Mark Beales

Why become an English teacher?

A job that brings challenges and rewards every single day


When it comes to picking your dream job, some options just leap out at you. Wine taster, travel writer, movie critic: who wouldn’t fancy any of those? Teaching, on the other hand, is a more maligned profession. 

Days spent trying to control unruly pseudo-anarchists and nights spent marking their indecipherable work is the usual image. However, what if teaching involved getting to live abroad, experiencing new cultures and having ten weeks holiday a year to explore your new surroundings?

The idea of being able to teach by the beach is increasingly popular; to spread the delights of the English language to a few dozen students who eagerly lap up every clause and conjunction before you head off to your hammock to sip an icy beer as the sun dips under the horizon. 

OK, so reality may not always be as idyllic but teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Sorry about the acronym so early on but if you’re going to teach, you’ll have to get used to it.

Students of all levels

My experience of teaching includes basic government establishments, private colleges and international schools. I’ve taught students who could barely write their name in English through to those who study Shakespeare and Chaucer. When dealing with office politics I’ve learned to bite my tongue so hard there’s now an indelible impression inside my mouth, but on the other hand I’ve had a letter from the Queen of England (well, her hand maiden) praising my students. Teaching ESL is many things, but it’s never dull.

Every day is different and brings its own challenges and rewards. Sometimes it’s the little things that stay with you. One of my favourite moments came during an examination. As I walked around to check on students, a boy put his hand up. I walked over and the boy declared: “Sir, I no cheat.”

A little confused as the exam had only started, I said: “Congratulations, son.”

 He frowned, and then repeated: “No, no, Mr Mark, I don’t cheat.”

 “Yes, that’s right. ‘I don’t cheat’, is better than ‘I no cheat’. I understand, well done.”

Exasperated at my lack of comprehension, he finally grabbed his friend’s question paper and yelled: “No, I no have sheet, I need a sheet.”

Why study English?

English isn’t the most widely-spoken language on the planet. That honour goes to Chinese. However, while knowing Chinese is advantageous if you’re in China, it’s of limited use anywhere else.

English is simply the global language. It’s the language of aviation, shipping, international business and, largely, the internet. It also happens to be a language that befuddles, bemuses and bamboozles even native speakers with its complexities and nuances. It’s a language that is so varied that while someone from Australia may have a vastly different vocabulary and accent from someone in California or Barbados, they can still all get along.

The reasons for its complexities can be found in the history books (invading Danes, Romans and French all left parts of their languages in Britain). The reasons for its global influence begin with the slave trade. When the British began using slaves from Africa, they separated them from those with whom they shared a mother tongue to ensure the only common language was English. Britain’s colonial empire also ensured the language spread to Australia, India and the Caribbean.

More recently, America’s economic dominance has ensured that English has flourished: Is there anywhere left in the world where a ‘Big Mac’ is unknown? 

The flip side

It may be a hugely useful language to have, but not everyone is impressed by its seeming ability to conquer all. The French get very uptight about English, so much so that in 1996 erstwhile President Jacques Chirac stormed out of an EU meeting in a row over the lingua franca. Mr Chirac was annoyed by his countryman Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, who changed to English during his speech, as he called it ‘the language of business’. 

In Africa, many authors write in English in order to reach a wider audience. Chinua Achebe is perhaps the best-known African writer thanks to ‘Things Fall Apart’, but many of his contemporaries criticised him for writing in the tongue of the coloniser and oppressor. Achebe argued that the only way to change ill-conceived notions over pre-colonial history was to write in English. 

Clearly, teachers should not promote the idea that English is somehow 'better' than their students' native tongues; however in most countries it usually gives you an edge, and that is why so many want to learn it. 

Demand for learning English has never been as high (there are now more Chinese learning English than there are native English speakers) so if you do choose to teach, you’ll never have to look too hard for work. 

Many who planned to teach only for a year or two during a career gap find that teaching soon becomes their new career – and a gateway to living and working in many parts of the world.

