The English Fantasy – For Your Mental Health, Do NOT Swim Upstream
By Todd Squitieri – ESLAuthority.com
Most teachers go into EFL teaching as the disseminator of knowledge. They think they will give knowledge to other people. It’s quite understandable because they probably came from an academic institution or educational system where teachers thought of themselves as purveyors of wisdom, knowledge, skills, and expertise. However, as an EFL teacher, you’re really not doing that.
Spreading wisdom is not the goal
As an EFL teacher, you’re not going into the classroom to give wise wisdom to other people.
You’re not going to converse with them in that way, and you will not give a lecture like you would in college. You’re going to speak incredibly slowly for one thing. You will speak very basic English. You’re going to smile while trying to entertain the students. That’s the bottom line, and then as an afterthought, you might teach something that can stick to the students’ brains. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Dumb it down, it’s for the best!
Honestly, in my experience, I’ve found that most of the students have so much workload anyway that they will probably remember nothing you said or they’ll probably already be fluent enough that they don’t even need your lessons anymore or they probably don’t even take your class seriously enough to consider it as an academic subject. So have fun, you might as well make your day easier too.
This is not to say that you can’t be useful to them, in some way. We’re all human and technically speaking, we can be useful to someone! The numbers are in your favor, I swear. Even one person is better than muttering to yourself…alone, right?
And this is not to say that the other teachers think of your class like that. Or even the administrators. Look, we’re all in business, and first and foremost, we’re in the fantasy business as famous Madam Sidney Biddle Barrows repeats in her amazing book, Uncensored Sales Strategies. English teachers are especially in the fantasy business, you just have to figure out which fantasy it is and drive that home. Are you in the pedagogy business? The successful business? Or are you in the really-attractive-teacher-look-and-don’t-touch business? I’m telling you, there’s a spot for everyone in the English teaching industry! It’s all fantasy. So work your Tolkien and get out on that runway.
I’m sure many of the administrators want you to think that your class is just, you know, part of the rest of the curriculum. However, the way the students behave towards you will let you know what fantasy you’re playing out for them. You can always ask them questions or do what is advised in the Cambridge Classic Teach Business English and administer surveys that give you a real sense of what the expectations of the students are. If you’re teaching with a set curriculum, well then the curriculum will tell you all about what kind of fantasies you’re working with—dream vacation to Hoboken, anyone? That’s a terrible vacation destination by the way. Sorry, Hoboken.
Status of guest English teachers
At certain schools, there will be the local teachers who are able to give tests and add to portfolios. They’re also able to grade students and incentivize them. But on the other hand, there will be the guest English teachers who can’t do any of that. They can’t even give homework. The best they can do is sing and dance and then that’s it for the class. There is an interesting contrast there. You can be tough or fun, there’s no real in-between just like parenting.
This contrast may result in some students not fully respecting you and listening to what you have to teach. Now there will be some teachers who say, “Well, that’s your fault. You’re the one that needs to maintain control of your class.” And yeah, that is very true. You do need to maintain control of your class, but you also need to recognize that there are some areas of the school, at the more general level, that is deeply systematic and that are beyond your ability to rectify in any way. It’s an interesting paradox, and much of adult life is learning to live with these paradoxes. It’s what school teaches you about from a distance which you don’t experience until you’re actually in the workforce and tearing out every last strand of hair you have when you realize that EVERYTHING is a paradox. Even reality. Did I just get too deep?
Here’s the point: It’s your business to know what’s within your abilities and what’s beyond you. Know thyself and know what you’re getting into!
Adapt to your surroundings
Students come in with their own history and their own expectations as to how the English class is going to go, and a lot of that is deeply embedded and cultural. What they expect may be the reverse of everything that you hear in other schools or in other books, but you’re not going to change the culture and you will not change the society. So accept this. Love and live it.
If the society views a guest English teacher as an edu-tainer, a clown or some funny person that doesn’t have much education or force to them, then you’ve got to work with that. And be the best clown you can be. It worked for Krusty.
Strap on that big ol’ grin and learn to juggle. Really maximize that role to the fullest. Believe it or not, by playing to people’s fantasies, you’re giving them what they really want anyway. No one wanted to learn English from me, they just wanted entertainment. So I did my time-step, gave them a few English phrases, and called it a day. That was my role, and it can be yours too! Just don’t really come dressed as a clown, that’s just creepy.
Don’t be the fish that tries to swim upstream. It’s a futile endeavor. Take it from me. Go in the direction of the stream, and find ways to work with your situation. It’s called “aikido,” according to The Business Model Navigator (a great book that I highly recommend, by the way!).
So, if the tide is going left, go left with the tide and see where it takes you. Be openly curious and work with the fantasies of your customers. That is my advice. Your physical and mental health will thank you for it. Which is more than your liver can say.