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How To Not Suck: A Guide for the Casual English Teacher Abroad
Written by: Jonathan Ogden
Last Updated: December 29, 2020
"Tick-tock, tick-tock, rock and roll! What time is it!?
It’s one oh five it’s one oh five, let’s play basketball!"
Our school’s bell cycles through several songs from our curriculum. That particular ditty is from our Hip Hip Hooray Level, a set of course books that we use to teach kids about six to ten years old. Tamzin’s desk is right next to mine in the office, she breathes an airy sigh as she drops into the chair next to me. “I hate children.” She says with a smile.
I’ve been very fortunate with my choices as they relate to teaching abroad. The Internet virtually teems with various TEFL certification courses. Before deciding on International TEFL Academy, I considered pursuing a cheaper alternative, but in the end, I decided that the online TEFL course through international TEFL academy seemed more thorough. After completing the course, I wisely chose to use a scouter who had a relationship with International TEFL Academy. All said and done, I got placed with a quickly growing language school in Fuzhou, China.
York School of Foreign Languages is one of the best jobs I have ever had. As teachers, we have a strong base of support from our colleagues and upper management. Our office is well stocked with supplies, and our curriculum offers both guidance and the freedom to experiment. I can’t imagine there are many better teaching jobs around.
And yet, kids can be jerks, and teaching is hard. Most of us don’t actually have a background in teaching. There are very few teachers at York who have previously held teaching jobs. Me for example, I worked primarily as a butcher and interpreter before coming to York School. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty good with kids, but standing in front of sixteen of those little doe eyed munchkins can feel like standing in front of a firing squad. You don’t learn teaching through instruction, you learn by doing it. And when you do learn, you learn slowly, over years.
Therein lies the dilemma for the casual teacher abroad like myself. I chose to teach abroad because I wanted a cheap way to go to China. I’ve never considered teaching to be my calling in life, and I don’t plan to continue teaching after my contract expires at York School. However, I do care.
I care about performing my job to the best of my abilities whatever that job is. Being in a position of authority over those adorable little urchins, I also feel a responsibility to use my time with them in order to give them a valuable skill.
I’ve been teaching for four months now, and I’ve only just come to the point where I feel my lessons are acceptable, and I don’t have to be yelling and stressed out all of the time. I’m beginning to understand each class and its needs, and how to direct its energy in positive ways. For me, that’s a milestone. My next goal is to see visible improvements in my students English speaking abilities, and understand how to enhance them with my teaching strategies.
I think that a lot of people decide to pursue teaching abroad mainly because they want an easy way to go to their country of choice, (that’s why I did it at least). Underestimating exactly how demanding of a job that teaching is (why are my ears burning?). But at the end of the day, I think there is one thing that separates the good from the bad teachers: the good ones care. They may or may not be naturally good at teaching, either way they will have classes that bomb. They will feel frustration and anger, and question their ability to teach. But at the end of the day, those teachers that care will improve and grow into effective teachers.
Personally, I don’t believe that teaching is a natural talent of mine. But I do care. I sort of like those little monkeys that come to my classes five days a week, and I want to give them something from their time with me. It is common to compare teaching to gardening. Now that I teach, I appreciate a bit more just how appropriate that analogy is.
As teachers, our time with our students is short. We plant a seed in the garden of their minds, hoping that they will continue to nurture it after we are gone from their lives. The greatest joy of a teacher must be to revisit the garden after some years have passed and see that the seed they planted has grown into a fruit-bearing tree. One day, I hope to have that pleasure, though my foray into the gardening of the mind may be short.
Jonathan Ogden hails from Portland, OR. He graduated from Portland State University in the Spring of 2012. He is currently applying to law school and taking advantage of a year between college and post-graduate studies to teach English in China. His mother tells me that he is quite handsome.
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