The “Invisibility” of a Teacher’s Job

The other day I was at a friend’s birthday and my friend mentioned she had seen my photos in Liverpool and asked me what I had thought of the city. I said I hadn’t seen much of the city, because I had gone there for a conference (last year’s IATEFL Annual Conference) and it didn’t leave me much time for sightseeing. One of her friends, a new acquaintance to me, became interested and started talking to me.

She: “A conference? What do you do?”

Me: “I’m an English teacher.”

She: “What was the conference about, then?”

Me: “English teaching.” (?!?!)

She: “A whole conference about English teaching?!?!”

Me: “Yeah… It lasts for 5 days. It’s the biggest one.”

She: “Wow! What do you talk about all day at this conference?”


Her question really shocked me, but it shouldn’t. How many times have people replied “Just an English teacher?” after I answered what I did for a living? I have even given a talk about it at a Braz-Tesol Brasilia event. But her question got me thinking about how NETs (Non-English teachers) think a teacher’s job involves nothing more than just showing up in class and talking (sometimes even just showing up in class and opening the book). No NET (or very few of them, maybe the ones related or close to teachers in some way) seems to have any idea of the amount of issues and work that are involved in language teaching. They have no idea of the amount of reading, planning, writing and re-writing, correcting and thinking that we go through to prepare a lesson. They have no idea that some teachers (like me) prepare whole new lesson plans for a group even though I have taught the same level (and used the same book) year after year – because every group is different and has different needs and pace. They have no idea of the amount of hours I have spent studying, taking courses, watching videos and lectures on language teaching. They think I just have to show up.

And whose fault is it that NETs think like that? Whose fault is it that our work seems to be invisible to the naked (or rather untrained) eye?

I can be wrong (and maybe I’m being unfair) but I believe it’s our fault. We go along when we hear “Are you just an English teacher?” when we answer “Yes.” We validate the ‘just’ part of it when we answer like that. We have to be proud of what we do. We have to make no secret (and I’m not talking about out of the blue saying I spent 3 hours preparing a 1-hour class) of how much work, time and dedication our work demands. Our work is not any less worthy than any other. But we have to believe that before others do.

My answer to my friend’s friend was a (somewhat) lengthy lecture about all the sessions that are presented at a conference such as IATEFL, all that is involved in language teaching. She left the party with a different view on teaching languages. I hope.


Cecilia Lemos has been working with ELT since 1993 and is an Academic Coach for Educate Bilingual Program. She has worked a teacher trainer, writer, coordinator and teacher, presenting at local, national and international language teaching events. She’s a member of IATEFL’s Teacher Development SIG committee. Her main interests are feedback, correction and lesson observation.

  • Fabiana Fonseca
    Posted at 09:41h, 25 janeiro Responder

    That´s absolutely true, Ceci! I was asked this question last weekend when introduced to a former primary school teacher! I stopped a little bit before answering but the only thing that came out was: “Yes. I spend the whole day at school!” But we do it because we love and are very proud of what we do, that´s for sure!

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 02:41h, 26 janeiro Responder

      Hi Fabi! Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂 Our lives sure are filled with questions and comments like that, aren’t they? But you nailed it: we do it because we love and are very proud of what we do.

  • Damian Williams
    Damian Williams
    Posted at 15:35h, 25 janeiro Responder

    Excellent post, Ceci, and you’ve hit on something really relevant here, I think. And I’ll be honest, it’s something I’ve been guilty of in the past, too, when talking to NETs (nice TLA 🙂 ). Having said that, I can also remember an experience several years ago in London when I was talking to a NET and told her what I did. ‘But … English teaching … isn’t that what people do when they can’t think of anything else to do?’ I explained what the job involved but she still wasn’t convinced. We didn’t speak again.

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 02:45h, 26 janeiro Responder

      Hi Damian, thanks for the comment 🙂 I know teachers in general are not as respected as they should be (though I have only taught in Brazil, so this is my Brazilian experience) but I always get the feeling language teachers (and English especially!) get even less respect, as if knowing the language were the only requirement… It’s up to us to change that, I think.

  • Luke Baxter
    Luke Baxter
    Posted at 08:37h, 27 janeiro Responder

    A very good and truthful post, thanks. It reminds me of when I was running an Academy in Madrid and teachers on my staff would say to me “I need to go back to the UK and get a proper job!” I used to go absolutely wild.
    It did show the attitude of some people who are earning money from teaching but do not see it as a career or something to be passionate about. For many, it is just a way to earn some cash while they are having fun in a foreign country.

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 00:24h, 23 abril Responder

      Sorry for taking such along time to reply, Luke…But you’re very right. Being a teacher who lives in a “foreign country” I see many people with the attitude you mention (as well as serious, dedicated educators, let this be clear). More importantly, I see how much importance students seem to pay to the fact that a teacher is a Native-speaker or not (for native-speaker please understand born in an English-speaking country), which may not lead to someone who has embraced and believes in education.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Lilian Fernandes Carneiro
    Posted at 22:48h, 03 fevereiro Responder

    Hi Cecilia, I really enjoyed your post. Congratulations. Since this “thing” bothers me, I changed the verb referring to my occupation. When asked, I never say: “I GIVE classes”, but “I TEACH”. In Portuguese (which is very common) – “Eu DOU aulas”. NO – I say: “Eu LECIONO”.
    I strongly believe that this verb: GIVE – has the negative idea they have from us. Not to mention other situations that should turn this comment to a big text. Kisses.

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 00:26h, 23 abril Responder

      Hi Lilian. First let me apologize for taking such along time to reply,

      Like you I have been extra careful about saying what I do when people ask me that question. I say I am a teacher, and sometimes an educator. And proud of it!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Kisses!

  • Vicky Saumell
    Posted at 21:10h, 19 março Responder

    Hi, Ceci,
    I’ve been asked that same question when I say I speak at conferences…. The bewildered look first, then the question….Conferences? What kind? Who for?
    We are so involved in the ELT world that it seems obvious that everybody else knows/should know about it!
    Thanks for voicing this interesting issue!

    • Cecília Lemos
      Cecília Lemos
      Posted at 00:29h, 23 abril Responder

      Hi Vicky,

      I know exactly how you feel. It seems especially unreal while (or after) you participate ata week-long conference from morning to evening with 20+ concurrent sessions on the most varied topics that ELT encompasses… If only students understood what is involved in teaching, in teaching a language and how much time wededicate to it!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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