From the teacher’s family

When we talk about our teaching context, we often forget to mention our families, the people who suffer with and support us. The long workweeks we spend in the classroom, the hours of time preparing at home, all of these moments and more are shared with our families. In this issue, Matt Shannon, Rose Bard, and Ayat Tawel talk about being a teacher with members of their families. We at iTDi are grateful that Matt, Rose, and Ayat have taken their personal time to explore this issue with the people closest to them. We would like to thank them and their family members for helping all of us to better understand how being a teacher shapes our lives outside of the classroom.


Not a teacher’s job, but teaching

Matt Shannonby Matt Shannon

For the iTDi ‘From the Teacher’s Family’ issue, I’ve interviewed my partner of seven years, Rieko, and her college-aged son, Yudai. We have all lived together about five years now. I used the questions supplied by iTDi and while the interview didn’t go astray, I did find the answer to be surprising.


Matt: What are some good things about having a partner who is a teacher?

Rieko: Positive points? I can think of some negative points. Positive points…you have summer vacation off, kind of. And spring vacation…sometimes. You get school lunch. I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything positive right now.

Yudai: When I was working as a tutor, I was able to ask you for help about grammar points. But more so, how to treat people and problems with respect, how to engage someone who wants to be taught without being “their teacher.” I also liked that we could have the same day off. I mean, Saturday and Sunday. There’s some jobs in which you have work Sunday-Monday, or worse, the entire weekend. [Authors note: I now work a Tuesday to Saturday workweek].


Matt: Were there ever moments in your life when you wished I wasn’t a teacher? 

Rieko: Not all the time! But teachers are so restricted. You’re not allowed to tell people what you think, can you? You have to be very careful. You have to sign a contract saying you won’t say anything bad about the government, and really it’s not a very good system, so you must be very conflicted about that. [Authors note: in Saitama City where I live, we have to sign a pledge that we will not work or be a part of any group which stands to undermine or threaten the Japanese government.] You can’t travel or take time off easily, you can’t get too drunk, you can’t be too wild. Teachers are so influential to students or other people, so you should be a teacher, a model, all the time.


Matt: Was there ever a moment when you were proud of something I did as a teacher?

Rieko: I don’t know how to answer this. You’ve done so much curriculum work; spent so many hours, Saturdays and Sundays, on vacation, always thinking about school, how to teach classes best – what should be and shouldn’t be. I am so proud of that. You made passports [authors note: special student self-assessment tools]; the time you actually made a town built out of blocks of students’ conversations which showed what was important to them. And then there was the time you made that giant mural with the students, and the green curtain. I’m proud of you. You did things. I don’t know how to make that sound better. You did things with your students.


Matt: How do you think me being a teacher has made life more complicated for you?

Rieko: Your eye level, part of it is always at the kid’s level. I mean that both ways. When I’m talking with you, I feel like I am talking with several different people. I don’t always feel your honest opinion on some things because you’re carrying all of these different perspectives inside your heart.

You always work too hard. Sometimes my job is easy, but you always have five or seven hours of too much work. We can’t share time, and I don’t like it. You work forever and don’t get paid anything extra. And if you do work only the contract hours, they’ll bully you and say you work below your ability. It’s a terrible system. You don’t really know your boss, so they don’t have to be honest with you, and they don’t give you a chance. They keep cutting your salary and making excuses. There are so few positions, so you have to hold on to terrible jobs.


Matt: Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher?  Why?

Rieko: In the classroom, you keep your face to students. You’re very good at that – they feel that come off you and the atmosphere is about their interest, not yours. You can grab a topic off of the students and play with it. You have to do that, I guess. And then you can drop the idea you wanted to show them into the students’ context so they can take it home.

You have the most energy of people I know, but it’s not enough and I am worried about how long you can keep it up. You can make students happy, but can you make yourself happy? Your expectations are multiple because of your students. You can’t stop it, so that makes you both stronger than normal but more responsible than you need to be.

Yudai: You’re friendly, you talk to people well. You can build a good relationship between you and your students. Also, you are kind of young. I mean, you know many things which young people like. You’re not dead yet.


Matt: Why do you think I became a teacher?

Rieko: I think you like teaching. Not a teacher’s job, but teaching.


Matt: How would our lives change if I stopped being a teacher tomorrow?

