8 surprising things i learned as an English teacher
Working as a teacher is an endless adventure!
Sometimes, I still can’t believe that I have been working as a teacher for nearly two decades now! Oh, how time flies!
As a kid, I thought being a teacher would be an easy-peasy job. Being on holiday when the school is on holiday? Telling students what to do? Assigning homework left and right? Sign me up! I thought the only drawback to being a teacher is that I had to start my job early.
Ha! How naive I was!
As I grew up and actually studied to become a teacher in university, I knew that I was in for a challenge when I chose to pursue teaching English to non-native speakers.
Being able to speak English fluently is one thing, but being able to teach English is a completely different thing!
With that being said, I wouldn’t change my job for anything. This job gives me fulfilment that I doubt any job can ever give and seeing my students develop their confidence just gives me immense pride!
Still, even with what university has taught me and having lecturers as parents, there are some things that still manage to surprise me…
1. It requires A LOT of energy
From the outside, teaching might seem like a sedentary job, unless you teach PE. But believe me, it is not! Especially if you teach young learners!
For some reason, these young kids have so much energy stored in their tiny bodies! As a result, I know that for many of them, “normal” mode of teaching – just me explaining stuff at the front of the class and them taking notes of what is being learned—won’t work.
That’s totally normal, of course. We shouldn’t expect kids to behave like adults. Exploration is the key to learning!
For young kids, the total physical response method of teaching is the way to go! This means that I do a lot of physical activity daily. From dancing to organizing games like charades, role playing, and acting out the vocabulary I am teaching, they add up!
Now, it might not sound like a lot, but multiply this by 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and think that a 40 something year old person is doing this, it IS a lot!
But hey, it keeps me fit so I can’t complain!
The takeaway is that you should just be prepared for how physically draining teaching can be. Speaking for 8 hours straight a day is no small matter too! So,always have a glass or bottle of water near you and do give yourself a well-deserved break during your off day!
Remember, students will always sense if you are tired or sluggish, no matter how well you think you hide them. So, it’s very important that you come to class everyday ready to give it your all!
2. Oftentimes, the parents are more difficult than the students
I am sure fellow teachers out there can attest to this.
I really appreciate parents who want to collaborate and be more involved with their child’s education.
Indeed, when parents are involved in their child’s education, that is when the best learning outcomes happen.
It benefits everyone! The students feel more supported, the parents form a closer bond with their child, and as a teacher, because the child feels more supported by their parents, they are more encouraged to learn, so that makes my job easier!
I have also met a few too many parents with outrageous expectations. They expect their children to be completely fluent in a month. If you have ever tried to learn a second language, you know that it is a completely impossible endeavour! I can enhance your child’s English skills and confidence in a month, but fluency takes time!
3. ALWAYS plan ahead, but also be prepared that your plan will not go, well, as you planned it
For me, the most challenging part of starting a new job was feeling absolutely disorganized. I’d go home every night, plan the following day, and yet I feel out of my depth. I still felt unprepared for the day ahead, no matter what I did.
What works for me as a teacher is keeping a physical planner-journal thingy but also having my weekly agenda written on my digital calendar. For this, google calendar has been tremendously helpful. I also make daily and weekly to-do-lists.
When I finally mastered how to plan ahead, it felt as though the gate of heaven had opened and the sun shone down on me. I felt so liberated. No longer do I have to cram lesson plans, grading papers, and reports!
BUT, as I said, be prepared that your plan will not go… as planned.
I quickly realized, even after just working as a teacher for a month, that there are just so many things that can go wrong at any given day 😬
Sometimes plans just don’t work out and that’s okay!
If something unexpected happens at the last minute, just go with the flow! That way, you will feel a lot better than if you just spend the time worrying about your perfect plan.
So, here’s the takeaway: always have a plan, but you must be prepared to change it at the drop of a hat. Just try to make the most of your time rather than go into a hissy fit because disruptions are a fact of life.
This applies to both teaching and just life in general!
4. Surprisingly…. I am very adaptable!
Hear me out, ALL teachers need to be adaptable. As I’ve said, a lot of sudden changes and disruptions can happen on any given day. I’d say being adaptable is one of the core skills that a teacher needs and it needs to be highlighted more.
What I mean is, as we all have experienced, the covid pandemic has changed everything. With my two decades of experience in teaching, I have never had to teach online. But because covid, well, I had to! Of course I don’t want my students’ learning experiences to be disrupted. So, with nothing but willingness to adapt and learn, I soldiered on!
