My Vocation As An ESL Teacher

How time has flown. I’m running on my seventh year in my current job yet it seems like only yesterday when I walked along the hallways of a newly-built academy for an interview, anticipating my acceptance in a field that I barely had substantial experience at and no essential qualifications for.

I had liked my brief stint when I taught bookkeeping to a class of young female adults studying in a finishing school – for administrative assistant hopefuls – in the past. So when I decided to quit the accounting profession (as it’s not my true destiny) at the age of 36, the teaching field had already become an appealing option.  On our side of the hemisphere, once you get past the age of 35, you automatically stand an awfully frail chance of undertaking a career makeover or even procuring a level-entry job.

Our Teacher's Party late last year. That's me in the middle, wearing a purple dress.
Our Teacher’s Party late last year. That’s me in the middle, wearing a purple dress.

The longest-running occupation I had before this one was my 3 ½ years Accounting and Auditing positions at a leading news publishing firm (before my era of improvident job-hopping). So dissatisfied and insignificant I felt about my work there that I once or twice punched my time card in the morning and went out the whole day to do something else – instead of proceeding into the office. I know, I know, what a horrific thing to do. I was 20 years-old then (It’s the best excuse I could come up with, sorry). At least, I am capable of remorse now. 🙂

academyfoto1My current job has been one of the darlings of my existence largely brought about by my passion for everything English. But things hadn’t been all quite rosy for me. Office politics, you say? Ah yes, I experienced that in the most contemptible fashion hundreds of moonlights ago. I almost got kicked out by my co-pioneers who wanted the non-conformists out of the academy (in which half a dozen of our colleagues fell). What they failed to realize was I am harmlessly and silently invincible. I hanged on. Just like in the many arenas of my life. Besides, my bosses made me stay. Most of the people who schemed for my ouster are gone now. The few that remained I was able to get along by way of civility up to this day. I’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that there’ll always be people who’ll commend my strength and people who’ll be put off by the placid gutsy interiors of mine.

academyfoto2Teaching the English language is easy and pleasurable. I even get a kick out of pronouncing the words and courageously manage a modicum of the British accent every now and then. The straining part is effectively allying with these students who come from one of the most affluent countries in Asia. These people have got fairer skin than most Filipinos, which could only aid in jacking up their superiority complex. They’ve been spoiled by their nation’s wealth and technology the teachers here, almost always, are obliged to dole out concern for their personal well-being. Well, there had been students I couldn’t care less – by reason of misbehavior or ill manners, and there had been students I developed compassion for. My students generally range from 20 years old and above – male and female. Some can be sweet and pleasant and likable you end up doing your very best for them. A perk of this vocation: Once in a while, you cross paths with a student who’d be willing to get molded in his or her English fluency and at the same time be led to a more linear direction to become a better individual. That’s when I feel my most productive while doing my work. You also end up sanguine for these young souls who might find genuine happiness in their tomorrows – despite a culture dictating to them that a plenitude of material possessions is the principal reason for existence.

How do you motivate a class of inhabitants who hardly appreciate the English language? Whose main purpose for learning it is to compete with the rest of their fellow citizens in clinching a high-paying job? That’s the never-ending challenge for ESL instructors like me here. Invariably, the students prefer “free-talking” than learn the rudiments of grammar or render some effort to expand their vocabulary. FYI: they’re better at Science and Mathematics, admittedly. The majority aren’t even into reading any genre of world literature. Funny thing is, they’d request we teach them Tagalog words instead – and as soon as we give in, our deed gets so well-received their faces would gleam in glee. Puzzling.

From middle of last year: That’s me on the left wearing green. I really don’t drink, you know.

A popular personal question that’s been asked of me by my close friends: Do I go out with any of my students? Yes, we teachers do that – e.g., going to the mall, go karaoke singing, club-hopping, drinking and conversation – nonchalantly for reasons of goodwill and diversion. But what about in more than friendly terms, you ask? Uh…it happens. Sometimes. Teacher and student (of the same age) engender romantic feelings for each other – even fall in love (“pol in lab” as we filipinos endearingly termed it here) – and start dating. It’s not tolerated in most academies. Yet it happened to me (and to many other other teachers, too) I confess. A learning experience I don’t intend to go through again. Never. Mark my word :-). Why? I’ve had misgivings if it had been worth it (Translation: the sex wasn’t phenomenal. joke-joke-joke)…although we could only normally think this way from a backward glance.

