By Laura Soracco
I did not go to college thinking I would become a teacher – teaching found me, and it kept showing up at my doorstep until I fell in love with it. As a student, I began tutoring Spanish and Italian as a way to have a bit of additional income. I remember how uncomfortable I felt when I got grammar questions, since I couldn’t really answer much beyond a “because that’s how it is said”. Learning how to teach languages was not really on my agenda. I saw myself as a political science and international relations person. But a month before getting my bachelors degree, I was offered a job training teachers in public schools all over the United States in a remedial reading program for students with reading problems. After witnessing the impact of illiteracy on so many students from different backgrounds, I started to feel differently about teaching.
The turning point in my career came after I moved to Colombia to take what I thought was a temporary job teaching English at a university while I figured out where I would go to graduate school. I joined the Foreign Languages Department a few weeks into the semester, so I was asked to work at the computer lab at first. Teachers came in with their students for an hour or two, and this gave me the chance to interact with everyone during the week. At lunch time, we often sat together and chatted. Having time outside of class to socialize made it easier to feel comfortable around my coworkers. And the way my coworkers accepted me made me want to learn more about English language teaching in general. I remember during the first few months, I was always holding on dearly to my textbook and studying the teacher’s resource book for all the advice I could get before class; fortunately my coworkers were always willing to exchange teaching ideas, tips, materials, or just listen to some of my concerns. One time I was embarrassed to admit I did not know what a clause was. I could not understand it by looking it up online either. Knowing that my coworkers could help, I asked the teacher who was known for being really good in grammar to explain what a clause was. Her non-judgmental approach was key to making me feel like I could reach out to others when I needed help. What is more important, nobody ever behaved as if my age or experience made a difference in my ability to teach well. These coworkers were a fundamental part of my training as an English teacher, even though I’m not sure they realize it.
I also made friends in other departments and faculties. We would often sit around the university’s main square after lunch, have a cup of coffee, and chat for a few minutes before going to class. Once, I even admitted to a psychology teacher that I did not feel like I could teach. I had only been teaching my own class for a few weeks and I was worried I was not doing a good job. He helped me feel like these insecurities were the rite of passage of teaching, that “nothing was wrong” with me.
Fortunately, professional development for teachers was a big part of that university. All new faculty were invited to attend sessions arranged by the school’s resource centre. The sessions helped faculty evaluate their curriculum, teaching strategies, and even how we spoke in class. I found myself enjoying the thought-provoking discussions with my colleagues at these sessions, and I knew then that I had fallen in love with teaching. These professional development opportunities were open to all faculty members, and I got to connect and form ties not only with English teachers, but also with teachers of other languages and teachers in other areas. Learning about the teaching context of faculty in other departments, like math or economics, gave me a better understanding of the challenges my students faced in their other classes.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if my coworkers had not been so open to exchanging thoughts about learning and teaching English. What would have happened if I had been surrounded by coworkers who disliked their jobs, and did not feel proud of teaching English? What if my coworkers had not been willing to collaborate? I may have turned away from teaching. Instead, I can say that teaching found a way to my heart thanks to the enthusiasm and trust of all those teachers around me. Their camaraderie, their mentorship, and the love for what they do were the final push I needed to finally realize that teaching English language learners is what I truly want to do in life, and I will be forever grateful to them. What seemed like a temporary job turned into a life-long passion which has led me to an MA in TESOL and unforgettable teacher friends.