#YoungerTeacherSelf challenge

This post is part of the #youngerteacherself challenge started by Joanna Malefaki. Make sure you read the post that inspired it all and the many excellent responses Joanna has linked to below.

Special thanks go to Joanna for not giving up on my contribution, and Hana Tichá for tagging me in her post. 🙂

For a start, let’s assume that corresponding with my future self was something of an established practice of mine in 1997, so a letter like this wouldn’t have made me think someone was playing a practical joke.

Classroom of the future
Classroom of the future

Dear Ven,

Hope you’re doing okay. It’s been a while since I last wrote. Sorry, but I’ve had an incredibly busy couple of years. Did you find any of that stuff useful that I told you about focusing on English lit rather than journalism at university? I’m guessing you did, because I see you’re close to getting your degree.

So, I thought I’d tell you about the next…well…decade…or more, because I’m not really sure when I’m next going to be able to write, and anyway, when you get to where the older Ven is now you’ll see it never hurts to repeat stuff a couple of times (and probably rephrase, too), just to make sure you’ve been heard.

You’d better sit down. In 2015 you’re going to be – how can I break this gently? – a teacher! Now, please don’t do anything rash. I know that right now you can’t think of anything that feels more like a failure because none of the people majoring in English lit want to be teachers; you all want to do something more glamorous. Like you want to be a diplomat. Ain’t gonna happen. But listen to me. You’re really going to like being a teacher, and if it makes you feel any better, a lot of the others are going to wind up being teachers too. Now I think would be a good time to go away and process this. Read the rest of this letter tomorrow because I have some practical advice that you might want to take on board in a more positive frame of mind.

Back? No, my news hasn’t changed since two seconds ago – in 2015 you’re still a teacher. But I promise you won’t be disappointed…well, okay, to be completely honest, you’ll like teaching from the start, but it’ll take a good few years before you realize you don’t want to keep looking for other jobs. Anyway. Here’s the advice I was talking about.

No, being a teacher doesn’t mean you have to work with kids. In fact, pretty soon you’ll be getting a call from someone who’s going to be your boss for the next 7 years. (The first two you’ll basically be working full-time, but you won’t have a permanent contract, and you’ll be thinking it’s normal to save up during the school year so you have money over the summer. It’ll take years before the unfairness of this sinks in, so don’t worry about it now.) You’ll be teaching in-company courses all over town and you’ll do a bit of everything: general and business English, and ESP. Now for the tips:

  • You might as well not bother applying for non-teaching jobs. Or, if you must, at least don’t focus on your teaching-related experience in your CV.
  • Do translating work. Anything you can get. It’s extra work that pays, and you can do it from home. You’ll see some people claiming they make decent money teaching; what they don’t stress is that they teach 40+ hours per week. People just don’t make decent money teaching normal hours.
  • Don’t get too attached to students. To your boss they’re business, and if another full-time teacher needs her schedule filled, she’ll take over your class. No, there’s no point sobbing about it to your diary, nor will the students actually start that petition.
  • While I’m at it – students can be fickle. You’ll hear a teacher say her students love her to bits and have told her she’s the best teacher they have ever had, EVER, and they have NEVER learned as much from another teacher and then next year you’re going to take over her class and they will say the same thing to you. But maybe they’ll mean it both times?
  • Bottom line – focus on the teaching. That’s your job, and you’re going to be good at it. But it’s not a competition; you don’t need to be better than anyone, you just need to do a good job with the students you have.
  • Do the Mark Powell course (the LCCI CertTEB). In fact, do any training that comes your way – if the boss is offering to pay for it, especially, and even if she isn’t.
  • Watch the boss and the way she runs the school and take notes. It’ll come in useful when you’re running your own school.
  • There’s going to come a time when it’ll seem like everyone is leaving the school and changing professions because they don’t want to teach 30+ hours per week all over town for the rest of their working lives. What they’re saying makes sense. You don’t want this either. Find another school.

Your next job is going be a welcome change. For the next 2 years you’ll still be teaching in-company courses all over town, but your last class of the day will be over at 4 pm, and you’ll have something like 22 hours per week. (You won’t be surprised that you’ll be earning less, but on the plus side, you will have a life.) Your new boss is going to be highly supportive of CPD, encourage you to go on training courses, and will do pretty unusual things (for Croatia) like hiring a fresh CELTA grad (a NNEST) with a degree in psychology, and NNESTs (but non-Croatians) with a degree in English. This will help you see that good teachers can come from different backgrounds; they don’t necessarily need to have a degree in English lit. Nor do they need to be Croatian.

