I’m going to write about a subject I am actually qualified to write about.
Just don’t get too used to it, okay?
After all, I’d hate to ruin my reputation as a totally unreliable source of information on the Internet.
I mean, not to brag or anything, but I’m currently the number one Google search result for the search term, advice you shouldn’t follow. Do you know how much crappy advice I’ve had to give out to reach that status? (Honestly, do you? Because, uh, yeah, I don’t really. I mean, I can vaguely remember telling you all that you shouldn’t bother learning any of the language of the country you’re in as it will totally ruin the surprise. But all the other crappy advice I’ve given on this blog has kind of blended together into one big “don’t,” if you know what I mean.)But, this week, I thought I might change things up a bit.
Don’t worry. This is not a sign that I’m turning over a new leaf or anything. Especially since I seem to be doing so well with my old leaf. I mean, bad advice is kind of my thing. It’s my niche, if you will. Even Google agrees! And Google hardly ever agrees with me on anything!
Instead, you should probably take this as a sign that I’m not entirely with it this week.
You see, I’m suffering from yet another bout of Black Lung, and my head is all woozy from some questionable medicine I picked up at the pharmacy. It may be cold medicine, or it may, judging from the illustration on the package, be used for the treatment of Radioactively Glowing Forehead, Nose and Throat Disease.
Which I totally think I have, by the way.
Plus, I’ve just spent the last three days participating in my very own one-woman, research-paper-grading marathon because, apparently, my students actually expect me to grade those papers they handed in to me two weeks ago and I stuck into the back of my locker at work and tried to forget about while I was using my free time to catch up on the last season of Project Runway.
Sheez, kids these days.
So, yeah, given my general wooziness and grading fatigue, my brain is not exactly up to the task of making up imaginary tips you really shouldn’t follow. (Even if Google is all, “But bad advice is totally your thing.” And I’m all, “Yeah, I know, Google. But I have Radioactively Glowing Forehead Disease and thirty more essays to grade by Monday.” And Google is all, “Okay, whatever. Fine. That’s the last time I agree with you on anything.” And I’m all, “Great, I’m having another imaginary conversation with Google. Clearly I’ve lost it.” And Google is all, “Yep, pretty much.”)
Where was I again?
Oh, yeah, no bad advice this week.
Sorry.Instead, I’m just going to write about what I know.
And, well, I know a thing or two about being an ESL teacher. I’ve had my fair share of ESL teaching jobs over the past thirteen years. I even have my Master’s degree in this stuff! (I know. It still kind of floors me that I have a degree in something useful. After all, I never really fancied myself the useful type.)
As I do occasionally mention my job on my blog (you know, in between talk of cookies and pants and my couch), I get quite a few emails from people asking me for advice about teaching English overseas.
Sure, I’m a bit surprised that anyone would ask me for job advice. (I mean, do these people even read my blog?)
But, I’m more than happy to dish out advice – even the occasional bit of good advice.And, while I’m happy to answer any questions you might have, I thought I’d ask you a few questions. Because, really, how are you ever going to learn anything if I just go ahead and tell you all the answers. (See? I told you I had a degree in this teaching stuff. That’s exactly the kind of annoying thing they teach you how to say in teacher school.)
This is kind of like a pop quiz, if you will– except there are no right or wrong answers.
Ha, ha, just kidding.
There are totally wrong answers.
So, yeah, I hope you studied.
1. Do you like people?The requirements for getting an English teaching job vary greatly depending on the job you’re applying for and the country you want to work in. Some jobs require an advanced degree or a TEFL Certificate or some kind of teaching experience. Other jobs require little more than an ability to speak English at a somewhat native-level and, well, a heartbeat.
But, there’s one requirement that is kind of universal: you have to like people.
Or, at least, you have to be really good at pretending to like people.
The thing is with teaching you have to deal with people all the time. Like, lots and lots of people – sometimes as many as twenty or thirty people all at once.
And, depending on your teaching schedule, you may even have to deal with these people before noon. On a Monday.
Some jobs may even require you to deal with coworkers.
And, at most places I’ve worked, all of the teachers share one big common teacher’s room, so you don’t have an office to hide in or a cubicle wall to duck behind.