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


Links

Visit Mark's website (lots of stuff on Mark's travel adventures, photography, etc)

Buy Mark's book - 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)

Browse Mark's Amazon author's page for publications he's written for.

Follow Mark on Twitter

Read Mark's Hot Seat interview on Ajarn.com




Comments

I came to teaching as a second career. Teaching got me out of the condo and the additional money buffeted all my cash burn. Having said all that I almost went to teacher's college after university.

There were a lot of difficulties along the way but to be honest most of the pressure I placed on myself.

In my opinion 80% of teachers don't care and never will. Paying them more than 35kpm is just money in the bin. 10% care somewhat and 10% take it on as a career and profession. Here, I'm discussing EFL and all schools sans true Internationals.

I'm amazed at the full grown shirkers and artless dodgers. Having done this for a decade I shouldn't be but as we start the new year I am.

Professional development is not easy to come by but few have any interest. It's all about silly games, methods to waste time, nailing down a staple of activities and tired worksheets so as to place a water bottle and your school owned notebook on your desk and slip off somewhere for an hour or three or...simply head home.

Year on year they learn nothing new then gripe about their pay. They've become accustomed to the wsts about the school and when they weigh a pay package at 42k compared to the 37k they've been making as long as they can remember they decide that the effort is just not worth it. So, there they sit.

Another thing I have noticed that teachers never do is help students on their own time. It seems that any moment that could be spent off campus is better so than time spent helping their students. It's so self serving.

New teachers bring in a bit of freshness and positivity but I'm struck by the false pride. Even when I started at 50 + I knew I hadn't a clue how to teach and was constantly searching for mentors and ideas. So few and far between I had to train myself. It's even a bit shocking as I see many of these younger teachers having gone through these limited programs playing games and doing board races but all that stuff academically speaking it's just purely a waste of time.

Moreover, with few exceptions I'm absolutely stunned at the lack of depth that most teachers have related to technology.

It's not been an easy road. One needs to constantly be searching for a school that's a fit for you personally. It will never be perfect and nothing even close. In the end, I traded my perfect school for money and although I am making approximately 20k + per month more at this new school plus bonus + perks ...it is a bit of a lunatic asylum.

The OP has some media presence, has written a book. Why in world would he be teaching students with such abysmal English abilities? Not only are these poor kids challenging in themselves but the classes are complete headaches and the schools are generally disasters. This is precisely where a person with any sort of talent and career ambition does not want to work.

There are better schools with far better facilities, students with exceedingly better English abilities, his students with grand ambitions and motivation. If you are sincere and genuine about your career then seek to educate yourself to a point where you can provide the best students something of value. Then, go make yourself 80,000.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (1st June 2022)

Mark,

In my mind your most well rounded blog to date, by far.

Speaking of which, even my IELTS students asked me just last week to pronounce 'cheat' and 'sheet', whereupon they all said that they both sounded exactly the same. Then when I argued that 'kil laea kil' in their language sounded exactly the same to me - they strongly objected, stating that these words for 'near' and 'far' were very different!

By Richard Constable, Bang Na (22nd May 2022)

Of course, the tragedy is that 95% of 'teachers' are in it exclusively for a visa and paycheck. You'd figure a person with any real dignity, integrity and self worth would learn the craft. Alas, it's just easier to run from it as they've run from every other responsibility in their lives. It's sad and shocking what schools tolerate. Not just the sheer incompetence but the misbehavior. I've absolutely no doubt that 80% of 'teachers' in Thailand are completely unemployable home.

It's the Thai schools doing them a favor.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (13th December 2020)

Mark

Great article which gives a concise overview of teaching English which might spark the interest of a person without experience, although obviously the article doesn’t cover every aspect and all the complexities of the various experiences and types of teaching. Maybe it would be a good idea to mention there are also often opportunities to teach in English as well as teach English. Teaching in a foreign country and culture is not for everyone, but having the good fortune of being born in a country where our mother tongue is the world’s lingua franca provides an option most people in the world do not have.

By Jack, LOS (3rd June 2020)

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