I definitely don’t want to turn this blog into a space for personal rants but something happened the other day which I really felt I had to share. I was struck by unexpected angst in the middle of an interview when asked the question:
“Looking at your CV I see 17 separate jobs. How can you persuade me that you’d be committed to this position?”
Or words to that effect. First a bit of background. This year has been very bits and pieces for me. I’ve been teaching in Barcelona, mostly at a university, and it’s my first experience of the Spanish academic year, both a blessing and a curse as it gives you an unpaid break over the summer – a good time for a holiday (if you manage to save) or an opportunity to teach on summer school and pre-sessional courses (or both in my case). I’ve been actively looking for more teacher training experience and had some training work sorted for September/October back in Barcelona. Unfortunately this fell through and at that point I decided the security of a full-time/year-round contract would avoid this happening again, and probably suit me better at this stage in my life. So, not being in an ideal position to find this kind of job in Barcelona at the end of the summer, I cast my net fairly wide. A school contacted me out of the blue through TEFL.com after seeing my CV, regarding a training role. A few interviews later, I found myself being asked the above question.
I was really taken aback but understood the interviewer’s concerns – they’re looking for a commitment to a training role in return for their investment – and I did my best to answer. I was asked the question again, twice, my responses getting a little more defensive each time. Now, to clarify a little bit, I have not worked 17 separate teaching jobs per se. My teaching CV references all teaching and related work since my CELTA in 2005. This includes 2 years’ non-teaching role in academic management, nearly 3 years in Colombia, and 2 years in Japan. I’ve also returned to the same summer school, or taken short-term work as a stop-gap, but mostly worked for the same organisation for the last 5 years. It includes periods when I’ve had several employers concurrently which I think this is very common in this sector, especially in certain countries/contexts, both to make the rent and gain experience. Nor have I only worked as a teacher, and only really started a full time teaching career in 2010. Not that I need to defend these choices, and I am very aware that by doing so I’m betraying my defensiveness yet again when what I really should be doing is reformatting my CV. But during the interview I felt a strange sense of betrayal. By who? The profession, I guess.
Why do I like ELT? Well, when I was a little girl, all my peers wanted to be doctors and firefighters and astronauts etc. As trite as it sounds, I just wanted to travel. As I grew up, this ambition stuck, until I realised ELT suited me perfectly and stopped fighting it. And I love teaching. I love language, the intellectual challenge (it’s there if you look for it), the people I meet, the places I get to see. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some short fixed-term contracts too in some amazing places. I’ve also used the flexibility of the job to take time off to do other things. In return, ELT is not the best paid of jobs, nor the most professionalised of industries, so I see it as a bit of give and take. What motivates many fresh graduates, career-changers and retirees to do that CELTA and go abroad? This industry benefits from a steady supply of travel-hungry fresh blood, it’s just the way things are. That’s how many of us started out. I have a DELTA, post-grad, experience, so clearly I’m committed to the cause. I wouldn’t say my CV is particularly unusual. Moreover, the experiences I’ve had with different teaching contexts and L1s have been a real asset, making my classroom approach more well-rounded. I’m happy to say at 33 I’m still relatively unjaded! While some people fall in love with a place, a culture, a person, a job, and stay, other choose to move on. And it’s a sacrifice moving, starting again, cutting ties, but again it’s all give and take.
I guess what it left me wondering was, at what point is it not OK to have this patchwork of teaching experience? Particularly in an industry that actively promotes and profits from the attractiveness of (relative) short-term-ism? Am I right to feel somewhat annoyed or is that just naive? Answers please!