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from Kinmen, Taiwan
It is almost time for us to go on our 2 ½ week vacation for Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) and I wanted to share some things I learned in my first few months of teaching English in Taiwan.
Think inside the box– In my first month of teaching I felt pressured to have over-the-top, and super interactive lessons. I would spend hours thinking of fun games, only to find that they would go way over the students’ heads, and class would be a fail. While it is very important for English language learners to have fun and interactive classes, also be reminded that less is more. Simple lessons do not mean that students will not learn, as super fun activities do not guarantee that students will learn the maximum. Simple lessons are OK.
Take your time and scaffold- There’s no rush! In the beginning months, I also felt pressured to teach as much content as possible, flying through lessons without making sure that students actually understood material. Instead I learned that it is beneficial to teach a particular concept or theme over 2 or 3 weeks, increasing difficulty step by step. By the third week, I found that students were more comfortable with speaking, were able to remember the material weeks later and were able to use the language in real life.
Students’ cultural norms are important– Be aware of classroom cultural norms. Is it okay to call on students individually? Can students handle competitive games? Is it okay to discipline a student in class? All of these questions are worth considering before you step foot in the classroom. You want the classroom to be as welcoming and least restrictive as possible. If you find yourself having cultural clashes with students in the classroom, students could resent you for it and may be discouraged to learn the language.
Set learning objectives and then design the lesson- Always think of what you want students to have learned at the end of your class first. When you set those objectives, THEN begin brainstorming the ways in which you will achieve those objectives. If you think of an activity first before objectives, your objectives may get lost in translation and it will be hard to assess what students learned or whether or not they actually learned.
Talk to other teachers and share resources- Sometimes the stress of teaching makes you feel like you’re the only teacher in the world experiencing challenges in the classroom! 99.99 % of the time you’re never alone! Talk to other teachers to seek advice on classroom management, fun activities, and what does and doesn’t work. When my colleagues gave me advice and shared lesson plans, this lifted a burden and reassured me that my challenges were just temporary. Pay it forward and do the same for other teachers.
Document and Reflect on Your Experiences– Chances are that teaching English in a foreign country is WAY harder than you thought. You will be challenged personally and professionally, and it is worthwhile to document both the highs and lows of the teaching experience. If you plan to continue teaching, you can look back on your experiences and see how much you’ve grown, areas of improvement and what you should continue doing.
Play With Your Students Outside of Class– Bonding with students is as important as teaching. As a foreign teacher, students could be super shy (like my students) or weary of someone from another country. However, if you spend a few minutes after to school to stick around and chat with them, play with them, and/or attend their extracurricular activities, students will more than likely respect you and want to do their best in your class.