My peripatetic ESL career

When I was growing up, there was a pattern in people's life. At least, there seemed to be an order. School, job, work, retire, enjoy. Most people had one job, the first job they got. They would have the same job for good, until they retire. Even in my own generation, at least two of my siblings have served one employer all their working life.

So, it wasn't so odd that I wished for a job. One. Un. Eins. Ek. Life always serves up a totally unexpected fare. In fact, "unusual" would be the norm for me. My normal is an aberration. You probably know about my career in Biology. I think of this phase as my previous life. So, I won't talk about it here. When I started teaching ESL with traditional North American credentials (normal for once!), things looked hopeful. An entire world opened up. When I got my "permanent" posting with the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) in November 2002, I thought, finally I have found a job that will be mine until I retire. I thought of the phrase "happily ever after".

Although I have had an odd moonlighting job or two, the TDSB position had been my mainstay. The permanence of the job gave me a chance to develop my ideas of test-preparation pedagogy and experiment with different methods. OK, let me not bore you with how I found a grammar-based curriculum to be a good method etc. etc. etc. Moreover, my colleagues and boss welcomed me and I got comfortably settled in a place I could call mine. It was the best job I ever had. I am sure you want to know what happened. Why the past tense?

It was the last week of classes in June this year and we were frantically packing to go on our trip to India, Ireland, Germany and Austria. An ominous-looking white envelope with the words "Private and confidential" arrived in the mail that week. The letter within carried the bad news that I was bumped. In other words, it was game over. I lost my job. A teacher with more seniority had displaced me.

In many unionized work-forces, bumping is a routine phenomenon. In the ESL world, classes and entire programs get closed because of low enrollment. Teachers lose their jobs as a result. A teacher who has lost her job has the option of bumping a junior teacher and taking the junior teacher's position. Every ESL teacher knows this and junior teachers live in fear of this unfair statute. What had made me completely sure about not getting bumped was the area in which I was teaching, Proficiency tests. This is a specialized field. Furthermore, the realm of proficiency tests, especially TOEFL, is in a state of flux. You can get sea-sick just by working in this field. So, I had been too complacent to have heeded the warnings of entire programs closing in the beginning of the year. So, when the ax fell, I was unprepared.

To make a long story longer, I am writing an article with the same title. I cannot help but feel that the entire thing is unfair and discriminatory. If I finish this article and manage to get it published, I will let you know.


I don't want to say that there was a silver lining to the experience of losing a job. However, the field of proficiency tests is always in need of teachers and, when the new academic year started, I found three temporary part-time jobs! In addition, I put some of my ideas into practice and expanded my area, including doing some private tutoring. So, while running around doing all of the above, I had the idea that I am much like an itinerant worker, a tinker for example. A tinsmith, a bicycle-repair wallah, an ESL teacher. A bundi (cart) walli peddling her wares. English walleh. The need to find a living makes us do whatever we can. So, I fancy myself selling English, carrying my tools of the trade in a cart and dispensing my curriculum as I travel the streets. In my bundi are different baskets filled with different parts of speech, etc. Nouns. Verbs. Compound sentences. Adverb clauses. And so on. Heaven knows where I will be when schools reopen in January!


Thinking about a silver lining, I did find that losing the best job did lead to some positive changes. Time will tell if these new things will work. In the meantime, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my itinerant career. In five years, I have worked in ten different places, not counting the moonlighting jobs!

And, now on to the family.

The family

I could use adjectives like mercurial, unpredictable, etc. etc. but no words can convey the entire range of emotions and intellect of the three males and the feline. Nor can I write everything that happened since I last wrote. Suffice to say that the trip in the summer was a big deal. See below for an entire section on the trip.

One major theme that developed this year with our teenagers is their hair, yes, their crowning glory, two big heads of dark, beautiful, thick, hair. The hair adventures are worth writing about.

Sometime in the spring this year, JS decided to dread his hair. At first I laughed at him saying that such straight hair with nary a curl or a wave would rebel against "dreading". Turns out I was completely wrong. It took him a long time, but in the end he succeeded in dreading his hair. He spent many hours back combing, waxing, holding the locks with rubber bands, etc. etc. One of his friends did the back. So, now he has dreads. He spends considerable time in the upkeep of his dread locks, an art about which we knew little. There are materials like dread wax, dread shampoo and special techniques of washing and drying. We wonder if his patience will run out. Actually, he has spoken about un-dreading his hair. Apparently there is someone hawking un-dreading kits on-line. So, there is merchandise to fulfill every madness. Quite simply, I would have preferred to snip all the locks at the roots.


Coincidentally, JS' school will be performing the musical "Hair" in January. Of course he is in the musical and has been busy with the rehearsals, setting up the stage and so on. He has played the "Hair" CD so many times that we are all hooked on the songs. I am sure we will suffer from withdrawal once the show is over and he moves on to something else. But in the meantime, look up the lyrics of the songs in the link below.

I love all the songs but my favorite is the song "Hair." It's priceless.

Not one to be out-smarted, Adam is also doing all sorts of unusual things, including things with his hair. One night I returned home and, as I took my shoes off, I saw something that looked like a ponytail hanging from the knob of a cabinet door over the stove. I thought I was seeing things. I approached closer and confirmed that the bunch of hair was real. In fact, it was Adam's hair. Heavens, I thought, someone has scalped my child. That is when I heard the shower. To make a long story short, Adam had a curious hair cut (Samurai) in order to donate his hair to the Sick Children's hospital. A noble endeavor, but why did he have to scare the pants off of his mom? And why Samurai? There's no accounting for taste I suppose. Before this bizarre haircut, he had bought a long woolen coat. So, he looks very un-Adam like in his ponytail and the long woolen coat.


And, he is learning ballroom dance and also participating in a Bollywood dance performance in his school. I will write you about all the performances, the "Hair", the Bollywood dance, etc. later, when they have taken place.

That leaves Tim. It's hard to write about Tim because little has changed since the last time I wrote you about him. His job is the opposite of mine. He has worked for one employer for the past 20 years! Wow! That would give anyone a sense of stability. Of late, he has been thinking about going to India for the next sabbatical but I am so involved with my peripatetic career that going to India on a protracted trip would spell disaster for me. So, needless to say, we don't seem to be in sync about things. In 1999, I would have killed for a sabbatical in India and Tim went to Maine and in 2006/7, I have to peddle my ESL in the most unconventional of ways and he wants me to go with him to India.

Southern Alberta, August 2005; fieldwork in the Rocky Mountains and Pacific northwest. SE Washington, near the confluence of the Columbia and Walla Walla Rivers where Lewis and Clark collected Crataegus douglasii in spring 1806. The medlar, Mespilius germanica, growing in a Toronto garden.


That brings me to the cat, which is as insouciant and unperturbed as ever. The only things that make him jump up and take notice are the cat food cans [TAD: only the lack of opposable thumbs keeps him from being able transsubstantiate cans into food, so instead he relies on us, usually me (my buck mulligan act), first thing in the morning after starting the coffee and, these days, giving adam his capsule of iron and a glass of water, since supposedly the explanation of his ability to sleep for hours on end is some kind of anemia] and the rattle of kibbles. He takes long naps between meals and goes out to chase squirrels and other furry things and rarely contemplates the meaning of life.

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There was also the water pipe leak and the excavation of the driveway.

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But mainly, there was the trip to India, Ireland, Austria, and Germany! (pages soon to follow!!)

Last year (Façade, Boyz, Cat, Bookz)



Wounded but still functioning (TOEFL class)


All text and images on this page © Meher Shaik 2005 - posted by tim dot dickinson at utoronto dot ca