When it comes to teaching, it isn’t just a matter of teaching the children, you also soon realize along the way that you can benefit just as much from those students as they will from you. This is probably something seen in almost all movies involving teachers. Eventually the teacher comes to realize that they should have been learning from the students too. As much as it has become a romantic cliché, it is still true that if you aren’t getting something out of teaching then you probably aren’t as open to learning new things as you thought.
So, here are just a few of the lessons I managed to pick up along the way when I taught English as a second language (which has a particular need of learning from your students and fast).
Have a Plan Z
There is a good quote in the military that fits this one: “A plan never survives first contact with the enemy”. And sure, while the students aren’t your enemy, they can mess up the plans you had set out rather easily, just by the simple aspect of asking questions. And when it comes to asking questions, you want to be answering those as often as you can. Because your plans are bound to get messed up, having a plan B and C or even Z can be crucial, the key is that you want to be flexible to the needs of your students. If you keep getting asked the same questions over again, then maybe you need to change up your plan for that day to the topic that apparently wasn’t quite clear to your students.
Know the Staff
I will admit I am not always the friendliest person to get to know, especially in the mornings when I’m usually just getting to work for teaching and seeing the other teachers before the day begins, but even for me, when overseas or in an area you don’t understand the language for, knowing people who can speak your language and the other one you are dealing with, can make such a difference. Even if it isn’t a language barrier, just cultural differences can have an impact and having faculty members that know those students and can provide feedback can be crucial. So remember not just to learn from your students, but the other staff, and maybe you might enjoy some of the time with them. You will need some social interaction other than your students if you want to survive after all!
Take Your Weekends
This one any teacher can attest to. No matter how much work you might have to do on the weekends, if you aren’t taking some of that time to just relax and enjoy yourself and what you will find in an entirely new place, then you probably won’t be as effective when the weekday rolls back around and you have to start teaching again. It can be exhausting if you spend all weekend grading papers then go right back into school to teach. You need to take that weekend for yourself and then save the grading for random bits of time, or even after school or at lunch times. Just remember you need that rest and relaxation, you’ll be a happier teacher in the end.
Learning a Language
English as a second language means innately you are going to be dealing with other languages, many of which you probably don’t understand, know or had even considered to learn. That doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly beneficial to both your students and you when it comes to learning their languages. Don’t worry, you don’t have to become fluent in a language unless you want to, but learning things like counting your basic numbers and things like hello and goodbye in the language they speak can have a significant impact, plus it can supply you with some comedy for your class. Nothing gets a class laughing better than the teacher trying to say ‘Take a five minute writing break’ and actually saying ‘take a brief wind break’.
These are just a few of my lessons and how they impacted me with learning and teaching. I’d love to hear about some other lessons people picked up from teaching in general and not just teaching abroad. And hopefully this will help you prepare to be open in learning your own lessons while traveling or teaching!
Christina Chandler is an enthusiastic poet and writer with a degree in English Education. She has spent a year in India and two years in Japan teaching English as a second language. She now continues towards her postgraduate degree in Higher Education.