A letter to my younger teacher self.
Dear Younger Helen,
Age writing to youth inevitably involves giving advice. So here goes.
Hold your head up high. You are doing better in a complex world than you give yourself credit for. After all, your generation never writes the rulebook.
Forget the acne, puppy fat, cheap clothes etc. too. You’re young and therefore automatically beautiful.
Hold your head up in your job too. There’s a lot that needs changing in EFL, but it’s rarely the teachers. Now as then, EFL is a profession full of highly dedicated individuals being dragged through the mud and exploited at every turn. This is partly because of the fragmentation of the profession, and unfortunately not much has changed here. Many of us are still working freelance in foreign countries, still struggling to find out our rights and exercise them. You know how hard it is to frame the right questions in a foreign language and to be heard and taken seriously. The good news is that there will be something called the internet, which will mean untold free resources, less professional isolation, and the chance to hear and read English again. Remember when you despaired of your own ability to speak and write, let alone teach, your mother tongue? The internet will be the lonely EFL teachers’ friend.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to advise you to form a union for teachers’ rights because you’re still going to be teaching English in Germany 30 years later. What twenty-something wants to know that?
Well done for working at one of the more famous language schools for a year and then leaving. Once you learn some German, the management can’t thrust long, incoherent documents at you to sign, and you’ve done your apprenticeship, so it’s a win-win situation. Tell other teachers to do the same. Go. Do your own thing. One lesson without the middleman may see you earning the same money as a morning of language school classes. You will meet teachers in their 70s who insist that they still teach because they love it. Fair enough, maybe it is their hobby, but if the real reason is that they are poor, despite decades of working like a dog and living like a student, well, maybe they should be more honest. They need to hold their heads up too. Maybe they should be forming a union for the next generation.
Regrets, Young Helen, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.
- Do you have to be so bad at maths that you will shy away from negotiations that would further your career?
- Do you have to retreat into “ladylikeness” when all around you are letting rip (and getting heard)? It’s the culture, stoopid. People say what they mean in Germany, and if women aren’t supposed to have opinions – oh well, I suppose you’ll learn with time.
Congratulations on your perseverance and not walking out in disgust when Unknown HR decides to replace you with a language school (and later a computer program). Your students will stick up for you and Unknown HRs have a habit of changing jobs every two weeks anyway.
I’m happy you always try to understand your students and work out how best to adapt the lesson to their needs. After that first language school year, you will always be lucky enough to be able to teach in your own style, with the confidence to pick and choose your own resources.
You’ll be lucky enough to have children too, so have a break! There is a downside to perseverance, you know. You’ve no idea how hard it will be, holding down a contract-free job in white, male, corporate Germany. Your students will be sweet, but they won’t understand that you have been up all night with the baby before standing in front of a class at 7.30am. And going to work again at 5p.m. seems even more like a ten day week without sleep. You’ll end up paying the childminder more than you earn. It will make you ill and young mothers can do without the ignominy of trying to deny pregnancy and motherhood when Unknown HR is looking for reasons to reduce the number of freelance teachers in the company. (This is not a criticism: Unknown HR will arguably save the parent company up to €3.50 a year, which will be converted into some miraculously aspirational statistic and lead to Unknown HR’S next promotion). Without a job to return to you will be fearful for the future, but you owe it to yourself to hold your head up as a mother too.
Try to learn something new once a year. Try to be creative despite working in a conservative environment. Be open to new ideas, but don’t forget your common sense. Don’t be ashamed if you can’t afford the courses you would like to be taking because you have to i) pay for them yourself and ii) take time off work (and thus not get paid). This is not your fault and you can learn a lot by reflecting on your own experience and on the experience of those around you.
And that’s about it.
Just do your best.
The Older Helen
Helen Waldron www.helenwaldron.com is an English Language Coach working in-company in the Hamburg area of Germany. She writes a blog (www.speakeasyandwritewell.wordpress.com) about two fictional English trainers.
Thanks for writing such a lovely post Helen.