A New Mantra

Last Friday I delivered a talk to a fantastic audience of English teachers in Brasília, Brazil. It was the final session after a full day of lots of interesting sessions, filled with practical ideas, reflections and research on English teaching promoted by the Brasilia chapter of Braz-Tesol.

The topic of the seminar was “From Strength to Strength“, and it made me think some before deciding what I should talk about… This semester has been a incredibly busy one – and hard as well. Many classes to teach, new challenges (going back to teaching beginner adults for one), leading projects, keeping up with life… Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw myself thinking: “Is it worth it?”. Is all the time, effort, sweat, blood, tears and heart we put into teaching worth it?

A little background information may be needed at this time… In Brazil, education seems to be the least of priorities. Teachers are underpaid (big time), so many time they have to keep more than one job, teaching at different schools, with endless contact hours, to make ends meet. On top of that add the fact that English teachers are at the bottom of the ladder. That (IMHO) is related to the belief that all you need in order to be an English teacher around here is being able to speak English at a decent (suuuuuuuch a subjective aspect!) level.

Is that what it takes to be a language teacher? To be able to speak the language you are teaching?


(big resounding NO at this point, mind you!)

I am a mentor this semester. Someone who observes each and every class of a certain group (a beginner Adult 1) and prepares classes with me. And when we meet to prepare classes I ask her why for every activity and decision (peer correction or whole class? Pair work or Whole class? Predicting difficulties and questions… It has made me realise how much thinking goes into each and every class we do. (She’s a fantastic person to mentor, though. She picks up the reasons and inferences, the rationale behind the activities).

One day we were preparing classes and she said: “Students have no idea the amount of thinking and effort it goes in each class, do they?” No they don’t. Should they?

 That’s a good question… No and Yes at the same time. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be told of how much effort, expertise, study and hard work goes into each lesson…. But in the end they do. They feel the teacher is more or less prepared.

Anyways… I was thinking about the talk and then one day it hit me during a chat. I was chattng to Barbara Sakamoto on Facebook one night and we were talking about how much a teacher has to do. She was telling me the enormous amount of things she has been involved with and I was just about to voice my opinion and then type ” But what do I know? I am JUST a teacher.”  And then I stopped myself.

I have said “I’m just an English teacher.” (or just a teacher for that matter) countless times. Why do we do that? Why do we undermine our own profession? When we say “JUST” a  teacher we’re saying teachers are not that important. We’re saying we (and our opinions) don`t matter that much,

Now, that is a contradiction. We ARE teachers. We influence people. We make people get better jobs, better education, travel better…and we are JUST teachers?

My point is: If we think of ourselves as JUST teachers, how can we expect anyone to see us as more than that? How can we expect people to see us as educators, people who have a very active role in changing people’s lives and realities.

Some changing of concept is in order, methinks. Me included.

We are ENGLISH TEACHERS. We give people a (much needed) skill. We help students develop and grow as people and members of a global community.

We are certainly NOT just teachers. And we have to be proud of what we are. We have to be proud of the long hours, sweat, love and tears… We have to build on our strengths and not be afraid of our weaknesses.

I am NOT just a teacher – THAT is my new mantra. And I am VERY proud of what I am.

55 comments on “A New Mantra

  1. I love to read you.

    Several years ago, I remember speaking with friends of my family for the first time and told them what I do (as it’s normal to ask as an introductory question here). I told them, and they were impressed. I remarked to myself at the time how surprised I was that they respected it since I’d been under the impression from my time in Korea that this wasn’t a career, like a schoolboard teacher. From that time on, I’ve respected what I do.

    Just yesterday at a Thanksgiving dinner with colleague friends, we talked about the fact that we tend now to have the attitude that we should be thankful for the jobs we have, the money we make and not be ungrateful for these blessings. But it dawned on us, given we don’t have many of the benefits school board teachers and other college professors have, that we continue to self-depreciate, perhaps not in such an overt way as ‘I’m just a teacher’ anymore, but still in not valuing ourselves enough to fight for the same rights and benefits that comparative teachers have.

    • I loove your comments 🙂 So we’re even.

      I still haven’t had that moment where people are impressed by what I do. Some of my closer family does, especially in more recent years. but overall it feels as if becoming an English teacher happened because I was not capable of anything else… as it was a temporary job I should’ve dropped a few years ago.

      Fighting may be good, but standing our ground and raising awareness of our importance and role in society are essential.

  2. selenalucia says:

    Dear Cecilia
    I immensely enjoyed this! I am from Serbia and the situation is almost the same when it comes to salaries and IDENTICAL when it comes to English Teachers’ treatment. English is here also at the bottom of the ladder and people think that you teach kids “some letters and numbers”! They have no idea what that implies and how much intelligence, skills and effort it requires. However, since I am a Teacher Trainer, I can tell you that English Language teachers are to blame for such attitude which is another big problem. I heard the majority of English teachers, especially women, say more than once:”We can’t understand this, we are English teachers!We can’t add two numbers together, we are English teachers! We can’t calculate, we are English teachers! We can’t use our brains, we are English teachers!” The last time it happened at the Business English seminar I started yelling at them because I was so furious with their attitude:”Hey! Stop degrading our profession! If you want people to think you are that stupid and cannot understand the definitions of bonds, then go home!” OK, maybe my choice of words was not exactly wise, but fury is a slim-picker! (and I definitely was not the most popular in that crowd!)
    Anyway, thank you for sharing this great insight with us!

