Why teach?

‘Don’t be a teacher’. The advice of my A-level English teacher couldn’t have been clearer. ‘It’s the only profession’, he counselled, ‘where everyone knows how to do it better than you do’. This post could be a charge sheet of examples of people with no pedagogical training, and not a second of classroom experience, proving that (now retired) teacher of mine right. Instead, it will talk about why becoming a teacher is among the best decisions I have ever made.

It’s a tough job. Classroom contact hours are the tip of the teacher’s iceberg which also includes preparation, planning, correction, report writing and CPD. And since our direct “customers” are often obliged to be in our classrooms (by law, parents or employers) it’s also often a thankless one. And yet, when I took a career break and went back-packing in my late 20s, I realised that I missed it and decided it really was the career for me.

If you know that you can derive joy, vicariously, from the success of others, teaching is a calling like no other. Nothing can prepare you for the smile of a student who has succeeded when they did not expect success. Nor for the adult learner who, unused to being wrong at work, confronts wrongness and learns to embrace mistakes along the path. There’s the joy of the young learner who suddenly produces language that they did not know they could produce; the teenager who, despite being snowed under studying for their compulsory school exams and courses, still shows commitment to extra-curricular English and attends at least one other after-school language class. For every teenager pressed resentfully into studying English to help them with their future (most of whom can be won over), there’s a seven year old with a smile who tries repeatedly to say “I’m eight years old” rather than “I have eight years” and then finally achieves it. Or a young adult studying for the C1 or C2 who genuinely loves languages and/or English and/or studying.

‘Thanks to you, I made a new friend’. This is the most recent comment I’m adding to my list of things students have said that have made me melt inside. I don’t know how a student who only attends face-to-face lessons befriends a student who only attends the same lesson online. I do know that I pointed out that they have a shared heritage. Last week, I made use of a brief poem by Emily Dickinson that linked wonderfully to the course book material my B2 teenagers were studying. During the next lesson, one of my students told me that they had looked up, read and enjoyed many more of her poems. Moments like these two are what keep me hooked on being present in the classroom.

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