The Experience

Teaching is not a 9-5 job even if you teach 9-5. A lot of preparation  time goes into developing lessons that are useful and valuable for our students. In addition, a teacher often plays multiple roles in the lives of their students. This multiple-role responsibility is particularly important as an ESL instructor who teaches newcomer adults. Much of the time, the interaction with students involves advising, counselling, and mentoring. These roles together with prep-time can sometimes feel overwhelming.

According to Allain (as cited in Simmons, 2011), the first 5 years can be the most demanding, potentially affecting a teacher’s physical and mental health (p. 229).  However, these first 5 years can be a time when new teachers transform into great teachers as they experience tremendous growth in their teaching skills. Surviving this teacher induction period by developing coping skills can be the key to a new teacher’s success.

The Challenge

Teaching can be an isolating experience. Often a teacher works preparing and delivering lessons in solitude. Sometimes, without the ability to observe others who are doing the same job, we can become unsure of our own effectiveness. This type of insecurity can lead to the failure to establish a strong teacher identity, adding pressure to an already stressful position.

In his article The Heart of a Teacher , Parker Palmer discusses the courage required to teach. Every day that we practice our craft, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. There is a danger of disconnecting from students to reduce our susceptibility to criticism and public scrutiny. There comes a point in the profession when we appear to be at a crossroads. To protect ourselves we can decide to deliver less than we are capable of, or our inner teacher can push forward and develop into a craftsperson despite the potential for negative feedback.

The Crossroads

When we get out there, we need to feel as if we are on the right track. It helps if we can find an experienced colleague to bounce our ideas off of and to inspire us to be creative. I spoke to Patrice Palmer who heads up Wisdom from 20 Years in the TESL Trenches about the benefits of coaching for new ESL teachers. One of the many benefits of retaining a coach is getting advice that meets your individual needs. In addition, the evaluation that takes place isn’t from an administrator judging your performance in relation to the security of your teaching position. To have an objective third party evaluate your teaching is a worthwhile experience. This type of advice can affect whether we simply work as a teacher, or practise a teaching craft.

The Turning Point

Regardless of your years of service, at any point in the teaching profession, you may experience turbulence that makes you feel like you’re out on a limb. We can withdraw to shield ourselves, but we can also engage in the challenge presented. Take heart, as these unstable moments are usually opportunities to grow.


Simmons, N. (2011). Caught with their constructs down? Teaching development in the pre-tenure years. International Journal for Academic Development, 16(3), 229-241. doi:10.1080/1360144X.2011.596706

Hi, I’m Gwen Zeldenrust. After a brief absence from the profession, I realized that teaching is my passion and the path that my career should follow. Most of my practice has been focused on teaching ESL to adults in Ontario. In addition to that, I’ve been a trainer for an insurance company, a teaching assistant for several professors at university, taught English in Japan and Core-French at the local school board. While I’ve been teaching ESL I’ve also been working on a project which has developed organically among a group of teachers. Under the name of Language Foundations, we’ve produced a video that teaches strategies for interacting successfully in Canada. The video project has inspired in me a true passion for writing. I love being able to reach out with my thoughts, share ideas and discuss different perspectives. I think writing and teaching are very complementary!


2 thoughts on “Teachercraft”

  1. Gwen, thank you for writing about this topic. As someone trying to enter the ESL teaching profession as my second (third- if you include raising kids) career, it is timely and encouraging to see verbalized some of the struggles and doubts I have felt. Having a coach or mentor beyond the practicum stage would certainly be a great idea in developing our craft.

    1. Hi Beth,
      So many of us work in an environment where we feel isolated. I think talking about how sometimes we feel unsure is a great way to grow.

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