The many travels of Lynda Slattery
Australian Lynda Slattery loves Beijing, but she took the extra long road here. Born in Papua New Guinea, Slattery has taught English literature and English as a second language in Japan, Spain, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Qatar; for the last two years, she’s lived in Beijing. Despite never wanting to be a teacher while growing up, Slattery has an enthusiasm for her job that is contagious. She sat down with beijingkids at the Beijing City International School to chat about the benefit of living in places rather than traveling to places, the timelessness of literature and falling in love with a job when you least expect it.
Have you always wanted to be a teacher?
My mother is a teacher, and so I rebelled. I’d always not wanted to be a teacher because I grew up with teachers – all my parents’ friends are teachers. But while I was studying law, I took a job as a governess and realized that I loved it.
Have you had other jobs besides teaching?
I made a decision that I wouldn’t actually go into the classroom and become a teacher until I had done something else for ten years – I’ve met so many teachers who’ve never done anything else, and there was a world out there to discover. I spent that time traveling around Australia and working odd jobs like waitressing, bartending, being a receptionist and a clerk; it gave me an idea of how other people work. Then I went into teaching. To have a job that I love going to everyday – how lucky can I be?
What other countries have you taught in?
I taught for five years in Perth, Australia before I went overseas. At the time, I was studying Japanese so I moved to outside Tokyo and taught at a local Japanese high school. After four years there, I headed to Barcelona to do a TESL course. I loved it there, but I got offered a job teaching in Kazakhstan to teach English literature and English as a second language. After working there for two years, I had the opportunity to teach English literature in Mongolia, which, by the way, is very, very cold.
How did you end up in Beijing?
In Mongolia, I used to transit through Beijing several times a year, and I’d come here for vacations. I was desperate to get a job in China. But, as it goes, whatever country you think you’re interested in differs from what is offered, and I ended up in Qatar in the Middle East teaching English literature. But then my luck changed. Although I loved all those places, I finally got to end up where I wanted to be – Beijing.
How is China different from other places you’ve been?
I’ve always really loved Asia. I’ve always found it’s easier to be myself here, and to fit in. I’ve worked in the Middle East and Europe, but I find people here are more accepting. I’m obviously from a different culture but I find that here, people smile a lot more.
What do you teach?
I’m qualified to teach English literature and English as a second language, teach here. Right now, I teach literature to native speakers in Grade 7, and English and English lit to advanced speakers of English as a second language in Grade 8 and in the diploma class.
How is teaching literature to non-native English speakers?
It’s the difficulty of the language that makes it not readily accessible for these students, but literature is timeless. People haven’t changed in thousands of years – they still have the same emotions, needs, feelings and students can easily grasp these aspects of literature. If we’re looking at Shakespeare, though we may need to look at a more simplified version or just part of the original. Even for native speakers, some literature is very hard to digest. We have to provide scaffolding and support for students. If they come away from reading thinking it’s too hard, they won’t like it.
What’s your curriculum like?
We cover novels, short stories, poetry, drama. I use literature circles – which is work in small groups, instead of the whole class studying one novel. The students get to select what most appeals to them from a choice of novels. They each have their own role in the group and each week they switch. It gives students the opportunity to pursue their own interests, instead of the particular book the teacher has chosen.
What’s your favorite genre to teach?
I love teaching mystery. We look at a mystery like the short story “Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe so students can see how the author has built up the suspense and thrown in red herrings so the reader won’t see the ending, and how they are creating the tension with the words. We then create our own mystery story. In case you haven’t guessed, I really like this job.
What do you enjoy about living in Beijing?
I love walking around. I don’t like shopping, but I go shopping with friends because I love the interchange. I like going to the markets and listening to people. I find the people and the architecture fascinating. I like living in places as opposed to traveling to places because I can sit quietly and observe people.
Do you like Chinese food?
My favorite is Peking duck and dim sum, although I can’t eat MSG. I’m still looking for the quintessential dim sum restaurant. I‘m looking for the traditional experience.
How much longer will you be in Beijing?
At least another two years, and then I don’t know. This could be a place where I stay a long time.