A Foreigner’s Reflection on Eight Years of Teaching in the USA and Chile
I earned my teaching degree and license in the United States in 2010. How would I describe my abilities at the beginning? Terrible comes to mind. Completely incompetent might be more accurate. The extreme anxiety I experienced every morning probably didn’t help, neither did the sleepless nights or the 14-hour workdays. Let’s just say there was nowhere to go but up.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Tim M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
It’s been almost ten years since I graduated and eight years since I started my first job in North Carolina, USA and it’s been almost a year and a half since I left Antofagasta, Chile to come back to my country and work in a public school in Pukalani, Hawaii. I’ve had many experiences in many different cultures across three continents and five countries. These experiences, along with a little determination, humility, and hard work have helped me develop into the teacher (and person) that I am today. Below are my reflections from my time in teaching, some lessons learned, and my aspirations for the future.
Over the years, I have developed a sense of myself as a teacher and I have identified areas that I excel in.
My greatest strength is and always has been my ability to relate to my students. I have a way of creating relationships with my students that endears them to me (and me to them). Leaving Chile was the most emotional moment of my life for exactly this reason. I cried all day at work and I sobbed when I finally got home and sat down on my couch. It was soul-crushing. I didn’t realize just how important my students had become to me. When I visited the school a few months later, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I felt like a rock-star. When I walked in, the lunch bell was just about to ring. As the students started pouring into the courtyard they slowly, one by one began to spot me. I was greeted with “Mr. Tim”s and “Profe”s from every direction. I was suddenly encircled by at least sixty students (in a school of about 300), all of them wanting to talk to me, to hug me, and to tell me how much they missed me. As I walked through the hallways afterward, I had the time of my life. Students were still hounding me from every direction and I wasn’t surprised. I knew every single student from grades 7 to 12, as I had taught them all at least once.
Also Read: The 4 Most Important Reasons Why Is English So Challenging for Chinese Learners
What’s my secret?
Well, it’s no secret really because it’s not anything I do purposefully. This is a strength that I carried with me without knowing it. I think part of what makes me successful in this area is that I have a young personality. I don’t have kids of my own and I think it helps me relate to the students not as a parent, but as just another person. I also tend to treat my students as little adults, as opposed to kids, which I think they appreciate. Another factor that I think students appreciate is that I’m open to talking about non-school related subjects and that I take time out to do this, even during a lesson, in the form of brief asides. I always like to know what my students are outside of school and I always want to know how that is going for them. Regardless, the fact that I have this is a big bonus for me because it helps with classroom management and it makes it much more fulfilling for me.
The second attribute that as I reflect on is a strength of mine is creativity.
I take the time to make much of my material and I actively observe other teachers and how students respond to their methods, which helps me identify what I could be doing differently. It’s not uncommon in my classroom to see team projects function more like an obstacle course on a game, for a typical slide presentation to be made a bit more interesting with the use of 3-D glasses, or for me to allow students the use of notes on their tests with one caveat: the notebook has to be across the room so that the student reads and memorizes the information as they head back to their test.
My greatest weakness has been following through with lessons, allowing myself to be flexible in changing the curriculum, and giving speedy feedback on assignments and tests. I’ve noticed that I tend to power through my content without stopping to retread topics that aren’t being understood perfectly by the majority of my students. When we take tests or do assignments, I also tend to be slow in responding. The students are missing out on a key component of their education because of this and I know it. Reviewing topics, correcting mistakes, and retrying the skill is essential to internalizing whatever it is one is trying to learn and I am very inefficient in providing this opportunity for my students. I will search for solutions to this problem and I have discovered one that I started using this year: as students take multiple-choice tests, I correct it as each student finishes, and then I have them correct their mistakes. If it’s wrong a second time, I reteach at their seat. This is a bit time consuming and difficult to manage logistically in large classes, but I like the results.
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As I continue my career, my goal is to return to South America and find success there again in a new environment. I want to implement the skills I’ve learned in this and my other TEFL programs, especially the classroom activities. As I continue to improve my craft, I will not lose sight of what is most important for me: building relationships with my students. Because I pride myself in my relationships with my students, I am motivated to continue to develop my skills and find better ways to serve the kids and young adults who pass through my classroom. Thank you for reading this gringo’s reflections on eight years of teaching in the USA and Chile.
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