Maybe you plan on making a career out of teaching; maybe you don’t. Either way, teaching English abroad is an excellent way to build the skills you need to be successful in any career. Some of the teaching skills that you pick up will last a life time!
Stage fright is so common it’s almost cliché. Even a short stint as a teacher will inure anyone to those pesky butterflies in the stomach.
I came to China thinking I was prepared for this. I was a campus tour guide in college, so I was used to talking to large groups of people. Tour guides, however, have a nice pre-written script to work from. Teaching is different. No two classes are the same, and I was nervous for weeks.
Like all other teachers, I got over my nerves. As teachers, we present to a roomful of people on a daily basis. After a few weeks, leading a classroom full of people just seems normal.
Class begins at a set time. This time can’t be delayed because you haven’t finished planning. It can’t be delayed because you’re running late. Teachers show up to work on time and ready: they haven’t got a choice!
Not only do you need to manage your planning time, you also need to manage your classroom time. Admittedly, this has been one of the hardest adjustments for me. I get so wrapped up in class, I forget to keep an eye on the clock. It can be very difficult to estimate the exact time each activity will take, especially if it’s a new class. I’ve learned to plan an extra activity in case we finish early and to decide ahead of time which activities we need to do, and which activities I want us to do.
Communication is an integral part of teaching. If your students can’t understand you, how can you possibly help them? If you don’t listen to them, how can you know what they need help with? When you’re teaching English learners using English, you have to constantly ask yourself, “Is there a simpler way to say this?” As you do this, you’ll become a better listener. As a language teacher, you constantly monitor your students’ speech. When it’s their turn to talk, they’re the center of the world.
Children and teenagers have minds of their own. Teachers routinely convince a roomful of them to pay attention in a class they may or may not care about. They know how to build relationships and trust with the students. They know that encouragement carries far more weight than criticism. They know how to adjust their plans based on the students’ needs. Most importantly, teachers know that in order to lead their students, they have to understand their students.
As teachers, we spend a lot of time lesson planning. It’s easy to get attached to your plans, but learning to deviate from them is an important skill.
Planning a lesson is like trying to predict the future. You do the best you can to anticipate your students’ needs, what they will struggle with, and how best to help them, but you won’t be perfect. In the end, you’re not teaching robots; you’re teaching a room full of human beings who are impossible to predict.
It will hurt. After all the time you spent preparing, it can be hard to admit that your plan is a dud. However, that time wasn’t wasted. Like Thomas Edison, who discovered countless ways not to make a light bulb, you’ve just discovered one more way not to teach an English class. Learn from it, and move on.
I love teaching. I came for a year, then told my family that I’m staying for at least two. Being a teacher has been challenging, and it has forced me to grow in ways I didn’t expect. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I know I’ll be relying on the skills I’ve been developing in the classroom.