By: Kelly Martin
When you sign up to do ITA's online TEFL course, you’re combining a few different large and very separate concepts: working with kids [or students of any age] and traveling abroad. I’m not going to lie, I was in it for the travel. I wanted to get paid to live outside of my own country and becoming an ESL teacher was a sure way to do it. So I knew I had to give this working with kids and teens thing a shot, and maybe I’d find a career in travel along the way.
I volunteered for my first teaching gig because I wasn’t even sure if I’d like working with kids. I had no idea how much my students could actually affect me. I didn’t know they’d pick up life lessons, and I definitely didn’t know they would teach me every day. I didn’t expect to stumble into understanding what I actually want to do for a career, and it was a shock when I learned it wasn’t just to travel. I’ll always explore; I’m 23 and I’m not done wandering around the world, but I do know what I want to do when I’m finished. Turns out, it’s all about the kids.
I’ll share some stories about a few of my favorite students. I’ve had two paid jobs teaching English in Thailand, and I worked for an English camp traveling around the country as well. Those places are where the following stories are coming from.
Child 1: Ig-Q
We were in a small town and I had a group of 10 kids that I was working with that week. One of them took to me far more than the others: 11 year old Ig-Q. He asked me questions about America, my family, friends, and about travels. It was clear from moment one this was a smart and charismatic kid. He wanted to know about my tattoo which reads, “We are terrified, and we are brave.” He asked why? I told him living in different countries is quite scary at times, but this tattoo helps to remind me to never let fear get in the way. I asked him what he’s afraid of. His biggest fear was ghosts; he told me that when he sleeps, he feels somebody is watching him. This was his first time sleeping away from home and he was nervous. His sweet little self completely confided in me with his fears after I opened up about mine and his secret was safe with me.
Two days later it’s a field trip day and we’re all headed to Ripleys’ Believe It or Not. The kids each got to choose three activities to do. I was supposed to supervise from the outside and gather the kids as they finish up. Ig-Q tells me he chose the haunted house, but he’s terrified and asked if I’d go with him. I said I’d do my best, but I don’t think I can. I asked, “Why would you choose that activity since you’re scared of it?!” He simply grabs my arm and points at my tattoo with a face that says, “What do you mean why!”
I gave my boss the puppy-dog eyes and asked if I could go with Ig-Q. We went through the haunted house and he was arm in arm with me the entire way. When he had his eyes covered, I tried to pull his hand down and he squeezes his eyes shut and says, “Not gonna happen!” He was afraid, but he did it anyway.
It was in the moment he pointed at my tattoo that I realized being an ESL teacher doesn’t just have to be about teaching kids new words and pronunciation. You have an opportunity to instill ideas into these tiny people. You can help them grow up to be better human beings. If kids respect you, then then they’re receptive and they’re listening. I realized I wanted to set the example I wish I’d had.
Child 2: Rome
The next kiddo is from a class of 5 year olds I was teaching. Each week the class of four were to pair up with a partner. They’d follow a book of instructions to build items out of Lego such as cars that can drive or dragonflies that flap their wings. I was there to help them follow step by step instructions and get the piece built. Each week they’d say competitive things to the other pair such as, “We’re going to win!” or “We’re beating you!” in a generally harmless way. There was one kid in the group who always picked it up quicker, so whoever worked with Rome was on the faster “team.”
One week I decided to open the lesson by telling them we’re not going to race each other, but instead we’re going to help each other so that we can all get it finished and play together at the same time. This is exactly what they did. Unfortunately one of the boys, Usher, had been absent that day. The following week they get into their pairs and Usher says, “We’re going to beat you today!” To which his partner, Rome, in all his intelligent sweet sass says, “NO! This is NOT a race! We are all going to work TOGETHER.”
It may seem small, but the moment you realize your students are applying the life lessons you’re attempting to instill in them, the frustrating moments are all worth it.
It turns out that travel and working with kids are both, in fact, two of the best ways I could possibly spend my time. I decided to invest in the International TEFL Academy and had no idea what type of career I’d end up with…. Two years later I’m still working with kids every chance I get. If you’re anything like me who was 21 and was absolutely lost, you may just stumble into something you didn’t see coming.
Kids are cool. Teaching is a big deal. Take the leap.
Kelly Martin got her TEFL certificate at age 21 and moved to Cambodia and Thailand to teach. She’s now going into her second year of traveling and working with children all over the world.