Yudai It’s hard to guess until after payday. Honestly, I can’t imagine. But, harder for sure. [Authors note: If I quit my job tomorrow, I would be deported sometime in August unless I found another job]

Rieko: [Author’s note: in the end, Reiko did not answer this question]

Beyond Teaching Life

Rose Bardby Rose Bard

I guess I’ve always felt that I had to work harder to compensate for my lack of formal education in language teaching. That has left a mark on my family. I was never really able to tell them exactly how I felt about feeling as if I didn’t have enough education. I realised based on what they had to say while I was preparing to write this post, that I have left an impression that my working harder has always been about money. It hasn’t, but that is how my family seems to see it. Or maybe that is the way we have found to convince ourselves that it was ok for me to spend all that time dedicated to work and learning. Even I am guilty of it, excusing myself with “If I didn’t need the money…”

I wouldn’t be taking this course.

I wouldn’t be working this late.

I would work less hours.

I wouldn’t be awake at this time of night studying or correcting tests.

I wouldn’t…

And yet, even if I didn’t need the money that badly, I believe I would still be doing all of it. Because it wasn’t—and isn’t even now—only about the money after all. It was, above all, about my own pride.

You see…when I was young I lacked confidence, but when the opportunity to start teaching came along, it was too good to turn down. I had just come back from England. My English was pretty good. My daughter Hanna, who is 18 now, was less than a year old. My son Sean had been born in England and was 5. I felt Sean needed to stay in touch with English. We found a way to pay for one semester of language classes, but I couldn’t pay for the next one. When I decided to cancel the course, I was asked why and the owner of the school called me in for a chat. After speaking in English with each other, the owner invited me to take a written test. I passed the test and she nudged me to take a teaching position. She offered training and a semester for me to get used to the job. One of the teachers at the school had to leave one of her groups in a few months and they needed a substitute.

That is how I ended up watching classes for a group of 9 and 10 year-old students. I also studied the materials and the school methodology. Then, when I felt comfortable, I took over the group and the original teacher observed me and gave me feedback. But before the semester ended, I felt like I wasn’t cut out for the job. I went to talk to my boss about giving up, but she showed me a petition signed by all the students in the group demanding to have me as their teacher for the next semester. I often refer back to that single moment, the moment that made me stay and pursue a career in language teaching. To live up to others’ expectation, I have always worked hard to continue learning and developing myself.

My very first methodology book came a year later. I heard that someone called David Crystal was going to give a lecture in the Federal University. He had written this wonderful book, English as a Global Language, often cited as very important for anyone in the profession to read by people taking a degree at the time. I did not even know where the university was and my husband accompanied me to the lecture. During the break, they were selling books. Penny Ur’s training book was there for a very good price. My husband agreed to buy it and we used all the money we had to get it. It was the only book I had for many years, until I could afford to start my own library. My husband was always very supportive. But even so, I could not even think of attending university until I moved to this city and I got the job I have today. And although we were faced with sudden family issues which required all our money, I was fortunate enough to be able to start a major in Education in 2008. Studying Education has broaden my view of learning and teaching. I’m graduating this year. In addition, my husband’s 9-year-health battle finally ended in victory last year. Now, we can finally look towards the future.

But the ghost is still there and it eats me up sometimes. The challenges we faced weren’t anyone’s fault, but it broke my husband’s heart to see me working so much to prove myself to others all the time. So, I guess I understand why my family expressed their views about me as a teacher in a very negative way. I have included this background story in order to frame my family’s feelings in an honourable place.

My son Emanuel said that he loves that his mom is a teacher and loves learning things with me. He even listed the things he likes doing together. For Emanuel, I’m not only his mom, but partner in crime. We paint, draw, read, write, play with doughs, investigate nature, tell and discuss stories, and above all we share our love for the English language.

My daughter Hanna stressed that my lack of time for them has always bugged her. She said that although my knowledge helped her get through school many times, and not only in English, she wished I had never become a teacher. Even though me being a teacher enabled me to help Hanna develop her academic goals, for my daughter, it was still a price too high to pay.

My son Sean understands that money has always been in short supply in our family due to my husband’s long health battle. Sean says that although he can’t really talk positively about me being a teacher, he knows that all I did was for the family.

My husband, as I mentioned above, always felt bad for me. He was my cheerleader, my support and advisor. If I wanted to give up, he encouraged me to continue. If I was tired, he would do anything to take some of the burden off my shoulders. If I felt lost, he would help me see things through. Although I didn’t believe in myself, he always assured me I had what it takes to be whatever I wanted to be. And like Emanuel, he loves the things I know and that I share with him. But, like Hanna, he misses me too. And like Sean he understands the sacrifice we’ve all had to make as a family.

