Teaching: a love story

playing schoolThis Valentine’s Day, since all the chocolate in Japan goes to men, I’m enjoying spending some quality time with the longest (non-family) relationship in my life: teaching.

I love reading about how teachers become Teachers. I’m fascinated by all the twists and turns Life’s path takes people on their journey toward teaching. For example, Karenne SylvesterSean Banville and Sue Lyon-Jones never planned on teaching EFL. The profession found them, and we’re lucky it did! Over the years, I’ve met a lot of really excellent teachers who never thought they’d end up in a classroom.

It makes me wish I could share some exotic past adventures that led me to discover a passion for teaching English as a foreign language. Sigh.

Except for two weeks in junior high school (when I wanted to become a flight attendant after an airport field trip) I always wanted to be a teacher. Do you remember playing teacher? I do. I have vivid memories of “teaching” my sister, friends, cousins, and stuffed animals, but none of taking my turn in the student’s seat. Not sure if this is a faulty memory, or a very accurate memory of my bossy childhood, but I suspect it’s the latter. Conchi Martínez de Tejada and Özge Karaoğlu also started out with “Teddy Bears, friends and cousins” classrooms, so I know I’m not the only one.

When I wanted to teach junior/senior high English, I got a degree, took a test, and got a license. Teaching in other states and at different age levels meant more licenses. This still seems to be the norm for teachers wanting to teach English as a first or second language in their home countries, especially if they intend to work with young learners or teens. Tomo Wakui, Anita Kwiatkowska, and Christina Markoulaki all started out on a similar path in very different parts of the world. It’s interesting to see how a fairly straightforward plan (degree first, then teaching job) can find people in very diverse teaching situations (an academic high school, a small village school, and a private language school, respectively).

In addition to reading about how people become Teachers, I enjoy hearing why they like what they do. I wrote a “love letter” a couple of years ago for World Teachers’ Day about why I love Teachers and found 50 reasons to love your job as a teacher on So You Want to Teach. It’s fun to see that some of the reasons we enjoy teaching cross the lines of subject matter and school environment.

Finally, it seems fitting to finish up my Valentine’s Day teaching-as-a-profession love fest with dreams. Scott Thornbury, one of my favorite writers (and an excellent person to be silly with) has a wonderful post on his blog about teacher dreams–those that come from our anxieties and those that bring us creative teaching ideas.

What’s your teaching love story? How did you come to teaching? Was it planned or serendipitous? What do you like about what you do? There are so many paths that lead us to interesting destinations–I hope you’ll share yours!

And, here’s a Valentine’s wish that all of your teaching dreams are the satisfying, creative ones!

photo: justmalia (flickr)

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18 Responses

  1. What a lovely Valentine’s post Barbara 🙂

    I too wish I could have an exotic tale to tell about becoming a teacher. Unlike you I did not set out to be a teacher, it happened – quite naturally I think. It shouldn’t be surprising for me to become a teacher. Both my parents were. I always loved studying and reading (started asking for books as gifts since I was 5). I played teacher too (and also never took my turn in the student role). I tutored younger students when I was a teenager (being a nerd and a good student pays off!). But I never even considered choosing teaching as my profession.

    I started teaching after I came back from spending a year as an exchange student in the US. I was invited by the owner of the English school I had studied at to teach a couple of groups. I decided to accept it because it meant I’d make a little money while I worked my way to a BA in… graphic design. After the university I worked as a graphic designer for a while, but I never stopped teaching (for a few years I only taught on weekends). Then one day I had to make a decision between my two lives (the ad agency needed me to work on Saturdays, which was when I taught English).

    The obvious choice would be design. That’s what I had studied for. That’s what would give me more money. It is (sadly enough) a much more respected profession around here. But I found out I couldn’t see my life without the classroom, without my students. After I realized that, it ceased being a choice. And I finally accepted and embraced my teaching nature 🙂

    We’ve been dating exclusively for the past 13 years, teaching and I. And it’s been a true love story.

    Thanks for sharing your love story and inviting us to share ours.

    • Barbara says:

      Wow! What a wonderful story, Cecilia. An obvious path, but only in hindsight.

      I can just picture you in a romantic comedy, torn between two loves–smooth and wealthy graphic design, and slightly scruffy but rewarding teaching. When everyone believes that graphic design is your obvious choice, you realize that you can’t live without teaching!

      How romantic 🙂

  2. Oh golly, is it cheating to copy my comment on Eva’s/Vlada’s blog post and paste it in here… seems like a surprising meme for the day!

    Thanks for the mention above to my journey into this job… in fact, I have to go back a bit to say that in fact, when I was a little girl it was used as a taunt by my Mum who said “You’re so bossy, you’re going to grow up to be a teacher.” and by my Dad who’d add “You’re so so bossy that you’re going to grow up to be a headmaster…”

    >>so I empathize on the bossy teddy bear situation, I used the neighbourhood kids (friends of my siblings) though…

    Later on, in High School, we had to do some kind of careers day activity and we all got sent out to do stuff, my teachers said “You’re so creative, you’re going to grow up to be a teacher.”

    I hated all of them for saying this, me, why I wanted to grow up to be a writer… an awarding filmmaker…

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm…. but in the end, after all the travels and journeys they were all right.

    And now, no matter how much I write, blog and work on academic projects I still can’t leave the classroom, it’s my special place of joy.

    :-<9 <Happy V-day, Barb!


