How Did You Get Started Teaching English?
If you’re ever making small talk with a group of TESOLers and you need an inspiration for something to say, that’s not a bad line. I think almost everyone will have an immediate response, and on many occasions I bet you’ll hear an interesting, well-rehearsed story.
In the general course of my TESOL career, I’ve heard a lot of people’s stories, especially during my time talking with prospective students as the codirector of a university TESOL program. A few things are clear. First, almost no one decides they’re going to be a TESOL instructor when s/he is five years old. It’s almost always a profession that one comes around to later in life after having other experiences. In fact, one phenomenon that I have always found interesting is how many TESOLers have told me some variation of, “I was always sure that I never wanted to be a teacher, but then I tried teaching English and found it was something I was good at doing, and something I wanted to do.”
Here has been my theory: I think most people go into TESOL because they really enjoy working in intercultural environments, and less because they are incredibly passionate about being teachers (not always, but in many cases). TESOL is a way that you can work interculturally, you can get paid for doing that, and you can feel like you’re making a positive contribution to global understanding. Chic, no?
I have shared these ideas with many people over time, but as I was composing this blog I realized how short-sighted I had been. While I have always been active in supporting the rights and the strengths of nonnative English speaking teachers (NNESTs), I never stopped to realize that the generalizations I had been making about TESOLers were based primarily on native speaking English teachers (NESTs). I can think of examples of NNEST colleagues who did “come in the backdoor” to English teaching, but is that the case for most? I don’t know. Maybe more NNESTs felt early on that they had an affinity for English for some reason and therefore decided to become English teachers quite early.
It would be interesting to find out. It would be great to hear from more people about why they started teaching English. Might we hear from you?