The joy of getting through to that first child – the frustration of encouraging a challenging student, week after week, in the hope that you'll help them to achieve the potential that you know they're capable of. I've been there. I've done that. I've spilled paint on the T-shirt during the Craft Stage of the lesson.
Having trudged the trenches of teaching under pressure, when sick, or when missing home there are a few nuggets of truths I've learned about the practice of teaching.
When you first arrive in China, as with any country you're settling into for a year, we're exposed to new bugs and nasty's – colds we've never been exposed to, food that's playing havoc on our tummies. Trust me – it happens to all of us – and you're in your new job and wanting to make a good impression, but all you want is Mom. You dread the idea of 10 or more excitable, and already excited, kids waiting for you on the other side of that door.
The funny thing is – it's the kids that are going to pull you through that class. Remember, you can't fool kids – they're a notoriously honest audience – you can't fake it. Level with them. Tell them you're not feeling great and you want them to treat you with a little tenderness today. You'd be surprised how the most rambunctious boisterous boys will be offering to bring you a tissue or pick up the pen you just fumbled to the floor for the 40th time today.
Striving for perfection is enough to drive any teacher of young learners round the bend. There's only SO PREPARED you can be for a class before you come to terms with the idea that KIDS WILL BE KIDS – and we should be celebrating them for it. You're likely to encounter the repeated crash of a box of pencils being dropped from the desk to the ground and rolling everywhere. First time, ok. Second time, really? Third time, now you're doing it on purpose. Fact is kids will be kids, they're clumsy and energetic and their arms and legs are longer than they were last week. Learn to enjoy them for what they are and use their energy and silliness to keep you young in the classroom.
Don't learn this one the hard way like I did. Students will happily spend the better chunk of an hour drawing ridiculous clothes on a printout "of you".
They're likely to give some weird names too - especially when they're learning new vocabulary. How often have you had a 5-year-old say "Teacher is a pencil." Not funny at all right? But you laugh anyway cause we're teachers and we're approachable and we have a connection with Mr. Funny Guy here.
Making sure the kids feel safe with you – safe to express themselves and try out new things with the language will result in hours of forced giggles and slightly insincere chuckles – but there's a big difference between laughing AT a mistake and laughing WITH someone who made a mistake. Kids are emotional creatures and they're still figuring out how to react and build a thicker skin – feeling laughed AT is going to shut them up faster than a mussel in low-tide (mmm mussels). Learn to find the moments of humor in the lesson, don't take what your kids say personally (no, you don't really look like a monkey) and know when to laugh and when to empathize and when to encourage.
Think back to your favorite teacher from kindergarten or primary school. If you're anything like me that was a good few trips around the sun ago and honestly, I don't remember WHY Mrs. Urry was my favorite teacher, she just was. I remember getting in trouble, being told to stand at my desk, not earning the gold star cause I was talking to my desk-buddy…I was always in trouble! So how can she be my favorite teacher? Because she always gave me another chance. She helped me get that gold star, she reminded me that talking during reading time is rude to the others who want to read and that when they're 20+ kids in a class – sometimes you got to give a lady a break. The point is I remember her forgiving smile and encouraging aura. I don't remember the words she used to encourage me but I remember the feeling. Wouldn't it be nice to be that teacher to someone?
Teaching is a work of passion – and the kids are going to teach you as much, if not more, about whom you are as a teacher and as a person. It taps into that sense of nurturing even the most macho men would try denying. Whether you're asking hyperactive Emma to sit down back in her chair for the 1000th time or giving Leo a high 5 for finally making it to 6/10 for his spelling test this week – enjoy your kids – enjoy the chance you've been given to make a difference in someone's life.
Xander is the very tattooed owner of tattooedteflteacher.com.
In between sips of Starbucks he is an ed manager, ESL teacher & trainer, and a freelance writer & voiceover artist.