TEFL

From Tim Parks’ “Europa“:

The context is that a group of English teachers working in Italy are on their way to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to speak in front of the Petitions Committee about how they’re discriminated against by being offered more restrictive contracts than their native Italian colleagues. More info on this real-life case here. One of the teachers in the novel rouses the troops on the trans-Europe bus with a speech outlining their complaints.

“What he does not say is how little work we foreign lectors do for our living, how long and lazy our summer holidays are, how little some of us are qualified, how many of us got our jobs because we just happened to know the professor with the gift in his hand, and one of us is having a lesbian relationship with her professor and another is taking money together with his professor to fix exams on behalf of rich and incompetent students, and many of us worked for our professors privately in language schools and translation agencies before we got our jobs, so that getting them was just an extension of an already established collaborazione, as the Italians like to put it, and he doesn’t say that many of us have been deeply corrupted by receiving an easy and not ungenerous salary for work that nobody checks or even remotely cares about, and that most of us are terrified by the idea of having to go out and find other work and actually make our money in some way that corresponds, however remotely, to the amount of effort we put in.”

This did make me smile because, although there are plenty of experienced, inspiring, hard-working English language teachers abroad, it’ can also be notoriously easy to get this kind of job with little other qualification than being a native speaker (although sometimes this isn’t quite enough. My students were often keen to establish that I was really English and not, say, Irish or Australian).

I worked as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language for a couple of years in Italy and Belgium. Depending on the students it could be fun and stimulating or a repetitive slog. I taught vocabulary to distracted teenagers, grammar to businessmen and chaired conversation classes for retired ladies. I spent more time than I thought possible trying to clarify the rules of use of the present perfect tense. I even gave a poetry lecture. But I also learnt a lot about my adopted cultures in conversation with my students, and saw my own culture through their eyes, responding to questions like “Is it true that the British eat jam with their meat?” (well, I guess so, if you consider cranberry or apple sauce to be like jam) and “Is it true that you have a party when someone dies?” (ok, if some ham sandwiches and awkward conversation at the bereaved’s house after the funeral can be considered a “party”, yes).

Sometimes I even miss it.