess.


To Read and to Dance.

Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

         – Voltaire

What a very dangerous thing to say, when the dance is the most cunning seductress, and the book the most lethal weapon.

Nothing is more dangerous than a well-read mind behind a beautiful face and dancing eyes.

Nothing is more tempting than a wordsmith, borrowing the words of poets, old and new, backed by echoing voices of the past.

And nothing is more beautiful than two small, bare, female feet, dancing their way into the unthinking heart to the tune of ancient words, bearing it “ceaselessly into the past”.

But let us read, and let us dance…whatever harm may come; for me, there never will exist nobler endeavours.


To Be a Teacher

To be a teacher is more than the painstakingly tooth-gnashing daily (and, more often, nightly) process of putting together handouts and resources, snipping away at flashcards and creating digital resources for a classroom of diverse and unique learners. It is more than putting on a comfortable yet suitably professional outfit and a pair of comfortable court shoes, optionally dabbing on some make-up and making sure your hair’s in place. Being a teacher is more than being at school an hour before the first bell and most probably leaving an hour after the last. It’s more than going up to class on time and giving the best that you can give to the young minds that depend on you for the education they deserve.

To be a teacher is so much more than managing your class and making sure your kids don’t get themselves into any trouble; monitoring patterns of behaviour and speaking to the kids you see six times a week on a one-to-one basis. It’s more than getting to the bottom of what’s causing that boy to be disruptive or that girl to bully her ex-best friend.

To be a teacher is more than working past your documented hours, staying up late and sometimes putting yourself second in order to give these children the service they deserve.

To be a teacher is all these things. And more.

It is to take an oath; an oath to give each child a chance at their best life, and to make sure that they are loved – because (perhaps) there’s that one boy or girl in class who looks at you and hopes that you believe in him or her; because nobody else does.

To be a teacher is to be insulted; to be told that your job is the easiest on earth, because holidays and 2.30pm. It is to smile and take it; to ignore it.

Because to be a teacher is to love the work you do; it is to be devoted to each child inside your class, and to make sure you are the last one to give up.

It is to teach, but more importantly to educate. To be a teacher is to inspire.


Teaching Grammar: Condemning the Explicit?…Really?

Penny Ur, an acclaimed researcher and writer of methodological literature with regard to English Language teaching states the following:

“on the whole students who receive some explicit instruction in grammar perform better than those who do not. Teachers and students also generally feel that grammar instruction is helpful.

However, there is still a place for communicative input and output, and the possibility of acquiring some grammatical features through intuitive acquisition. As with vocabulary, we need both kinds of procedures, implicit and explicit, for effective teaching and learning.”

– Penny Ur, A Course in English Language Teaching (Revised Edition), p. 79

At university, we are instructed not to teach explicitly; that learning should be incidental and implicit. If possible (which to them means ALWAYS – no matter what the circumstance), learners are not to find out that they are doing a particular tense, for instance, or that the particular language form is called ‘conjunction’ or ‘article’. During our teaching practice, we are condemned if we have a single lesson that teaches grammar explicitly; that gives learners the concrete form they are to use and then offers some guided practice before allowing them to apply freely in speech and conversation.

In the Maltese state school, children have six English lessons per week. If one is taken up by literature – which is the most beneficial lesson to the students as individuals, allowing growth and improvement of critical thought (in my opinion) – there are five lessons left to devote to the learning of language. Now, imagine using the first language lesson for reading; a reading text which uses the language form and exposes learners to its use in context. Imagine using that lesson both to implicitly expose learners to grammar and to improve their reading comprehension skills. Imagine using the second language lesson for listening; a listening comprehension which keeps to the theme/topic around which the reading lesson and the other lessons of the week revolve but which also happens to use the same language form in context; in this way, learners are being further exposed to the language form in question and improving their listening comprehension skills. In both lessons, learners would have had to use the language form in order to answer questions properly. In this way, students are unconsciously applying the language. Now, imagine using the third language lesson for spoken interaction. Imagine teaching students chunks of language they might use in a given situation or simply giving students flashcards and allowing them to come up with their own questions, answers, or statements. Imagine monitoring and eliciting from the students the correct form within the same context.

Now comes the big one; lesson number four. Imagine dividing the lesson into two parts. Imagine first eliciting from the students the language form they have been using throughout the week using several examples. Imagine then extracting and eliciting from those examples the language form and giving it a name the students may associate with it. Imagine providing to the students a couple of guided exercises in which they get to use the language in a monitored and guided way. Then, during the second part of the lesson, imagine providing learners with a situation during which they must use the language form they have just learned, having a model to follow so that they may correct themselves in the case of serious mistakes.

