A letter to my younger teacher self

message-in-a-bottle-413680_1280Hi Soph!

What date is it?? What YEAR??

Just kidding, I know it is 1997 and you are into your second year of teaching in lovely London town. Now look, don’t be freaked out, but this is totally a letter from the FUTURE, and it’s written by YOU, only ‘you’ are now 40, significantly wider and living in Singapore. This letter has been sent back in time by the Resistance, headed by Joanna Malefaki, to give you some advice on a few teaching-related matters. I wish I could tell you more but it might destroy the very fabric of the universe so better not.

So – hey, enjoy that school you are working at right now. It’s great to be starting off in a brand new school and get to be there from the ground up. Enjoy growing in confidence as a teacher, enjoy teaching pre-intermediate from a coursebook, and enjoy getting to meet your young, fun, and generally awesome students from all over the world too. Life is pretty good for you right now.

Don’t worry excessively about those weekly/fortnightly/monthly student evaluations. Sure, take a look and see if anyone has something specific to say, but remember that students aren’t trained to evaluate teaching and learning. Their ‘evaluations’ often tell you more about how (un)happy they are in their life in general, or that they simply click less with you than that ‘fun’ teacher who does songs every lesson and takes them to the pub afterwards. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with you or with what you are doing in class. I know you have that thing where you can get 14 good evaluations and 1 negative one and all you will think about FOR DAYS is that negative one. Please don’t. If you always have a rationale for what you do, if you are providing what students need as well as what they might (think they) want, if you have been observed by your line managers and they support what you do, and if you are always reflecting on your teaching and trying to figure out ways to do it better – then you are doing all that it is within your power to do, and you are doing FINE.

In the same way, don’t let negative colleagues get you down or draw you into their drama. Like that one negative student above, they are just unhappy, but don’t let their shadow loom larger than they are. Hang around with the positive people, the constructive ones, the optimists. You will have a much better time 🙂

Don’t be afraid of teaching Business English, Academic English, or any kind of special purposes English. It is still just English and you are still a teacher who knows how to plan with students needs and contexts in mind. You will be great.

Well, sometimes you definitely won’t be great – but that is OK too and you will survive. Don’t be too down on yourself when things go wrong in class, it’s all part of the learning experience. And speaking of learning experiences, try to look on observations as something positive, a fresh perspective and a chance to try new things rather than merely something that literally makes you throw up with nerves. In fact, try to take up any professional development opportunities that come your way – workshops, conferences, webinars, peer teaching, peer observation – it’s all good. There might come a time when you don’t have as much access as you used to, so take it when you can.

Accept challenges, try to enjoy them, and do them NOW. Don’t be afraid of presenting or of becoming a manager or of doing your DELTA. If you’re going to be staying in this job, then why wait? Throw yourself in, the water is warmer than you think.

Don’t get too jaded by the many issues in this industry (lack of standards; not being considered a ‘real’ teacher; never making enough money; zero-hour contracts rather than permanent ones; upper management who care more about money than sense, etc.). Try and be the change you want to see. In the future, the walls will start to come down and you will may start to see more transparency, support and sharing in the ELT community.

But if those things really bother you, yet you want to stay in teaching, start making some concrete plans for your future as soon as you can. Maybe you should get your ‘proper’ teaching qualifications and at least open up those pathways to more secure and recognised employment. Maybe you need to start a savings and pension plan, or buy a house. You won’t be footloose and fancy-free forever and I don’t want you to wake up when you’re 40 and wonder what happened.

Having said that – there are zillions of people out there who hate their work. You’re lucky to have something that you enjoy that is ever-evolving. Go to new countries, meet amazing people, expand your skills, and don’t be afraid to start weaving together a working life out of many different strands. You’ll never be rich but you will always be learning something new.

So, Soph – I wish you lots of good times and all the best for the next 20 years or so. By the way, it is totally OK if you want to wait till you’re 40 before taking some of the above advice, I know I have.

Lots of love

Soph xxx


  • This post is inspired by a blog challenge started by Joanna Malefaki. Click here to read her original post and find links to others who have taken up the challenge. There are some great responses and each is very different. Mike Griffin’s post made me want to write my own.
  • This is also a terrifically motivating writing idea to do with a class – though I also like the idea of limiting it to an area like learning English or getting to know a new country, unless you really want the hankies to come out (Regrets! I’ve had a few…)
  • If you are into this sort of thing, do yourself a favour and check out the Big Issue’s regular feature Letters to my Younger Self when you get a second. Warning: hankies required.

6 responses

  1. Ha ha ha! On your feet Soldier! I must commend you on a sooper-dooper post! Loved it! It’s an interesting, timeless 😉 idea to talk to your younger self. I think I’d have to go back further, to my student self, and tell me to buckle the f down. Wish I’d had teachers half as passionate, witty and caring as you Soph x

    • I knew you would get the reference! I wish I had worked harder at uni too, first time around – in my head it was a time for something else. I guess you can only do what seems like the right thing to do at the time. Hindsight is a terrible old b@st@rd really.

  2. Hi Soph,
    This was lovely to read. Some really good advice in here.
    I really like the point where you say not to take negative comments to heart, cause well, won’t doesn’t break you, only makes you stronger. I think feedback and observations do help teachers grow, but they are always a bit scary (especially the first 100 :p). So, take what is constructive, drop whatever is not genuine. Btw those pub going teachers are always fun, aren’t they? :p
    My favoutrite phrase” Try to be the change you want to see ” Love it!!
    Thanks for writing!!
    Joanna 🙂

    • Hi Joanna! Thanks for starting off this blog challenge, what a great idea! So many layers and possibilities with this task 🙂 I agree, ‘the first 100’ observations can still be pretty scary 🙂 By the way, I didn’t come up with ‘try to be the change you want to see’ (wish I had). It’s often attributed to Gandhi but this is unverifiable. Doesn’t stop it being a useful way of thinking though, right? Thanks again for popping by!

  3. Pingback: #Youngerteacherself | My Elt Rambles

  4. Pingback: #KELTchat Slowburn: My #YoungerTeacherSelf. 28th April 2015, 11am–7pm (KST) | #KELTChat

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