Regardless of some of the negative feelings they have, my family all believe that being a teacher is a noble profession and they can’t imagine me doing anything else. They assure me that I am very dedicated and good at what I do. But at the same time, if they could have chosen it, I would never have become a teacher in the first place. I owe my family their patience, support and love. I never realised that they had suffered together with me, but totally in silence, making sure as not to make me feel worse. I owe them a great deal for who I am today, for their encouragement and respect for the professional I have become.

From a Sister, For a Sister

Ayat Tawelby Ayat Tawel

“Sister, each of our lives will always be a special part of the other.”


Since I first decided to take part in this “From the Teacher’s Family” issue, I have been very excited about what I will hear from a certain member of my family, and to have the chance to share it with readers in the outside world. I also want to thank iTDi for sharing their ideas about what kind of questions we can ask in such an interview. I chose to interview my younger sister, Emy, who is also a teacher, but teaching a different subject, Science. I am very grateful to Emy, for not only talking about me as a teacher, but also about how having two teachers at home can affect our lives.


Ayat: What are some good things about having a sister who is a teacher?

Emy: Well, I can’t think about having a sister who is a teacher away from being a teacher myself. So, as a teacher, having a sister who is also a teacher is very good indeed as she can understand any problems I might face at work, and give good advice, while other people can’t really get what I’m talking about. We also have more things in common to talk about and experiences to share, which nobody else is as interested in as we are. Lastly, a teacher-sister can guide you in how to deal with other people as she interacts with kids, parents, colleagues, and managers who shape her experience of how to build relationships with different kinds of people.


Ayat: Were there ever any moments in your life when you wished I wasn’t a teacher?

Emy; Yes, this happens when you talk about problems you encounter at work or with students. You don’t usually hear about such kinds of problems from other people. These kinds of student behavior problems, for example, can make you stressed, upset and can negatively affect people around you. At such moments, I wish you weren’t a teacher.


Ayat: Was there a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher?

Emy: Yes, of course. I feel very proud of you when people talk about good things you’ve done, when your students talk excitedly about how good you are as a teacher and I see how you affect their lives a lot, even for years after they have moved to other grades or even finished school. I am also proud of you when you talk happily about your mentors or colleagues’ feedback about your work.


Ayat: Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher?

Emy: I believe so, because you have the talent of teaching; being able to teach, engage the students, and make teaching fun and a memorable experience for the students. I also think you’re well suited as a teacher because you love what you’re doing. You love your job, which makes it suitable for you.


Ayat: Why do you think I became a teacher?

Emy: I don’t really know, but maybe because you used to love English as a school subject! Oh, yeah, and you used to like one of your English teachers at school, who taught you for more than one year. You always saw him as your role-model and wished you could be like him one day”

Ayat: Actually, that’s true. I have always seen this teacher—Mr. Khaled—as my role-model and the best teacher ever. I used to do everything he asked us to do so as not to upset him. And I was always looking forward to his classes. He was very dedicated and used to give me positive feedback on my performance, which gave me more self-confidence. I hope I can invite him to one of my classes one day and listen to his feedback. I hope he is proud of me as one of his students!


Ayat: How would our lives change is I stopped being a teacher tomorrow?

Emy: Ohhh, that would be great!! hahaha!!! I think we would have more time to sit together and talk about more funny topics. We would enjoy doing some other activities in life that we can’t do because we are busy teachers. But then I will have to stop teaching as well so that we can really enjoy it!

So, that was what Emy thought about having a sister who is a teacher. I enjoyed listening to her replies as it was the first time I had the chance to hear one of my family members reflect on my job. I noticed that it was not easy for Emy to do so as she had to take some time to think of the answers before speaking. I believe that’s because we just live our life—with all its good and bad moments—without stopping to think about our relationships with the people around us and reflect on them.

Emy’s reflection on our life as sisters and teachers was honest and kind. She could show me a clearer and deeper version of our daily life and how it’s affecting our work-life balance. She also made me think of how important our job is. Every moment we spend planning before class or teaching in class can make a big difference in our students’ lives. It happened to me when I was a student, as I still remember Mr. Khaled and owe a great deal of my success now as a teacher to him.

I was surprised that Emy got excited when I asked about the moment I might stop being a teacher. I could see very well how being a teacher can fill up a big part of our life, depriving us and the people around us from enjoying our personal life more. I think my mum would also agree with that. I will consider giving more to my family and personal life. Life is lived only once, and we can’t make up for any wasted moments.

Finally, I advise everyone who reads this post to spend some time with an important person in his/her life , such as a family member, and start thinking and reflecting on your life, job, interests and needs. You will definitely get closer and will learn more about each other and how to enjoy life more together. Thank you Emy for being a life time blessing and source of inspiration.