  3. Sandy Millin says:

    It’s great to read all of these stories – thanks for starting the thread Barbara.
    I never consciously thought of being a teacher until I was about 16 or 17, but looking back I always did a lot of teaching. People often asked me for help with homework, and I would never just give them the answers, always asking leading questions to help them work it out for themselves. I recently saw my primary school teacher again, and she told me that at the age of nine, some of my classmates would ask me for help when she was busy (I don’t remember this at all!).
    When I was doing my A-Levels I thought that I would eventually go into teaching, but work in business first to get some money behind me. Then, while doing door-to-door sales during my gap year (before I went to Malaysia for a voluntary TEFL placement), I had plenty of thinking time…and one of the best thoughts I had was “Why bother going into business when you love teaching and as a TEFL teacher people will pay you to live in their countries?” I’ve never understood why more people don’t think that way 😉 and have never once regretted the decision I made that day. I love my job and I hope that will long continue!
    Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you xxx

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks, Sandy! So, you weren’t bossy–you were helpful 🙂

      Yet another path to teaching greatness! It does seem like a rather obvious question. Who wouldn’t choose teaching when you put it like that?

      Thanks for sharing your story, Sandy, and Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too.

  4. Dear Barbara,
    Lovely post and I must confess I also started with my brother and cousins and never let them be the teacher in our games. When one of my cousins heard I’d study TEFL at university she said she had never doubted that I would become something else.
    I’m so glad that I became a teacher, I’m a teacher and I’m so lucky that I have the chance to know (both virtually and f2f) there are wonderful teacher around us.
    Happy Valentine’s Day to all the teachers
    Eva Buyuksimkesyan

    • Barbara says:

      Ah, Eva, another bossy start to greatness!

      Those of us in this category should probably send Valentine’s Day cards to thank all of our siblings, cousins, and friends for letting us get away with always being the teacher when we were little 🙂

      Thanks for adding your story, Eva.

  5. Love the valentine’s EFL !

    I like others you’ve mentioned rolled happily and haphazardly into EFL. A passion for languages led to teaching them for a few years in the US, then to exploring chinese and teaching english in China. AMAZING experiences. Great students. I feel very lucky to have had such rewarding professional experiences and EFL definitely deserves a bit of chocolate from my part too…

    but pray do tell, why do only japanese men get chocolate on Valentine’s day?

  6. Vicky Loras says:

    Hi Barb!

    I absolutely loved this post. It was so interesting to read about your journey!

    The truth is that ever since I remember myself I wanted to be a lawyer. (You can imagine that Law and Order was and still is one of my favourite shows!) I used to go to my bedroom and pretend I was defending people (my mom says she would suddenly hear a loud “Objection, Your Honour!” booming through the house and even though she never told me then, she never wanted me to follow law…).

    When I reached university entrance age, my first choice was Law School and my second was English Teaching (but I was not so warm towards it). So after I took my exams and missed Law School by a fragment of a grade (I was devastated but chose to go on with my second choice), I went to uni but did not start off that enthusiastically. But after a few weeks, I completely fell head over heels in love wth teaching and thought that it was the best thing that happened to me. I read everything that fell into my hands that had to do with English language and literature. (My dad always says everything happens for a reason!)

    I am so happy I fell into teaching by accident. It was the best accident in my whole life – a love as you say, that on the 18th of February this year will be entering its eleventh year…

    Thanks for an inspiring post, Barb!

    Kindest regards,

    • Barbara says:

      I totally agree with your father! I’ve found that when I go with the flow, or go where I’m wanted the most, I usually end up exactly where I should be (or at least if feels that way!). The times that I’ve tried to “swim upstream” to make things work out the way I think they should have been far less satisfactory.

      The nice thing about teaching, and especially teaching language is that you can bring all your other passions with you. I can imagine that you really enjoy bringing that lawyerly love of logic and debate into your classes, too!

      A disappointing test result for you was definitely good luck for our profession 🙂

  7. Marisa Pavan says:

    Dear Barb,

    It’s an amazing Valentine’s post and I’ve felt identified with many of your ideas.
    As to my love affaire with the teaching profession, I guess I was born with it. As a child, I even taught imaginary students (I was the only one who saw them!). My grandmother on my mother’s side grew up in the countryside and didn’t have the chance of attending school and I taught her how to write her full name. When I was at secondary school, I used to help my classmates to prepare their exams. So my teaching practice started long time ago. It was not difficult for me to decide to enter teachers´training college and become a teacher of English.
    Hugs from Argentina!

    • Barbara says:

      Oh, my goodness, Marisa! What a beautiful story–teaching your grandmother to write her name! You truly had a calling early on.

      I believe that you’re the first teacher I’ve met who taught her imaginary friends, although we might hear from more. That certainly shows early signs of determination to teach!

      Thank you so much for sharing this.

      Hugs from Japan for you, too 🙂

  1. February 14, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barbara Sakamoto, Sue Lyon-Jones, Jason Renshaw, cecielt, Richard Lakin and others. Richard Lakin said: RT @barbsaka Barbara My Valentine's Day post, 2011 "Teaching: a love story" https://bit.ly/e1LLDR #edchat #elemchat #Teaching #ntchat <THX! […]

  2. February 15, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barbara Sakamoto, Sandy Millin. Sandy Millin said: RT @barbsaka: I'm lovin' these teaching love stories–bossy toddlers, forks in the road, imaginary students. More? https://bit.ly/e1PHRg … […]