Wednesday, September 25, 2013

When It's Time To Move On -- Why I stopped teaching English and how I feel about it

Before you go on reading, let me clear up one thing. Many get upset about my not being a humble little soul who's grateful for any appreciation life might throw her way. They're not necessarily right. It is completely true that I'm not humble toward my fellow human beings and society in general. I'll give you that. And, since I'm not, I won't apologize. If you feel that you're a little worthless piece in a great human scheme of things, read these posts at your own risk. You might find that attitude of yours changed -- or, as some have, you might just feel outraged at one such as me presuming above herself. Well, you've been warned.

I do sincerely believe in the existence of a plan of development for humanity. However, I'm not quite sure each and every one of us, individually or as a group, are on the correct path toward its completion. That's partly the reason why I look on all things human with the eye of a bemused spectator. The other is that I have a tendency to look for silver linings, since but for joy and mirth I simply could not go on. I would simply go mad looking at all the stupidity around me, not to mention my own.

And it is with all these thoughts that I plunged into the craft of language teaching some ten years ago. I recognized how precious that aspiration and effort was that some people put in learning English, and I wanted to help them. Not really out of some overwhelming philanthropy, but from feelings more akin to those felt by a budding gardener who realizes he's standing in a field of thirsty flowers. A life-long language learner myself, I knew that without someone finding out what they need, and supplying it in lavish quantities, instead of bursting in a hundred different beautiful hues, their efforts would wane and wither.

Contrary to what many think, it wasn't really about me. It was about a beautiful cooperation, destined to satisfy all. I was humbly (see?) living off my thirst for acting on the betterment of a situation that bugged me no end, and on my pupils' for knowledge and development. It would be plain silly of me to say that I felt humbled by it all. I didn't. I felt elevated, and reveled in the fact that my pupils felt quite good about the whole thing too. I knew I was good, because it was working like a charm, and I could see plainly, through my studies and experience, that I had what it takes to be good.

I did not, out of professional objectivity, respect my elders and betters, my fellow colleagues, or the authorities. My devotion was to my pupils, and mainly toward the talent that, believe it or not, lies in every one of us. Language calls to us very much like a magnet, and, once you answer the call you can end up a hundred different ways. My aim was to help my pupils achieve what they really wanted, not what they dared. Be it passing an exam or talking to a girl, their goal was my goal.

Then I got into the corporate jungle, and while in Hungary you could 'cheat' corporate clients by actually teaching their employees in a meaningful way, not so much in Switzerland. Some groups were game and we could ditch some boring parts of the book and do stuff that did them more good, but others kept clinging to the idea that company courses are not supposed to be fun, and especially not productive. I don't really know why people assume that, simply because something is even remotely compulsory, it is destined to be a failure. I can't accept that attitude and I never will.

The other difficulty was that it was deuced hard to get their real goals out of people. Swiss employees, I must tell you, are one messed up bunch from a psychological point of view. You have to dig through layers and layers of obligations before you get to what they actually want, and then they feel so embarrassed about wanting anything at all that they bury it all back again. And you're faced with the same old juice about 'negotiating with clients' and 'proficient office discourse',  which, of course, they don't believe in themselves. Try to teach them toward those goals and it becomes evident that no student can achieve those while afraid to ask strangers for the time in the street or pick up the phone when his wife's American cousin's calling. And they know it too, but they seem to think duty comes first. So you're teaching them office jargon by the hour, with no real end in sight.

Well, I saw one and I took it. I started a PhD.

I'm not going into details how it all came about in the end, but think of a year sweating, banging doors and being firm and professional, and you get the gist. I was in. And I knew I could never go back. 

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