Short of cash, but full of the good life

12th November 2004 at 00:00
In 2001, I left a career in project management and took a short course in teaching English as foreign language. In 21 days, I produced four written assignments and 18 lesson plans. What we discovered in the mornings we practised in the afternoons on long-suffering students. We also learned to do without sleep.

Several early nights later, the bags under my eyes receded and I got a job at the FE college where I had trained. The contrast between the old days of office histrionics and my new life was surreal. It is a novel experience to be happy at work. Perhaps I am still on honeymoon, but I no longer hope that a chronic illness will keep me under the duvet from Monday to Friday.

As an office slave, I got my head bitten off on a regular basis. Over the past two years, I haven't once been verbally decapitated. I find education professionals co-operative. My adult students don't give me any major problems, apart from their dodgy time-keeping. Their excuses always cheer me up: buses crash, front doors won't open and weekdays are mistaken for weekends. But once the last straggler has settled down, they are a joy to teach.

They often surprise me. A presentation on the intricacies of the subjunctive has them on the edge of their seats; games can leave them bemused. I sympathise, because I am also a novice at this "learning can be fun" philosophy. When I was at school, teachers droned through textbooks while we kept quiet and took notes. Many overseas students have had similar experiences. But we are unbending together and the results are promising.

In my old job, I learnt the art of clandestine daydreaming to escape the boredom. I couldn't slide into a trance these days, even if I wanted to.

For one thing, life is far noisier. Having hundreds of mainly teenage students under one roof is not conducive to quiet contemplation.

Of course, not everything in the garden is rosy. My salary has plummeted.

When I'm feeling flush, I buy my clothes at the supermarket. I save on bus fares by walking to work; I am fitter than I have been for years.

Despite the occasional bad day, I count myself lucky. No one ever bothered to thank me, much less hug me, for a well-managed project. It's humbling when students show their appreciation. I feel I must be doing something right.

My only worry is a fear of running dry, so I have a supply of standby games, extension exercises, spelling tests, and discussion topics just in case.

Nearing my second anniversary as a teacher, it is time to reflect. The pluses are job satisfaction and a happy and creative atmosphere. On the other hand, there is the low salary. If I continue teaching, I will be forever clothed by George at Asda. On balance, it seems a fair price.

Julia Falvey teaches at West London College

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