Personal Teaching Experience Shaping into an Adaptable Resilient Teacher
Having completed my Bachelor of Arts in Drama, I started my international teaching career straight out of university. What was meant to be a gap year opportunity of traveling and earning money has become a professional career in education spanning over ten years in more than five different countries. What was once a means to an end, has become a passion and a calling.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Desmond K. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Personal Learning Experience
The first time I became aware of the ESL job market was in my third year of university when one of the alumni from the Drama department returned from a year of teaching in South Korea. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but I kept it in the back of my mind as a plan B to raise funds to afford my life in an oversaturated dying industry of being a theatre actor in South Africa. After graduating and trying my hand at acting, my mind was made up to look for greener pastures and to have a one year adventure in the land of the rising sun.
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Finding a job proved to be easy. I typed the words “teaching in Korea” into google and looked at the websites of three recruiters before I found one that I felt comfortable with. FootPrints recruiting, is based in Canada and provided excellent service to a first-time teacher like myself. At the time they were working with privately owned hagwons or language centers as well as the government-run Gyeonggi English Program In Korea (GEPIK). The website outlined the pros and cons of each choice. GEPIK jobs are more standardized in contracts and duties. Teachers work from 8 AM to 3:30 PM Monday to Friday with two weeks leave for 2000 USD at the time, the con was that you were placed by GEPIK and didn’t have a large input as to which city you will be teaching in. Hagwons, on the other hand, could pay up to 3000 USD at the time, and teachers could choose which city they wanted to live in, but the contracts were not standardized and varied from employer to employer, also the validity was of the contract was not guaranteed as there were a lot of stories around about hagwons treating their teachers badly and not abiding by the terms of the contract. The choice, as a twenty-five-year-old man leaving my home country for the first time, was obvious. I choose security over money and chose to work at a government school in Pyeongtaek, a satellite city on the outskirts of Seoul. Everything was provided, from a furnished apartment to prepaid airfare. I had a wonderful year easing into life in Korea, visiting Seoul on weekends, and traveling throughout South East Asia. The students were great, and I had a lot of input in what I taught and how I taught it.
Living in South Korea
After a year in Pyeongtaek, I decided to stay in South Korea for another year but decided to move to Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. I found a high paying job at a hagwon (language center) in Gangnam, a fashionable district in Seoul. The classes were standardized and I had little to no input on what and how I taught. I worked from 3 PM to 10 PM teaching elementary-aged students from a badly written textbook. The job was not unfulfilling because there was no human element to it. I was a glorified tape recorder, doing language drills and dictation five nights a week. It was during this year that I realized that it was not about the traveling and the money, but that I had a passion for a good education. Building and facilitating great lesson plans, seeing the students grow and flourish in a classroom were the things I valued. These elements that I craved were not present or valued in the language center I was working at. It was a business after all, with the sole purpose of turning a profit. I promised myself never to teach in a corporate language school again.
While researching different ESL teaching methods I came across the Callan method and was intrigued and curious about the mechanics behind it. I found a job at a Callan center in Poland where I taught English to adults and teenagers using this curious method. “The Callan Method provides carefully programmed language practice. During every lesson, you learn new grammar and vocabulary. You immediately practice using it, and everything is revised systematically so that you remember what you’ve learned.”
Teaching in Poland
After my year in Poland, I moved back to Seoul, South Korea where I found a job as a Drama teacher at an IB international school, which led to Drama teaching jobs at international schools in South Africa and China. The IB curriculum allows teachers the freedom to use a combination of different techniques and theories. “An IB education aims to transform students and schools as they learn, through dynamic cycles of inquiry, action, and reflection. Teachers enable and support students as they develop the approaches to learning they need – for both academic and personal success.”
Working in Turkey
I am currently in Istanbul Turkey, Where I am teaching language arts at a private school using the side by side approach “Keeps teachers and principals focused on the way each student learns, while simultaneously providing insight and strategies into how dilemmas around classroom learning can be addressed” (Fink & Markholt, 2011). The transition from Drama to Language arts was a smooth one. Moving from IB to the side by side teaching was a little bit more challenging, but again a learning experience which showcased different perspectives of education I have never given much thought to.
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I never thought I would become a teacher, I had a different path planned for my life and never expected to be where I am now. Every step, every method, every experience, good and bad enriched my teaching practice in the classroom. I have learned to look beyond curriculum, techniques, and expectations to find the essence of education. To teach is to learn. A good teacher has to be adaptable to the needs of every student and not be bogged down by methods and theories of education, but rather to use the most suitable approach needed at the moment. Some methods are indeed better than others, some textbooks are more effective than others, and some schools are more caring than others. But at the end of the day, the teacher is the one who is responsible to make the best of every teaching opportunity by drawing from his growing wealth of experience and to never stop growing as an educator.
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