This is a fun phrase that I first heard the other day when posting on Facebook. It was a picture of a poster, and on the poster we had something like “teas, coffees, and frappucino’s”. I am, for my sins, a bit of an apostrophe fascist, and my comment was less than complimentary. A French speaking friend told me then of this phrase, deformation professionelle, which means, roughly, that one tends to view the world through the eyes of your own profession, to the exclusion of all others. Wikipedia suggested that “distortion” might be a possible translation of deformation in this sense, and I rather think that is what we are dealing with. We spend so much of our waking lives engrossed in the discourses and attitudes of our profession that we filter everything through this.
Take, for example, a thank you note that my wife received over the summer from a grateful client whose first language isn’t English. It was a very sweet message, full of praise and very complimentary about my wife’s skills. So she showed it to me, and I looked, and the first thing that popped into my head? “Entry 3, I reckon…” Naturally, I kept this to myself, but it goes to show how ingrained we are into our work, sometimes.
I do it all the time. I have a folder on my computer full of links to articles that might make great reading activities, because I’ll be reading something on a Sunday morning and find myself thinking “this will fit in just great with the lessons I’m doing the week after next.” Or I’ll get a new £5 note and think “ooh, this would make a good stimulus for a lesson” (and it did, thanks for asking).
On the one hand, this is generally a good thing. I have a finely tuned radar for resources, and can spot a potential worksheet a mile away. On the other hand, it’s not. For one, the incident with the lovely letter was pretty mean of me, even if it was only internal. This judging of the language of others, native and non-native speakers is, let’s face it, really quite annoying. Annoying not just for those who are judged, but also for me: two minutes on Facebook and I’m desperate to get my red pen out.
Another drawback is when you have another area of interest which doesn’t always sit well with the first. So I once wrote a question on the end of a worksheet for maths which said something like this: “Anna rides a bike to work, it takes her 25 minutes to get there. Her brother drives an expensive Mercedes, and it takes him an hour to drive in the trafffic. Which person is the idiot?” (So the last question wasn’t quite that, but that was the overall thrust.) Or I’ll find an article on cycling in Poland which will get added as a possible text, even though no students are interested in cycling. Even an interest in language and language learning can be dangerous: I have a whole bank of activities around the hardest langauges to learn, the history of English, how people learn, lives of students, words from other languages and so on, but which are not necessarily interesting in and of themselves. I realise that for an English teaching professional this is hard to imagine (seriously, how is etymology not interesting?) but there you go.
It’s not a serious condition, to be fair, except perhaps when it manifests itself as arrogance towards those in our institutions who do not teach. Sure teaching and learning is the primary business of a college, but without all those other people the whole place would be empty, dirty, and would, in time, quite literally fall apart. And sometimes, you know, it would be good to switch it off, and just get on with other stuff. From a mental well being perspective, it sure can’t be good to be continually flagging good articles, assessing writing, or proof reading texts for punctuation mistakes.
Or indeed writing extensive blog posts on the subject.