In the last two years, teaching has been turned on its head. With the move to online learning, I quickly discovered that what works in physical classrooms does not always translate into a virtual classroom. Our board of academic councils has to reimagine and devise ways to still deliver the curriculum effectively. I am sure a lot of teachers also have to figure things out on the fly too!
Learning new technology, frequent changes in laws and regulations, never-ending scheduling changes, and learning how to do numerous tasks at the same time have all demonstrated how adaptive myself, as well as other teachers throughout the country (actually, throughout the world!) can be.
So, cheers to that!
5. Sometimes, teaching adults can be harder than teaching children
I am not sure whether this applies to other subjects, but this is certainly true in language learning!
Of course, teaching adults has its advantages: adults are certainly better at managing themselves, generally show up in class not forgetting their book at home, and in general less easily distracted.
However, sometimes, adults come into the classroom with things that need to be unlearned.
Here’s the thing – in most cases, unlearning is even more difficult than learning!
They might have joined another English course before, or learned stuff from the internet, or maybe their friend taught them.
Whatever the case may be, they have the wrong understanding of certain things – perhaps tenses, perhaps word order, whatever it is, and it takes time to unlearn them.
6. It’s important to get into my students’ world
I teach a varied age group, and for each of them, I always attempt to understand them and get into their world.
For very young learners, think toddlers to primary schoolers, I always aim to brighten their world. Children need a kind, nurturing presence andI was certainly going to provide that. Of course, they also need to have fun! Learning should never be a bore!
So, when teaching this age group, my expression is often very animated. I’d ask their hobbies and interests, and reference whatever cartoon, games, or TV shows that’s trending right now. (Oh, how I am ever so familiar with those pinkfong nursery songs now)…
Teaching teenagers never fails to make me realize how old I am lol. It seems that every week, there’s always new lingo or memes that I am not familiar with. I believe that to build a relationship where we can connect, I have to be at least somewhat adept with their lingo.
For example, did you know that they say “bet” as kind of like “yes”?
“Hey, you wanna grab lunch together later?”
Here’s another example. Back in my day, the title of “best friend” was kind of sacred. Not just anyone can be your best friend. But these kids, they call everyone “bestie”. Not that it’s a bad thing, just a bit jarring lol.
They also teach me about the hip artists now: Taylor Swift is pretty enduring, teenagers from 7 years ago and teenagers now still talk about her. Justin Bieber is pretty up there too. But the popular artists now… based on what my students tell me anyway, are Olivia Rodrigo and…BTS?
Showing that I am open to enter their world and get to know their interests is honestly one of the biggest tips in teaching teenagers. Asking questions about their interests and hobbies provides me with a good starting point and I can connect it with whatever learning objectives I have that day.
For adults, they generally have a clear goal. Whether to increase their conversation skills, prepare for an exam (usually IELTS or TOEFL) or study career-specific English (such as English for business, medicine, or fashion) so I generally just try to help them as best as I can to achieve their goals in the shortest time possible.
7. Kids notice EVERYTHING
Holy moly do they have eagle eyes!
They really do notice EVERYTHING!
From a small typo, to a new haircut, to new shoes, to a creased shirt, they miss NOTHING!
And they aren’t shy about telling you those things either!
One time a student flat out told me
“Hey, Mister. New haircut? You look weird.”
Man, that really humbled me.
8. English is needed in a lot of fields – including ones I did not expect would need English
Of course it does not come as a surprise that some professions need English. When we think of professions that need English, we tend to think of people in business – marketing, maybe public relations? We also tend to think of doctors – even if you study within Indonesia, a lot of universities require you to at least pass a TOEFL test to study specialized medicine.
But what if I tell you that the police and the army needs English too?
I have had the pleasure of teaching a police officer who wants to continue his education. Apparently he wants to pursue something in public policy and it requires him to pass the IELTS test.
I also had the pleasure of teaching a lady who started her own non-profit organisation. She wants to learn English so she can write about her organisation and her mission in English so more people can know about it.
The point is, English really does open a lot of opportunities. Seeing my students able to learn and experience new things because they can speak English with fluency and confidence really fills me with immense pride and joy!
Teaching, just like any other profession, comes with its ups and downs. However, what I like the most about teaching is that I get to see the impact I have on my students every single day! Some days, teaching can be taxing, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I grow along with my students. In a way, we constantly learn from each other. So, join my class and let’s learn together!
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