Teaching English: Hybrid Moments

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at dean@reachtoteachrecruiting.com, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

Read the whole thing here. 


My relationship with teaching English has been a long-standing on again-off again relationship; if it were a person, my friends would’ve thrown up their hands in contemptible resignation long ago. Whether tutoring high school English (and alternating between feeling overwhelmingly proud of my students and equally as frustrated by what I like to call the ‘pancake’ students – those kids who want you to do all their work for them and trying to teach them is like trying to teach a pancake how to write an essay), or my stint in classroom teaching in Taiwan, I’ve been ambivalent about both my abilities as a teacher and my desire to do it all. And yet I keep getting – err, allowing myself to be – drawn back into the fold.

I came out of my Taiwan experiences thinking that teaching English just wasn’t for me. And in that specific situation, it wasn’t. I came home again, after two years away, and began the hunt for gainful employment. It was so much easier being a local and not having to worry about paperwork or contending with the reputation of the notoriously flighty backpacker. And employers seemed to like my diverse resume experience; all of my moving about was more boon than hindrance. The adaptability and openness to experience that travel requires is becoming a more desirable in the working world, it seems.

Expecting an interview for a receptionist position at a small firm, I was surprised when the CEO pointed to my teaching experience on my resume and asked me if I would put together an ESL course for the office. I thought about it, over thought it, and then accepted.

I’m not really one for ascribing meaning to the organized chaos of the universe, but opportunities for me to teach English keep presenting themselves. For better or worse, it is valuable on the world stage at present, to speak English. Everywhere I go, I’m asked to practice conversational English, come up with synonyms and definitions, explain idioms and the maddening rules of grammar (if I can be at the beach or on the beach, why can’t I be on the park?). Even if teaching English is a form of neocolonialism, it’s useful to people. And I like helping people. I also like playing with grammar and exploring the evolution of language, because fascination.

So, here I am, nestled in a downtown office while the outside world has descended into a roiling, traffic snarling, bone chilling blizzard (oh, Canada), teaching English to a small handful of engineers and accountants from China. The atmosphere is casual and reciprocal: I teach them grammar and they teach me about China. It is interesting to operate within two separate and opposite power dynamics: boss-employee and teacher-student. The CEO calls me Teacher, asks me questions like I’m Wikipedia and offers to teach me anything he can in return. My ambivalence about teaching remains – just because you do something naturally and/or well does not translate into being able to teach it effectively – but if travel has taught me anything, it’s to grab opportunities when they present themselves. You never know where you’ll end up. 

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