“Many of my friends will tell you how temping for a year or ending up in sales is similar to prostitution. It is not.”
So says Belle de Jour on the opening page of her blog-based book cataloging her adventures as a London call girl. I guess she should know.
Most of us have felt exploited enough by our employers at some point that we believe, however misguidedly, that we are somehow just one small step away from prostituting ourselves. That’s why the phrase “corporate whore” exists. Anyway. For my own and hopefully also your amusement, I’m going to defy Belle and suggest some reasons why we TEFLers are in fact linguistic whores – of a sort.
TEN THINGS TEACHING TEFL HAS IN COMMON WITH THE WORLD’S OLDEST PROFESSION
1. We’re both paid by the hour. Rates for our services vary wildly.
2. Clients think they’re paying for one service (English lessons, a good servicing) but really they want another – to be the centre of attention, to be listened to attentively and above all, to be made to feel special. This explains why some of my one-to-one classes feel like being made to go on a bad date every week.
3. Both can involve roleplay although usually I’m not required to wear rubber or use nipple clamps.
4. Both involve a good deal of travelling around a city visiting various addresses at unusual times of the day: 7.30am lesson anyone?
5. You (probably) work for an agency who take a substantial cut out of your salary – call it a language school if you will but a glorified agency is all it is – and if you do not do their bidding then you’re highly dispensable as there are a queue of others ready to take your place. They’ll probably do it for less you too, dirty scrubbers.
6. Keeping up your end of the conversation rather than knowing the difference between an irregular past participle and a gerund or being able to pop ping pong balls from any orifice is probably the most important skill required in the job (see no 2).
7. You are a perk, a benefit, an add-on extra, a distraction from someone’s 9 – 5 routine, a luxury product, the entertainment. Again, see no 2 but the crucial difference here is that unlike Belle’s clients, yours are usually not paying for your services themselves which may affect their motivation levels – and therefore yours.
8. There is obviously a need to maintain clear boundaries. Blur these at your peril. Agreeing to have your group lessons in the pub opposite the office every week may initially seem like a good idea but it is the slippery road to ruin. Who knows what you’ll let slip after a couple of slivovice and anyway, they’ll all just end up speaking Czech to each other while you’re forced to keep up your end with Ms Conscientious-but-oh-so-Dull in a corner. You need to maintain a certain mystique in both trades: while you may be friendly, you must remember you are not the client’s friend, nor they yours.
9. Feign interest and try not to drift off mid-activity. You don’t want the client to get wind of the fact you’re just going through the motions.
10. Gap-fill exercises. Just use your imagination.
I know that work for TEFL teachers is rather thin on the ground over the summer months, what with the Czechs disappearing off to their chatas (country cottages) and leaving their copies of Business Builder and Cutting Edge behind, so don’t worry. Despite the title of this post, I haven’t decided to start supplementing my income by immoral means. What would Czechman’s grandmas have to say about that?