Teaching for Dropouts

I became a teacher when I was 21. Newly arrived in Europe and just (dropped) out of college.

My new boss gave me a textbook and said good luck, and that was it. I was a teacher. That’s the way ESL teaching works, in Madrid at least.

I was the last person who should ever have been given a job as a teacher. I had hated most of my education. What Dr. Bandler says in his quote is pretty accurate, according to my experience.

The teachers I had had were miserable, for the most part, and tried to teach us using a mixture of threats, guilt and rich descriptions of the life of suffering and deprivation waiting for he who didn’t know how to write a five-paragraph essay or graph a quadratic equation.

Teaching for people with a high-school education (at best)

At the time I considered myself “anti-education.” I thought education was a bad idea, on principle, and that young people just shouldn’t be subjected to it.

teaching for dropouts

But, being 6,000 miles from home with a rapidly dwindling bank balance changes a person’s priorities quick. I walked right into the mouth of the beast. I became what I most despised, an educator.

I started out doing the exact opposite of what my high school teachers had done. The results were usually pretty good. And I was shocked to find that I love teaching. 

I consider myself to be a good teacher, and a good learner. Mostly, an autodidact. However, now I accept that education can be a good thing for people. If it’s done correctly, which is a very big if.

Most teachers I know have their presuppositions all wrong.

They think that they need to bore their students to be truly educational. They think that being antagonistic is an essential part of the process. They think their students are never going to learn anything. It’s frustrating to talk to them

On the students’ end, I can tell that a lot of people have had bad English teachers because when they come to my school I give them an entrance test. I interview them. More than half the people I talk to only have to hear the words, “Hi. What’s your name?” in English to start sweating.

Literally sweating.

I smile at them. I get the impression they haven’t had a lot of previous teachers who smiled. And I do what I can with the situation.

And I still have moments when I’m scribbling something on a chalkboard that I think, “This is impossible. This can’t really be happening.”

The education system (at least the part of it that I’m involved with) is more theatre of the absurd than anything else.

Since I’m teaching adults I have to deal with the fact that they’ve had a lot of other English teachers before me, and, this being Spain, most of them didn’t really know English.

But I do what I can, every day.

All I can do is do what I can.

P.S. See also: how to teach beach and bitch.


How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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