Jun 8, 2010

My Teaching A-Ha! Moment

My diaries, from 1993-present. I should probably hide this bookshelf.

Last week at a group interview, I met a handful of TESL job applicants who were young, cheery, and inexperienced in the ESL world. The ink was still drying on their undergrad degrees, their passport pages were still unstamped. 

It was all familiar. 

Back in 2005, before the iphone and the recession, before Lady Gaga and urban Ontario's pho craze, I too was a newbie to the world of TESL and travel. I had been in their shoes before.  

It made me feel wise. It made it feel old. 

Meeting these young colts made me all nostalgic, thinking about the turning point when I realized that I actually loved teaching, not just as a means to travel, but as a proper career. It got me flicking through old travel diaries. 

[A note here: don't flick through old travel diaries while wearing a clay face mask. You'll inevitably cringe and cringe over the philosophies and agonies and naivete of your younger self, and the mask will flake off. Tiny bits of clay will get everywhere. I'm just saying.] 
Here are some notes from my former self, fresh out of university and diving headfirst into ESL teaching in a small town in Thailand. Apparently, I took to teaching as most take to travel; not in one gushing high, but as a process of adaptation. 

There was the honeymoon stage:

"Today I taught my first class at a government school and absolutely loved it. The government schools are huge and the kids are so sweet - they literally run after you and watch your every move like schoolgirls to the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night - a crew of them followed me into the bathroom and giggled while I washed chalk off my hands. The classes have like 45 students in them, but they're pretty cute. I always knew I wouldn't mind this job, I never thought I'd truly like it. Who would have thought...."     - Nov 2005

Next, there was the rut:

"Teaching requires just enough imagination to drain the creativity from me. I think ESL hurts my vocabulary. And I feel like a babysitter. Maybe I want to go home?"      - April 2006

And finally the acceptance, over a year later. 

What happened in between? I came back to Canada, applied to grad school, sulked around in a crummy barista job, didn't get into grad school, took off for more teaching instead. TESL was the Plan B, I thought I was just biding more time trying to figure out how to get back on track in academia. But oh, life's surprising.

Here's my a-ha moment, at a summer school in England:

"Today Elisaveta told me I'm her favourite teacher. Today Celine came knocking on my door because she was homesick, just wanting to be in someone's company, not alone in her room. Today Tomas hung around shyly after class, asking for advice with a girl problem. Today I sat in teacher's room for two hours planning lessons and getting so excited thinking about how these sweet and intelligent kids will take on the materials I'm preparing. Maybe I really love this job." - August 2008

...Cute, eh?

This story was expanded for Matador Abroad. You can read the longer version here.


  1. Love this post. :) How cool to expectantly find something you love doing AND make money for it. I've been exploring these options as well lately despite being a tech writer...

  2. This is a great retrospective. You are wise, Merritt.