Imagine taking all of that, all that has been done, and then using the last lesson to compile everything that has been learned to guide the students toward a writing task with a purpose, in which they would be able to use the vocabulary and language they have learned and for which they will have a great grammatical model to follow.

What is wrong with this model? Isn’t there a lot of implicit learning taking place? Aren’t learners able to apply language in context or to try to do that? Is it really condemnable to offer to the students a structured model they may look at for guidance?

I am not claiming that implicit or incidental learning, the communicative approach and all of those have no value. To the contrary, I value these models and I believe that most of our lessons should be focusing on this -allowing learners to come in contact with language in use and within context. However, I do believe that learners can only benefit from having a structured model alongside this, as Penny Ur has stated in the quote above. If not all learners are able to focus, be motivated or even learn from such a model, I do not believe that it should be eliminated. Why?

There are some conditions such as dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome and autism which several students have to deal with. In the case of these conditions, students tend to excel academically if provided with a logical, structured model. While methodological training courses claim that the majority of the student body would not benefit from a structured body, I find that it is against my principles to eliminate even a single student let alone a number of students from my lesson planning process. I believe that every student should be allowed to learn in conditions wherein he or she may excel academically. I also believe in inclusive teaching, in which all students get a chance to learn with their peers rather than being segregated according to their conditions. In Malta, we get the chance to teach inclusive classes. However, I believe that training courses need to be jolted into consciousness in order to realise that eliminating an entire school of methodology from the surface of the earth is promoting exclusion and segregation within the classroom.

My biggest drive to teach is not love of the English language, even though it is the language I am most passionate about since it has given me my most beloved volumes of literature and a medium through which to express myself in writing. My biggest drive to teach is that I intend to teach every student I encounter; I intend to go over and above in terms of effort to make sure that every single student, no matter what his or her problems or inclinations toward the English language are, will get a fair chance. And yes, I firmly believe that eliminating explicit presentation of grammar completely will not benefit these students; it will hold them back. And this, to me, is the greatest injustice.


An Opinion Piece: The Maltese Prejudice Against the State School

Something I would like to voice that has been bothering me for a while is the misconception people have of state schools. During discussions with regard to motivation, access to technology and other such issues in relation to students, it has frequently been the case that the argument has been presented as follows:

“While teachers who are placed in church schools and private schools may not have these problems, it is different when you come into contact with teachers who are placed in state schools where students are perhaps less inclined to learn and study.” (in my own words)

While throughout my life I have had to deal with these judgemental and generalising attitudes, I think it is imperative to raise awareness also with regard to the delivery of such opinions. Having a Bachelor’s Degree and soon a Master’s Degree does not in any way imply that I was in no way connected to a state school. In reality, I have never in my entire life stepped foot into a church school or private school classroom. I believe I had capable teachers throughout my life, who always did their best to motivate us and to deliver their subjects in the most understandable way possible.

There is nothing disadvantaged or underprivileged about children who study and learn in state schools. I am one of those children and I believe it is a great form of disrespect both to those like me but most especially to the dedicated teachers I had to just assume that there was anything less formative or of a lower quality in the education I received.

While I do not expect everyone to agree with my point of view, I do implore anyone who sticks to reading this post to please measure the words they use and keep in mind that it is up to individual aptitude, potential and motivation. Please keep an open mind and realise that it does not matter which school you have attended. What matters is that in some way or another it has aided in your formative years, whether in an academic way or in terms of personal and social development.

A school is a school and a teacher is a teacher. There is no price tag which can prove the quality of either, and definitely no price tag which can give or take anything to or from the value of a student. Each one is, in the eyes of their teacher, priceless.


Why I Like to be Alone

Most people in my life are social butterflies; my mother, my best friends, my colleagues – they all want one thing: that is, to know other people and for other people to know them. For this simple reason, most of those around me fail to understand my frequent, consistent desire to be alone. It is difficult for those whose personalities are socially aligned to fully comprehend the blunt honesty and sincerity of wanting to be alone. Most people, in fact, become worried when someone – that is, someone like me – claims that they like to be alone. This claim is often attributed to depression, stress or fatigue. Some even go so far as to believe they have offended and thus pushed away the individual in question, and go out of their way to get to the bottom of the bottomless question: Why? 

