Priming Experiences

What pre-ELT jobs and/or experiences most ‘primed’ you to not just dip into English language teaching for a year or two but stick it out actually become/think of yourself as an ELTer? What do you look back on – beyond the training space, before any classroom contact, even any notion or knowledge of ELT – and say ‘hey, that’s kinda sorta where I learned to do and like this; hey…I could say that something of the core part of what I do/who I am as an ELT person…that comes out of here.

As for me, I often find myself connecting the source of ideas/perspectives/attitudes in ELT back to two past experiences: my dedicated study and practice of meditation between the ages of 18 and 24 and 2 years of work as a door-to-door canvasser for environmental causes during a break from university.

The former, I think, gave me a grip on or a ‘feel for’ the basic psychological ground of language. That is, mind. I wasn’t a ‘great meditator’ and of course landed a long, long, loooong way from enlightenment…but not for lack of trying. And in all that effort, I became an ‘inner’ type, a ‘within his mind’ kind, a ‘third eye’ guy (ok now I’m just rhyming stuff!). And what I now know as the ‘inner workbench’ thanks to Adrian Underhill, I was already quite focused on via my time in retreats and weekly sittings and the Buddhist section of the library. Focused on the mind-space – much less so the world of products, competition, and career.

The latter gave me my first taste – and a relatively intense one – of what maybe I’d call ‘dialogic combat’ and, well, using language in a strategic, manipulative way. As canvasser and fundraiser and later campaign manager I had to guide conversations and gauge reactions, dropping hints and floating info Just so could refer back later as I leaned harder against a particular soft spot in my attempt to connect beliefs to action and induce giving. I needed not just to monitor my thoughts, but, carefully my words. I stopped mumbling. I started looking people in the eye. I ran from house to house; I got really into it. Throughout my 9 years in the classroom I felt like I was, in some sense, still on a porch, trying to be as efficient as I could be with my words, aiming for a target with a linguistic arrow.

I was never a language nerd, nor did I ever really see myself as a classroom teacher. But after graduating, realizing I wanted (needed!) to get far, far away from my usual, and ending up as a volunteer English teacher in rural Sri Lanka, I came into something that felt somehow…right. Maybe I could say: somewhere between the silence of the zendo and the chatter of the charity pitch…there was a space and I fell right into it. 😛

How about y’all?

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2 Responses to Priming Experiences

  1. You know, I’m suddenly reminded of my senior English class in high school. My teacher had a computer in the classroom behind her desk. I used to come in after school for help (I thought I was terrible at English – we finally discovered that I am actually terrible at multiple choice tests). She didn’t always have time for me, so she set me on the computer with a game about greek and latin influences of English. And made me curious about my own language for the first time in my life. So when my students ask me now what a word means (especially bases that are only words when you add suffixes), I can usually answer and have the reasoning skills to figure out what it is and where it comes from.

  2. Matthew says:

    That’s a fantastic share! Thanks so much. I’m just fascinated by the ‘butterfly effect’ of life experiences and how something seemingly so minimal can have profound effects on the course of a life. How experiences in one domain can inform thinking and action in another. It’s obviously a classic cliche sort of thing, but gosh darn it, it’s so true. The Buddhist analysis of action, cause and effect, and independent mutuality has a lot to say about this that really goes above and beyond pleasant and optimistic chatter.

    I wonder if that teacher has a sense of how that single event influenced your life? Perhaps all teachers have a sense of/for this, not specific data, but a sense that the ‘washback’ of our actions extend deeply into futures…and that’s what keeps us going.

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