I have a very quiet voice. I’m a quiet person, a little reserved, and self-promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to me. And now I spend about 30 hours of my week standing in front of other people instructing them on how to talk. And then taking their money for it. As expected, these don’t exactly go hand in hand.
I have various issues with teaching. Not with my students: the adults are wonderful, and interesting, and make me think; the kids are cute and funny and I laugh so many times each day. My issues are all internal and revolve around social anxiety.
Before I started teaching English, I was a literature student. I sat indoors and read books all day, and occasionally went to seminars where I didn’t say much. One on one with other people, I was good. In groups, well, it depended on the day. Then I came to Taiwan and started teaching, and it was such a learning curve for my social skills I don’t even know how to start describing it. Here’s a rundown of the issues I’ve experienced with how I am naturally, and how I need to be to teach.
1. Wait, I talk with you for an hour then take your money?
The question for beginner teachers is always, am I charging too much? Too little? What’s a fair amount? Add in a nervous disposition and a want-to-please personality and it’s a recipe for a highly-strung disaster. There’s such a tense moment when stating a price, and negotiating working hours. Then there’s having the confidence to organise a lesson, to pull a student back to the subject if the lesson strays, and to keep to time. Basically, to act like a teacher. This might not seem a big deal in text, but when you’re just starting out and your student is twice your age? It’s a one-way train to a land of sweaty palms and self-doubt. A few times I’ve drastically over-prepared a lesson and gone along to it with a large amount of material I haven’t used, because I’ve been so nervous about coming across well and making the student feel they’re getting value for money.
2. All the little children
Have you ever stood, clutching flashcards, in front of 17 two year olds? If so, you’ll know how terrifying it can be. I’ve had moments where I’ve lost control and have had 3 jumping on my back, several more fighting with each other, more stealing my teaching materials and ripping them/throwing them/hiding them. My teaching assistants are off in a corner dealing with the one who’s crying so hard she’s projectile vomiting, and the one who just wet himself. That’s only 11 accounted for, the other 6 are making escape attempts or are also screaming.
Just another day at the office.
The amount of nervous energy this takes is in no way small. And that’s just the morning. To keep them interested and engaged I have to be SO UPBEAT AND OUTGOING AND EXCITED ALL THE TIME. For an introvert, even without everything going on, it’s utterly exhausting.
3. Talk, talk, talk
After a day, a week, and definitely a month of 5+ hours of constant talking a day, when I finish work I just want to not talk anymore, or see people, or do things. This makes a social life pretty hard. I’ve found that the longer I work, the less I want to see friends. Social contact is becoming more of an effort for me than it’s been for years. At University, social contact was a break from work. Here, it almost is work.
I’m becoming far more selective in my social contact, and far more aware of what recharges and what further takes my energy. 7 months of teaching with only 1 week off in that time? In some ways I’m getting used to it – I have more energy than I did to start with, and it’s far less of an adrenaline rush these days – but in other ways I’m tired. My introvert side needs a week of talking to and seeing hardly anyone, so that I can feel normal again.
Before I started teaching I wondered if I would cope. I’m now working more consistently than I ever knew I was capable of. It’s a test of endurance for a normal person, let alone someone who used to be unable to leave the house or make eye contact. I enjoy it. I enjoy the teaching, the students… but it’s hard. Some things are suffering: And when I have my next week off in another 5 months’ time please don’t call me, text me, or email me. I’ll be in the mountains somewhere, alone, with my thoughts.