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Lindsay Clandfield on his lovely “Six Things” blog has invited us to think back to six jobs we held before becoming a teacher. Good question! None of the English teachers I know have had a straight career. Something drives us to do this crazy job, opening up to anyone and everyone as we support them on their often frustrating path to becoming proficient in a language forced upon them, often enough, and making sure they like it, too.

What were the six jobs you had before your current job that gave you your work/life skills?

So about me: I’ve always needed money, so there have been far more than six jobs. I’ll skip the IT company I worked at to earn money for college, and the other IT company I worked for when I was considering giving up teaching, and the bit jobs, to tell you about the ones most closely related to what I do today:

  1. Perhaps I was most successful at being a babysitter. I got an early start at 11 and basically owned the neighborhood. My grandfather had carved beautiful wooden puppets that my mother had sewn clothes for, and I’d put on puppet shows with the children. Or we’d go down to the Smithsonian to see the bees. We’d romp and go swimming and play games. No TV on my watch, but we acted out every cartoon character in the book. I told them stories that they’d have to help me finish. So I never really stopped being a babysitter.
  2. When I hit 16 and was able to move on to minimum wage jobs (to support my expensive record-buying habit), I went into catering. First an icecream parlor that served sundaes with a political theme, called The Ice Cream Lobby. Then a deli. I branched out and did weddings on my own. During college I waitressed, the most challenging place being a football clubhouse just south of the border in Switzerland. Excellent prep for teaching, keeping a cool head among fans speaking Swizzerdütsch!
  3. As a teen, I volunteered in France for two summers restoring monuments and sites with ICOMOS/ REMPART. I tell anyone who still has their life ahead of them: You haven’t lived if you haven’t volunteered abroad. I learned how to really learn a language. Obvious connection to teaching English there.
  4. At college I was a research assistant (political science). Very heady. I loved it, but in time became skeptical about the value of academic learning. That kept me from getting yet another degree when I parachuted into EFL. I keep toying with the idea, to open the door to a more established teaching position, but…
  5. After my MA, I became a coordinator/curator of exhibitions and educational programs at various museums. At the German Museum of Hygiene in Dresden I was involved in exhibitions devoted to Odol (a mouthwash) and Darwin and Darwinism, travelling to the US to research history and artifacts connected to genetics, immigration, racism, the Scopes Trial… Later I ran an exhibition project on the experience of migration at an archaeological museum, with an after-school program for teenagers from migrant families, along with community events, from a panel discussion to a street festival. Or: In Konstanz I worked with artist Rune Mields to develop a tour of her paintings depicting the myths of how the world came into being. Marvellous, life-changing years. Being interested in such a wide range of ideas, and learning to use artifacts to relate them, was probably the most valuable source of inspiration for what I do today.
  6. Being bilingual, I’ve worked as a translator and interpreter ever since I came to Germany in 1981. Once, in Berlin in the mid 80s when I was working for the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, I translated a talk Johan Galtung was giving in English into German and got it all wrong when I paraphrased in English “What he means is…”

Over to you! Now, please, don’t be shy!