According to Collins dictionary, an umbrella term refers to a word or phrase used to cover a broad number of functions or items that all fall under a single common category. When you hear the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’, you instantly think of technologies that enable machines to mimic human intelligence. More specifically we can think of self-driving cars and virtual assistants, for instance. An umbrella term like this one allows us to succinctly refer to a category of things in a way that implies collectivism.
Many times I have seen the acronym “ELT” being defined as an umbrella term that refers to the whole enterprise of teaching English as a second or foreign language. I wonder how many facets of this umbrella can we rely on to find fulfilment in our careers?
Being an ELT professional offers a teacher with a wide range of opportunities in the field. The opportunities vary from language or mainstream schools teaching to becoming self-employed. Being a coordinator, teacher trainer and teacherpreneur are also probable roles to be performed. If the classroom doesn’t tickle your fancy, then translating and designing materials are interesting possibilities.
In this post, I’d like to share how the ELT umbrella has helped me weather storms at different points in my life.
Twenty years ago, I began to carve my path as a teacher of English. My first experience was in language institutes. After some years preparing lessons 24/7 and naively accepting to teach groups of many different levels and purposes, which took me ages to prepare, I started to realize that the level of recognition I received from my employers was nothing close to the mental and physical effort I devoted to them. Needless to say, those years of hard work were hugely beneficial to my career because they gave me the first contact with the ELT world and also Cambridge examinations. However, I ended up feeling so demotivated that I honestly thought of giving up.
A feeling perfectly described by Natália Guerreiro in one of her enlightening articles, “… this feeling of emptiness is something I can identify with, unfortunately. “This is it. I have nothing else to give,” … Yet we can resurface from that feeling (with professional help when needed, of course)…we need to keep on studying, learning, experimenting, and reflecting, as that may well keep the wolf from the door. But we also need to live outside the confines of our profession.”*
Luckily, this amazing umbrella protected me from the storm and allowed me to experience another area within ELT. I decided to set up my own English school in an attempt to have my work better valued and recognized.
Yet, four years later, feeling completely worn out and perfectly aware that running a school required abilities that went far beyond knowing about the teaching and learning process, a second storm approached and I found myself losing hope once again. At that time, the administrative skills I had to master diverted from the ones I wanted to hone, which were related to knowledge about language and teaching. In other words, I wanted to focus on my CPD – Continuing Professional Development – but I couldn’t.
Fortunately, before throwing the whole thing out, I decided to start a transition to personalized teaching by accepting to work in students’ houses or companies as a self-employed teacher. This transition took me about six months. I managed to sell my school and gradually increased the number of private students I had. No employees, no rent to pay, no HR problems to solve. In short, the light at the end of the tunnel I needed.
Thanks to the flexibility ELT has always provided me with, during this pandemic, I have changed again and I am working with online teaching as well as asynchronous courses. That’s when my choice to pivot focus to CPD started to show results. All the courses I have taken to develop my teaching skills are undoubtedly the bedrock that sustains all my choices and gives me discernment to accept the challenges and opportunities ahead of me.
Summing it all up, we, ELT professionals, may be driven to despair in certain moments of our careers when bad becomes unbearable and we lose heart. We all have moments of tears and laughter. However, we have to bear in mind that we have chosen a field that allows us to change as many times as it is necessary, until we feel respected, recognized, comfortable and willing to grow.
I would say that all the choices available inside ELT work hand in hand with a practical CPD plan and a concern about our personal welfare since an unhappy teacher cannot be a good teacher. When flying, you have to put your oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. If you are not well, chances are you won’t be able to help your students learn and may not be able to rise to promising professional challenges along the way.