A Day in the Life of an English Teacher

The fact that I am in Spring and have just returned from hiking in Al-Hira valley summarizes the reason why I chose to work in Asswani, a region south of Tripoli considered to be one of the best agricultural areas in Libya. Since I am from Zahra, the greenest city in western Libya, the first prerequisite for the place to live and work is sunny weather and mild climate, and I have certainly satisfied this condition here. Then on the job search list comes my tendency to work at smaller colleges, where staff are usually better treated and I soon reach an enjoyable stage where I end up knowing every learner studying English there, at least by face. At the same time, however, the small number of teachers and staff means more flexibility, which means that sometimes I cannot predict my schedule, because of the rearrangement of classes, covering other teachers, and adapting to the student’s needs. But all in all, working in a place where you feel like you are in a family, nestled in a warm corner of Libya, a 20 minute drive from the beautiful beaches of Tripoli, hidden caves and green wilderness areas in valleys and parks, let alone local restaurants and cafes about which I really cannot complain.

My average course load is 4 hours a day, or 20 hours per week maximum. Similarly, like many teachers of English as a foreign language, the bulk of my lessons are in the morning. Fortunately, the last thing I do ends at 12:30 pm, before some other language schools in the country, so I can leave early enough to do something else before the end of working hours, and friends often meet to talk, go to the cafe, or simply I go to a government department to fill in some papers and complete some special procedures needed for other things in my life.

I have a full schedule on Sunday mornings, starting at 9 am and ending at 1pm. Of course, in Libya, there are always a number of students attending late, so the first part of any lecture includes chats to catch up and checking homework. Oral speech is a strong point in Asswani, because most students know each other in general, and when there are some absentees, someone will probably explain to me whether they will attend or not.

If there is a group lecture, we usually meet once a week for two hours, unless an intensive training and testing session is near, and in this case, we will have two lectures. Individual lessons are usually for one hour, once or twice a week, depending on the student. As for the rest of my teaching hours, 20 hours a week, classes are usually scattered around the morning and afternoon, despite my efforts to avoid large gaps between lectures. If it happens and there is a gap, it is likely to occur only once or twice a week in extreme cases.

While the number of working hours per day is about four, there are actually days in which they do not exceed two hours, but sometimes they reach up to six hours. I personally do not mind giving more than one lecture in one day, because that means I’ll have more free time in the other days.

There is a huge concern about passing exams in Libya, and everyone aspires to get a paper proving that he speaks English, and almost all students are trying to pass one of the international tests of English. They do not describe themselves as beginners, intermediate or advanced, but by levels such as B1, B2 and so on, and often overstating their levels. There is no maximum group size, which is usually between 30 and 40, and in my opinion it is the right number for a productive environment, and I must say that there are hardly any issues in classroom management since most students are motivated and interested. Of course there are a number of teenagers, but with a combination of patience and effort, you can finally find out how to deal with them. Libyans are usually good students, because they are usually very outspoken and love to talk, so there is nothing impossible in that regard.

My house is in Azzahra and not very far from the college. It is only 20 minutes away. I live with my family. I have English and European friends, which means that my English is very good as I practice it everyday with them online. The college runs some external courses, which sometimes involve working in Summer. To tell the truth, I have rarely moved with local public transport, and I prefer to go by my car, or with one of my neighbors who work in Asswani, so I can listen to the morning radio programs and take my coffee on the way to college and watch the people heading to their work through town via the road leading to the college building.

I am thinking of buying a house close to the college to reduce the time I spend going to work, and also to enjoy the possibility of inbreathing fresh air in the morning while walking to college, though this is difficult now because of the bad economic situation in Libya and rising real estate prices. Perhaps I could buy a house if I took a loan from a bank, but that is not possible at present and it is almost impossible unless the current situation in Libya improves.

I give lectures at a private university where I teach business English for college students, who then usually buy me coffee in return for tips on how to learn English outside the classroom and in the weekend. Some graduate students also come to me to give them special classes once a week, which may seem a bit scary, but they are a strange group that is really hard to deal with. Let’s just say they love to play roles, and sometimes the way they deal with characters is very entertaining, and they are not afraid to play with national stereotypes. Sooner or later I will end up with one of the most exhaustive classes: a two-hour lecture with 30 or more students to prepare for the exam.

To say that you spend a lot of energy and lose your voice in these things is wrong. Teachers in Libya’s schools are still committed to teacher-centered classes, and by the time the students see me at 3 PM, they become a little bit restless. As such, a balance needs to be made between group control and open-ended learning, giving them the opportunity to do group work and the chance to practice speaking which they lack in regular English classes.

Obviously, an effective lesson requires teachers to do detailed planning and prepare materials. It is my habit to work in college only, and it is very rare to plan or evaluate students’ work at home. I usually review an hour or two before classes start, or if there is a gap in between, I use this time to prepare and get ready. I try to be at least two days ahead, and I hate the rush of the last minute, and when I get a little extra time, I tend to make the most of it and plan ahead. I attempt to do an intensive lesson planning campaign to prepare the week’s lectures in one day, but that’s rarely the case. On the first day of the week, I usually try it on Sunday, but I know myself well, as I do not reach the peak until the middle of the week, so it’s inevitable that this campaign will last until at least Tuesday.

