Finding the balance

Is teaching a job just like any other? Is it something we do from ‘9 to 5’ and then go on to do something else entirely such as spending time with family and friends, or taking part in different activities and hobbies, etc? Or is it more ‘something we are’.

Observing my friends and colleagues, I tend to think it is the latter. Many of us spend our free time involved in what we do during our ‘work time’. This doesn’t just include the preparation, grading homework and tests, turning in grades, etc. But we also attend online training programs such as courses or webinars, go to conferences to hear about the latest trends and materials in our field and even spend time attending sessions with colleagues online such as the #eltchat or uploading photos we take to #eltpics In fact, I find myself looking around and considering whether or not my surroundings would be interesting for the eltpics collection and have even contacted friends on Facebook to ask if I can upload their photos and credit them when I see outstanding ones. In addition, freelancers in adult education may find themselves spending time with our students outside of work or becoming interested in topics that go beyond the English classroom such as coaching or learning about cross-cultural awareness.

2014 BESIG Bonn banner

IATEFL BESIG Conference in Bonn, Germany

What has this meant for me personally? When I lived in New York City in the late 1970’s, I had an office job buying TV time for advertisers. It was interesting, I met wonderful people and had the chance to do a bit of travel and find out about the world of TV. In my spare time, I studied music and the two worlds occasionally touched each other when friends came to hear me perform. But since moving to Austria and beginning to teach English, my life is more balanced. I teach for a local bank which is also the main sponsor of the opera house in the city I live in. For the last several years I have been attending the opera regularly and often see students there or chat about the productions in my lessons with them. My university students I run into on the bus or the tram or at a local restaurant and we often have the chance to chat outside of class as we live in the same small city.

Sculpture in City Hall Park, NYC

Sculpture in City Hall Park, NYC

Market on the Main Square, Graz, Austria

Market on the Main Square, Graz, Austria

As teaching has led to so many other opportunities, I have also had the chance to do teacher training in other cities, gotten to know colleagues all over the world and share ideas and experiences. As I began to approach the age when many of my friends in ‘9 to 5 jobs’ were retiring or looking forward to it, I realized how lucky I was to be in a profession where I could keep working and making a difference for as long as I wanted. And it is a profession that can be changed and adapted to different times in one’s life as there are so many choices we can make. Some choose to take on translations that they can do at home, others write, some colleagues become language school or department heads, others stay in the classroom, some get more involved in research, and a number of us become volunteers for local or international teaching associations such as IATEFL or TESOL and their associates. In most cases, at least those I know about, colleagues have been lucky enough to make those choices themselves, giving many of us the chance to grow, develop and be productive members of the ELT community for as long as we choose to do it.

Coffee in an IATEFL mug

Coffee in an IATEFL mug

17 thoughts on “Finding the balance

  1. Hi Marjorie,
    You mention ‘it was long coming’, but at least it came! Unlike most of the wonderful educators in my PLN, I just can’t seem to fit the blogging part into my routine.
    I totally agree that ‘we are’ rather than ‘do’ our job. I recently heard someone saying that those of us who ‘did ELT’ outside the classroom must be sad people, and quite frankly I could neither relate nor respond.
    It seems there are those who teach and enjoy it and those who teach and resent it. And aren’t I glad we represent the former!
    Thank you this and everything else you so generously share with us all.

    • Hada, I also wouldn’t know what to say about those who ‘do ELT’ outside the classroom must be sad people – it is certainly not part of my philosophy either. And it is wonderful to hear how we effect others. My students say that they have more energy after a class than they did before and I also often feel the same.

  2. So true, Marjorie, and so eloquently put! For my own part, I must say that “being a teacher” is indeed “what I am” in the sense that I am happy to pass on what I know or can do to others at any time throughout the day, not only during lessons. I am blessed with knowledge and skills which have in part to do with the fact that I have become bilingual (as a native speaker of English and then acquiring the language of my host country, Germany), but also with the fact that I have been teaching for over 30 years without ever receiving any formal training. I think teachers get to understand people and human nature because of all that interacting with others, and we surely end up simply sharing what we can do with others eager to be able to do it, too (hopefully without becoming bossy or “know-it-all” in the process!).
    What you say about experience counting for a lot in this profession is also spot on! We are so lucky to be valued for it.

    • Di, thank you for your insights. I am very much like you in that I have also been teaching for over 30 years and my teacher training was actually in a different field, namely music. But when we are open to reflecting, learning and discovering, I think that we grow and continue to develop in our fields.

  3. So true and so well said, dear Marjorie.

    And the great thing is that it keeps changing as we grow professionally and learn to do more or new things!

    We are a lucky bunch though living in times of great change loving every minute of it!

    Thank you for mentioning #ELTchat, too, as part of your CPD. Isn’t it great to still be so excited about teaching and learning and getting better all the time?

  4. Nice post Marjorie! I also enjoy the freedom the teaching jobs give us vs the 9 to 5 jobs. We meet people from different industries, schools, universities, young, adult learners. It keeps us very dynamic!! in good mental shape!

  5. Marjorie, your beautiful post precisely captures our constant quest for knowledge and our need for ongoing development. I often find myself looking for ideas for my classes and learning from people so that I can share what I learn with my students and fellow teachers. As language teachers, we don’t deal with a specific topic; we delve into a wide range of areas of expertise depending on our students’ interests, which of course leads to openness and new possibilities. I believe that every place can be a learning environment and yes, because our students and fellow teachers inspire us, they have a crucial role in both our professional and personal developments. I totally agree with you when you say that teaching defines us and it is something we are. What a nice post to start the year!

    • Thanks for this Teresa. You have so wonderfully summed up what I wanted to say. I really feel that my worlds intertwine rather than collide as they did in the past. And it is colleagues like you and others around the world who reinforce this idea.

  6. Hey Marjorie!

    It’s the second time I read your post. I totally see myself in it!
    It seems we never stop learning from our PLN, form our students and concerning about PD . It’s absolutely pleasurable and timing consuming too.
    I remember attending a session once called ” I’m not only an English teacher”. Yes, I sometimes completely forget about it and keep myself working almost 24 hour a day: ELT pics, Twitter, blogging, online courses, lesson plans, forums and the face- to-face classes. Well, I have tried hard and have to say I’m improving! I’m trying to find a balance and live a real life: enjoying my family and friends, going to the cinema and concerts, walk in the park , take care of my health ( body and mind) or simply staying at home doing things I love.

    After all, I’m not only an English teacher! And thank you so much for your wise words, It’s really good food for thought and helped me a lot. I mean it!

    All the best,


  7. Rosie, I agree that we are not only English teachers. I guess what I really want to say is that I am so happy to have a job which enriches my life the way teaching does. The balance is there because so many of the other things we enjoy somehow intertwine with what we do in many ways. But yes, we do need to do other things as well and that is all part of ‘finding the balance’.

  8. Pingback: Working from home | My Elt Rambles

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