Wednesday, October 1, 2008

She isn't even a teacher!

There are some days when I absolutely love teaching English. And then there are others when I ask myself why the heck I am doing this.

One of the latter came earlier this semester. I was at one of the school branches where I teach several classes and also a few individual students. (I should add that some of the branches are franchises and make all their own decisions with regards to who they hire to teach, etc. While I work mainly at several of the schools operated by the main branch, I was invited and then hired to also teach at this particular franchise.) One night early in the semester, the owner of this branch asked to speak with me. She explained that some students from one of my adult classes had made some comment along the lines of "Emily's not even a teacher". She then went on to question me about my degree, what I did in the US before coming to Brasil, and other things that we had discussed when she hired me. And then she asked if I had ever told this particular class that I wasn't a teacher.

Now, it seems sort of silly to me to even ask that question. I have been teaching since April (which hardly makes me a veteran or anything, but still . . .) I spent two months prior to that attending trainings, observing experienced teachers, and everyday since then studying up on my English grammar rules and teaching techniques so that I could be an effective ESL/EFL teacher. Now, why on earth would I undermine all my work by announcing to a class that "Hi, my name is Emily. I'll be your teacher this semester, but I am not actually a teacher"? I brought this up but also added that if the class had ever asked me what my degree was in or what type of work I did in the US, then I would have been quite candid with them. But never would I make the statement, "I am not a teacher."

Our little conversation ended by it being suggested that I tell a "little lie" in the future when asked about things like my degree or background. I was told it would be best if I answered those type of questions simply with, "I have been teaching here for 2-3 years" and just leave it at that. Now, don't ask me how in the heck I am supposed to explain my lack of fluency in Portuguese if I've been here 3 years . . .

I thought it was one of the most nonconstructive pieces of criticism I've ever received. Express concern over my teaching techniques, tell me I need to do a better job of explaining grammar, you can even insist that I become better at translating from English to Portuguese if you'd like. But it is not exactly helpful to be told that I'm "not a teacher" and then be told to just lie about it.

One of the other teachers had overheard our conversation and she and I still joke about me "not being a teacher", or how I've "been here 2-3 years", and how I'm just some random native speaker they found on the street and invited in to teach the class . . . you know, since I'm obviously not a teacher or anything! My teacher friend has jokingly suggested too that I stop attending teachers' meetings, since I am apparently not qualified to be there and all. (And I must admit that part doesn't sound half bad.)

I have always taken a pretty firm stance in agreeing with the idea that speaking a language doesn't make you qualified to teach it. But, man, I've really worked hard to do a good job at this by making sure I know my stuff and am able to transfer my knowledge to students. I was so annoyed by being hired with full knowledge of my qualifications, or lack thereof I suppose, but then later instead of defending me in front of students, or asking if they had any specific complaints about me, just telling me I need to lie in the future.

But alas, today made up for any doubts, insecurities, or frustrations I had still lingering from that day a couple months ago. I had substituted for an adult class on two previous occasions this semester and last week I got a call asking if I could take on teaching the class permanently one day per week. Apparently a couple students had gone to the coordinator and told her what a good teacher I was and how much they enjoyed the classes I taught. They expressed interest in having me as one of their teachers on a permanent basis and today was my first day as such. The class meets at 7:30 in the morning, so I can't say I was completely pumped to be at school that early this morning. But when I was met by smiling faces and adult students (much older than me, none the less) telling me repeatedly throughout class that I was a really good teacher and they were really happy to have classes with me, well, it made me fall in love with my new profession all over again.

I mean, who knows, maybe I really am a teacher after all!


Elaine said...

haha, I think since the first day you started teaching you became a teacher, no matter how much experience on it you had (or didn't have) before. If I still lived in Brasil I would make sure to move to BH just to have a class with you. I love your blog, I wrote here a couple of times before... I haven't been here for while, my computer decided to "loose a screw", thanks for my husband it's working again. And reading the posts I had missed I got surprised and super duper happy with you guys being pregnant!!!
It's awesome. I am very excited for you guys!!!I am not a mom yet, and It will take us a few (4 or 5) years to start trying. So for now I enjoy other people's pregnancies. Congratulations!!!!

Corinne said...

Sounds like the school is trying to cover their butts because they probably made the claim about having "qualified" teachers and in Brazil that usually means a degree in education. This is typical behavior - I am so amazed at how so many Brazilian companies seem to devalue employees, especially English language schools. Most students will overlook administration issues if the teachers are good, but in my experience they would rather blame everything on the teachers. When I taught English they decided to cut costs of the coffee break and told us teachers we could not have any cookies. Of course we could not say to the students weren´t allowed to eat the snack, we had to lie and say we were not hungry (right!!). If I were you I would not lie, just say that the school thought you were qualified enough to hire and ask if there is something specific about your teaching the student does not like or that you could change. The students are lucky out to get someone so dedicated and a native speaker to boot!!

Lori - Blondie in Brazil said...

Congrats on your new class! I think there are a lot of cultures out there who don't understand our flexibility in education and careers in the US. It is often, study that = work in that.

I find that request to lie absolutely appalling. I'm not sure what others experiences are like but we really struggle with the issue of lying and not telling the whole truth here in Brazil. It seems to be much more acceptable that my experiences at home.

Fernanda said...
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Fernanda said...

Hey Emily...I saw your blog on Elaine's blog and I came to give it a look and saw that she just commented there above. I was reading some posts and I have to tell you: I love the way you write! Your writing is so pleasant, and if I didn't have a test tomorrow I'd be reading a whole much more. I'm a Brazilian girl living in Arkansas, married to an American guy. First of all, congrats for Z Baby!, and congrats on your new class. If you are so entertaining in class as your blog is, I'm pretty sure all students love you. It was just awful that person asking you to lie. I was never asked to lie in any of the jobs I toke back in home (Brazil), and if it happened, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't...and I believe that beside the experience that you have, that fact that you are native speaker makes you millions times better than any Brazilian graduated teacher. (I agree with Corinne). I'm telling you that because with my husband, I learned much more than what I have learned from years and years of English classes with Brazilian teachers. (Although I know I still have long ways to go, I know!)Again, Congrats!!!