No two people have quite the same experience of teaching English. My own history includes mostly private sector teaching to adults and teens (so this post might not reflect your situation exactly). But regardless of the context you teach in, many of us, and this is undoubtedly true of any profession, might get to a time when we question why it is that we are doing it, or maybe we forget why we got into it in the first place.
For native speakers there is the added “I’m JUST an English teacher” issue to face as well, as in: I’m JUST teaching something that I didn’t have to put any real effort into learning myself, or Am I JUST taking the easiest option? Shouldn’t I be more of a go-getter in world of increasing “go-getting.” I would bet that this thought has crossed the minds of a fair number of you out there. Perhaps if you are a NNS (non-native speaker) of English you haven’t had this same feeling, and the things listed below are somewhat more obvious to you. If so, scream and shout about them! Kick up a fuss about your profession! And get your colleagues stoked about their job! Because there are a great many things to love about being “just” an English teacher.
You like people – a lot!
Let’s face it. Sometimes your warmers stretch on from three to 10 minutes, and you let that conversation run on much longer than you’d planned for because, well frankly, it was getting pretty darned interesting. And now you’re feeling a slight twinge of guilt for taking part in it as well. Was that too much of the dreaded TTT – Teacher Talking Time? Naughty, naughty you!
Relax. You’re a language teacher. Creating interesting and motivating contexts for communication is in your job description (or if it isn’t, it sure as heck should be!). And just check out how much you’re learning from your students. They’re all so DIFFERENT! Different jobs, different backgrounds… Heck, I never knew that Paco could play the piano! And Isabel’s job as an engineer – she makes it sound so fascinating!
Face it. You’re genuinely interested in people and learning. And genuine interest sparks genuine communication. And yes, you like to gab with the best of them, but you’re a top-rate listener as well which not only helps you get to know your students and tailor your classes to their interests, but also get to know their issues with the language, which helps you tailor the classes to their needs.
You make an amazing impact on peoples’ lives
Forget about thinking this is JUST English that you’re teaching. English is the most in-demand language in the world, has been for some time and is likely to continue to be in the considerable future. And it’s not just the language of economic, political and cultural power. It’s also the language of empowerment. For people to affect changes in their lives and their communities, even at a local level, it is often necessary for them to get support at a more global level, and English gives them access to this world.
Adults obviously know this, but teens and younger learners are much more aware than previous generations that they have the potential for significant mobility and opportunity in an increasingly smaller and more interconnected world. And they want classes which reflect these needs. Never underestimate what an important person you are in their lives – and what a huge responsibility you have. They’re counting on you to give them one of the most important tools to access this world.
You’re a laid back person
Tying yourself to the fast track has probably never been your thing. You like a job where you can do your prep and corrections at home. If you’re at an academy you can work your life around your 21 or 25 contact hours per week and maybe pick up some private classes on the side near your house.
Sure, it’s no bed of roses. There are reports to write and exams to mark, but personal satisfaction for you largely comes in seeing your students make progress. You’re a person who gives way more than you take, and that’s OK. You’re where you want to be right now in your life and enjoying things, and “ambition” has probably never been your middle name. Anyway, there are other kinds of ambition. For example, you’re in a job that’s in demand all around the world and there are so many places you’re longing to see! Pack your bag for a faraway place and learn another language for yourself into the bargain. If that’s not ambitious I don’t know what is!
But you can be a very ambitious if you like
Yes, it can be laid back at times, but the world of ELT has become highly developed and highly professionalized over the years. Looking for a challenge? You won’t have to look too far. Up your skill set with a higher level teaching diploma or a Master’s. Specialize in a new or related area if you like. Ever thought about YLs, assessment or becoming a director? Get out there and get some new experiences under your belt. Then share those experiences by training other teachers in your centre, or at conferences in your area or even internationally. You can even look for a job in publishing or maybe even sales. The sky’s the limit if you want it to be!
You’ll never find a job which is as much fun
No two classes are ever the same. Few types of teaching are as dynamic and interactive as teaching languages. Nowadays there’s lots of talk of teachers as facilitators, cooperative learning and personalization in all subjects. But language teachers largely wrote the book on lots of this stuff years ago. We’ve never been “sages on the stage” lecturing from the front of the class. We’ve run around the class, put people into groups and got them to sing, dance, act and just about anything else all in the name of learning – and fun!
As with any job you’re going to have some days which are better and others which are not quite as good. But the next time you have an off day come back to this list, or make your own, of what you love about teaching English.