The following is a brief personal narrative statement which describes my decision nearly two years ago to become an English and English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher after approximately nine years as a professional writer and editor.
One of my favorite writers, Thomas Pynchon, gave a book of his early short stories the title Slow Learner. I feel that I catch on extremely quickly in certain aspects of life, but in terms of finding the most fulfilling career path I would have to admit I have definitely been a slow learner. Thus I recently found myself, having just turned 30, realizing for the first time that I would love to get a Master’s degree in education and to become an international school teacher. At the time, my wife was upset that I had not made this realization years ago; she is just one of many friends, family and coworkers who have, over the years, pointed out that I’d make a great teacher. But we all figure things out at our own pace, and I’m just glad that I have taken the right turn onto this immensely rewarding path.
My decision to become a teacher struck me suddenly. It did not, however, come hurtling down out of a clear blue sky. It was one of those moments in life where a jumble of apparently unrelated puzzle pieces suddenly come together to reveal a picture of unexpected beauty.
One piece of the puzzle was my love of languages and words. I first began to sense this intense interest when, as a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. I began to better understand it when, as an undergraduate English and History major, I was lucky enough to study abroad in London and learn about my own language in the land where it first developed. I began to broaden this interest when, after graduating, I worked in a translation firm and was exposed to bits and pieces of dozens of different languages. Finally, I began to deepen my love of languages and words when we moved to Munich, Germany, and I started trying to teach myself, in addition to the German I needed in the workplace, several other European languages. Now, my work as a full-time replacement/substitute teacher in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, constantly brings new and exhilarating opportunities to share my love of English and of languages in general with students whose first languages range from Icelandic to Japanese.
Another piece of the puzzle which led me to decide to become an international teacher was my longstanding fascination with travel and foreign cultures. As noted above, I was lucky enough to study abroad during college and then live and work in Europe a few years after that, and I now live and work in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All these experiences have only increased my appetite for new countries and new ways of looking at the world. International teachers are triply blessed: they interact with students, teachers and parents from many cultures, they live and work in fascinating places – and on top of all that, they have opportunities to travel to even more new places during their free time. I can think of few careers which provide such exciting exposure to the diversity our world has to offer.
The third, and perhaps most important, piece of the puzzle for my decision to become a teacher was my genuine love of helping people learn. This is why I began tutoring and adult ESL instruction in Munich around five years ago, but even those positions never seemed to be quite enough for me. My excess desire to share my enthusiasm for learning would spill over into long speeches on any number of topics, given to anyone who would listen. My conversational forays often began with things like “Actually, during the Roman Empire those were called…,” “Another word with that same root is…,” or “Did you know where that expression actually comes from?” Soon after I began substitute teaching at an international school, I realized to my surprise that I had found a place where I could share knowledge in a way that could truly make a difference in people’s lives. Now, even during my short time as a teacher, I feel I have definitely inspired many students with my enthusiasm, creativity and humor, and it’s been an extremely satisfying experience for me.
Until recently these three skills or interests of mine, along with several other, smaller pieces of the puzzle, were parts of my life, but always separately. I worked in a translation company, which satisfied my interest in language, but while working there I was unable to see new parts of the world. Then I lived in Europe and worked as a writer and editor, which let me travel and play with language, but I never felt like I was making a difference. Now I feel that I’ve realized where I belong. Every moment of growth I’ve had along the way has helped bring me to this important choice. My nine years of real-world professional experience as a writer and editor, for example, have given me the background to be able to truly share with students both the exacting practicalities and limitless possibilities of the English language. As I mentioned at the beginning of this statement, I may be a slow learner – but I wouldn’t have done it any other way.