I know not what the future holds for me, as anything can happen, although I ponder that perhaps this is the last full-time job I’d be holding. It doesn’t pay much, mind you, but the Monday – Friday, 8:00 – 5:00 schedule has been ideal and the job isn’t too demanding. I also get to do other things during off-peak seasons when there aren’t many students. Like reading and writing blogs. He he…

*******

Since I’ve been frequenting You Tube more often, I get to find the songs I liked when I was a child. The Philippine English song below not only hit our charts but Malaysia’s, as well. Yeah, it’s mawkish. But I’m sentimental – you already know that. And I was only 10 years old then. Surprisingly, the song is about a father who misses his young daughter after they got geographically separated. I didn’t know it then. Again, I was only 10 years old at the time :-). Two versions of the song down here: The first one is the piano version (by a Filipino talent), the second; the original one.

*******

All I want is

Only to hear you say

That you love me, love me with all your heart, and to say

That you need me, like you’ve never needed anyone before

Except for God and your little dolls and your story books

Just me…

–      Missing You by Rafael Centenera

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17 thoughts on “My Vocation As An ESL Teacher

  1. Have had a few friends do ESL stints in different countries around, most have been teachers looking to take a break from the school system here. One friend has now even moved on to study to become a nurse. Life’s an adventure of sorts, and well, experience always counts for something, while well when writing a book, it can open the words and lines up in interesting ways. Youth can sometimes get so caught on a single rail, they can sometimes forget to slow down and take a look around. I sure we were the same as today’s youth in a rush to get somewhere, but I like to look around these days, with reading and writing. I like how you write, Marj, it has an easy relaxed feel about it, no pretentiousness, it just flows from one thought to the next.

    My younger brother and his family lived up there, in your country for about six months last year, also have a friend who’s a photographer and diver up there too, but she has always lived there. Thanks for sharing about your work, have a bright week next week, Marj..

    • It’s a delightful surprise to see you here, Sean. And I’m happy to read pieces of information you were able to share about your younger brother and your friends. I am currently wondering what they had to say about my country. 🙂

      Thank you for your generous thoughts about my writing. In fact, this art doesn’t come easy for me as I am more of a reader than a writer. That is why I was quite glad to have chanced upon your wonderful blog a few days ago. You see, I have seen and admired recently only a few at WP who could successfully inject poetry and effective metaphors in their prose and personal essays. How I wish I could do that, too. Although it certainly will require droplets of thick blood from me instead of sweat :-). For someone more talented like you, it comes as a breeze I’m convinced. Rest assured, I am among your readers who will recognize and appreciate whatever your artful mind generates.

      This blog is also serving as my memoir. Yes, I can’t even imagine myself being pretentious here. To write my personal truths is the only way I can do it – even if I occasionally get apprehensions that some people might find what I pen down as being “too honest.”

      Have a bright next week as well, Sean. Take good care.

      • My brother’s wife’s father, has been living in your country for a number of years, they built a hut on the land he lives on in the mountains of a small island South West of Cebu. I don’t think they had a look around too much as my brother was off either working offshore up near Korea, or offshore of Angola in Africa. I think where they lived was a little too isolated for my brother’s wife, with him away, and especially when her father and other locals left for a number of days, leaving her and my niece, and nephew by themselves. Bad storms hit, and she struggled with the generator, and the isolation. Apart from the above I got the impression they liked it in your country. They are still living in South East Asia, just a little further west, and a more populate area.

        The writing you describe, it’s all about looking for comparisons between what is different, but are similar in some aspect, and so then can be substituted as a variable. Think of poetry as an algebraic form of writing, where you can make use of different equations, and differentials. Then you have all the many different forms of poetry, and prose, do a search and find what forms you might like, maybe then start there, and experiment. Sometimes when I write poetry I’ll be listening to music (or I’ll tap my foot for a particular timing as I write), and I’ll wrap words around the rhythms and melodies I am hearing as a way to find the flow in what I’m writing at the time.

        What we write is what we write, if people don’t find it to be what they want to hear, or read, they have many other reading options open to them. No such thing as too honest, you are either honest, or your dishonest 🙂 it’s just the detail that some people have a problem grasping, not everything can be broken down into a sound bite.

