Even though I depend on it for my income, sometimes teaching English seems like a waste of time. But I realized recently that teaching has its advantages for a writer.
On the bad days, teaching English feels like being an academic version of a cabaret hostess. (“You’re a young, pretty American, so they will probably be inspired,” is what an employer once told me minutes before I taught a class of older men. I’ve been uncomfortable ever since.) On the better days, being an English teacher is like being a performer. You speak to an audience, you role-play conversations, and you must have energy even while going over the same material over and over, much like an actor will recite the same lines every night on a stage.
(Teaching children, by the way, is like being a very specific type of performer: “Laugh at the foreigner, kids! I’m a clown! Please like English!”)
Many have already written about this, but stepping into an actor’s shoes helps make your writing better. In acting, you get to try the material on. You can find out what it sounds like, what it feels like. You can better see what works and what doesn’t. If you have experience being a performer, you know how to better write for the performers who will embody your characters.
There’s another way that teaching English helps. When you teach someone in their non-native language, there will always be a language gap. In order to make the student understand without confusing him, you need to be able to explain things well. You have to be concise—too many words will make your sentences hard to follow and will leave the student with more questions than answers—and you constantly need to search for different words to use, which can help you as a writer understand how words relate to one another, as well as possibly strengthen your vocabulary.
So, until I get paid for my writing, teaching English isn’t the worst I could be doing.