The transition from a mindless, unwanted job in visitor services to a challenging, developmental career in EFL was a speedy one, to say the least. Having been interviewed for a position one Friday in September last year, I was offered the job the following Monday. By Wednesday morning I was standing in Bydgoszcz airport, wide eyed, not so bushy tailed, and feeling rather like a small fish in a cavernous ocean.
By midday, I had joined the induction class and was sitting with two teachers, discussing how best to teach the present perfect to pre-intermediate teenagers. Believe me, I was a mess. My head was spinning. All I could think was, “What am I doing in Poland? Present perfect? Pre-inter-what? Teenagers?!” In less than a week, I had somehow managed to become gainfully employed, move out of my flat, leave my friends and family behind with only a rushed farewell, and fly out to a country, before which I had never even considered visiting, to live there for nine months. And suddenly, there I was, in a room with a dozen other teachers, all talking about the best way to approach grammatical points to students. This may be aptly described as ‘a shock to the system’.
During the first teaching week, I think I cried about three times. By the first month I was averaging once a week. Not in front of anyone, of course. I’m British. Everything , and I mean everything, that I was experiencing was completely new to me. Teaching teenagers, teaching 1-2-1s, teaching business classes, observations, the correct way to fill out registers, classroom management, AFCs, time management, how to use the printer. I could go on, but I imagine you can think of more yourself. I had never been under such pressure before, and the strain of it was, at times, almost unbearable.
I use ‘almost’, because it is a significant word in this context, and we all know how important context is. Had it been so unbearable, I would have left. The reason that is wasn’t is because of the unwavering support and encouragement of the people with whom I work. With the new teachers, who I think all felt as bemused and teary as I did, we had each other to console, to cheer on, and to assist when we felt too stupid to turn to anyone else. The more experienced and senior teachers, and Director of Studies, showed not one flicker of irritation when they were asked, for the tenth time, the difference between ‘been’ and ‘gone’, or where an activity could be found. They were always ready to check a lesson plan you were unsure of, or help you identify the best CCQs. They would give advice on how to control unruly children, and would patiently let you display a range of emotions before pointing you to an idea, a textbook, or a bar, and making you feel a million times better. And the best part? This is still going on.
Despite age, experience, ambitions, or anything else, for that matter, there is one overriding point to this rambling. In this job, you’re all in it together. You cry together, work together, whine together, and you most definitely drink and play ridiculous card games together. Since starting this crazy ride, I have grown into a person I wasn’t sure I would ever know. Excuse the cliché there, I promise it won’t happen again! It’s been four months now, and senior teachers have been known to ask ME for ideas or advice! Me! The one who didn’t know what the present perfect was! The one who freaked out because she couldn’t see past the end of next week! I think back to Past Me now, and smile patronisingly. Now, I remember how good I have it, and I remember my mantra: It’s probably gonna be fine.