20 January 2013

The 10-year TEFL itch

New Year sends everyone a bit cuckoo.

An arbitrary progression of numbers on the Gregorian calendar has us all promising to run thrice around the block before sunrise when for the past 364 days we’ve stumbled out of bed at 08:52, snagging pyjama buttons on nostrils as we go, or to forsake delicious red wine and apple crumble for undelicious tonic water and millet crumpets until we’re the same size as when we entered puberty. Whence comes the madness?

In this marvellous article, author Emma Forrest suggests we resolve to stop hating ourselves this year (for jogging and self-loathing are surely fruit of the same tree) and I’m very much down with that, although so far I’ve resisted making any resolutions at all for 2013 – not because nothing in my life needs changing, but because everything does.

And as that sentence was unintentionally melodramatic, I shall backtrack a little.

2013 is the 10-year anniversary of my CELTA and the beginning of my teaching career, and I feel like I’ve ground to a halt. I’ve taught ESOL, ESL and EFL. I’ve taught beginners and I’ve taught advanced students. I’ve taught kids, teenagers and adults. I did my next-level teaching qualification and started an MA in Applied Linguistics, before realising my heart wasn’t in it and stopping as soon as the PGCert was under my belt. I’ve forayed into teacher training (which felt like being one step removed from the action) and academic management (which feels like being paid an extra €400 a month to answer half-hourly ‘Where is…?’ questions with something more specific / courteous than ‘Wherever you left it’).

I know I’m being a brat. I realise there’s a lot I haven’t done and don’t know and could learn, and I still enjoy being in the classroom, but the fire isn’t there. In short: I’ve got the 10-year TEFL itch. So now what?

The absence of obvious ladders to climb in this industry is lamented loudly and often, so I won’t tie myself in knots over it here, but I’ve become a mid-career cliché: don’t want to be a manager, don’t want to be a teacher trainer, better become a writer. For the last year I’ve been writing a coursebook in my spare time for a Taiwanese publisher, which has been educational and frustrating in equal measure (fixed-format chapters not being particularly conducive to creativity) but which has set me thinking about how I make my living.

Why do I work for the Man? The Man I work for is in fact a very nice Man, but that isn’t the point; in the 10 years that I’ve been a teacher, technology has changed the world of work beyond recognition. ‘Work’ is a now a dynamic concept (danke schön, internet!) and freelance writing, which seemed like a hopelessly impractical career choice when I left school, now looks like a manageable challenge. Not only manageable; joyous. Saying that I’d ‘better become a writer’ puts a facetious gloss on something I’ve wanted to do since I was small but somehow talked myself out of, and the prospect of spending my days writing does fill me with joy. I know I’m opening the door to pennilessness and rejection, but the freedom to bang out my own rhythm instead of shuffling along to someone else’s seems like a reasonable trade-off.

So this is my solution to the 10-year itch. If you’ve had (or heaven forbid, are having) a similar crisis I’d love your advice because it feels a bit like running away to join the circus, bar the unicycling clowns honking about the place before garrotting you with a tightrope as an elephant looks blithely on. What if writing turns out to be as hopelessly impractical a career as I feared at 18? What if I miss teaching? What if I'm...eek...not good enough? I guess the thing is just to get on and try. In 2013 I resolve to be brave, which will probably do me more good in the long term than jogging, choking down a millet cookie or signing up for a night class in contemporary tapestry.

[Images from here and here.]

13 comments:

  1. Contemporary tapestry...sign me up!!!!
    Laura, you have the ability and the fire to write so do it.
    Theres no need for excuses when you know what you want to do...I too would be out there shaking my stick but unfortunately I still have no idea what I want to shake it for/against/at! In the meantime I remain a sheep....baaaa.
    I will certainly be down on the list of readers.
    Best of luck. Go 2013!

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    1. Thanks lovely :) #baa (I don't think you're a sheep)

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  2. Well, if your blog is anything to go by, you certainly have the ability. I have no real advice for you. I only wish you the best and hope that whatever path you follow leads to happiness and fulfillment. I look forward to reading your future work, whether a novel or blog... or both :)I suppose a a cliche is a cliche because it holds some truth but I know from my own life that Mark Twain was right when he said, 'Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.'

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    1. It may be a cliche but it's great advice. Thanks so much for reading, sharing on Facebook and for your support! I really appreciate it :)

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  3. Take a year off, make sure you have something to pay the bills with and good luck. Where I live it is very difficult to make a living from writing, and most people who do this - no, I would say ALL the people who do it - are married/ partnered, so can take that chance. The population is too small for folk like me to run away to "join the circus". Are you married/partnered? But if you're writing text books or ESL related books you'd need to at least keep your hand in. If you're writing for the kids, you can do school visits and writing workshops, there's plenty out there to do. I've found it very easy to do those because of my teaching background. Anyway, have fun! Sell lots!

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    1. Thanks Sue - practical advice like this is exactly what I need. I hadn't thought about workshops but it's certainly an avenue to keep in mind. I don't have a partner but I do have savings, and I'd go back to Asia (to a town where I know people and the economy is, how can I put it, informal) to start my 'experiment'! It might all end in tears but as you say, the thing is to have fun and I've nothing to lose, except possibly my sanity. Thank you again for reading and for your support.

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  4. I feel I'm in the same place and have been for awhile. This fall I ran across an article that made all the sense in the world:

    Do EFL Teachers Have Careers?, Bill Johnston
    TESOL Quarterly , Vol. 31, No. 4 (Winter, 1997), pp. 681-712
    Published by: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL)
    I can email it to you if you're interested.

    Susan K.


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    1. I'd love to read it! My email is lauraphelps2(at)yahoo.com. Thanks so much for reading and sharing - always reassuring to know others have been in the same position :)

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  6. Nothing new to add to what people have said above, just that you can clearly write - your blog is proof of that. You know what you want, so go for it - you can always go back to teaching if you miss it. Looking forward to hearing tales of bravery. And never say yes to a millet cookie :-)

    Steve

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    1. Thanks Steve. New or not, the encouragement is very much appreciated :)

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  7. Looks like I found your blog just in time for you to quit it :) I've really enjoyed reading it. What he said above: you're clearly a good writer with a voice of your own.
    Good luck on your endeavours - hope you keep us posted, as they say.
    Paul

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    1. Thanks so much! There may yet be updates as I'll be volunteer-teaching in India for two months :)

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