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Learning to Teach

Admin - Apr 01 2015

Call it an oxymoron, but the only way to teach effectively is to learn how to teach. And coming to teach ESL in Asia is all one big learning experience for you, the teacher. You will probably spend more time learning for yourself in your first few months than you will be able to teach others what they are supposed to be learning.
Confused? Let me break it down.

Lesson 1: Learning your new environment

classroom 6Even before you first step into the classroom, even before you step into your new school, you have already entered a brand new environment, away from your family, from your friends and your comfort zone. There will be some similarities. There will probably be some high-rise buildings, cars on the road of familiar brands, and people with children going about their lives in a similar way that we are used to seeing at home. But aside from that, your first week will be spent learning your way around the city, finding your way home without getting lost, learning to eat different food with chopsticks (although hopefully you will already have some experience here) and so on. You will also be learning how to manage without being able to speak the language. Learning the language is important, but you will probably find that you have enough to learn in your first few weeks even without trying to learn Chinese. If you’re at all like me, people will tell you things, you’ll hear it, maybe even say it, but then will forget it a minute later.
So even before your first day of work, you are already learning.

Lesson 2: Learning your school

classroom 4It’s hard enough walking into your first day of work in any situation, but starting work in a different country is definitely something else. One of the first things I had to learn was that I could no longer talk in the rapid English that I was accustomed to, and that if anyone other than the two other foreigners were to understand me, I was going to have to slow way down. My first week on the job was spent completing the induction process and going through the terms of my contract. I had to learn about the company itself, the roles of the local, non-academic staff (including their names!), and learning about the different classes and age groups that were being offered at the school. I had to learn what HF and TB meant, what Odin was, and what an IWB was and how to use it. Aside from the internal lessons, I was also trying to learn how to walk home from work without getting lost, while also trying to remember where my actual apartment was within the complex. Not being able to read street signs makes things much more difficult.

Lesson 3: Learning to be a teacher

It’s the reason why you came abroad in the first place: to teach English to young learners in a foreign country. While you are completing the induction process you will also be spending time observing other classes. Unlike anything you ever learned at school where everything you learn is from books, teaching is something you need to learn by watching others and by doing for yourself. The first classes I watched were small stars – children in the 4-6 year old age group. As an observer, it looked a lot like playing games with the kids and repeating ‘it’s a dog’ multiple times while they jump over a flashcard with a picture of a dog on it. The kids listened to the teacher and were generally well behaved. Don’t be fooled, running a class with 10 5-year old Chinese kids is much harder than it looks.

classroom 2I came to China in the middle of the intensive winter course session, so my first few classes were 4-ACH instead of the regular 3. My DoS (so many acronyms to learn!) prepared a detailed lesson plan for me to follow with all the resources I would need for my first class, but after that I was on my own to prepare my own lesson plans, something else that I was learning how to do. The winter courses I taught for my first week were generally pretty small, and smaller classes can be pretty misleading compared to running a class with 15 students. The bigger the class, the harder it is to manage. Once winter classes finished, I started to pick up my own classes, including a beginner TB class and a VIP student. I now have four classes of my own, and I am still learning how to plan lessons effectively and to give instructions in a way that can be understood. I have been teaching in China for nearly 4 months now and am still always learning. My next challenge: classroom management and learning Chinese.

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