“We Think the Teacher Ran Off Campus.”
This is what I wish the students had said, had they even noticed I was gone. Most of the time, no one even knew. I was like Mr. Cellophane.
At lunch, I would go back to my apartment. Or I would go in an empty room. On weekends, I would hike a mountain, or visit Busan, or Ulsan, or Seoul. Leaving campus was just a way for me to re-group, get my bearings, but also a method in itself for reinvigorating my classes. Let me explain.
There’s a lot of literature on what to do inside of the EFL classroom. But what about what to do when you’re outside of the classroom? Or even beyond the classroom and even outside of the campus? Most people don’t talk about this because they don’t actually view it as part of your responsibility as an English teacher.
But I beg to differ. I think what you do beyond the campus is just as important, if not more important, as being inside of the classroom teaching kids about rhyming words. I think it is definitely your responsibility to improve yourself and rekindle your passions for the amazingly creative and unpredictable world that we live in. And besides, how are you going to keep your classes fresh and relevant if you don’t actually experiment with the activities that are going on in the real world?
Let’s be clear, I’m not advocating going to the bars or night clubs. I’m not even advocating excessively medicating yourself, although this isn’t a bad idea! The world looks different through inebriation, just read the works of Hunter S. Thompson.
I’m advocating trying something new with yourself, and meeting new people! Going out in the world, outside of your teaching hours and actually trying to do some new projects with other people.
And the Cambridge authors no less will tell you that you should be bringing in a little bit of the world inside of your classroom, that it’s your responsibility as a teacher. So there! Take that, you brutal authoritarian sticklers. Viva La Revolution!
Tons people are living their life in the new country you’re in, so you should, in a sense, pick people’s brains about what possibilities you have. We live in a remarkably abundant world. It‘s as vast as the stars. Think of everybody as an individual planet and you will realize that we’re in a world of an enormous amount of opportunities and options we can’t even begin to fathom. And I’m not just saying that poetically either. I’m saying that as a fact of life. We can’t even imagine what is around us right now, just literally feet away, which could lead us down a path that will make us millions of dollars or leave us destitute on the streets dancing for spare change, but it’s all perspective.
It’s totally possible. We have no clue.
I wish there was the radar for the person or the project that could make me millions of dollars. I wouldn’t be here writing this essay right now. I know it’s out there, and you should know it’s out there. But you just can’t predict these things. Unless you’re Miss Cleo, in which case please send me my winning lotto numbers, please.
There are so many different paths you can choose that are either more lucrative or less lucrative, more or less personally fulfilling. It’s just completely up in the air, vast and overwhelming.
The endless possibilities are the reason I say to socialize outside of your school community as an English teacher.
Go get involved, go travel around the country a little, see what other cities are around. However, if you really truly honestly can’t tap into the local scenes where you are, then build them yourself.
When I was in Da Nang, Vietnam, one of my friends who is a journalist requested that I give him the juicy stories coming out of the city. I politely told him that I was the stories in Da Nang, me. Moi. He wanted news? Well I am the news, I informed him. Be your own news. It worked for P. T. Barnum! I was the local oddity and business was good!
Even in Korea, which has vast amounts of farming land in between the major cities, there are still some productive little towns in the country, believe it or not, tons of little villages in Korea where they’ve got English teachers, they’ve got camps, and most importantly, they’ve even got cafes. See, even the country can become civilized, are you listening Alabama?
There’s just so much opportunities that it makes little sense for you to remain with one person in your school unless you guys are doing projects together where you’re getting more involved in the world.
Getting involved with other projects is the key to a less monotonous life. It diversifies your life and adds a bit of spice to your weeks that you would otherwise be spending teaching middle schoolers the subtleties of homonyms. Do you really want to be doing that? It’s in the book anyway, tell them to read it. You go on to the next project and carve a new path. Be your own Lewis and Clark.
Okay, Jerry Springer, I’m stealing this headline from you. I’m sorry it could not be helped! I am just not going to encourage vulgarity and fighting to gain extra viewers.
I will also say that collaborative work outside of the school can also make you better skilled at managing relationships within your school because you are constantly communicating with various individuals, keeping your mind fresh with anticipation as to what the other person is going to say, how they are going to react, and just what parts of your sentences they are going to take personally, just like that ex you’re trying so hard to forget. So very hard, do you think she still thinks about me? Do you?
These are life skills people! Life skills! And they pay in dividends! Not as good as Coca-Cola or Microsoft but life skills which are very valuable.
You get better at handling conversations from all the practice of working and interacting with people who may have remarkably diverse backgrounds. And you do this outside of the school community, because the repetitive same-same of everyday teaching can really grate on you and promote a level of laziness in your mind and the very cells of your body that you just can’t anticipate. You have to keep this in check, because trust me it will creep up on you. Dan Kennedy refers to this as “Problem creep” in his book No B.S. Guide to The Ruthless Management of People and Profits.
It’s true that we really don’t see the forest for the trees when we’re just interacting in our daily lives. This is why it’s imperative to take a step back and start talking to other people… other people! Outside of the school, even off of the greenfield where the kids play soccer. Off campus. In another village. Make like Steve Blank and get out of the building for once and see what’s going on in the rest of the world. As you begin to do this, you will start to see other areas of life that maybe you have been ignoring, you’ll start to see ways of forming new ventures, new job possibilities, new projects. It will be overwhelming at first but you’ll soon realize that this is where the salvation is. The salvation is not in a secure monotonous 9-to-5, since security is just an illusion anyway. Salvation, rather, is out there in the world where people are interacting and trying new things, falling on their faces and trying again. They are certainly not in a classroom putting puzzles together with little babies who can barely form full sentences in their own native language, let alone yours (although I admit this is very important work!). Heck they will be running the world in the next few decades so I might as well get on their good side now.
And again, to emphasize, this being-out-in-the-worldness has a way of providing your classes with that extra spice in the conversation, that je ne sais quois to reinvigorate the energy and keep the students on their toes. Because who doesn’t love a good water cooler conversation about what you wish hadn’t happened on Saturday night with that one local who looks like your ex on heroin? I wish I could forget it but until then I have a great story that gets the crowds to gather.
As always, teaching-and-living… it’s all a balancing act, each one feeding and supporting the other.
This post was written by Todd Persaud. Todd holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over 5 countries and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. He may be reached on his website at www.ToddPersaud.com.