The boss will retire and she will offer to sell the school to you and a friend. At this point you’ll be feeling like you’ve gone as far as you can as a teacher. Go for it. You’ll be running the school for seven years. Some tips:

  • Get a marketing person to do the marketing. You suck at promoting your services and your preferred marketing strategy is sitting there and praying the client miraculously chooses you. There’s going to be this nightmare period that’ll eventually be called the global economic recession – not a good time for your preferred marketing strategy. If you hire a professional on time, you might save your school.
  • Make sure you do as much as you can to make life easier for your teachers. Don’t invent pointless tasks for them thinking that they only work 20 hours a week. Always remember how much work goes into prep and travelling around town, not to mention marking, observations, PD sessions on Fridays, etc. This is a good time to look over those notes you took in your first school.
  • Your teachers should go to BESIG conferences, not you. What you should definitely not pass up, however, is a course on online course design, and later, online tutoring. That is going to be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
  • You’ll be asked to teach a university class. Undergrads. EAP. Totally out of your comfort zone. (Those whining about general English coursebooks needing extra materials should try R. R. Jordan for a semester.) Do it anyway. You won’t like it at first, but that and the online course design will make sure you have something to transition to when you leave the school.
  • Don’t get too attached to teachers. (See a pattern yet?) They work for you first. Some of them may become your friends second. You’ll use the familiar ‘you’ to address them because you’ll like the way your second boss did this (as opposed to the first one), but this is probably not such a great idea. Why? Well, you’ll have to let some of them go in the recession, for a start. It’s really, really hard to tell someone they have to go; you might want to make it a little easier on yourself.
  • Grow some balls fast. You will need those to stand up to some people (no need to go into details at this point, but let’s just say that if you’re clear about what you’re not going to accept right at the start, this might save you a lot of time and headaches).
  • There’s going to come a time when you’ll realize that a school owner should be emptying bins in the classrooms and cleaning whiteboards on a regular basis if a) the business has just gotten off the ground, b) the cleaning lady is sick, or c) the owner has a cleaning fetish. It’s around this point that you’ll leave anyway (though not of your own choice), but if you were staying, I’d say this is the point at which you should cut your losses.

You’ll be teaching in a very different setting next – yes, I am absolutely sure you’ll still be a teacher, and no, I don’t need to double check. But you’ll be in Belgium (no need to go into exactly how that’s going to happen yet). For the first time ever you won’t actually have to work, if you don’t want to. You’ll see, though, that you won’t want to give up teaching, and this would be a good time to take your course for undergrads online. If anything, you’ll take more pride in being a teacher at this stage than you have in years. Last set of tips:

  • Join BELTA. It’s the Belgian Language Teachers Association, and they’ll just be starting out when you first get in touch with them. They are lovely people and will make you feel at home in your new country.
  • Be more active online. You’ll have spent the past couple of years managing the school Facebook page without creating an account of your own, for reasons that will seem pretty lame at this point. You’ll have a dormant Twitter account. Do something about it! I’m not going to go on about how useful it’ll be and how much you’ll learn; because that’s really far down the road, but you’ll love it.
  • Write more. You like writing and always have, since creative writing classes in junior high. I’m not saying it has to be a novel – you’ll figure it out.
  • Get a decent chair. Don’t spend all your time in it.

Trust me when I say you’ll be very much okay with how things will turn out.

Love,

Ven

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7 thoughts on “#YoungerTeacherSelf challenge

  1. Pingback: #Youngerteacherself | My Elt Rambles

  2. joannamalefaki

    Hi Vedrana!!
    Thanks for writing. I loved reading your post and the final line about the chair cracked me up!! When I was a newbie teacher I thought conferences were just for me to go to , hear a few talks and leave. Now I know better! It’s so much more than that!! Belta, by the way, was one of my favorite conferences and I really think teachers should attend a Belta day!!
    I really like reading these posts cause I learn a lot about fellow teachers as well. I did not know you ran a language school. I had the same problem as you. While I really wanted to be my own boss, I had difficulty treating my school as a business. I ended up closing in September 2014!! Recession along with my poor marketing skills got the best of me!!!
    Anyways, lovely post!!!
    Joanna

    Like

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for starting the challenge! It really took off and I loved reading all the different stories. And there was the #keltchat too! Plus Mike Griffin’s upcoming presentation – I think the idea struck a chord with many people.

      About my language school: it was called Octopus and a friend and I ran it together. That’s the story behind the name of this blog. 🙂 I think we’ll probably never know exactly how much of the closing was down to the recession and how much to the lack of marketing skills – and maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. Was yours a big school? Did you also have to let teachers go? If you ever feel like you want to blog about it, I’d be very interested in reading that post! Or maybe you already have and I missed it?

      Like

    1. That bit of insight came after many months on a regular kitchen chair. I have no idea why it took me so long to visit Ikea, but now I have a proper chair I feel reborn. 🙂 Glad you liked the advice and thanks for commenting!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Taking time out? – After Octopus

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