I don’t plan on going home to Canada when I run out of money to travel. My plan has been to get a job somewhere in Latin America and stay here for a few years. When asked what kind of job, teaching English seems like the most obvious choice: I have a Master’s of Education, I’ve worked six years in the field, I’ve written textbooks on the subject, I enjoy working with learners, and English teaching jobs abound in every major city in the world. The problem is that I don’t actually want to teach in a school. Since giving up on getting my British Columbian teaching certificate a few years ago, I’ve been disillusioned with mainstream schooling. I always loved school myself, but I don’t think it’s the right way to educate people. Much more can be learned by participating in life, without curriculum guides and mandatory testing. How can I get a job teaching in a school, here or elsewhere, when my most valuable learning experiences have been far removed from the classroom?

When I think about the skills and values that are most important to me, I didn’t learn them in school. My passions and inspiration have come from other sources. I adore learning languages, for example. However, I recall being bored in my French classes at school, drawing my amusement from distracting the teacher. We used to play a game, counting how few words in French the teacher could use in a 60-minute period if we diverted his attention elsewhere. Our record was twelve. When I’m teaching English, I don’t look back on my language classes in school as inspiration. Instead, I think of my experiences in Korea, the Philippines, Latin America, and Thailand, trying to interact with people despite language barriers. I remember what strategies helped me express my needs. Memorizing grammar rules by rote, as school language teachers are wont to assign, were never among those successful tactics.

Reading is also a passion of mine. I can devour a book in less than a day, and reread the same novels time and again without getting bored. The books I read in school, though, almost killed that passion. In silent reading in elementary school, we were given twenty minutes to read ten pages of our assigned book. We weren’t allowed to read further than those ten pages, and I was always forty pages into the book before the teacher had seen that I’d gone ahead and told me off for it. I hadn’t noticed the chapter ending – I was too deep into the story. Soon I was reading library books under my desk in class while the teacher was going over material we’d covered the year before. If I was caught, the books were confiscated and the teacher threatened to take away my library card. At home, though, we had thousands of books lining the walls, and I could read any of them well into the night if I wanted, and I often did. I read encyclopedias and dictionaries, poetry and fairy tales, novels and books of cartoons, and when I’d read through all the fiction I started on the books on gardening and cooking. I still read voraciously, but never the kind I was assigned in school. I faked doing my college readings – dry papers in jargon-filled prose written by pompous experts – and bluffed my way through the discussions for them, and yet I read tonnes of books on the same theories, written by down-to-earth real people dealing with the issues. Why does the education system not use these more accessible resources?

My passion for reading combined with my love of languages: Spanish books to read on the farm

My passion for reading combined with my love of languages: Spanish books to read on the farm

When I look back on my life, most of my important lessons were taught outside of school. I learned the value of hard work from my parents, and from working on the farm. The animals needed feeding before we did, because they couldn’t feed themselves. I learned about other cultures from the many volunteers on our farm, as well as from our travels in Europe when I was a child, and my parents’ and grandparents’ stories of living in other countries. The world was a much more exciting place than school ever led me to believe. I remember considering running away, when I was about thirteen, to pursue my dreams without finishing my education. I did my research first, though – I looked through the classified ads in the newspaper to see what kind of jobs I could get without a high school diploma and how much they paid, then compared that to the prices of apartments and airplane tickets. My calculations showed that I’d never be able to make ends meet, let alone save up for trips to other countries, if I didn’t finish high school, so I stuck it out. I don’t ever remember that kind of budgeting taught in school.

Now, as I consider whether to get a job teaching when my travel budget is exhausted, my heart and soul are crying at the thought of spending my days in a school. I’m thinking of the boredom, of the endless assignments and marking, of the curriculum planning of the entire year’s lessons into fifteen minute chunks. I want to teach by being a guide for my students. I want to point them in directions that interest them, and let the students run off their own way, pursuing their passions. I want to be a resource to help people learn. In short, I don’t want to teach in a mainstream school. I wonder, though, where that decision will lead me in my educational career, if I choose to continue it. Only time will tell, I suppose.

The kind of life lesson that we really learn from, summed up in graffiti on the streets of Popayan, Colombia

The kind of life lesson that we really learn from, summed up in graffiti on the streets of Popayan, Colombia. “Live, simply, immediately.”

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