A Letter to My Younger Teacher Self – #YoungerTeacherSelf challenge

This post is part of the #youngerteacherself challenge started by Joanna Malefaki. Please read her original post and the numerous other posts she has linked to! 

Dear Anthony,

You majored in anthropology, the study of people. But did you forget that you aren’t a people person? Did you forget you do not like talking with random people? That you do not like giving presentations or being the center of attention? That you are introverted and a little disinterested in other people, not to mention borderline misanthropic? How did you ever expect to do fieldwork with a disposition like this?

Well, would it shock you to know that in 2015, you have talked with strangers from around the globe, commanded the attention of children, teenagers, and adults, lived in several foreign countries, and are now a “professional”? No, you’re still not an anthropologist. And you’re not the president. You’re a teacher.

And not like an elementary school or high school teacher. No, you’re an English language instructor at a university – the coolest kind of teacher. You have been a teacher for almost 8 years. You have taught all ages, but have decided teaching university students and adults is more in line with your personality and interests. Good choice. Kids are terrible (incidentally, you have 2 beautiful children and they are not terrible!) You’ve also developed a keen interest in linguistics despite no formal training. And of course, because you’ve always been a nerd, you have integrated technology into everything you’ve done (and regretted not becoming a software engineer so you can invent the technology that you think is missing in this field).

Your first days of teaching were face-palm worthy. Just terrible. It’s never a good idea to ever make students stand up and shake hands. This is not language teaching. This is public embarrassment. It took you about six months before you figured out what you were doing, and you decided to pursue a master’s degree. You get much better. Some have even described you as a great. In my opinion, you’re not bad.

But, you can be so much better, which is why I’m writing. Those valuable months of failure you went through – I’m not going to give you any advice to avoid that. I want you to have that. Teaching is something you do learn on the job, through mistakes and failures. It’s how we grow. In fact, that’s my first point of advice. Here is what I want you to do:

  • Understand that failure is only an opportunity for growth and reflection – this is something I just learned.
  • Double major in linguistics and computer science – you’ll find that these areas will not only leave you well-informed in terms of language structure and language learning, but you will find numerous niches in which to combine these fields. You can invent software that will make language processing and language learning much more effective. Or maybe you’ll just make awesome power points. You’ll also find that examining the underlying structure of language is super fun, and what all the cool kids are doing on blogs and Twitter with their phonetic symbols and waveforms and brain diagrams. Don’t worry about what those are right now. Just keep reading…
  • Learn a language, or three – do not give up on French! Do you see those posters all over campus about study abroad? Don’t just daydream about them. Rip one down, march into the Study Abroad office and figure out a way to get there. Your poor, but you’re not that poor. You have a secret desire to be a polyglot. It’s hard work and it needs to start now!
  • DO NOT move to the woods. You will learn some valuable lessons about life and survival there, but you can learn those elsewhere. Instead, look for “esl teaching jobs” on AltaVista or whatever search engine is popular right now. Places to focus on: Japan, Korea, Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia. Spin the globe and pick a place at random. You’ll get valuable experience and a decent paycheck. See if you can get short-term contracts. Do this for a year or two.
  • Then, go back home and start your master’s ASAP. I started it while I was teaching in Korea. This allowed me to apply a lot of what I learned to the classroom to kind of test out what works and what doesn’t. This is great, but you will get a whole host of valuable experiences and opportunities if you get your MA before teaching. Applied linguistics sounds like a good area. Applied cognitive linguistics is also interesting. Natural language processing sounds boring, but a company called Google may be looking for people with this experience.
  • I got my master’s degree via distance. It was very convenient but I realized something major it lacked: the chance to work with faculty to conduct research. When you are getting your master’s degree, please please please find as many research opportunities as you can. This will give you the ability to travel, present, publish and create a stellar CV. That will be important for the future.
  • By the time you teach, study, and teach some more, it will have already been 2015 and you are me. We are struggling to figure out when to get a PhD, where to get a PhD, how to pay for the PhD, and whether or not a PhD is even worth it. Do me a favor: figure this out before you get here.

All in all, if you don’t follow any of this advice, you still have a pretty decent career. But, like I said, I think these things can make your life a whole lot better. Notice that I don’t have any advice for actually teaching? Because, as I said, this comes with time and experience. Your teaching style fits your personality, and it is always changing because you do a lot of reading and research. Whatever path you end up on, I believe your teaching style is a representation of you. Me. We. Us.

Sincerely,

You on May 12, 2015 – Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

4 thoughts on “A Letter to My Younger Teacher Self – #YoungerTeacherSelf challenge

  1. joannamalefaki says:

    Hi Anthony,
    I really liked your post especially the part where you say your teaching style fits your personality and it always changes because you are doing a lot of learning! Well said 🙂
    Thanks for writing a post for the #youngerteacherself challenge.
    Joanna

    • Anthony Schmidt says:

      Thanks for the comment! And for visiting my blog!

      To follow-up on what I said in my letter, I believe that no matter where I was teaching, whether it were ESL, EFL, graduate courses, or even elementary school, I would teach in a somewhat similar manner because teaching is partly based on teaching context and partly based on ourselves and the entire amalgamation of what goes into us: our history, our educational backgrounds, our personality, our interests, our own teachers, etc.

  2. emchitty says:

    Interesting reflections, Anthony, though your exhortations to your younger self to figure things out before you get where you actually are, are quite humorous.

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