Almost 15 years later, what have I learned as an English teacher?

Sometimes I wake up from a weird dream and I have to sort things out. I’ll spare you from hearing about my medical condition, and in fact spare me from the backlash; but teachers are not doing well. In my head, we’ve been outsourced by Google, but the thing is I never go out the street with a phone connected to the internet. Not even when I worked 3 periods did I have that kind of privilege. I downloaded music from The Pirate Bay, and put it on my phone. Made my playlists. It was enough for 20 songs, more or less. And I can’t believe people use their data for that. It’s too consuming. I did want to stay connected with my contacts, but mostly, with people from abroad, and I was so incredibly dumb about going out with my throwaway accounts open in a big city. Today, I would never. I’m the kind of person that uses Google Authenticator for most things. I delete SMS because I think they’re spying on me. I know I just let my phone drop and the screen cracked, but I’m convinced someone hacked my frontal camera. But we learned, as teachers, that we can’t go anywhere if we don’t look around. We’re not paraphrasing textbooks, and to be honest, a lot of them suck, don’t they? And so does our technology. Talk to anyone from the US and you’ll notice an obvious synchronization problem. Which in turn, makes it a trust problem. And live your adventures, believe it’s true love. Get wrecked, again and again.

Our profession requires us to approach things nice and slow. Not to touch. Ask people to look at our mouth when we utter a sound. To pay attention to our intonation. Don’t we know people make judgments in real life based on intonation? How can you possibly teach that? But we do. Rising and falling. The British examples. Linguistics made us drive meaning into that. But it’s more than intonation or connected speech — which, by the way, is not taught anywhere. It’s just luck. A student might pay attention to pronunciation or not; be a good reader or not at all. And when they’re not, you see the value of the textbook. They can feel like they’re making progress, but you have to reassure them. The most tired teacher won’t forget to say that their student had a great participation in the class, and came up with very interesting and surprising answers. That it was good hearing them talk about issues. We’re lying. It’s a bunch of shitty opinions articulated in the worst possible way, and when they laugh, it’s because they think they’ve established common ground. Of course they haven’t. They’re laughing about the subtleties of language. And of context. Humor in the classroom is deemed essential. But willingness isn’t. Sometimes, you know you have to go further, but you won’t, because of time restraints. And so the purpose is defeated. You’re not helping, you’re tasked with a pre-made solution to be effected. Maybe it’s writing mispronounced words on the board. Do we still use those? What about the slides? What about streaming? And most importantly, what about policy? Whose email account do you use when watching YouTube? Not yours, I hope? If you do, you’re clearly not paying attention.

We live in a world where companies dream of having everyone collectively agree on the top decisions they make. To go test in droves their newest innovations, to listen to their most well-paid artists in record numbers, to talk about the topics everyone’s talking about. Nothing authentic. The desire to feel seen is one thing, the need to crack down the code of popularity on Twitter is another. But what’s happening on there anyway? We may feel inclined to try Snapchat, and find out people have infantilized language, for real. But when they wanna be serious, they use all the words in their vocabulary to insult you. This generation learned to insult faster than to compliment. Of course, because the boys wanted tiddies, please. Remember Tumblr? We’ve seen it all, haven’t we? But now we’re supposed to understand the tech. We’re supposed to have opinions on crypto, and the entire economy, when the person speaking to you is skipping classes to play a football game — hey, at least you made 50 bucks an hour! And what do you need to feel valued at work? What is it about your job that makes you feel like you’re doing more than enough, and that’s okay? Isn’t it more or less like posting on social media? They’re all richer than you, and their experiences are not relatable. If they have a funny story, good for them. Most of them suck. But you listen patiently. Smirk and nod. Say “alright”.

And we’re being presented with a new teaching landscape where we have to know streaming channels, a different one for every class, and never repeat our models. If you do a slide, you can’t just do another slide. It’s just gonna be, you know, another slide. You need to bring music. And if you bring music, make sure you pick the right one. And if you don’t, try a game. And if that’s not your thing, have them write together. But if they don’t enjoy that, well, too bad. If they can’t read, too bad. If they can’t find purpose on a listening exercise, too bad. But most of them can barely form complete sentences. They’ll scratch the surface, barely, and you’re tuning in on freaking Bloomberg. You have an actual opinion about power relations; they have a shitty parroting of their bosses. They’re not your friends. They won’t complain about the job. And the thing is, if they do, that’s good; if you do, you might get a warning.

Try complaining about the pay, the commute, the materials, the lack of engagement. Try to say something about the air conditioner. Forget your umbrella to see how they react. Start a sentence with “I was on the bus the other day”. The people who are going to have advanced conversations with you won’t have many bus experiences to share, you see? Try talking about leadership. Everybody’s watching, silly. Don’t you think that’s lack of character? Do you feel any satisfaction? Can you bring it up in a meeting? And if you can’t, is it okay to talk about it informally? Because, if it’s online, there’s always a sense that someone’s watching. Which means we’re fucked. If the English teacher is a spy, a perv or a dummy, we’ll never know. But we don’t have a right to enjoy the things we do, we don’t have a right not to enjoy the things we don’t, and we are supposed to be always on time. Why did you choose this job?

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