… Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
Than my own meandering experience, I will dispense this advice now…
Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it
Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past
From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts
And recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
– (Everybody’s Free To Wear) Sunscreen
Before I even begin writing this, let me preface it with the following:
- I don’t have any teaching qualification other than a not-worth-the-paper-it’s-printed-on TESOL certificate.
- I’ve never taught any children younger than 8th grade level – and the 8th graders I taught were gifted students.
- My teaching experience is a combination of university lecturing and high school teaching.
- My high school teaching experience is partly EFL teaching, partly not. It’s more WTF than anything else.
Before I ever got into teaching, I was terrified of it. I was terrified that I would be one of those shitty, bitter teachers who got into the profession because What the fuck do you do you with a degree in English if you don’t want to teach?
The thing is, I’ve always been good at teaching and explaining things. It’s actually something I love to do. So why was I so afraid of actually entering a classroom?
I try to forget just how many people have said this to me, and just how angry it makes me. This is one of the reasons why I was scared to become a teacher – was it just going to look like I was teaching because I couldn’t do anything else?
Also, kids terrify me.
Your teacher personality
The person you are in the classroom is not the person you are outside of it. My students said I was always bright, smiling and energetic. Anyone who knows me outside of a teaching context would tell you that I’m more quiet and subdued in real life.
This is an okay thing to happen. The person you are when you’re teaching can be someone else entirely, and that’s fine. The teacher personality has been – for me – like armour. My insecurities are underneath this façade of a bright, loud, exciting person who makes extremely lame jokes and can’t draw at all.
Find that personality. Embrace it. Use it. It’s necessary for your survival.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong, or to not know the answer
My students had this habit of asking me very specific grammatical questions that I couldn’t answer. Initially, I lived in fear of those moments, and avoided and dodged them when I could. This didn’t help me at all, so I learnt to embrace those moments and say “I don’t know. Let’s find out together!” and use the internet to look it up. Where that wasn’t possible, I would note the question, and tell the kids that I’d find out and tell them the next time I saw them.
A note for that second strategy – DO follow up. Even if the issue seemed small – follow up and show the kids you do what you say you will.
If you need to, make a fool of yourself
This is advice I’ve received from across the board. It’s normally given for elementary school teachers, but I think it applies to higher age groups as well.
Here’s the thing – this isn’t about you. It’s about the students. If you need to embarrass yourself in order for the kids to learn, then do it. Don’t worry about looking dignified or proper. Worry about what the kids need to learn and whether or not they’re learning it from you.
The screaming teacher is hysterical and doesn’t have control of the classroom. Keep calm. Be patient. When you lose it, the kids know you don’t have control. Act as though you have control, even if you don’t.
This extends beyond classroom management. When things come up, try not to panic. If you can’t prevent panic, try to identify where the panic is coming from instead of letting it consume you.
(When you learn how to do this, tell me how)
Teaching is one of those jobs where things change on you in a heartbeat. Don’t be afraid to change your teaching on the fly when something isn’t working, or when something is going better than you expected. Again – this job isn’t about you, or your plans working out the way you want. This is about the kids and whether or not they’re learning.
Korea specific advice:
When it comes to life as a native English teacher in Korea – flexibility is the most important quality to develop. Practice it from the beginning when you’re waiting for a placement. You don’t know where you’ll be going or what age group you’ll be teaching – embrace that from the beginning. Don’t get too attached to one location or age group before you leave.
This is probably one of my greatest weaknesses – both in teaching and in life. I’m not a planner. When it comes to teaching, situations often come up quite suddenly, and you’ll find yourself behind in the work you need to do, or something will interrupt the plans you have made. Expect the unexpected is pretty much all I can tell you. Have a game/filler lesson available at all times, in case you need it.
(Please note that I make this suggestion on the basis of “This is something I wish I’d done” rather than “This is something that I did.”)
Take every opportunity you can to learn. Learn more about teaching. Learn more about your subject. Take joy in that process and take note of the things that make you remember. Learn new strategies and use them. Let every new encounter teach you something. Learn from life, from your colleagues, from your students. And most of all – enjoy learning new things. It will, at the very least – help you to empathise with your students.
This job is HARD
No matter how many people tell you that “those who can’t do, teach”, know that your job is hard. You are overworked and underpaid. You have too much to do, and there’s always more left for you to do – there’s an extra hour of work to make that class just 10% better. You’ll never really feel like your work is done. And that’s just what teaching is like – especially in the beginning. As you get used to the job, you learn to manage this. Remember, the more experience you gain, the more manageable this job will become.
This job MATTERS
Teaching is important. You can make a difference in students’ lives – sometimes by what you teach, and sometimes by who you are.
No matter how many people tell you “Those who can’t do, teach,” remember that your job matters.
Finally, let me say this:
Take care of yourself. Be gentle with yourself. It’s easy to find yourself in the position where you berate yourself over and over for the littlest thing. Relax. Breathe. Move on. You can do this. Let yourself breathe.
And good luck.
(Any and all experienced teachers care to contribute to this? What would you add, what experiences have been valuable? What do you wish people had told you before you started to teach? Please leave a comment below!)