How I stumbled into online teaching

In May 2006, I came out of a staff meeting at British Airways (BA) where I had been working for three years. Rumors of shake-ups and close-downs had been confirmed and it would be only a matter of months before we, a department of 38 travel consultants, would have to find alternative employment.

I was not devastated as, apart from a student loan, rent and a few incidentals, I was fairly unencumbered. But, as the months rolled by, my anxiety was piqued by the newly adopted mantra, “Oh what, oh what shall we do (sigh)?”

As colleagues secured jobs and made plans to travel the world, I began to reflect: “What about me, what shall I do?” From the depth of my cluelessness came the answer, “Ask Google”. I kid you not.

I systematically completed many personality/career assessments; each test promised to find the career that was just right for everyone, for me.

Psychologist, counselor, teacher… The search results were consistent, save for the odd site which deduced that I would be wasting my life if I opted to do anything but answer the call to Accountancy.

At high-school I had fancied myself the psychologist-type until I discovered that the tribulations of others hindered my sleep. The sanctity of sleep is a matter for another blog but, suffice to say, it ought not be trifled with.

I reckoned the difference between psychologist and counselor was akin to that between optician and optometrist; so, teacher it must be then.

The poignant question of what I should teach brought the words of a friend to mind:

“Oh T, why do you have to correct everything I say? You think you’re some kind of English guru?”

That friend, who was clearly exaggerating, is convinced that he was the catalyst in my finding my place.

The path was not as clear-cut as the tests had me believe.

That I spoke English was, as it turns out, not enough to teach it. The thought of standing in front of group of people and speaking directly to them for any prolonged period was enough to make me err on the side of balance sheets and checkered pages.

Then, there was the tiny matter of needing employment when BA kicked me curb-ward. The latter drew the simplest conclusion: find a job, and that I did.

It was at a very small company, but I was grateful. On the first day, the owner introduced me to the girl I would be replacing. Until that moment, I didn’t know that I had been recruited and she was unaware that the job would no longer be hers.

Four months later, I hardly wept over my resignation. I suspect no one did.

I worked the night shift at the now defunct taxi company Matrix Moves when the time came for me to go in search of my summons. The CELTA* course was a mere four weeks—I can say ‘mere’ now—and teaching practice began on the second day.

My teeth chattered and my deliberately empty stomach churned every time I took my place in front of a new classroom of foreign language speakers. Amidst the anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, something else was growing.

It would take me a while to clearly identify it, as I felt only relief and exhaustion upon completing the programme. I reckon most of this was due to the neglect my beloved sleep had endured over that month.

I spent eight hours at school every day with a two hour commute, followed by four eight-hour night shifts and weekend day shifts as a Call Centre Agent. At Matrix Moves, with inebriated callers, an asylum resident and ever-entertaining co-workers, no night was the same.

Months after completing the course, I was at a school where the staffroom tripled as a library and junk yard and where the relevant authorities ‘forgot’ to pay salaries and eventually filed for bankruptcy only to re-open under a different name two doors down.

It was there that I discovered the seed planted; something of a passion flower, something bearing an uncanny resemblance to affection, something I was very keen to nurture.

Fast forward a few years… I have had a few teaching jobs in London, then Japan and more recently online.

I have returned to London to embark on another phase of the journey and this one promises to stretch, challenge, exhaust and edify me. I am as nervous as I am excited.

In my application screening interview, the interviewer cautioned that I should ensure good mental and physical health and avoid making any fixed plans with friends for the duration of the non-refundable teaching course.

“You simply won’t have the time,” she said, concluding the disclaimer.

My anxiety is compounded by online comments from past students, which included: “worst experience ever” and “worth it but…”

I was of sound mind when I signed up and this is the path to which my desire has led.

While I hesitate to say that I have found my calling, I enjoy teaching immensely, and even on the days when I prefer to be doing nothing, I really don’t mind doing this.

I will give it my best shot.

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About Teneile Cuffie

Teneile Cuffie

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