Expat

10 things I learned from my first year of teaching ESL

#1 I’m not a natural teacher but that’s okay. I watched one friend burn her tall sassy self out because she got stuck on the ring road of lesson planning. She just obsessed over it and new teachers have a Johnny Walker tendency to do that.

That said, I enjoy teaching and the students. I just have to work at it. Like any relationship, there will be days when things feel effortless and moments when you feel you are stuck at that damn Niminhaemin light watching the sun set over the sunshine of your life. So I don’t know if teachers are born or made, maybe both baby but I’ll do it as long as I’m enjoying it.

#2 Lesson planning is an individual road map. Ever since I was in teacher training as a Waldorf teacher, I knew experienced teachers who hardly if at all, lesson planned. Then there are those like my Canadian friend Jules (I just like saying my Canadian friend), who writes everything out neatly in spirally notebooks.

Unless you are being observed or it’s asked, lesson planning are your notes that you need to do your job. I find it foolish to judge another teacher on it. Everyone has their own style and personality strengths and who am I to say what works for me will work for you.

#3 Burn out is probably the number neung reason why teachers leave their jobs. It was something I did when I was teaching children so I made it a rule I wouldn’t talk shop or teacher talk outside of work. But this changed when a relatively new teacher started sharing with me his lessons and how they went.

I started to realize that I could gain a lot from his perspective and I did. I learned new games and I hopefully helped him out too. I also started to take another look at my grammar lessons. Just remember, teaching is not like a desk job, it sucks the Dark Crystal essence out of you, so you need to find that sweet and bitter balance.

#4 People make the job. I’m fortunate to work in a supportive, collaborative, relaxed environment. My colleagues are great and enough of a personality to make me laugh. In other words, I can be myself. I know what it’s like when you have to wear a mask and that sucks the Dark Crystal essence out of you too. Find the former, don’t settle for the latter.

#5 Students make the class too. Sometimes we forget (well, mostly newbies) that bad teaching moments are not only about you. Sometimes Mercury is in retrograde and nothing is working. Sometimes the kids are excited because it’s a holiday or they just dumped 2lbs of sugar into their bodies. Sometimes everyone is just tired and wants to go home. Just remember, the students will make you a better teacher, so pay attention.

#6 Teaching is a relationship, a two way soi of communication goodness. So give yourself a Kit Kat break. It’s an interesting tango of knowing what you need to work on and what you need to chillax about.  Although one of the reasons why I like teaching is you have to constantly work on your craft, your self.

#7 Learning another language can really help you understand what the students are going through. I think I’ve taken Thai 1, like three times. Struggling with a language gives me new appreciation for the process and it helps me to be patient too. People talk about “putting yourself in the other’s shoes” but it’s been my sad experience that folks rarely do it. With teaching, I don’t think this is optional, I mean when my students wear cute shoes to class, I want to try them on. It’s important that my students feel like they are not stupid or being judged for their learning process.

#8 Remember to laugh. I think I was a tad too serious when I first taught and probably over the tippy top stressed out. So this is your gentle reminder – RELAX. Smile and have fun. Damn it.

#9 Teaching in the United States, South America or here isn’t really very different. Sure, there are cultural nuances but Justin frickin’ Bieber was causing girls to go crazy over there and over here. And kids are just kids, now isn’t that a relief to remember?

#10 You are going to make a lot of mistakes. During an animal quiz I told my students a cat can fall 250 feet but they can only fall 50 feet. (I don’t hate cats, I have two.)  I’ve talked too fast, too much, referred to my notes like I was giving a poorly planned speech and rushed lessons I had no business teaching. Prior teaching experience has helped me a great deal but that just means I got some of it out of the way before I arrived.

Look I’ve been trying to teach topic sentences to my Level 5 classes and it’s been ok-ay. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do it. A better teacher would have had them writing thesis statements by now and a worse teacher would have them eating their hands, I’m somewhere in between.

J5+class

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6 thoughts on “10 things I learned from my first year of teaching ESL

  1. Well-described teaching experiences. I hate to be nit-picky but you teach EFL in Thailand – English as a Foreign Language rather than ESL – English as a Second Language. ESL is the underpaid and overworked vocation usually dedicated to immigrants and refugees in English-speaking countries whereas EFL is paid-above-the-sverage-local-teachers-salary and most students' families pay a lot of money for tuition. If you want to generalize and include both types of students, the term ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) is used.

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  2. Has it been a year already?! Congratulations! Did you celebrate with your colleagues? You're [probably] no longer the rookie, the new person, in your workplace. Your “lessons learned” will likely be helpful to future hires. Just smush these together with a couple of whimsical teacher anecdotes, and you have a “new guy” orientation presentation. And, parts of your blogging enterprise are now tax deductible [new computer, internet access, presentation software?].When I read your “10 things,” 2 thoughts came to mind. Firstly, language teaching is hard work. Secondly, the path to success is neither clear cut nor precisely defined.You've done a lot during your first year.Regards from Ken C.

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  3. I've taught English in Thailand for almost three years, and it's really sucked that Dark Crystal thingy out of me on occasions. But all in all, the time I've spent in Thailand, and the people I've met, have been great. They say a smooth sea never made a skillful mariner, and I can certainly relate to that after a somewhat rocky journey …Hey, what the hell, teacher, lawyer, entrepreneur – it all amounts to the same thing in mind: self discovery. Good luck with the teaching!

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