    • Dear Selena,

      What you described (teachers saying they are only English teacher) is common around here – and in many places as I came to know.

      I think you ranted when you talked to the teachers, but we all do. We all have bad days, we all curse having chosen this professions here and then. But it’s definitely worth it. We know it when we have good days, right?

      I’m happy my reflection was good for you.


  3. paloma says:

    You can´t be more right. I am with you!!
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Love reading your reflections. By reading you I come to realize how many times I have said “I am JUST a teacher!” Right now what comes to my mind is (and just to give an ex.) when I wrote for #30 Goals Challenge and the power of education. “Sometimes I wonder If I am doing enough, after all I am JUST a teacher”. But also and reflecting on your JUST, I realise that I am so proud of my life as a teacher and somehow aware of the impact our work has on others’ lives (ours included),that when someone asks me what I do, I say “I’m a teacher, and …..” It’s when I tell them I read, study, share, reflect, write,that people get like surprised at the new dimension of the word “teacher”. So, we are living a moment of huge change and transformation and this takes time, this might be why we tend to say “I am JUST a teacher”. So let’s start campaigning Ceci, Hey teachers of the world: “We are TEACHERS”!
    You are a gem Ceci,

    • Debbie, you’ve got it…

      When I tell people of what I do (on good days :)) or when I have someone being mentored by me or observing my classes I have the exact dimension of what I do. Count me in for the t-shirts with the hashtag!



  5. Ceci, this post really captures the essence of your delightful plenary from Friday, which unlike some of our colleagues above I was lucky enough to watch firsthand!! It was really was the perfect conclusion to a day of reflection and learning at the http://www.braztesol.org.br event and I thank you (now as local President-Elect!) for sharing your words of wisdom with over 135 teachers and other ELT professionals present! Looking forward to future posts here! Hugs, G.

    • Graeme,

      The pleasure of delivering that plenary was all mine… And I think teachers left with a bit of a boost – much needed at the present time for most of us. Thank YOU for inviting me 🙂

  6. Ceci, I wish I had been able to LISTEN to you deliver such wise and inspiring words during your plenary in BSB last Friday. Reading this post has given me the much needed strength and energy for a Monday! What I feel is that we often need to be reminded of our own importance, and your words do that so beautifully! Thank you for your generosity!

  7. gemmalunn says:

    Hi Cecilia, great post.
    It’s such a shame to hear that teachers are not highly regarded (or paid!) in Brazil. I work in S.Korea where being a (Korean school) teacher is still considered a great job and Ts are well respected as people appreciate the hard work they do and how hard they studied to get there.

    I think the problem with EFL teachers is, as you mentioned, people just think you need a decent level of English to teach or even just be born in an English speaking country. To a certain extent this is true and I have met many EFL teachers who have v.little interest in doing a good job and just take the job as a means to travel (I was guilty of the latter in my 1st yr of teaching!).

    Hopefully, as TEFL becomes more popular and competitive the standard of teachers will increase and with it the perception of EFL teachers and their jobs! Just using twitter and reading so many inspiring blogs makes you realise we should be v.proud and there are so many other teachers around the world doing a fantastic job!

    I’m sure your students appreciate how hard you work, take care,


  8. Adam Simpson says:

    New post! New post! New post! New post!

  9. unastoriachevale says:

    Hi again,

    2 comments in a row – does that look creepy? 😛 LOL

    Anyways, I don’t know exactly how these things work all over the world but here in Brazil it’s pretty hard not to feel like “just a teacher” for all the reasons you’ve already mentioned.
    I myself say it’s no big deal when people look surprised when I say I’m a teacher… But why the hell I do that if I KNOW how much work, time, effort and love it takes to be a teacher? Well, I don’t know… What I do know is that your post was very inspiring. Therefore I think I might steal your mantra and add it to my own list – even though I constantly forget to remember my mantras 😦


  10. […] by Cecilia Lemos.  The first thing that stuck out to me was in her first blog post titled “A New Mantra.”  “A New Mantra” was referring to the phrase “I am NOT JUST a teacher” over and […]

  11. Hi Cecilia!
    It´s 8 in the morning, and although it´s raining and I have to go out, I started the day in a great way because I´ve just discovered your blog. You´re so right. For a long time I resented the fact that OTHERS thought I was JUST an English teacher. I know better today. I have learned that the pleasure is in the doing, I know that because I´m not just an English teacher, being a better teacher implies being a better person. And I have learned that you can find treasures at 8 in the morning on a rainy day. Thank you!