This means it’s really hard to ignore your coworker who clips his fingernails at his desk or eats his lunch so loudly you suspect he has some kind of weird jaw condition.
This also means your coworkers can totally see you when you’re rolling your eyes at them. (Not that I would ever do that, mind you. And, should any of my former or current colleagues be reading this blog, I’ll have you know I wasn’t rolling my eyes at you. I was rolling my eyes at our other coworker. You know, the guy who chews weird.)
2. Do you like kids?Remember back there when I gave you all that bad news about how you had to like people to be a teacher?
Well, don’t give up hope just yet!
I’ve got some good news!
You don’t have to like all people – or at least you don’t have to like little people.
(No, I’m not talking about leprechauns. Besides, who doesn’t like leprechauns? They know where all the gold is and they have adorable Irish accents. Seriously. What is not to love?)
The good thing about the teaching ESL, unlike teaching most other subjects, is that you can pretty much work with any age group of people you like.
Personally, I prefer working with older students, so most of my experience has been teaching classes for adults or college-aged students.
Not, that I don’t just adore children.
Really, they’re angels. All of them.
But, to be honest, I’m just not cut out to teach kids.
I have a tendency to swear a lot under my breath.
The only child-appropriate game I can remember how to play is Duck-Duck-Goose. (And even then I’m a bit fuzzy on all the rules. I mean, is there some rule that limits the amount of time you can be “it”? Because there really should be. Plus, how does that game even make sense? It’s obvious that whoever invented that game did not grow up on a farm. Because anyone who has grown up on a farm knows you really shouldn’t provoke geese in any way. Trust me on this.)
And, well, children kind of scare me – especially when they’re all assembled together in one big group – you know, like they tend to do in school.
The few times that I’ve had to teach kids the experience has been pretty painful for both me and all the children involved.
You see, kids can sense fear.
They can also sense when they’re going to be stuck playing Duck-Duck-Goose for two hours.
3. What about surprises? Do you like surprises?Aren’t surprises the funnest?
Working in another country, you get to experience all kinds of fun on-the-job surprises.
Like, for example, last week I was informed that the class I’m currently teaching ends a whole week earlier than I had originally planned, which means I had to cram two weeks of teaching into one week. This also means that I only have one week to grade five kabillion final research papers (in addition to the five kabillion papers that I’ve been hiding in my locker for two weeks). Oh, yeah, and that new class that I’ve never taught before that I thought I wouldn’t have to teach for another week so I didn’t really bother planning? It starts on Monday. Yep, as in this Monday.
See, the funnest, right?
Granted, sometimes these on-the-job surprises are actually fun.
In Japan, the university I worked for would regularly forget to inform us when the school was closed for a public holiday. So on more than a few occasions, I showed up at work to discover the entire campus was locked up and I had the day off from work. Sure, I would have appreciated getting this news a little earlier – like before I went through all the trouble of getting out of bed and putting my pants on. But, hey, it was still a day off from work!
When I was teaching in Brazil, I was informed that instead of my scheduled two-week vacation for Carnival, I was going to have to go substitute teach in a small city in the jungle for two weeks. When I was first informed of this little change, I can’t say I was particularly thrilled. After all, you put the words “substitute teach” and “jungle” and “no vacation” into one sentence, and it’s never going to sound like a good idea, is it?
But those two weeks ended up being the best two weeks out of my entire year in Brazil – I stayed with an amazing host family, met some really great people and got to dance on top of a truck at the town’s Carnival parade.
Sure, dealing with these surprises on a regular basis can be frustrating and stressful at times, but, hey, it may end up with you dancing on top of a truck.
You just never know. (That’s why it’s called a surprise! See? Fun!)
4. Do you know what you’re doing?Probably one of the most common questions I get asked about teaching ESL overseas is if you should get a TEFL certificate or do some kind of training before going overseas.
When I first started teaching I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a teaching degree, a TEFL certificate or any real teaching experience. (Somehow I have a feeling being a teacher’s aid at vacation Bible school in the eighth grade didn’t count as “real teaching experience.” Although, this didn’t really stop me from putting it on my résumé.) And, despite having a degree in English, I was woefully unprepared to teach anyone anything about English grammar. (I mean, who knew there was something called the Future Perfect Continuous tense in English? I mean, seriously, who knew about this?)
