24 jan 2014 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.