Friday, September 9, 2011

Just another English teacher

Most gringas (and gringos) who live or have lived in Chile, have at some point taught English.

My first job in Santiago, 15 years ago (good lord!) was teaching English. (I have also taught Spanish since then.) If you remember the "How we met" story, you know I met my husband teaching English.

Some do it because it is a good way of living abroad for a few years. Some do it because they found the love of their lives, who happens to be Chilean, and now they live here and whatever they studied has been rendered useless either because there are certain areas of study, take law for example, that don't "travel" well or because they are limited by a language they don't know--Spanish.

Some actually like teaching English... but there are many who would rather do something else, anything else. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a gringa say: "I don't want to teach English, I want a real job."
Many gringas are also irritated beyond belief at the unfounded assumption that they are English teachers... in terms of annoyingness, it chalks up there with the unfounded assumption that all gringas are easy. We are not all easy and we are not, by the mere nature of our gringa-ness, all English teachers.

So, it is funny, in this context of opposition and the with the discourse of desiring a real occupation, to be a gringa who works in the English-teaching industry. It is not just because I am a native speaker, though that makes me more marketable here in some ways (though it is slightly illogical in other ways--because just being a native speaker in no way makes someone a better teacher). I am a language-related teacher because I love it; it is one of those unexplicable passions. I love language, I love how languages work, I love the random similarities and the baffling differences. I love talking about universal grammar and the critical period and minimal pairs. My doctorate degree is in language education. Teaching about language is what I do. It is what I have chosen to do.

I am actually not an English teacher per se... I am an English teacher-teacher. I prepare future English teachers. I try to help them step out of the box that they were taught in--"a fill-in-the-blank-worksheet is not an activity" and "how are you going to activate their previous knowledge?" I teach theories of second language acquisition and methodology courses.

But I can understand the irritation piqued by that unfounded assumption that if you are a gringa, you teach English. I get it.

Recently a woman I know told me that her (adult) son had asked her to ask me if I would give him English lessons. I sweetly (because she is sweet) said: "I wish I could, I just don't have time." (and I silently whine: "I have a 44-hour contract, I am expected to research and publish, I leave home at 7:30 am (because I live far), I get home some nights after 8:00 (because I live far), I love what I do, but I have two kids and a husband that I want to see and not enough time to read or run or watch movies, and you are asking me to spend my precious free time giving English lessons.")

When I meet people in the hall or bathroom at the university where I work and they ask what department I am in and I say Education and they say, nodding-- knowlingly, assumingly "Oh, you teach English." There is a little twitch in my brain and I politely say "I teach language pedagogy." (and I silently hiss to myself... "and I have a Ph.D. in the field"). But I don't say it out loud because I don't have to prove my worth to anyone and I am actually mostly uncomfortable talking about my Ph.D. (despite having mentioned it like 15 times in this post, but you guys already know!)

I have friends who, when we made public our plan to return to Chile, asked: "Are you going to teach at the institute again?" I reply politely, "No, I think I'll find a university job" (and I silently, sarcastically hiss to myself: "Dude, I just spent years finishing my doctorate degree so I could totally go back to what I was doing 10years ago!") But I don't say it out loud because I don't have to justify myself to anyone.

It is an odd space, feeling perfectly happy with my very real job, feeling like I don't have to justify what I do or why, but not wanting to be put in the gringa-English-teacher box that the other gringas complain about either.

ya know?


Marmo said...

Ya que tienes un doctorado en lenguaje, algo envidiable desde mi punto de vista, me gustaría saber ¿Tu conocimiento del tema siempre está enmarcado en el idioma inglés? ¿Se aplicarían los mismos razonamientos al idioma español? ¿Podrías abordar la misma clase que haces, pero respecto al castellano? Tal vez lo haces, me gustaría saberlo.

Anonymous said...

Okay, random thought, but I had a bad day at work today and one of the thoughts that flashed through my head was: I didn't have to put up with this when I taught English.

There are two sides to every story...The grass is always greener...

Annje said...

Marmo...creo que mis conocimientos son mas generales... y de hecho, durante mis estudios, enseñaba español asi que muchos de mis proyectos tenian que ver con el aprendizaje de ese lenguaje. Creo que en terminos de metodologia, de mi punto de vista, es muy parecido enseñar casi cualquier idioma--hay detalles diferentes que merecen mas o menos enfoque, pero en el fondo los procesos son los mismos.

Amanda said...

Ya. I know....!!!!! :-)

If I study these 6+ years and go back to teaching clases particulares in Chile I will NOT BE HAPPY.

I would happily teach American (north) literature in English in a tenure-track job, though!

Carolincacao said...

I've just finished reading your last blog and can't help but wonder if you are still around because it's be so interesting to hear on how you've been.

Carolincacao said...

Sorry, I meant, ''d be so interesting to hear how you've been doing...'
Guess I need more coffee to wake up :/

Annje said...

Carolina... I am still around, so busy, sadly busy, but I still think about writing blog posts now and then I think, no, the two people that once read my blog have now moved on and forgotten about mine... maybe I will now that you have asked!

Do you live in Chile?

Brandee said...

Annje! I see you haven't been writing on the blog recently, but I would love to be in touch with you in some way, shape or form. I have a similar life story to yours, minus the children thus far... living in Chile on and off over the years, married to a Chilean, finished graduate school recently in Canada and just moved back to Chile to a university position in a foreign language department (including pedagogía en inglés), while both my husband and I try to (re)adjust to being back. We are in Concepción, not in Santiago, and from what I see in your blog you are busy in life and work, but if there is a way to connect through email or facebook, I would love that!