Is teaching English the new restaurant job for actors?
Think about what you can do both for your students - and for yourself!
Many individuals with different backgrounds from the United States, Canada, and in Europe have greatly benefited from the migration and the wave of English speakers into Asia.
Whether they are a liberal arts graduate, an actor, or a performer—a category that I belong to—each of these individuals were able to teach the English language to their students and helped them be fluent and proficient even without a formal degree.
As an artist, I found Asia to be one of the most uncannily supportive regions in the world. Asia, for me, is an encouraging place to pursue my interest and desire to be a performer of sorts, not just in the English class, but generally in putting up staged productions or starting another class for people who want to entertain or even create a venue for general interviews.
Many people in the performing arts profession have gone to Asia to teach English. In Asia, they have found teaching to be a very lucrative venture since it provides them a level of comfort in their living standards. This is something beneficial for them in order to grow in the other areas of their life, may it be in the entertainment industry itself or in their own personal projects that they want to work on.
However, a lot of people have the connotation that English teaching in Asia is just for fun, glorified babysitting where the students are just being entertained by having fun and games. These sentiments, for lack of a better word, aren’t totally unwarranted but certainly can come off as a cliché given the stories that circulate the English teaching forums and the general trend towards teaching younger and younger students.
It is something that has been noted by many teachers all over the world and it's something that is often begrudgingly discussed if dealt with and endured. This is not to say that English teachers don't enjoy entertaining. They wouldn't be doing it if they didn't think it was fun and enjoyable, but sometimes there is in fact something more.
Given the nature of teaching in Asia, which adapts the entertainment part into the whole program, it seems sort of a cliché to refer to an English teacher as an “edu-tainer,” a composite word mixing education with entertainment.
Such a statement might be partly true in the English teaching profession here because there are jobs that require less academic work and more of entertaining the students and making them feel good about themselves. It is an entirely different business, but cloaked under English teaching. Words are funny that way.
In Napoleon Hill’s book, The Law of Success, he stated that one of the ways that you can become more successful is by doing more than what you are paid for. Fast forward to the present, that is still the kind of attitude that is expected by employers to every individual they hire (even me when I’m hiring someone!).
How artists benefit from teaching overseas
There are a lot of ways to incorporate your art experience into the classroom which can bring huge benefits to the life of students who need to learn the English language. Students learn more when they are having fun. That’s why it is important to always incorporate the fun aspect in teaching.
But beyond learning, there is also an element of social engineering that is involved, a service where you’re helping to develop the society at large. I know this sounds exaggerated and idealistic, but hang on with me here as I try to explain my thinking.
Our impact on student lives
No one ever really sees the link between middle school and the rest of a person’s life, probably because we’re stuck with ourselves. But the impact that we make and the experience that we put in the classroom can provide a long-term effect in the lives of many students. Certainly, you won’t be liked by everybody in the classroom, but what matters most is the fact that you were able to impart some knowledge that will live on in their minds.
This is something that people don’t recognize in the English teaching profession and something artists can truly capitalize on, especially actors. Actors are the prime reflectors (and also drivers) of how humans perceive the world and can very often be prototypes for people’s worldviews. Just think of the celebrity that you admire and that you most want to emulate.
For example, in the book Marketing to Leading Edge Boomers and Seniors, by Dan S. Kennedy, we discover that many leading edge boomer females in the United States most resonate and identify with the following female celebrities: Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, and Sally Field.
Do you know an older woman who acts like any of these women on television? Chances are you do! These people give us blueprints for how to behave in life! Likewise, so does the English teacher!
The point is that you are impacting many people’s lives, and they will remember you for a very long time as an influential person. Your teaching will be etched into their young, impressionable minds, likely for the rest of their lives. This in turn will positively affect their whole self-image (if you’re doing your job correctly), sense of ego, and their confidence in the working world.
This is not only a skill but an actual identity that you’re giving other people. You’re giving each person a new sense of who they are and what they can be and this entails a lot of responsibility on your part as the performer-teacher.
A unique position!
Teaching English is something that many people take for granted because they don’t realize how significant the role of an English teacher is. Even if there is a language barrier, you are in a position to create and structure your classes in such a way that your students will see the benefit of English, will feel invited to learn English, and eventually they will adapt English as a second language and as part of their identity!
That’s when you know you’ve really done it—when you’ve let people incorporate English into their entire being. There’s nothing more miraculous to behold than that, even in young children who seemingly don’t even know who they are yet!
Aside from influencing the lives of people, teaching English can also serve as a support to your art and can give you more dynamic experiences that you could use in your art. On top of that, it will also help you to generally become a better person by learning about the world that you live in because, in many respects, acquiring knowledge is not limited to just reading books, listening to a lecture, or making a phone call but often from the people you are surrounded by.
Even students can provide you some wisdom, regardless of what their age is. You’ll find even the youngest student can teach you something about life, if you’re open to it.
So, if you’re an artist, consider teaching overseas. Reflect on it as a possible means of furthering and fueling your own business and creative endeavors. There is nothing wrong in teaching English, incorporating it into your life as a stepping stone in order to follow your dreams of artistic glory and self-expression. Consider it as a means of following your journey as an artist, while also being a provider of solutions to other people.
There’s nothing more rewarding than that!
Todd Persaud holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over five countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. He may be reached on his website
The TEFL (re) Education Program
Todd takes you on a trip down to a fiery inferno populated by wild children and angry businessmen where he describes in lurid detail the ins-and-outs of the English (EFL) teaching profession as conceived overseas.
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Very refreshing piece about ESL as 'the new restaurant job for actors'.
That is a very good, creative, take on the job.
In Asia, there is currently a lot of confusion about whether teachers are 'real teachers', 'backpackers', or which of the options do in fact make the best teachers.
The notion of edutainment arose, originally, I think as a criticism of what was not being taught by those hired for their 23 year old faces and nationalities, with little or no teaching background, and often not even a degree.
However, the more likely true image of ESL history is around those described as above in Todd's article, artists or performers in other fields, or graduates from just a about any field who like travel.
Performers in particular, can infuse all of the excitement and creativity into a classroom lesson, with enjoyment on both sides on the teaching divide.
Though not a professional in the arts, I have always been keen on drama, and, found that ESL classes went far better when this approach was incorporated. Possibly, because there is enjoyment and participation so that learners forget their fear of speaking a foreign language, but also for reasons mentioned above.
You can inspire students into a new and positive view of the subject/language and can influence their beliefs in general (a matter that all teachers anywhere need to be aware of, or else it happens unconsciously in all teaching). Also true that students can teach something to a teacher and this should be a joyful catalyst to self growth and awareness.
I recall a film called 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (actor Glenda Jackson) - where the teacher was cautioned about introducing her 'girls' to topics not always approved of by tradition. She responded by asserting that it is absolutely the duty of a teacher to influence her students' thinking and to, at least, expose them to views considered controversial in society.
By marylin, Thailand (15th November 2018)
Todd’s enthusiasm is clear, and I reckon his students are fortunate to have such a caring teacher.
Am I being negative, though, to wonder if any language teacher could really influence a student’s life? I taught English for a number of years and had success stories (as well as failures). I’m sure in certain situations, my former students may recall some of my teaching from years ago, but I’d like to give them more credit for influencing their own lives. Also, I’ve studied foreign languages, one or two to decent, well intermediate, levels, and whilst I acknowledge some of my teachers were exceptional, it’s stretching things to say they influenced me in any way.
Sorry if this sounds negative. I’m all for recognising good teachers, but in the grand scheme of things, does a language teacher really play a major part in a student’s life?
By John, UK (3rd November 2018)