And while I can’t say I was the best teacher ever during my first couple years of teaching, I won’t say I was the worst teacher either. (In fact, I usually just thought I was a really awesome teacher since I had no idea what I was doing… so I really had no way of knowing that everything I was doing was wrong.)
I ended up learning a lot of things the hard way. (Like, umm, don’t make five-year-olds play Duck-Duck-Goose for two hours or they will get vicious. Oh, and don’t even try to trick them and tell them that you’re going to play a “new game” called Dog-Dog-Cat. Because they will totally see right through your lies.)
And, there were a few things that I learned in grad school that I really wish I had learned a lot earlier in my career. (Like, seriously, about this Future Perfect Continuous tense thing, who knew about this? And why was it kept a secret from me for so long?)
So, yeah, get the training before you go if you can afford it. Or, at least, for the love of verb tenses, bring a grammar book along with you. And maybe brush up on a few games that are appropriate to play with five year olds. Even if you’re not planning on teaching any five year olds. Because, really, you just never know. And that old Dog-Dog-Cat lie isn’t going to fool anyone — least of all, five year olds. Trust me on this.
5. How important is it to you for people to take your job seriously?Let’s just say that being an English teacher overseas has something of a reputation for being, well, not the most serious job on the planet. In fact, judging from the reactions I get from people when I tell them what I do for a living, I’d say ESL teacher ranks somewhere between underwater basket weaver and professional hamster trainer.
Once while on a flight home from Japan, the guy next to me asked me why I lived in Japan. When I told him that I taught English there, he responded by saying, “I thought about teaching English for a while, but then I got a real job.”
When I tried to explain to him that this was, in fact, my real job, he just snorted and rolled his eyes at me. (And he didn’t even have the decency to pretend he was rolling his eyes at someone else – you know, like a polite person would do.)
Finally I gave up and asked him what he did for a living.
He informed me he was a graphic novelist.
Yes, the guy who drew cartoons for a living was making fun of my job.
6. Define the Future Perfect Continuous tense and use it in a sentence.Mwahahaha.
But, seriously, did you know this even existed?
7. Are you ready for a commitment?I originally applied for my current job because it offered something most places don’t: a six-month contract. Most schools, no matter where they are, will require teachers to sign either a one or two-year contract.
After a year of traveling through Asia, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to sign up for a whole year. I was all like, “I can’t be tied down. I’m a rolling stone, baby.”
And then I discovered my university offers another something most places don’t offer.
A couch like this:
So, yeah, that was ten months ago.
Let’s just say this rolling stone has gathered a little moss. (And, yes, by “moss” I totally mean “cookie crumbs”, what did you think I meant?)
8. Do you want a real job? Like, really?
I’m sure you’re all like, “This is another trick question, right? Right? Because who really wants a real job? Real jobs are for suckers… and for people who actually like to wear pants on a regular basis.”
Well, remember back there when I was dishing out all the bad news about teaching, like you have to like people and actually know a thing or two about grammar (or at least be really good at pretending to like people and know a thing or two about grammar)?
Well, the bad news isn’t over, folks.
You see, when you teach ESL you have to do all those annoying things that people have to do when they have a real job.
Mostly, because, well, teaching ESL is a real job.
And, like most real jobs out there, teaching English is a lot of hard work.
When I first started teaching ESL, I never imagined that this would become my real job. I just wanted to live overseas and travel and not be forced to sell one of my kidneys in order to do so.To be perfectly honest, I’m still not entirely sure I want this to be my real job.
There are days I really love it, but there are other days when I’m stressed out and frustrated and, you know, forced to wear pants.
Plus, I never really fancied myself the real job type. (I did, however, always fancy myself the lady of leisure type. But, apparently, in order to become a lady of leisure you actually need to find someone willing to support you and your leisurely ways. And, apparently, in order to find someone willing to support you, you have to actually leave your couch. I know. It’s like I totally can’t catch a break here.)
But, at least for now, teaching ESL is my real job.
No matter what my airplane seatmates think.
Although, next time I get on a flight, I’m totally telling everyone I’m a hamster trainer.