Old Hats, New Uses: How experience outside the field gets put to use

Not all ESL/ EFL teachers discover their calling before graduating college. In fact, I’ve trained individuals who were either making mid-life career changes or wished to add another dimension to their professional life. One might think that getting a late start puts a teacher at a disadvantage. However, being able to draw from rich life experiences is a wonderful advantage.

I have complete respect for those who’ve gone the whole nine yards in terms of formal training in the field. Those scholars do the research which books and other instructional materials are based on. This entry, however, celebrates the diversity of those teachers who have entered the ESL/ EFL world after journeying through other territories. They may still be in need of professional development (aren’t we all?), yet their individual work histories give them unique perspectives and sets of skills in the classroom.

In my own past, a number of paths were taken before I fully committed to my present profession. What did I gain from my explorations?

  • Teaching Russian as a foreign language. The certification process, particularly the teaching practicum, humbled me. I have much appreciation for non-native teachers of any language. Both as a teacher of a foreign language and as a student of several foreign languages, I try to retain sensitivity to learners’ academic, social, and emotional needs.
  • Working in the cruise line industry. The ships remained the same physically, but the passengers came and went. I relied on co-workers for a sense of stability, and I learned to warmly welcome and interact with each new group of passengers. I learned adaptability, and the need to make routines seem fresh for the passengers’ sake as well as my own. I learned how to keep a professional face as a purser when dealing with passengers, and I learned to have fun playing different roles as a costume character. As a youth counselor, I learned the importance of maintaining order, momentum, and positive energy.
  • Dancing in a Polynesian show.  I learned how to find enough confidence to present myself to a large crowd. Being on stage teaches the lesson that’s commonly summed up as “the show must go on.” Performers must find the strength and creativity to overcome surprises and deliver the show for which the audience has paid to see.
  • Running a program for an American college in Russia. There is always an administrative side to teaching and learning, and without a director or a school receptionist many of us would experience great confusion. Treat administrative staff with respect, from the person who supervises you to the one who makes your photocopies. Their job can be quite a challenge, too. Being in an administrative role taught me better organizational skills both in and out of the classroom.

What jobs have you held in the past? Perhaps you moonlight at a job after teaching during the day. How have those other work experiences helped you be a better teacher? From a photographer to a musician, I’ve met a good number of teachers who were able to not only transition from one work environment to the next, but brought along with them a unique set of work skills into the ESL/ EFL classroom.

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