Slovakia is the third country to have consented to letting me teach its citizens a bit about my native tongue. In autumn 2012, I blew into a lycée on the northwestern coast of France to assist a team of five frazzled English teachers prepare their students for the all-important baccalauréat exam.
On my first day at the high school, I asked one of the profs what she and her colleagues expected from me as an assistant. Her response? “Oh, just get them to talk.” She might as well have suggested that I will myself to grow 3 inches taller on the spot. Ah, but hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and I have nothing but fond memories of working in that school.
Last year I lived and worked as an au pair in Vienna, a job that I would estimate to be approximately 2,058,283,580 times more demanding than teaching as an English assistant in France. Of course, there were no lesson plans, no classroom, no rules; however, I also found myself plunged into endless giggle fits and storytelling and delightful syntactical errors.
Working as an au pair was a beautiful experience, and it eventually led me to where I am today: Bratislava. More specifically, it helped lead me to this delightful café (with which this quirky city is filled to the brim) where I have compiled a list of things a nomadic English teacher could expect to experience in a classroom in a foreign country – that is, if they’re lucky enough to seize the opportunity to do so!
- 1. You will bring games to class that are as much for your own amusement (if not more so) as they are for your students’. Jeopardy!, anyone?
- 2. There are certain mistakes your students will make that you will find too cute to correct. “Oh, your boyhood willage seems like a delightful place to have grown up, Martin!”
- 3. There will be nothing you can do to prepare for the moment when a student asks you to please define the differences between await, expect, and anticipate at the beginning of a 7 AM lesson.
- 4. When you’re teaching children, you will pick up random words in their mothertongue. And there is also a very good chance you will be drawing endless Zeichnungen of Prinzessin whose hair goes bis the floor.
- 5. Apart from biting your tongue and stubbing your baby toe on the coffee table in the dark on your way to the toilet, there is probably nothing more physically and emotionally agonizing* than trying to tease a conversation out of a group French 17-year-olds.
- 6. That being said, no matter how many times you correct them, your French high school students will continue insisting that they “made” a party last weekend.
- 7. Occasionally, you will be overwhelmed with a feeling of profound inadequacy whenever you think of the fact that English is many of your students’ third or fourth language.
- 8. You will astound yourself with your ability to ad lib at the front of the class. You may even consider giving improv theater a shot before you remember that it’s actually horrendously nerve-wracking, and that you’ve got enough grey hairs already.
- 9. You will adapt to your students’ accents and grammatical tics so well that an outside observer could hardly be blamed for confusing you for a telepath. In many ways, that’s exactly what you’ve become…
- 10. Your students will be delighted to share things about their culture with you. If you are smart enough to listen to them, and you will find yourself getting far more back from this experience than what you put in.
*Perhaps childbirth, actually.