Saturday 19 February 2011

The perils of being a teacher of English

Not one.

Not two.

Wait, till I narrate my tale of woe.

Though I cannot deny the wonderful attributes of being a teacher, I must admit that being a teacher of English has many many strings attached to it. Firstly, people (all sorts: students, immediate and extended family, general acquaintances, friends and others) think that you know the meanings of all the words in the face of the earth. Second, your grammar has to be flawless and your writing precise. Third, you are always called by relatives to clarify doubts, write invites, essays for children, fill up forms and other inane forms of writing.

Let me stop with the list.

One thing which instantly puts me off is that while I am engrossed in my work, I sometimes receive a call from a cousin living in another city, requesting the meaning of a particular word that she came across in the newspaper. Depending on my mood, I respond to the situation. If in a sober and peppy mood, I take it in my stride and feel elated that people call ME to get word meanings. But if my mood is slightly under the weather, the caller will be given a liberal dosage (I shall illustrate with the exact words): "Do you think I am a mobile dictionary. You are plain lazy to look up a word and thus call me from nowhere. Don't you know that the dictionary has all the words you are looking for. Lazy ##$%&*."

Assessing the situation, it looks like not only teachers of English but all teachers are expected to be all-knowing. But teachers who teach English and languages become the most targeted of the lot as language becomes indispensable (read language teachers as well) in everyday life.

Off late, every teacher of English is supposed to have a blog. The conversation starts of like this: "Oh, you teach English . . . then you must be having your own blog." Well, incidentally I do have a blog but why are there so many stereotypes associated with a teacher of English. I can go on with my meanderings but I shall take heed of your patient disposition and stop.

Maybe you also belong to the category of people who view teachers of English as all-words-knowing and super man/woman-in-grammar. If yes, please state the basis of your theory and if no, you are blessed and may your tribe increase.

I welcome all teachers to vent, rant, complain and add your woes as well :)

On second thoughts, I think that we (teachers of English) ought to be better than the common man in knowing the nuances of the language. Contradiction? Life is so . . .

Image: Internet


  1. Be it a teacher, mother or any other occupation we beings have a tendency to take on so much till we explode.
    We then try to justify our explosion. No need for that. You are human and are entitled to rant, vent or just yell........

  2. I didn't understand that my misunderstanding was to be invoked with an understatement of understanding

    Cheers A

  3. So can you tell me what this word means *ducks and runs* .

    I do understand, I have the same situation because I work with technology, if there's ever a problem with a computer, hardware or software or even just a problem with Internet, etc. I get calls and emails. Thinking about it being asked the meaning of a word is less time consuming than being asked to reinstall someones laptop - want to swap x

  4. Oh Suasan, Susan. Go easy on AG. He says he no understandy, which I perfectly understood to mean he doesn't understand, but he does- enough to say he doesn't understandy , when he does. Understand?
    No arguments over coffee at my blog tomorrow, please.

  5. ha. years back i taught math which opens the doors to all kinds of people needing help with math, their taxes etc...oh and if you get something wrong they will def let you know...

  6. teacher, pls do let us know, things vch keeps u sober/peppy. like time,whether,day,date, or anything related . :D

  7. The truth is dictionaries don't always help.

    Anyway, a teacher may be considered 'all-knowing' in India which shows some respect, but here where I live, teachers(inclusive language teachers) get no respect at all from the surrounding society.

    There are two main reasons for that: first, a teacher must also play the roles of: parent, brother, friend, nurse, social worker. etc.. Second, teachers usually go along with lies such as 'money can buy all' including the Ability and Will of a child to learn.

  8. Dear Susan,

    Teachers are important and make a difference.

    You are not simply a teacher of English, dear Susan but a good and effective teacher of English.

    Because you're just a positive, encouraging and clearly targeted person.
    Loving your posts!

    B xx

  9. Oh dear, that gives me the chance to improve myself. I like to be asked about language. Don't get irritated. If all look up in the dictionary, who is going to be a teacher and who to be taught.

  10. Susan, I understand your situation. In fact, it is the same with any profession in India. Example, being an electronic engineer I am expected to know to fix tv remote controls, mobile phones or anything that runs on electricity. When in school I myself have asked my Doctor (paediatrician)to advice and prescribe medicines for my dog's ailments ;)

  11. It is so much easier to ask and let someone else figure out the answer than do it yourself, no matter which profession we talk about.

    Thanks for the food for thought. Have a lovely weekend.

    xoxo e.

  12. You mean you don't know the meaning of all the words??
    What a fun read, Susan. You never fail to educate and entertain.
    I wish you a beautiful weekend!
    Hugs and love!

  13. hahaha ... English Teachers are humans after all. Love this kind of raving, it can rave up my funny bones. And what a day to trigger my laughing spirit.

    My step-daughter used to pester me with word meanings. I encouraged her to use a Dictionary everytime she finds new words she cannot understand. Like you said, "Lazy ...what is it? haha

    A friend of mine who teaches English, has a son who expect her to be All Knowing. Now I can see the correlation of this topic to her situation.

  14. I love English, language, literature, and words but please don't hold me accountable to perfect grammar!

  15. Hey, if I can understandy, how come EVERYONE cannot understandy?

    Love, hugs, and an iPod dictionary to YOU, SD!

  16. AG:



    Well, now I realise that every job has its own perils. Swap??? Not for anything. We love to complain about what we love most. Humans are a bunch of paradoxes.

  17. Jim:



    Maths, I don't even want to think. Taxes? Ridiculous. Perhaps you should write a post on that.