  12. […] an interesting article by Cecilia Lemos! First of all, I am very personally interested in teaching English in other countries because […]

  13. […] and discredit ourselves. Even more often do others assume our job is easy. Cecilia Lemos created a new mantra for all of us, and I like […]

  14. […] Lemos’s post, A New Mantra, in her blog Box of Chocolates hits some good points.  Teachers are more than what the average […]

  15. […] post, since it would be the most current, and it was written on October 8th. It’s called A New Mantra, and it provides a realistic perspective on the worth of the teacher position in our culture; both […]

  16. […] the blog post A New Mantra, Cecilia Lemos writes about a complete shift in her thinking about her profession of teaching. She […]

  17. […] article I read was titled, “A New Mantra” http://cecilialemos.com/2012/10/08/a-new-mantra/ and basically talked about how a lot of teachers have a poor self image about their careers, […]

  18. […] I really enjoyed reading this blog and it makes so much sense to me! I love when the writer says, “Is that what it takes to be a language teacher? To be able to speak the language you are teaching? … No!”  http://cecilialemos.com/2012/10/08/a-new-mantra/ […]

  19. Jack says:

    In terms of teaching ESL, I am not just a teacher – I am a language coach. I inspire my students to take charge of their own learning, helping them achieve their goals in and out of our classes. Becoming an independent teacher has also put me in charge of my own teaching, allowing me to fully realize my teaching goals and help my students realize their learning goals.

    Inspiring post – I hope you post again soon.

  20. […] blog post is about seeing yourself as more than just a teacher. This is something that I have already […]

  21. […] her blog post, A New Mantra, Cecilia Lemos, an English language teacher discusses the importance of positive language about […]

  22. […] Like the blog Ollie Bray, Box of Chocolates is also written by an educator from another country. Cecilia Lemos is a teacher from Brazil who writes about a variety of topics. She is an ESL teacher as well, so a lot of her entries are related to English language learners. The first post that I saw was the one that caught my eye the most. It was titled “A New Mantra“. […]

  23. Al Sterling says:

    As a former English teacher in Korea I loved reading your post. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement!

  24. […] A New Mantra  – here she talks about the English teachers in Brazil and how they are underpaid and how […]

  25. […] A New Mantra  – here she talks about the English teachers in Brazil and how they are underpaid and how […]

  26. […] After reading “A New Mantra” from Cecilia Lemos’s Box of Chocolates, I have found myself being able to relate to some of […]

  27. […] post that interested me first was “A New Mantra.” In this, she reminds teachers not to undervalue their work with the language used to […]

  28. […] at ourselves, what do we see? In her post “A New Mantra” on her blog Box of Chocolates (http://cecilialemos.com/2012/10/08/a-new-mantra/), Cecilia Lemos states that we see ourselves as “JUST” teachers. What does that mean […]

  29. […] skills to provide them with jobs in the future. I agree with Cecilia Lemos, the author of the blog Box of Chocolates that we need to be proud of what we do. We are not JUST teachers. […]

  30. […] could easily relate to this post because I have said the same thing about my profession as a wife and mom.  ”I’m just a […]

  31. […] as a Foreign Language) teacher in Brazil, agrees with me.  According to her blog post “A New Mantra,” she reminds us that we are not just teachers; we are much more than that.  Cecilia said, […]

  32. […] you have ever doubted yourself as a teacher, it is time to read the article found at: http://cecilialemos.com/2012/10/08/a-new-mantra/. This article is  very powerful and has a message any educator or future educator can benefit […]

  33. […] reading this blog, I feel inspired.  I am excited to go into my profession as a teacher, but this blog re-enforced […]

  34. […] love this post because it is real and honest.  It is easy to get discouraged as a teacher and think about the […]

  35. […] one of her most recent posts, Cecilia Lemos, discusses her new mantra: I am NOT JUST a […]

  36. […] this blog the author talks about how she sometimes demeans her job by saying she’s “just” […]

  37. […] Lamos’ “A New Mantra” blog post really struck me. The new mantra is “I am not just a teacher….I am not […]

  38. […] blogger is a passionate English Teacher in Brazil. Her name is Cecilia Lemos and her last post from October is a very inspirational one. She talks about the problems teachers bring upon themselves. If we […]

  39. […] this blog post, the writer reflects on the attitudes toward the teaching profession after speaking to teachers in […]

  40. […] A link to the Blog entry: cecilialemos.com/2012/10/08/a-new-mantra/ […]

  41. […] blog post I’m reflecting on is entitled A New Mantra. As I began reading it, I discovered that the author was experiencing something that I’ve […]

  42. Heather says:

    Hi Cecilia!

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic. I am an ESL teacher in Hawaii and we too are very underpaid for what we have to do to deliver a lesson that is not only interesting but also effectively teaches English academically. Not only is it my job to help my students acquire a new language, but also teach them academic content at the same time! There’s no way that a person who simply speaks English as their first language without any teaching knowledge can do this job the way it needs to be; so kudos on pointing that out. I often wonder what would happen to education if we (meaning teachers of foreign or other languages) just vanished from the system and left our students in the hands of people who have no idea how to teach a new language in a school setting. Would they beg us to come back? Give us higher salaries? Or would they simply move like water and find a new path around us…..either way, we are severely underrated by ourselves and others.

  43. […] Lemos is what one would call an EXPERT reflective teacher and she proves it in A New Mantra. She was a speaker in Brazil at a meeting full of English Teachers and she reflected on how poorly […]

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