I never feel more human – more alive – than at that moment when I’m sitting on my own in my parked car, the Maltese sun beating against the summer-tinged already slightly tanned but usually pale skin on my right arm, which dangles from my open window against the yellow bee-attracting door. That moment easily defines what it means for me to be alive. The heavy humid heat forces my eyes to close and yet they fight to stay wide open to enjoy the different (yet barely discernible) five hundred shades of blue that crowd the summer sky mid-afternoon. Nothing defines true beauty more than that amalgamation of five hundred blues, except the momentary creeping-in of swaying shrubs amid the summer breeze in my unfocused – yet existent- peripheral vision. Then comes the moment I’ve been waiting for; the falling silence. It happens instantly, but I can feel the change in atmosphere. The noisy hum of silence fills the air. I smile as I am finally able to focus on the birdsong I came here to hear. Birdsong. That is one of the main reasons why I like to be alone. I never hear the birds sing over someone else’s breathing. People always have something to say. And when they don’t, they breathe. I like the birds and I enjoy their song. I like the innocence that spreads from spring to summer, drifting into autumn until it slows down into winter. The birdsong never dies; it never stops. The music of the bird is evergreen outside that window in that yellow car with broken springs that goes up hills it shouldn’t even be able to climb. The distant hum of engines in the distance and the silent yet existent moan of tired wheels against slippery tarmac has its relevance in gently reminding me that I am still a part of civilisation; that there is still a world beneath the hill of which I must make part; in which I must drive through endless streams of traffic so that I can go home and then drive back to work and then go home and then drive back to work again.

But for this moment, I enjoy being alone; just listening to birdsong as my stream of consciousness filters through nature’s music, becoming milder, much less critical and much much less offensive – much less (in other words) conditioned to believe that the societal norms of our time are standard and by nature more correct. In this singular moment, my mind is able to roam free; to question what it never could when others are around. My eyes are able to water both with sadness and delight. My heart is able to explore the racing of emotions to and fro, trying to make some sense of the confusion in my twenty-something mind. That same mind is now able to accept without a drop of shame that it is still making mistakes, still young and still so far away from being an adult; up here I can acknowledge and find pride in the reality of still figuring it out. Up here, I’m the free dreamer that is always there beneath the surface, hiding somewhere in between the seams of my eccentric clothing style which no one seems to understand. And when I am alone, I can admit that I do feel a certain sense of pride in being able to reveal at least a part of who I am through clothes that no one really likes or understands; I find a sense of comfort in the fact that I can claim to be myself more than so many others can because while I need this singular moment up among the shrubs with my old loyal friend (my car) to be able to let loose all the crazy thoughts that spiral through my brain 24/7 trapped like birds inside a cage, at least I’m not afraid to be myself.

I’m not afraid to say that yes, I like to be alone.

Yes, in this 2015 world of #besties #friends and (though unspoken) #networking, I am that person in that crowd who turns around and goes back to her car to drive around listening to obscure music in the silent darkened lightless streets at one am, the summer breeze that flits in through the window messing up my unstyled hair, and a still small smile tickles my lips, because I’m in my element.

So, yes, I’ll never claim to be an alpha. I’ll never seek the spotlight in the centre of the stage.

I choose to shine in moonlight, on my own, away from prying eyes. I choose to shine only to those who seek to see the hidden light that creeps beneath the matted coat of this misunderstood omega.

And here, I start to find myself.


Like Water From a Broken Dam

There it was; that dreaded season. And things had been going so well too. Everything was perfect. Words were flowing in a stream of sentences, connected one to another to form an entity; a whole. Each whole made sense, at least as far as poetry and passion deemed it sense. Each comma, full-stop; every punctuation point meant something – a pause, a gasp, a breath. It all made sense; it all had meaning. In short, it was the dreamlike state of inspiration; the writer was at one with her own work – like two bodies entwined in salty sweat and passion forming one. There wasn’t a distinction; not one border. Not one line, that marked a boundary between the hand that wrote and what that writing came to mean. The writer as an entity ceased to exist and was absorbed into the work; became a part of each and every page – each pause for breath a comma, each gasp an exclamation mark, each anxious thought an ellipsis. The text became the writer; the writer became the text.

And then the bomb was dropped, the blissful harmony of writer-text disrupted; separation became the new normal. It was the aftermath of an explosion; the commas, exclamation points, the question marks and full-stops and ellipses were scattered all about. The mind became a wasteland of dry thoughts and barren sentences; remarks that held no breaths or gasps or anxious thoughts – just words and words to form grammatically sound sentences which might make sense but not in the true sense; not in poetic or aesthetic ways. Inspiration was like the cargo on that ship which lost its way and went off course, leaving a war-torn country hungry for supplies.

And yet it would not last. It never had before. It never would. The words would come again; those meaningful heart-wrenching words that stabbed her heart with harsh poetic truths which she would spit on paper like dried blood after the dentist’s. The commas and the full-stops would come back to fill the page with pieces of her soul; to scatter them so they would not be lost – no matter how far off her course she dared to tread; a part of her would always be preserved in those stark commas with their plump heads and skinny tails.

Yes, the words would flow again; like water from a broken dam – unhindered, unimpeded, honest, free.


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