By Sonya Dubinina
I’m probably not a good teacher because I don’t think this job is my future, nor do I believe I’m doing noble work. Gary wrote a beautiful post on this topic recently, and I love re-reading it. He briefly, yet, succinctly explains why what we do is not as noble as it may seem. I’d like to gab on the subject as well.
I started teaching last year in Prague and my job consisted of a few types of lessons.
First, there were in-company lessons, wherein I went to people’s offices and taught students the way they wanted to be taught. This usually involved a fair amount of chatting, reading, some exercises, and listening; all using a Cambridge or Oxford published textbook. Private tutoring, if you will. I also taught a Business English course for a total of 3 hours a week at a decrepit little school, which had seen its better days, near Old Town, which involved a few tired professionals who often skipped class due to …life. And finally I worked for a nice lady who runs her small language school all by herself (bless her heart) and thinks that having me interact with kids once a month without a local co-teacher is good for them (it is in theory, explain later).
While I think tutoring will help a person learn a language, I don’t believe in doing it once a week. In fact, I myself have recently quit my once-a-week Japanese lesson with a lovely tutor simply because I don’t think it does me enough good for the time and money invested. In my experience, the hour-hour-and-a-half I spent with the student a week was usually the only time the student dedicated to English, hardly anybody studied on his or her own. Now, if you’re a native English speaker, imagine taking the time out of your busy life to learn a second language. Now tell me how much time you’d have for it. So while I was doing something rather nice, I really think it was ineffective and a waste of time and money. Add to that the fact that native English teachers are usually kids fresh out of college who go to see the world and in case of Prague – to live cheaply and party it up overseas. I mean to find themselves. There’s hardly any expertise involved, nobody with a Master’s in TESOL goes to run around Prague as a freelancer to teach the Czech people for mediocre pay to speak English well.
The problem with my kids set up was that I had no native teacher to control the kids. Sometimes the lessons went well and we played a great game of hangman with four seven-year-olds for 40 minutes. Sometimes we even played a different game – I successfully explained it and they got it, all without any Czech. But most of the time it was kids being brats and not listening to me or following instructions. It was a waste of time and I couldn’t discipline them, nor was I motivated to do so in any way. I could fold my arms and get paid just the same. And sometimes I did because 12-year-old boys are not invested in learning English. At times, though, the 14-year-olds surprised me with good behavior and I wanted to cry. Once again, this was a waste of time and money, but who am I to argue with the business owner?
All this bugs me because it’s not teaching, it’s tutoring at best. I’m not entirely disappointed, no, I got to have fun conversations with locals in a non-pressure environment and to provide a cool insight into life in the USA. I got to have fun with the kiddies and to work 25 hours a week. I got to live in a cool place. But it is not proper language teaching, and in no way is it noble. Now, if I were to be a trust fund kid and I volunteered my time in a Thai orphanage and taught little unfortunate children to clearly communicate in English, that’d be note-worthy. If I could empower some disadvantaged people to better their lives with an effective class, if I could design effective curriculum for a place out of the goodness of my heart, that’d be noble. I’d take that. For now I’ll do my best to do what I do and where I do it and work on plotting a more noteworthy future for myself as a professional of one sort or another.
Sonya found plenty of castles and a long snowy winter in Prague last year. Frankly, she just didn’t care to reminisce about being snowed in and animal skin-clad for 7 months out of the year, and so here she is – a lizard in the sun, the rising sun of Japan that is. She is now spending her days in Tokyo confused and often lost, mesmerized, and bewildered.