  18. Fazil:

    Welcome here. Glad that you found your way here. Happy to see your comment. Well, my state of mind is a personal affair. Why don't you meet me to know more? Best wishes.


    Why is the situation so, DUTA. Why are teacher's not respected? It is quite sad. The present gen-X is like that. Since information is readily available through the net, the value of teachers is coming down, maybe.

  19. Betty:

    Thanks for you words of appreciation, Betty. Your words brought cheer on a Sunday afternoon.


    Your comment gives me another way of looking at things. Words and dictionaries are just one part of language, there are many many other aspects to it where the teacher's presence is required.

  20. Ganesh:

    Welcome. Well, I see that everyone has undergone this at some point. What a lark. What a lark!


    Absolutely. Laziness is becoming the order of the day. Finding out anything for oneself involves a lot of work and hence people refrain from that.
    Have a great week ahead, Elizabeth.

  21. Angie:

    Angie!!!!! I wish you a great weekend as well, dear Angie.


    It is a joy to see your comments, Inday. Glad that you could make it. language teachers are easy targets. Well, . . .

  22. Pam:

    I know that you love Literature. I'm glad that you do.

    I think no one perfects grammar perfectly.

    Joy always :)


    iPod dictionary? Can I send you my mailing address for the iPod? Thanks for being so generous Steve.

    Big hugs.

  23. Oh Susan, I can understand your plight! My mom's an English teach and she has a similar tale of woes. Interestingly, even though I am not an English teacher - have majored in English Literature - and I am at the receiving end of these woes as well - I punch back saying Literature and Linguistics are poles apart and my dear friend I am a post structuralist who apart from other things believes language is also dead :)
    (I am sure u know the kind of abuses I get for this :))

  24. Oh yes, I do recall in school always thinking that teachers know it all.;) Later in life, when I became *sort of* a teacher myself, I realized that this is far from the truth, even though I still ate it when I am asked questions asked that I can not answer.;)
    Have a lovely Sunday dear Susan,

  25. Yuvika:

    Glad to know that your mom and you are in tune with Literature. Wow! You can relate well with the plights I face.

    Have a great week ahead, Yuv.


    I am glad that you agree with what I have said. Nice to have solidarity :)

    Have a splendid week ahead, dear Zuzana.

  26. Possitively...
    as I am a teacher of English myself you already must know how related I am to ALL this stuff.

    As I teach 'adults' the first thing I let them know is that I am not a mobile dictionary, because unfortunately and thank God I don't know everything! Well I do but am not a dictionary...
    If my native colleagues so often do not know why should I?
    As for the blogs... I must admit I became addicted to bloggging ever since I started my first one for the school... now I must have seven blogs altogether!!!

    ... After 20 years teaching English and doing a quick feedback...oh all I've learnt... not only as far a s language is concerned, but especially regarding teaching...
    It's great to know and let know that being a good teacher has not so much to do with knowing every single word, meaning and nuance, but with getting to the students and feeling that after an academic year they are so happy they learnt lots of English, had lots of fun... and will always remember you for helping create a sweet atmosphere in the classroom... hmmmmm hey, how about that?

    (Humble Dulcie is-LOL)

    Love and joy
    I would like to be your student for a while :)

  27. Hi mobile dictionary. ;)
    Next time I will be calling u to know the meaning of word. :)

    I have a blog but I am not an English teacher. I also love to teach it is the best profession.

  28. I can relate, Susan! As an editor with a degree in English Lit, I receive the same treatment. I really think that type of knowledge is in danger of becoming a lost art and as time goes on there will be even fewer people who are good with language. So keep using your gift and teaching our children! Thanks for what you do!

  29. Dulce:

    I know that you are a teacher of English, Dulce and I'm glad that you can relate to what I'm saying.
    I will be honoured to have you in class but I will be too shy, I reckon. But I would definitely love to sit in your classes.

    Good week to you, dear Dulce :)


    Oh nooooooooo. Teaching is just great :) Thanks for coming by, dear CS.

  30. Jean:

    I can hear when you say that language is becoming a dead art. Thanks for the lovely words, Jean. They are much appreciated.

  31. I can relate. Having learned the English language better than the rest of my relatives, I am the one to translate, read, write, and make decisions. It is at times less than enjoyable to visit my mother to be given a stack of papers to translate or letters to write. But what I find more frustrating is when traveling in a new city, I am asked to do the itinerary for all because "we have never been here and you speak English better"...I have never been there either.

  32. Dear Susan,

    I can totally relate to you on this one.

    I am an English faculty in a college in India and have been teaching English for more than 6 years now.

    Reading your article made me grin and smile several times.I have had similar experiences which you have narrated so delightfully.

    thanks for sharing a wonderful article.

    Have a Great Weekend!

    Avijeet Das.

  33. Avijeet:

    Glad to know that we share the same profession. Whatever said and done, teaching is something which satisfies the inner self.

    Hope you are having a good weekend.

    Joy always :)

  34. You're also an English teacher, Sus?! Takes one to know one, I s'pose. Haha.

    I'd love to be in your school. In my university, it goes, "you're a teacher, then you must have publications in refereed journals." Ugh!

  35. Even though I am not an English teacher as yet, I am still asked questions related to grammar and vocabulary. That has to do with the interest I display in this language. I can totally sympathize with your plight, because I too, at times, snap at my friends saying: "I am not a walking dictionary, man!" At other times, I don't answer at all, and just pass on the dictionary. I think this is important. It makes the enquirer self-reliant. This is the way to go! One has got to help oneself! No dearth of English material, these days.



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