I am left-handed. I always have been. When I was a child first learning to write, I scrawled my name on the back of the little bureau in the bedroom. My printing was a perfect mirror image: my whole name reading from right to left and all the letters reversed. My parents did not try to change my left-handedness, although they were concerned.
Being left-handed has a few advantages. For example, there is some evidence that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people. This claim has had mixed results in more recent studies, however. (For a readable review of some research, please click here.)
There are also disadvantages to being left-handed. For example, most mechanical tools are designed for right-handed people: scissors, combination locks, even butter knives. School desks, of the sort where the chair and the desk are attached, are built in such a way that the student’s right arm rests on a wing of the desktop, but on the left side, where the student slides into the desk, there is no support. In fact, classrooms arranged in traditional rows are often set up so the light from the windows is on the left side of the room, so it falls on the students’ papers—unless they are left-handed.
Indeed, there appear to be some serious repercussions of being left-handed. Some early research found that lefties were more susceptible to immune diseases than right-handers. Other studies have found that left-handed people are more accident prone than right-handed people.
I seem to be living proof as a case study of an accident-prone person. I have broken my arm, my hip, and my collar bone, and I’ve sprained my wrist and both ankles. (Never mind all the cuts and stitches!) My most recent accident, which happened this past month, was a fall that led to a dislocated right shoulder.
Fortunately, this problem did not require surgery, but a dislocated shoulder is very uncomfortable and extremely inconvenient. For the past three and a half weeks, I have been learning to do things one-handed.
It is amazing how many of life’s routine activities involve using both hands. Getting dressed, preparing meals, opening a jar, hanging up clothes, doing the dishes, and washing my hair have all become major challenges.
And, like many of you reading this column, I spend much of my professional day working on the computer. My usual fast, automatic, ten-finger typing has been replaced by a slow, left-handed, hunt-and-peck method of seeking individual letters, since my right arm is in a sling. In addition, the computer’s mouse is normally operated with the user’s right hand. Trying to use the mouse with my left hand is awkward and slow.
The lyrics to an old Joni Mitchell song say, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” That’s how I feel now about the importance of my non-dominant hand.
This is the point at which you may be wondering, “What does any of this have to do with TIRF?” I suppose I can draw at least two connections.
First, when you have limited resources or are lacking vital tools, you learn to be very economical with your endeavors. Choosing what to do and what to forego becomes a regular way of thinking about how to deal with life’s challenges.
Second, being deprived of something you had taken for granted makes you realize how precious those resources really are. Like Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
Following from these two comments, TIRF has always worked within a very lean budget. We do not have an endowment to sustain the Foundation over time, so we have learned to work with very few resources. We call on volunteers to help with the work of the Foundation (e.g., reviewing grant proposals) and we ask donors to support TIRF’s programs with cash and in-kind donations (such as meeting space, printing, or frequent-flyer miles).
The second issue—about appreciating what we do have—reminds me that the days of large gifts from leading publishers are long gone. Instead, the Foundation has embarked on a new business model in which it seeks to offer professional services to individuals and organizations in the field of language education.
For several years now, TIRF has been endeavoring to offer its services to various organizations around the world. The types of professional services TIRF is capable of delivering include custom training programs, speaker services for groups of language educators, and program reviews for centers of language education. When contracted to do any of these types of jobs, TIRF relies on its experienced Trustees and, in some cases, its broad network of supporters.
In addition, TIRF seeks to partner with like-minded organizations to produce meaningful publications for individuals in our field. For example, the Language Education in Review (LEiR) series is a direct result of the initiative developed by TIRF’s Board of Trustees. In essence, TIRF commissions papers on agreed-upon topics that are of interest to both TIRF and its partner – in this case – Laureate International Universities.
TIRF continues to enjoy long-standing partnerships like those with Cambridge Assessment English, the British Council, and Educational Testing Service. It is because of our collaboration with these partners that we are able to offer initiatives like the Doctoral Dissertation Grants program. Not only does TIRF secure funding for the doctoral grants, it offsets the expenses related to administering the program.
While unrestricted large donations may be difficult to come by nowadays, TIRF has shown the flexibility to adapt to the challenges. But make no mistake, our efforts have required an all-hands-on-deck approach.