Making the most of a situation


A small confession, though I may have already said this before, is that I really don’t love teaching. I’m a little bit of an introvert and I immensely prefer sitting in semi-isolation, working on my own to being in front and (supposedly) in control of a room of students. I even prefer the comfort of email over the potential minefield of a telephone conversation. And if I have a bit of piece and quiet to do my work in, then even better. In my current school I walk into a lesson without knowing who my student will be something like 60 per cent of the time, with a huge range of different abilities and learning preferences across one level. And this makes me a little anxious, every time.

Before we knew we were moving to Italy, and when we didn’t know if we would get a somewhere to go, we had agreed on Buenos Aires as a backup destination. Hanging out for a year and teaching English sounded like a pretty sweet situation. I’m not sure what had switched by the time we arrived in Rovereto, but I no longer wanted to be an English teacher. Perhaps it was to do with Matt working at a more ‘career’ job, that I felt I should be too. Disclaimer: there is (in my mind) a huge gulf between ‘teaching as a career’ and ‘teaching tefl as an overseas experience job.’ Not that the short term nature of the second should excuse a bad work ethic or poor work, just that it is possible to get without proper qualifications and oversight.

And yet, here I am. I have tried a small variety of teaching work: the first and worst involved too many small children in un-air-conditioned classrooms in the middle of summer. Trying to coerce them into songs and dances and plays, and teach them something beyond the word groups they already knew while ensuring they had fun, was not fun for me. By the time I reached my sixth and final week I was having waking nightmares where I sat up in bed convinced I should be helping the other tutor. The feeling of relief when I realised it was only 3am, and that I was allowed and expected to go back to sleep, was palpable.

For the second, I tried three different things at the same time. For around six months I worked at two different schools and acted as a English teacher slash babysitter for some Italian kids. That wasn’t such a fun time. I had early, leave-the-house at 5.30 or 6.30 or 7.30 am, starts to reach the industrial area of Verona in time for the company lessons I taught there. My trains were spent not sleeping (unfortunately) but studying the grammar I still didn’t have a good grasp of. Like: what’s the difference between the present simple and the present continuous. And, actually, what are the present simple and the present continuous? Despite my morning cramming sessions, my students definitely knew more about their English grammar than I did. I lived in fear of their questions and infinitely preferred to chat than teach.

Now, things are getting better. I did some study, I learnt my grammar (though it is a work ever in progress) and I’m finally getting some ideas about what I should do as the teacher. I still don’t love it, and I still get anxious preparing for lessons. My confidence in my teaching abilities is very flighty. It can soar after a good day of lessons but it crashes and burns as soon as anything goes wrong. But, I am determined to stick with it, both because it’s one of my best sources for a constant income stream and because I can see how much I can learn from it.

Asides from the grammar, which I never really got (or got taught?) in school, my two other big ones are learning to be comfortable in front of a group, and feeling comfortable telling people what to do, especially when they’re older (and more authoritative) than me. Getting these three down are what I consider to be the best take away skills from my current situation. It’s all about focusing on the positives, right?

And sometimes I get a reminder that there are others out there much worse than me. My final student one night had been taught, by his high school Italian English teacher, that the word for ‘stamps’ (the things you need to post a letter) was ‘sticky boxes.’ And that is pretty awesome.


2 thoughts on “Making the most of a situation

  1. rO says:

    I can understand you. My job doesn’t concern teaching, but sometimes I’m asked to do it and I really don’t like it. Like you I prefer an email than a chat and I really feel stressed when I’ve to prepare myself and then remember all and explain it to the audience.

    • It isn’t so easy, right!? I try to adopt the attitude of a friend who *loved* talking to groups because (she said) she loved the sound of her own voice and in these situations she had a captive audience! I can’t pull it off though!

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