In two previous posts, I’ve addressed structural aspects of the language enrollments issue as well as some ideas on what language teachers can control. In this post, I want to address a final aspect of this issue: energy, and the energy-draining nature of being asked to justify a central part of one’s existence.
This is something that I’ve rarely heard discussed, or at least not in the ways I’m thinking about it for this blog post. Yes, there is acknowledgement of the anxiety I mentioned earlier, where language teachers (who are often in precarious positions to begin with) fear losing their jobs due to a lack of enrollments. There’s also discussion of the ways in which various solutions can add to teacher workload, requiring extra energy. These are important, but not the energy drain I have in mind for this post.
The energy drain I’m thinking of is both more subtle and more overwhelming. For many language teachers, language learning has shaped our lives, throughout our lifetimes. The languages we teach are how we interact with family and friends, how we learn new information, how we experience social events, what led us to certain life situations, including very personal ones such as where we live, or who we married. Yes there is variation of course, including for each of us at different times and circumstances, but for most language teachers, our language learning experiences are essential to who we are today. We see the value in language learning, because without it we simply wouldn’t exist as we are.
Of course, when we’re constantly asked to value and justify our classes, we come up with reasons, from gaining global perspectives, to employment prospects, to social justice, to connecting with local and international communities, and more. All of these are good reasons to learn languages, but left unsaid is the fact that we’re being asked to justify a central aspect of our own existence, against a background of apathy towards our life-shaping experiences. When individuals, institutions, and societies question the value of something so central to our lives, or even just respond with ambivalence rather than interest, it creates a subtle, steady, and ultimately heart-breaking energy drain.
While I don’t want to in any way minimize the anxiety around language enrollments and job security, particularly since most language teachers are in precarious positions, I also want to highlight that this energy drain goes far beyond employment. Language teachers can get other jobs, even if we’d prefer not to. We can’t get other lives, ones unimpacted by language learning, even if we did want to.
I don’t have solutions to this energy drain (other than hanging out with other language teachers!), but I want to name it for what it is, and call attention to its role in our lives, the requests made of us, and our work experiences. If you’re a language teacher, do you feel this energy drain? Do you have other experiences? Let me know in the comments!
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