What Teaching has Taught Me

I’m not going to sugarcoat things. What teaching has taught me most of all is that I don’t like teaching.

Don’t get me wrong; teaching can be rewarding, fulfilling, even fun. There are moments of lightness and joy sprinkled into most lessons that, I think, are what make teaching worthwhile to many career educators. There are moments in the classroom where I really do feel like I’m empowering my students and helping them see the world in a slightly different way. But the plain reality is, these moments are relatively rare, and though I take pride in my work and my students generally seem to enjoy my lessons, the majority of my work is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.

In my short time teaching (about two and a half years) I’ve taught learners of all ages in public schools, private schools, language centers, and more informal settings like one-to-one tutoring and private group lessons. In each of these settings, I thought changing to a different teaching environment might improve my outlook on teaching long-term. That hasn’t happened for me yet.

But perhaps teaching is just a stepping stone in my life. Perhaps I needed to teach to know it isn’t for me. And maybe, just maybe, teaching got me out here to find my true life’s calling in a part of the world where, for people like me, the possibilities are limited only by ones’ own ambition.

Even with that in mind, I grapple with the complicated politics of my existence here. I’m taking advantage of a privilege bestowed upon me by birth that people from this country have to work tremendously hard and fight for. The privilege I already have as a cisgender male born into the middle class in the USA is magnified and expanded here as a native speaker of English. The legacy of colonialism and white supremacy lives on in the form of misconceptions and assumptions about native English speakers, as well as a steady cultural conforming to and moving toward Western ideals.

When I stand before my class and correct their pronunciation, paid ten times the amount that a Vietnamese teacher earns for doing the exact same work, am I profiting from colonialism? Am I perpetuating the myth of the native speaker? How do I reconcile my own privilege with the fact that I do feel the work I put in merits what I get in return?

Teaching has taught me so much about myself and my limitations, my strengths and weaknesses, and helped push me further out into the world and (hopefully) closer to something I’ll find real fulfillment doing. I wouldn’t change any of that experience. I’m still learning to move through the world with gratitude rather than shame, and though it’s good to ask questions and pull back the curtains to see what’s happening behind it all, I have to remain present within myself, examine my own intentions, and focus on actionable goals within those constructs which are beyond my control.

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