-It must be great to have all those long holidays !
-Well no actually, I’m actually busiest in the summer. In fact, I never take a holiday in July or August.
-Oh, so you’re not a proper teacher then ?
-What kind of teacher are you then ?
-I’m an English teacher.
-Ah, Shakespeare and all that. You must love books !
-Well actually, not that kind of English teacher.
-Ok… I think I’m going to talk to someone else now…
In fairness, I’ve learned to just say English-language teacher straight away now. Still though, such conversations are still pretty common for the average English-language teacher. It’s not too surprising that most people in English-speaking countries, when they hear the word teacher, think only of primary- or secondary-school teachers. For most of us, that’s the only experience of teachers we have. Even if people know that such a creature as a English-language teacher exists, they assume they can only be found in primary and secondary schools in far-flung corners of the world. But teaching English in an English-speaking country!? Who would you teach!?
Well, lots of people actually. Immigrants of course, and refugees and asylum seekers. But very often, it’s people on temporary visits looking to improve their English for personal, professional, or academic purposes. You don’t tend to notice these people though, as language students tend to move in their own circles, as they’re usually not working, or comfortable speaking at length with native speakers.
Which is why people generally aren’t aware of how big the English-language teaching industry is. Even I had never noticed the school I work in before I started there, and it’s pretty big. But now if I’m on the street I’ll notice the groups of chatty teens speaking Spanish or Italian, and in pubs I’ll notice the international groups of adult students.
English speakers also don’t tend to imagine the existence of English-language students because we’re generally not so interested in learning other languages. Generally.
It’s an interesting life. It can be frustrating when people don’t really know what you do, but I also kind of enjoy that too. I don’t know what it’s like to tell people you’re an accountant, for example, but I imagine every accountant knows how people are going to react when they tell them. I on the other hand, never know if I’ll get a blank stare, a polite nod, or an eyebrow raised in curiosity. And I like that.
Oh, and if we ever get talking in the kitchen at a party and you mistakenly think I tech English literature, don’t worry. I can probably act the part well enough to play along.