When I first started teaching, I worked at a public school in the States and then at language academies in Spain. As a teacher new to the field and keen on personal development, I often sought out opportunities for training (still do!). They were usually available in some form or another, even if it just meant speaking to colleagues in the break room about what we were doing in our classes. There was a feeling of being connected and part of something bigger, which is comforting for a new teacher.
After a few turbulent years of trying to find a workplace where I felt valued and appreciated (as opposed to exploited and easily replaceable), I came across the chance to break away from working for someone else and become self-employed.
A friend and I began an adventure in building an after-school English program in a public school. We worked hard to find our way, establish our own policies and figure out the business side of private language teaching.
This is our ninth year and I’d say we’ve been successful so far. The school is located in a small town and word of mouth has really helped us to gain respect and trust. We now have waiting lists to get in to all of our Pre-School and Primary classes.
It’s been daunting at times but I’ve enjoyed putting together a program that adheres to my beliefs regarding teaching. We’ve had to put some focus on the business side of things but, generally speaking, we try to put the students and their needs first.
Having the chance to create and build up a program such as this has been very positive. The words that come to mind are rewarding and motivating. I make all the decisions about my syllabi, curriculums, course books, classroom management, etc. Everything. I don’t have anyone telling me that I need to teach these units in the book before Christmas or that we can’t mention this behavioral issue to the parents and that I just need to get on with the class. Compared to when I worked for academies, I now feel very self-reliant as well as free.
The downside of working for yourself is that it can be very isolating. There are only two of us running and teaching the classes in our program because we’ve deliberately kept the scope small and focused on quality. I have the Pre-School classes and most of Primary; my colleague has the last year of Primary and all of Secondary. This means that we’re in a small town in southern Spain, each teaching different levels and without direct contact with other teachers of English. The feeling of belonging to a network or at least being part of something bigger is no longer there.
I use a number of tactics to combat feeling isolated. Talking to friends who are teachers is sometimes effective, although when we get together at the weekend sometimes the last thing we want to talk about is work.
When I have time, I also turn to social media to connect with other teachers by reading and commenting on their blogs, joining chats on twitter and conversations through facebook. Finding time is not always feasible though.
Conferences are another way to meet new people, hear about other people’s ideas and generally feel connected. The problem is that signing up and going to them can be expensive (transport, hotel, etc) as well as time-consuming.
Writing on my blog is another way to alleviate feelings of isolation. Sharing my thoughts with other teachers and bloggers helps me feel significant and like I have a voice. Interacting through comments also shows me that what I have to say is somehow having an effect on others.
I don’t always find the time to carry out these tactics but when I do, I manage to feel a connection with other teachers, which is important to me. I value self-reliance but I also believe in the advantages of forming part of a community.
If you can related to the thoughts I’ve shared here, please leave a comment about it. Be sure to mention what you do to feel less isolated.
I’d like to thank Zhenya (see her recent blog post on Connecting) for the inspiration that I needed to sit down and finally write this post. Sometimes it helps to just write about something and put those thoughts out there.