When I lived in Japan, I taught English. I was an English teacher, which in Japan takes on several meanings, some of which can be derogatory. However, I do not teach English in the United States, I teach ESL or English as a Second Language. Well, isn’t it the same thing? No, it would be a misnomer for me to say that I teach English. High school teachers and university professors teach English. In other words, they teach English literature, such as Shakespeare and poetry.
Teaching ESL is different. It is more than merely teaching grammar, writing, vocabulary and so on. It is teaching these, but in a way in which the student can understand by way of his or her own langauge and culture. At the same time, when a student studies English in the United States, the same student is being immersed into American culture. Language and culture are of the same crust. Thus, if you are teaching ESL in the United States or another English speaking country, then you by default become the gatekeeper of English culture and ultimately the dominant variant of Western culture. The typical ESL student in the United States is as in much need of understanding English grammar as he or she needs to understand American culture.
You may focus your lessons on grammar, but when a students leaves your class, he or she plunges into American society. These same students may plan on being in the United States for a significant amount of time, which would most likely involve attending an American University. So we figure four years of university and one year studying English at an ESL institute. Knowing that one will spend at least the next five years of his or her life in the United States and away from his family has to be a daunting realization. Naturally, these students look to the ESL teacher not only to answer questions about grammar, but also about culture, customs and American lifestyle.
Teaching ESL is as much about being a coach, mentor, counselor and sometimes friend as it is explaining grammar and how to write an academic essay. Teaching English to a large extent is about setting up foreign students to suceed in American culture.