By: Shannon Etling
“The Little Engine That Could” Was Right.
When you first touch down in a new country, there are many things to adapt to and many lessons to learn. Starting a new life alone, on the ground, in an unknown place, as I did, escalates the challenge. Your life will become full of hurdles from taking the wrong bus to misconstruing some information within your school. Over time you will realize that this is normal and that it happens to everyone; just part of the process.
The key is to keep an open mind and to keep your positive juices flowing. Yes, you will falter. There are difficult days. However, the rewarding days, when you teach a great lesson, make a new friend, are invited into the homes of locals, or learn how to reach the market on the bus by yourself, are much more fulfilling. This is where your focus needs to be.
If you are able to keep your mind practical and honor yourself for the small achievements you encounter every week, your confidence will grow tremendously as a teacher, a traveler, and a person.
Talking Does Amazing Things.
Before I left on this grand adventure, and even before I had pinpointed exactly where I wanted to go, I was telling everyone and their mom. Some people thought I was nuts, it got repetitive, and people asked a lot of questions, but I used the opportunity to make my transition
abroad a little easier.
Through talking about it and networking I was able to accomplish two huge things.
First, I was able to set myself up for success. I became more confident with the idea and the more I talked about it the more real it became. Plus, when you tell a bunch of family, friends, and regulars at your work that you will be gone in a few months, you kind of need to follow through.
The second thing it helped me with was finding contacts. I was able to talk to a lot of people through e-mail that I had obtained just from telling tales. Some people had traveled to Ecuador, others just knew ex-pats in South America, other people had done what I was planning on doing, and some were immigrants from Ecuador or had family still living there. This was huge for me. I was able to find out a lot about the country before I left. Some small things, like how the climate was, but also bigger things like cost of living and what I would need to bring with me. Because of this I was able to stay with an amazing family the first two weeks until I got a job and participate in everyday life with locals. I was introduced to things I maybe never would have beenf able to.
Kids Are the Same Everywhere.
Before you get to your school or into your classroom, you might be worried about what the students will be like. Don’t. If I have learned anything from the teaching experience at my school it is that kids are kids. They still play house, run around wild on the playground, get dirty, hurt each other’s feelings, and get excited about the little things in life.
Many of the similarities are so strong that you wonder how they can transcend such boundaries. This is mind-boggling, but also one of your strongest tools as a teacher coming in with a foreign language. Implement this understanding to translate a situation happening with one of your students or to put yourself in their emotional shoes. I promise you that 9 out of 10 times it will work.
Body Language is Your Friend.
Sometimes in the classroom you may have difficulty explaining a vocabulary word or a concept, but acting it out in one way or another can do wonders. I do it frequently and it seems to be the most tried and true. Not only will you be able to create understanding within your students, you give them a point or reference or memory to accompany the word. This makes me think that it will actually serve them better in the long term.
Apart from its strength as a teaching tool, I have also found that it helps my students to pay more attention and also gives them a few laughs. No, they are not laughing at you. They are laughing because you have brought yourself down to their level. It helps them to see you as a fun person, rather than just a teacher, which translates into respect as well.
Patience is a Virtue...Seriously.
The amount of patience that you have coming into this situation could determine what age you are cut out to teach, but it could also change drastically during your first experiences as an ESL teacher. I must admit that the people who know me best would probably not use the word patient when describing me. I have come to terms with this. However, patience has always been something I have desired to obtain and have worked to improve.
If you find your personality similar to mine, which is basically type A, your patience will be tested. That being said, sometimes it is good for your personality traits to be challenged. Throughout the year I have begun to learn what to fret about and what to let roll off my shoulder. This is a learning experience, but it will become easier by necessity.
Try to keep in mind that your students are children. They will talk, they will laugh, they will be inappropriate, and many of them will have a hard time sitting still. Try to keep these truths at the forefront of your mind, but also try to gear your lessons toward their idiosyncrasies, while still setting boundaries. Play games, do funny things, let them participate openly, just make sure that they understand what the repercussions will be when expectations are overstepped.
Your Students Are Learning Much More Than Language.
It is fun to see your students language skills improve throughout the year. Some will become better with writing, while others may improve their listening or speaking skills, others may just develop more confidence with using the language all together. Even though this is crucial, and is basically why you were hired as a teacher, there are other lessons to be learned by having an English speaking teacher.
In my Chicago TEFL class with International TEFL academy we touched on this, but it didn’t seem so important at the time. My students are constantly asking me about where I am from, what it is like there, what kind of food we have in the U.S., etc. Sometimes I don’t realize how little they know about my country until these questions are asked. As a teacher to students of other languages, it is also your job to open their eyes to the ways of the world and to help them form an acceptance of other people and cultures.
The Simplest Things Are the Most Rewarding.
Teaching can be hard, but what rewarding job isn’t. Remembering that this is what you signed up for and keeping yourself on the bright side will be crucial. Every country is different, and that is what makes it beautiful. The U.S. is not perfect either. You are there to open your heart and your mind.
You can change your outlook and ways of doing things, but you can’t change Ecuador is what I always say. Seeing the happiness in a student’s eyes when they understand something, receiving a small gift from a parent, or even getting your local fruit stand woman to finally give you a smile and a chance are big accomplishments.
Let your confidence grow and acceptance fly. Try to become accustomed and embrace the country you are in, that way you will have the most rewarding experience you can.
Hi! I am Shannon Etling and I am 24 years old. I call Chicago my home, and before shipping off to Ecuador I studied Human Communication at Arizona State University. Between graduation, in May 2012, and my departure, February 2013, I served at a couple local restaurants in my town, providing excellent customer service (if I do say so myself) and stashing away every dollar I earned.
You can read more about Shannon in her interview: Ambato, Ecuador Q&A with Shannon Etling