        Have you ever gone to a writers festival, or spoken word poetry nights in your country? If not, try and get to a few if you have time, nothing like rubbing shoulders with other poets and writers. It’s like another younger brother of mine says, nothing like learning another language when you’re living with the people that speak it everyday. Other than English, he speaks both German, and Spanish these days, and lives in Spain now, but Germany before he shifted a few years back.

        Have a top afternoon, Marj, cheers, Sean

  2. Yep, I’m having a top afternoon because of your marvelous comment that I just finished reading here. I’m glad to know your relatives have had a grand time staying in my country. Cebu is one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines. A lot of resorts sprang up there because of its beautiful beaches and more disciplined inhabitants. Your younger brother must have had an interesting job that brought him around Asia.

    This is the first time I’ve been given very helpful tips as to writing poetry and I think it’s awesome. I haven’t had much idea and I am delightfully surprised that we can even incorporate music into the process. No one gave me that amazing advice before. The closest I came to creating poetry was the freestyle verse. Then I figured: But it sounds very much like prose, So I shifted back to writing pure and plain essays or prose. I believe some people, like you, were simply born with the gift. And I was put here on earth to admire and enjoy what you guys beautifully come up with. Still, I’ll be trying your technique, Sean. Now I’m thinking of putting up another blog for that purpose so you won’t see me fall flat on my face. I’m shy, you know :-).

    I’ve been planning to attend a writer’s workshop here. Hope there’s poetry session squeezed in, too. Wow, I wish I could also speak more languages – like your brother. Do you?

    Oh Sean, I owe you a great deal for everything you’ve shared here. I’ll get back to you a little later.
    Thank you very much. You did make my afternoon much brighter (By the way, summer is at its peak right now).

    • Not sure if the tips are helpful, as there are so many ways to approach poetry. Sometimes it pays to break some poetry rules in style if the pure form of a particular form does not exactly give you what you’re looking for to share in your words.

      You won’t fall flat on your face, just make use of your own inner story first, to draw connections into what ever style of poetry you want to use to express a topic, or aspect to you, or life, etc…. The poetry is always there, it just has not found a page to spill across yet from your mind, heart, and feet (It’s like traveling through time and space without leaving home, or where ever you are at the time.).

      Have a good week, Marj!

  3. Do most of your students already speak or read at a basic level of English? Do you ever work with people who speak almost no English at all? I always find it physically draining when I have to struggle to communicate. I wonder if you experience that, too. Or have you built up those muscles by now?

    Your students are lucky to have you.

    • Students who come here already have some basic knowledge. Their distorted English is engendered by their different sentence patterns which also makes it harder for them to learn the language. Fortunately, my bosses give me more advanced students now. Yes, I remember reading that you had to do a strange version of sign language and had to demonstrate using physical movements when you taught English to a Bolivian woman. Hard to imagine how you were able to do that, Charles. 🙂
      Not every student feels lucky to have me because I can be strict and I normally require diligence from them. If I don’t do that, they’ll simply be wasting my time.

  4. Hello there. I enjoyed reading your post about your work as an ESL teacher. In fact, one of my good friends has been traveling the world teaching English. Before he began this, I understood that this field existed but for some reason never thought about it much. Now, I find it all very fascinating, both his experiences, and that of others who work in the field. Also, you mentioned that it was difficult to change careers after 35. I was curious about that and what the reasons may be for that social norm given in your nation’s culture or economy. This same is true, of course, in America for older people, those in their late forties or fifties. By the standards I am accustomed to, 35, seemed young. What do you think contributed to that? Thanks. Keep up the good work.

    • Many factors contribute as to why the Philippines can’t recover economically. The main reason, I believe, is over population which also explains our high unemployment rate. Unlike the U.S., there are no solid laws to promote and protect the aging work force (in their 40s and 50s). Fierce competition is extreme as well despite inadequate salaries and benefits being given. So a huge chunk of our manpower resources choose to scatter and toil all over the globe.

      Hey, you got to give me a name. As I’ve said before, I can’t keep on calling you PTFT. 🙂

      And by the way, I can’t find the best superlatives to describe your latest blog post. Incredibly awesome. And even much much more than that. I should be the one to say “Keep up the magnificent work.”
      I feel honored by your presence here, PTFT.

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