It Never Got Weird Enough for Me…So I Made It Weirder
It can get weird fast, teaching English, but as Hunter S. Thompson said, “It never got weird enough for me.” If life gets mundane, we must seek out the weirdness or create it ourselves. As teachers this is imperative to stave off student weariness…and our own!
My problem is I don’t like “teaching” in a traditional setting. I wasn’t supposed to even be doing this. On my master’s degree it says “creative writing,” but because I never found success with my fiction, I crafted a backup plan…I got a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, with my target audience being Turkish learners. Why Turkey? Because it’s weird, and that’s what my soul desires!
Turkey, for a Westerner, can be a strange place–an alien, exotic journey into a culture very unlike what we grew up with back home (especially if back home means Oklahoma). That’s a good thing. Better chances for exposure to peculiar adventures. However, even in this Anatolian climate things can go lifeless, and that’s no good, for we all lose motivation when life becomes dishwater dull.
When Existence Loses Its Je Ne Sais Quoi
My advice? If you cannot discover a spark to keep your battery charged, find your own spark within, then push it out into the world, like a baby.
Here’s what I did…I create a little baby project called Mad English Lab and I’d love to break it down for you.
First, though, let me explain how writing, to me, ties into teaching. I see life as something we create each moment; we write our own stories in time, but penning an autobiography can seem arrogant, so I ask why not coauthor another’s tale? Find someone endlessly interesting to you–a student, say–and insert yourself directly into his or her story. Then you can write it together as a team.
Your Perfect Student
In fiction, most protagonists have a mentor. Remember, our objective in writing this living story is not to be the center of attention, but to find the hero…and be that mentor for him. To be a perfect teacher one must find the perfect student.
I found mine working in a seaside cafe. Each day I went there to write or think or stare at the Aegean Sea and do nothing but drink the best filtered coffee in the town. Each day Ms. Büşra Bayram was there, too, all day, all night, busting her butt for roughly $2 an hour. Dark-haired, hazel-eyed, classic Middle Eastern features, but on the inside–a Westerner.
She was comical, sarcastic, positive and sharp as a tack and well read in worldly literature (translated to Turkish). Her favorite band was a folk rock group from Switzerland, her favorite series, Sherlock, favorite film, Deadpool.
“Who is this person and how did she get here?” I wondered.
Büşra’s English was decent, not great. She was outgoing, but demure, uninterested in money but in desperate need of some. And bold, having forsaken many sacred customs to leave her hometown near Syria to head west and finish college, with dreams of continuing her travels to England and beyond…if she ever made enough money to do such a thing.
She wouldn’t, not making $440 a month, and working 250 hours to get that.
An Offer She Couldn’t Refuse
So I offered her a scholarship, via my LLC media company. I couldn’t use that to “hire” her, but I made Büşra a deal:
”I’ll give you a 6-month long scholarship, with a monthly stipend equal to the amount of money you currently make a month working.
“You will not ‘work’ for me, but we can do 4 hours of lessons a day, 5 days a week, plus 2 hours a day of self-study, every night. You have to do 30 minutes reading practice, 30 minutes writing or 500 words, 30 minutes listening to audio or TV shows, and if possible 30 minutes of speaking practice with any English speaking friends, even if it is on the phone.”
She agreed before I could finish my pitch…
Always Be Closing
I worried she might get cold feet so I typed up a contract and we meet at Starbucks and I made sure Büşra fully understood each line and even her roommate came along to question me, in a more cynical manner than I expected:
“What does she have to do for this money?”
I appreciated the question, because it meant they were cautious, and in this world one should be wary of strangers offering a monthly allowance to study English with one.
“Learn English,” I said. “Let me write about our experiences. That’s it. No strings attached. It’s all in the contract.” I didn’t use the expression “no strings attached,” though.
After we signed the deal, I wondered what the hell I was doing? How does a teacher motivate a student who is getting paid to learn, when they get paid either way? I couldn’t “make” her do anything; she didn’t “work” for me…
Generally speaking, you could use brute force, which I am against… I prefer to get to know the student and learn about their specific goals, then tie your lesson plan to those. And she was, and is, my only actual student!
I told Büşra clearly, we were equal partners, and indeed she was actually the boss of the project because we would only do what she wanted to do, and we would stop if she wanted to stop.
It’s About Empowerment
As Divya Madhavan recently wrote in her article “Cultural Capital: Empowerment” for EFLmagazine.com: “Empowerment is not an external process.” I agree. It’s a concept which must be planted within a person and tended to. It must grow from within.
That’s why everything is based on Büşra’s desires to reach her aims…whatever those are. She has freedom, freedom to succeed or fail. All I wanted was to offer suggestions, ideas, and see which ones took hold. I wanted to offer her a chance to explore herself and her own career interests and potential. I wanted to watch what would happen (for this, one of my friends called me a colonialist).
I asked her if it seemed weird. She thought it was perfectly normal, in fact she was quite nonchalant about it all, as if such offers landed on her desk routinely. To me that response was rather weird itself but it’s one of the reasons I thought she’d make a perfect student. Her behavior and affect were, quite often, just exactly like mine.
Granted, my intent wasn’t to ONLY teach her English but that came first, during Month 1 of Mad English Lab, a title we mutually agreed upon. Of course we also needed to get to know each other and establish trust. And I also wanted her to learn a few concepts about independence, entrepreneurship, social equality and individual rights and empowerment.
Then, in Month 2, once she was somewhat indoctrinated into my utopian version of the Western mindset, we started working together on little online projects to earn dollars from international clients, via freelance writing and research. Geoarbitrage, don’t you know! She learned about alternatives to traditional work, i.e. the modern wonder of the so-called digital nomad lifestyle.
Following that, Month 3 was an introduction to website creation (www.madenglishlab.com), blogging, and making short videos for YouTube, and learning how one monetizes those things. We also dug into a bit of social media management, creating a business Facebook and Instragram page, and making our own advertisements via Canva and Lunapic.
By Month 4 her English skills and her confidence were to a level that she could begin doing her own language tutoring, making extra income teaching Turkish to foreigners living in the area. Also I was keen for her to launch her own literary career, by pitching to some national magazines…
Months 5 and 6 are still to come, and as we said in my old military days, “Flexibility is the key to Air Power.” Well, flexibility is the key to everything!
I’ll bet your have an odd story or two to tell! If so, please share it now. If not…hmm, why not find a way to liven things up a bit! Let’s hear your ideas!