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 http://eltchat.org/wordpress/ or uploading photos we take to #eltpics http://www.eltpics.com/. 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.
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.
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.