Learning as a Teacher

I began my teaching career this summer. The lessons I learned were not what I expected.

I taught English to local Japanese kids to fund scholarships for the World Assistance for Cambodia’s Girls Be Ambitious program. I ran this initiative with my mom, who was the best partner I could possibly ask for; we worked on everything from web design to curriculum planning.

This was the first time I held major responsibility for an actual program that people were paying to attend–and it was daunting. What if something went wrong? What if the kids didn’t have fun? I was petrified. My mom, who dedicated countless hours to this project, gave me the confidence to make it all happen. Her flexibility and kindness contributed to our seamless teamwork and was the key to the classes’ successes. Even though we had some arguments, our goal of creating fun enjoyable and effective lessons kept us grounded and determined.

I learned that teaching is easiest when you’re having fun. Some of my fondest memories from this experience were the ones where the students were smiling, enthusiastically repeating the words that I spoke in English. For example, rather than just teaching colors and making students memorize them, we played Twister to add a competitive element. The classes where students seemed to be the most excited, without a doubt, were the ones where I was too. In my last post, I talked about how students learn the best when they’re having the most fun–it was intriguing to learn that as a teacher, I had a better time when the students were having fun.

I faced personal hurdles as well. I remember in one particular lesson, a boy audibly yawned “This is so boring.” My mind went blank, and I was fuming—“I worked so hard for this, and everyone else seemed to be enjoying it. How could he be so rude?” I took this criticism so personally to the point where I was upset with the student. Knowing that I needed to stay professional, I decided to switch gears towards a more hands-on project, which I imagined would be more interesting to young children. Luckily, this worked. He went home beaming with a baggie of slime in hand. This brought home a tough and relatable lesson–the importance of keeping teachers accountable. I’ve had more than my fair share of teachers whose methods clearly weren’t working, but for whom I didn’t have the trust or confidence to share how I really felt. Though it was initially tough to swallow, constructive criticism and effective modifications are imperatives to run a good class. In retrospect, I’ve come to understand that the student didn’t trust me, the same way I have a difficult time trusting “bad” teachers. The most effective way to bridge this gap is empathy. I needed to see the class from the boy’s perspective–he probably wanted to be more active, and that’s why I chose to transition to a more hands-on activity. The reason rifts occur between students and teachers is the same. Students want teachers to understand how they feel–that they’re overwhelmed with work from other classes, that explanations are difficult to follow, that they don’t feel important. The cure to this is to show students that you care.

Becoming a teacher was a major step that brought on a lot of responsibility and unexpected lessons. If anything, this was a learning experience that taught me to care, even if I was mildly annoyed (or practically fuming) at a student. Staying upset doesn’t change anything. Working to understand what the student wants, gaining their trust, and having fun with them is the most effective and enjoyable way to teach and learn.

Check out my blog about the lessons here: https://annamilstein.wixsite.com/letsfunenglish/blog-1

Leave a Reply