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!