What defines a "good" teacher?
My biggest concern coming to Korea was becoming a good teacher. The term varies—but for me, I strive to be a teacher that my student looks up to; someone who is approachable, positive, confident, patient and knowledgeable. A teacher who is friendly and fun, yet well-respected.
In my first few months of teaching, I was determined to create lesson plans that were not only educational, but fun for my students. I noticed many of my students were very shy to speak English. My hope is that they feel more comfortable speaking English by the end of the year, and enjoy learning English. I would spend countless hours researching, planning and creating my own content. Every grade and class are different, and while some activities work out for one class, it may not for the other. As time went by, I learn more about each grade, class, the students, and teaching in itself.
Here are some of the most important lessons I've learned from teaching:
1. Communicate well with your co-teachers
Teaching English abroad in Korea is very different from what one would expect. As a guest English teacher in a public school setting, we are assigned to work in one or several schools with one or several co-teachers at each school. Fortunately, I was assigned to one school where I am able to see my some of my students on a daily basis. I work with three co-teachers, all with different teaching styles and expectations.
Most of the time, I teach equally with my 3rd/4th grade co-teacher. My 5th and 6th-grade co-teachers, however, prefer that I lead classes while they support me on the side with translation and classroom management.
I've learned the importance of communicating clearly with each of my teachers on my role and expectations. It's crucial to discuss the rules, attention cues, rewards, punishments, and motivation systems at the very beginning of the semesters. How much responsibility you carry and flexibility you have will depend on your co-teachers.
Your relationship with your co-teachers and your students will determine your work and living abroad experience.
2. Always be flexible
While in class teaching, you're explaining the next activity, when your co-teacher suddenly cuts you off and continues explaining in Korean. Then she starts teaching something on the board in Korean, which was not discussed with you previously. You don’t always know what’s going on, or what will happen next, you just have to be flexible and go with the flow.
Every time I step into a classroom and greet my students, I feel that I am stepping into an arena, battling for a successful teaching and learning experience for my students and I. No matter how I feel at the moment and the energy that is circling the classroom, I try to put forth my best attitude and performance. The truth is, you never know what will happen in the next 40 minutes, but you do your very best and adapt to the situation and the environment that you're in.
3. Don’t take things personally
Sometimes I don't feel very confident while I'm teaching, especially when it comes to disciplining the students. Sometimes I make up stories in my head due to students' lack of participation, the few tired or bored faces, or when I'm having a difficult time getting them to listen. After having to deal with many situations and challenges of teaching, I learn to not take things personally, and let go a little. I continue to do my best for my students while understanding that their reactions are not directed to me personally and that I cannot accommodate to them all as I relate back to my younger self and perspective as a student.
4. Trial-and-error is the way to go
As a new teacher, I have many ideas that I want to try out. Some of the time, my co-teachers will disapprove of these ideas, but I will continue to push forward because I believe that you won't know until you try. Sometimes my ideas flop, sometimes they turn out better than I've expected, but the important thing is to not be afraid of failure. There are many resources out there that you can use, but it's important to amend these activities so that it would fit your students level and abilities.
Teaching has to be one of the most challenging professions. Teaching ESL to young children is simple, yet incredibly difficult at the same time. You're not just an educator; you're a parent, a babysitter, an entertainer, a motivational speaker, a mentor, a role model. You take on so many roles and responsibilities as a teacher, and once you step foot in the classroom, every move that you make and everything that you say has an effect on the students. Display the right attitude and your students will reflect the same to you.
Originally published on Verge Magazine (Sept 19, 2016)