In terms of planning, in a previous job I had to present printed lesson plans for each lecture I gave. The current employers do not ask me to inspect my plans, but I still put them on my computer, maybe not as much as I used to, and I find that the process of writing goals, the stages of the lesson and the expected difficulties makes me really focus on what my students need. I like to believe that students appreciate how long I spend to make their lessons enjoyable and fruitful, but I’m not sure if they know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Some of my fellow teachers may claim that I am a non-social teacher because I always hide in a non-busy classroom to plan. I do this for several reasons. In the faculty room, as people enter and leave, there is always a tendency to engage in conversations, and to be honest, most days, I just want to complete planning and correction as quickly as possible. Second, I am someone who likes to scatter everything around the office, and I feel that doing so in the faculty room affects the space of other people. However, being in the classroom often involves a lot of going back and forth to get materials and textbooks from the faculty room, which is a sacrifice I am ready to accept.

Preparation of materials usually takes 20 minutes a day, equivalent to 2 hours per week. The way I handle things is to plan lessons a few days in advance, identify the materials I need, and usually end up preparing them on the day of the lecture. One of my strong teaching beliefs is to make students think and work on finding things themselves, hence, the directed inference and discovery represent two essential parts of my approach, and so I always distribute printed learning materials to engage students more. For this reason, I sometimes spend a lot of time preparing materials in which the teaching point is embedded in the topic of the lesson. For example, one of my recent creations was a set of college regulations to clarify modals of obligation.

It is clear that thinking about such materials and preparing them takes time, but by now I have accumulated an adequate collection, so I spend less time in creating them. Designing materials is only a part of the task, but then getting books, copying the needed parts as well as rearranging them takes a little more time either.

The activities of the students will usually take an hour a day, two or three times a week, that is between two and three hours weekly. The content and exercises in the intermediate level classes and below are quite clear for native and qualified speakers, so scanning the materials you use will usually be sufficient. But with higher levels, especially advanced and above, teachers must do the activities and exercises themselves. This is especially important with exam-like reading and listening papers, grammatical exercises and more complex vocabulary such as cleft sentences, mixed conditionals and compound perfect tenses.

It is clear that many teachers will simply look at the answer keys and then do them in the classroom. Although this may sometimes work, doing the exercise yourself means that you can see the hard or confusing parts, and in some cases you may not agree to answers provided in the answer key. In both cases, I feel more prepared than before if I do the activity myself in advance, because I will be more able to respond to students’ doubts and questions. Thus, I try my best to avoid being surprised by students’ questions, and I like to always have my answers ready so that my students do not doubt my teaching competence.

Management takes 20 minutes a day of my time, equivalent to two hours a week. As in most language schools, records must be filled in, notes on the topics addressed and  on the homework done should be added. I have to do it in written and electronic form, though it does not take much time. In addition, I have to check for last-minute changes, which usually take only a few seconds. At the end of the semester, student reports must be written and sample tests recorded, so the workload increases during these periods.

Over time, we, teachers, , collect piles of worksheets, albums and materials, and at the end of a busy day, they are placed in the teacher’s box or placed in the back of a loop folder. It is clear that over time things become unorganized and locating the items you need after six months becomes difficult. So I occasionally try to organize things well, because that will save me the time I’ll waste looking for them later. In fact, this week I’ve been able to separate all the exam materials into skills areas, which I have been postponing for too long!

Perhaps I collect more papers than most teachers because I am environmentally conscious, so they tend to grow up, and they should also be routinely separated from clean copies and handouts.

I also have social relationships and drink tea and coffee, on any day I get 15 extra minutes. At some points during the day, I feel tired and prefer having a chat with another teacher, preferably not about teaching, or drinking a cup of tea slowly. Meeting current or former students in the corridor is also an opportunity to dawdle and delay. As any teacher knows, there is always food to eat, and here in Libya, there are often sandwiches, pancakes and biscuits in the staff room, whether on the occasion of a man’s sermon or marriage, a new baby, a colleague buying a car, or just playing someone to bring us a breakfast. There is a cafe on the corner of the street and on busy days, I see it is nice to walk a few minutes to get an espresso and sit on one of the comfortable chairs.

In my free time, as I said earlier, I insist that the time in the house is mine only, so I do not think of work until I initiate it, and once I leave school, the working day is over. I go to the gym three times a week, usually in the morning. It not only keeps me fit and keeps my shape, but I also feel that exercising is psychologically valuable and allows me to free my mind and let it rest for a few hours a day.

In addition to exercising, I like to meet with friends in the evening, and not having to work early the next day means more freedom in terms of how long I stay out, except, of course, on Friday nights, where I should visit my brothers, sisters and relatives the next day.

My other hobbies are reading, translating and writing, which I always find time for, and my schedule allows me to usually eat three meals a day, although on Fridays I usually eat at one of my brothers’ houses where I have the popular Libyan meal, Pazeen.

So, according to my calculations,  it seems that my average working time per day ranges from 7 to 8 hours a day, and therefore it is more than 40 hours per week. So, my recommendation to those who say that teaching English is easy, is to think twice! How long do other teachers spend on the above mentioned tasks daily? I would be interested to see how similar or different their schedule is compared to mine!