Teaching: not for the weak

(Originally written 28 March 2011)

Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, do something easier.

From a personal journal entry October 1, 2010:

“Teaching is hard. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong, though, because most of the other expats here scoff when I say that and tell me I’m worrying too much… Kids coloring on the walls and floors; parents calling to tell the principal that I gave difficult or too much homework; parents telling my principal that if their kid isn’t paying attention, I need to make it more interesting…

“Everyone tells me to stop taking it so seriously, so personally. It’s a business… (but) I want (the kids) to be confident with what I’ve taught them… Maybe I know what I’m doing and it’s everyone else who needs to leave me… alone. Sure, I’m in Taiwan for me and should ‘try to enjoy it more’, but I refuse to be a mediocre teacher just so I can be lazy.”

I remember how frustrated I was and all the Skype calls to my mom to find out what I was doing wrong. She would laugh and say, “Mandy, I have a Masters in this stuff and have been teaching for almost 20 years and I still don’t know all the answers.”

My first semester as a teacher was hard. I did everything wrong. I forgot how to spell. My handwriting on the board looked like I was possessed. Kids asked me questions and I don’t know the answers. I gave them the wrong answers. I realized that even though I’ve been speaking English for decades, I didn’t know a thing about teaching it.

It got easier the second semester. I found my rhythm and my voice. I figured out what I was willing to accept and not willing to put up with. I learned how to improvise and get through a difficult class. When I had structure to the class, but still allowed the kids to be kids, the hours started flying by, and my kids and I became friends.

The best teachers treat their students like the little humans they are. Now, if something isn’t working, I adapt. Sometimes the class is one massive failure from a lesson plan standpoint, but that’s okay. Kids don’t get the material? As my boss, Sunny, constantly tells me, “Repeat, and repeat, and repeat!” When I don’t have time to repeat, I don’t freak out; the kids will survive regardless of if they understand prefixes or not.

Sidenote: what blowhard decided first grade EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students needed to learn prefixes? Talk about linguistic rocket science.

Teaching is hard. You deal with delinquents, bullies, lazy kids who are geniunely dumb, lazy kids who are brilliant, know-it-alls; kids who don’t do their homework, kids who are terrible at taking tests, kids who forget their books or pencil or eraser or homework every single class; and you deal with adults that act like children.

You deal with a lot. The first semester through the first year is very nearly overwhelming. Once I figured out how to handle both myself as an educator and the kids I was standing in front of, it got a little easier. Once I return to the States, my teaching career is over; I’m glad I gave it a shot, though. I have far more respect for all my former teachers now.

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