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10 Lessons I Learned from My Students While Teaching English in Korea
Written by: Megan Tighe
Last Updated: December 18, 2020
The funny thing about being a teacher is, you are schooled just as much as your students. As I approach my one year anniversary as an English teacher in South Korea, I can’t help but reflect on all of the lessons I myself have learned. Coming from a business background I was, quite frankly, clueless about what to expect in my new career.
While I gained confidence through my teaching practicum for the International TEFL Academy’s Online TEFL class, I had never set foot in a traditional classroom as a teacher before. I was worried my students wouldn’t learn, open up to me, or even understand me! Thankfully, none of those initial fears came to fruition. And while my students (hopefully) remember the lessons I’ve taught them about letters, numbers, and colors, here are some of the lessons they’ve taught me.
1. Let it go
Sometimes, lessons don’t go as planned. Technology fails you, children fight with one another, that activity you spent hours creating can put your students to sleep. What I’ve learned from my students is that no matter how badly a lesson may go, each day is a new day, a fresh start, a clean slate.
2. Smiles are contagious
My first week at school, I felt like a celebrity. A year later, I still feel like a celebrity. Perhaps even more so. It’s amazing how much a smile, a wave, or a simple greeting can positively impact your day. What I’ve learned from my students is that the little things matter the most.
3. Work hard, play harder
If there’s one thing my students love, it’s having fun. My students are hard workers, but they play even harder. Your students may not remember all of the lessons you taught them, but they will remember how much fun they had in your classes. What I’ve learned from my students is that life should not be taken so seriously.
4. Learning is subjective
Some of your students will be visual learners, and will need words and pictures to retain knowledge. Others will be auditory learners, and will want to hear you speak. And others still will require a hands-on approach to learning. What I’ve learned from my students is that we all learn in different ways, and no one way is the right way.
5. Attentiveness is fleeting
Mood, weather, and hunger can all affect a student’s level of engagement, or lack thereof, on any given day. And no matter how fun a lesson is, students will only be able to engage for a limited amount of time. What I’ve learned from my students is that attention-spans have an expiration date.
6. Languages are fascinating
English and Korean are almost completely opposite languages. And yet both are easily taught, learned, and understood by their respective native speakers. While it has proved challenging to both teach English and learn Korean, what I’ve learned from my students is that languages in and of themselves are fascinating.
7. Eat your vegetables
Many Korean children eat cabbage, in the form of kimchi, three times a day. In addition, bean sprouts, carrots, and zucchini are foods commonly served for my school’s lunch. I’ve never known such healthy-eating children and I feel inspired to feed better things to my own body. What I’ve learned from my students is that my health is in my hands.
8. Candy is power
While my students may be healthy eaters, they still appreciate treats for a job well done. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small sucker or a giant chocolate bar, they are grateful for any sugar bestowed upon them. What I’ve learned from my students is that knowledge is king, but your power as a teacher lies in your willingness to reward.
9. Home is where the heart is
Korea is a fiercely nationalistic country and it can be felt everywhere, including my classroom. My students love their country and it’s infectious. What I’ve learned from my students is that while I’m lucky to experience their culture firsthand, I’m even luckier to have a culture of my own and a country to call home.
10. Life is short
Over the past year, I’ve watched my students grow in height, maturity, and English-speaking capability. I can’t believe my little 3rd graders will be the big bad 5th graders in just six months. While they don’t even realize it, my students have taught me that life is short, childhood is even shorter, and change is the only constant.
Megan Tighe is a 29-year-old Akron, Ohio, native. She graduated from Ohio State University in 2010. She spent the next 3 years in Chicago, Illinois, and the two years after that teaching English at a public elementary school in Seoul, South Korea. She now resides in Columbus, Ohio, where she works in marketing, tutors ESL students, and teaches yoga.
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