I’m surprised that I ended up being a teacher as my main career. As a boy, if anyone had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I probably would have said a professional athlete. That’s certainly what I spent time daydreaming about. I respected the teachers I had, but I didn’t aspire to be like them. In fact, I felt a little sorry for them.
There was Mr Urich (sp?) who, as I recall, was a high school Social Studies teacher. He worked part-time after work in the local A&P (a supermarket). Another teacher spent his summer driving an ice cream truck. Nothing against unglamorous work, but not what I dreamed about.
However, I do remember a couple clues about my future. One occurred when I was maybe 13-14. My mother asked if I wanted to attend a carnival, and I said that I’d rather run a stall than go around playing games at the carnival stalls. The surest clue was that when my 12th grade Social Studies teacher, Mr Novak, asked if any of us would like to try teaching the class, I volunteered. Social Studies was my favorite subject, but the topic the teacher assigned me was not one I was interested in: the legislative system of the Soviet Union. Wow! I was a horrible teacher. I guess it was a case of something I had seen done again and again by people who know what they are doing. Teaching seemed easy, until I tried to do it.
That one experience was enough to stop me from thinking about being a teacher till many years after that. I had graduated from university and was aimlessly travelling around Mexico and Central America when I struck up a conversation with someone while walking along a beach on Mexico’s western coast. He told me that he made a living giving English lessons while walking along that beautiful beach. Among his students was a History professor who specialized in 19th and 20th century Mexican history.
Well, I loved history, and I loved beaches; so, that sounded like the ideal job. How did my new friend get that wonderful job? He had a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). My aimless travelling was over. I headed back to the U.S., enrolled in a TESOL program, and one year later I had a master’s degree, all set to return to that beach in Mexico.
Of course, my life has seldom turned out the way I thought it might. After graduating and teaching in the U.S. for a few months, I ended up travelling west to Asia, rather than south back to Mexico. Fortunately, I did revisit Mexico again, but not as a teacher. Maybe the most memorable visit there was as an election observer for the 2000 Mexican presidential election, which saw the Institutional Revolutionary Party lose power after 71 years. While many Mexicans were very happy about the change, not that much seems to have changed in Mexico.
I’m very glad that I became a teacher. First, teachers learn as they teach. Even when I teach low level students, nonetheless, I learn lots about the content I teach and about how to teach. After all, everyone is a teacher to themselves and to others. Plus, Education is an applied field, taking in ideas and techniques from so many other fields, including psychology, sociology, biology, and information science.
Something else I enjoy about teaching are the relationships I build with students. Among my students have been a wide range of ages, national origins, and other backgrounds. In addition to teaching language, I also teach Education. In other words, I teach how to teach. For instance, I’ve taught teachers in Bahrain and police instructors in Singapore. One of my favorite groups to teach are arts teachers in Singapore who teach subjects such as dance, ukulele, ceramics, drawing, animation, drama, and even beatboxing. They are a fun group of people to spend time with.
To build bonds and promote understanding with my students, sometimes I use what are called “dialog journals.” Students write their thoughts and experiences on a particular topic, or they can do free topic. Then, I and the students’ peers give feedback. This feedback isn’t about correcting grammar and spelling. Instead, I respond just as I would if I was replying to a friend’s letter, email, or other message.
Education is such a lively field, with new ideas coming to prominence on a regular basis, as well as old wine returning in new bottles. My view has always been, “I don’t care if it’s old wine, as long as it’s good wine.” In the next chapter, I’ll go into depth on one of those ideas, Cooperative Learning. Here are other ideas that particularly inspired me: Student-Centered Learning, education that encourages students to be active and responsible decision makers; Extensive Reading, students learning language by doing lots of reading in that language, rather than focusing mostly on grammar and vocabulary drills; Environmental Education, encouraging students to understand, care about, and take action on behalf of the environment; and Humane Education, caring about non-human animals, including the animals whom we use for food.
While teaching is most educators’ main activity, educators can promote their field in many other ways. In my case, after a few years of teaching, I also began attending Education conferences, and then I started writing on Education. Some of my publications are available for free download at georgejacobs.net. I also joined professional organizations, such as International TESOL, the Extensive Reading Foundation, the International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education, and the International Ecolinguistics Association.