As children we develop the idea that teachers are strange, untouchable and not normal people. They know everything and they never make mistakes. They don’t have a life away from school; family and friends are unimaginable. And spotting a teacher outside of the school setting is unnatural as well as slightly frightening.
However, as I quickly learned in the initial months of my first full-time teaching job, most of these ideas about the lives of teachers are, in fact, myths. After spending five months teaching English to adults and children of all ages, I am going to break the oath of teacherhood and expose some of the truths behind these mystical creatures.
Ten things teaching has taught me:
1. Teacher’s bodies function the same way as everyone else’s.
This idea became very clear to me when some bad fish decided to reappear during my first class of the day. We are not immune to hunger, dehydration, sickness, or even over hydration—we are just better at disguising stomach growls with loud coughs and have learned the hard way about going to the bathroom before class.
2. How to read upside-down.
Teaching private or semi-private lessons means that I often find myself seated across the table from one or two students while I try to check their homework or answer questions about a piece of paper that is facing the completely wrong direction. I’ve even started working on my ability to write upside-down as well and my penmanship is coming along nicely.
3. The words to One Direction songs.
I’m not joking when I say that I now know all of their songs, as well as which has the best hair, which is the cutest and which one has the voice of an angel. More impressively, I’ve learned to use the lyrics to this boy band in order to spark a discussion about the beauty myth, body image and poetic language.
4. My own language.
Although I have spoken English for pretty much the entire 23 years of my life, it wasn’t until I had to teach it that I actually knew the difference between 2nd and 3rd conditional, or when to use past participles versus when to use simple past.
5. How to use gestures, pictures and sounds to define almost any word in the English language.
Wondering about the meaning of underneath? Let me hop under the table and show you. The expression lean on me? Come stand next to me and let me put my arm on your shoulder. What are beets? A purple vegetable that grows in the ground, is found in salads and turns your pee pink. Worthy? Oh man, hmm ok imagine that you are a terrible person and you win one million dollars. You do not deserve that money. You are not worthy. Understand?
6. The subtle act of bribery.
Anything from less homework to baked goods is fair game.
7. Tons of random fun facts.
In order to spark debates and engaging discussions, I often browse the Internet to find new material, articles and videos for my students. As a result, I can now tell you that the largest coffee consumers per capita in the world are the Scandinavian countries, that Coldplay’s original band name was “Starfish,” and that 5.25 inches is the length of one American hot dog.
Teachers may not know everything, but they sure have access to a lot of amazing information on a daily basis.
8. How to write at superhuman speed (especially on a whiteboard).
I can now put up an incredible timeline, diagram and formula to explain simple past vs. past continuous in less than 15 seconds. Give me 10 more seconds and I can get some examples up there too. And not only that, but I’ll use at least three different colours and my handwriting will be perfectly legible.
9. How to crush random digressions.
I’m actually still working on this one (since I’m usually the cause of these tangents and off-topic discussions in the first place), but there’s a certain art to being polite, encouraging talking, being a patient listener and still completing today’s lesson.
“Wow, your fishing trip with you dad sounds amazing. You said the fish were slimy? Oh, they were smelly too? Interesting; how many other extreme adjectives can you think of? If you open your book to unit 6, you’ll see a basic list. . .”
10. And most importantly, how to invent just about anything on the spot.
Confidence is key here; at least once a day I am sucker-punched with a question that I really don’t know the answer to. My usual technique is to take a deep breath, rearrange my facial expression so that I look completely relaxed and rack my brains for any ideas that I can scramble together to come up with a coherent explanation.
I may have to look it up after class and correct myself the next day, but at least I haven’t broken the illusion that yes, teachers do indeed know everything.Add this article to your reading list