Why I teach English

The second greatest surprise of my life came when I realised that I loved teaching teenagers. Seriously, I was 35 years old and had spent the previous 20 years actively avoiding it. Where I grew up teaching and nursing were the only two options for clever, nice girls and I was determined not to be one of them.

I didn’t have any clear idea of what I wanted to do but I was sure it wasn’t anything so prosaic.

Leaving school halfway through Year 12 for a  short, gloriously unsuccessful stint in the army was followed by a series of waitressing and bartending jobs before a disastrous, fortunately short marriage sent me back to school at 23 to complete year 12 and start on my first degree.

You see I am a pathological learner. While high school was not a time in my life I want to revisit, primary school had been a delight and learning new things always made me happy.  Hence whenever I have felt lost or unsure what to do I headed back to school. There I knew what I was doing.

That first degree was in Literature, (my first and continuing love) and Media Studies – because that was new and interesting.

Still not Teaching

For the next decade I worked in film, radio and theatre. It was fun but I never really spent enough time in one place to be particularly skilled at any of them. I wasn’t particularly skilled at consistency or continuity either.

This all changed dramatically when I found myself at 34, single, with twin boys to raise. The joy I experienced in my boy’s existence was my first greatest surprise. Obviously the uncertain nature of my career thus far was not going to work and I needed something more stable. I already had a degree so a Dip.Ed. was the obvious solution. Melbourne University gave me the chance to do a double English method as I was not at all interested in teaching media or anything else. This was partly due I am sure to influence of the amazing Melbourne English teacher Helen Howells who I had been fortunate to learn from when I returned to school.

Finally Teaching

Nothing I had ever done before prepared me for the infinite variety that teaching offers. Every day is different, every student is different and you never know exactly what is going to happen from one minute to the next. I loved it.

This was the 1990s and the VCE curriculum had regularly rotating texts so you got the chance to continually discover new works that you hadn’t read before. There was nothing prosaic about this at all.

Most of my teaching has been with Years 10-12 and I have to admit that the younger students scare me a little. I do like my students to have some attitude.

The Joy of Teaching English

When you teach English through literature, as has been best practice for a while now, you realise that you have the opportunity to engage with every aspect of human history and culture, to introduce students to ways of seeing and being that are new and often challenging to them. There are no absolute right answers and no absolute wrong ones, just a myriad ways of thinking and making meaning.

And when they engage and respond – magic happens and you, the teacher, learn even more.

Share your Experience

If you are reading this then you are probably a teacher, we would love to know how that came about.  

What was one thing that led you to becoming an English teacher? Pop on over and join the conversation on our Facebook page and let’s get to know each other more.

Till next time,

Teach Well.


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