Thursday, September 29, 2011

But Teacher, Why Don't You Have All the Answers?

I am, by all accounts, a terrible teacher. I don't follow the rules. I am friends with my students. I mess up and fall on my face, in front of 38 teenage Korean students, on a weekly basis. I have a certificate and a degree and I still don't know what they heck I'm doing...and this is month 6. My coffee intake has jumped to 2 cups a day just to keep up. I'll be the first to tell you that I don't know what the hell I am doing. I'm a filmmaker teaching English in a foreign country. That doesn't make much sense.

However, over the past couple of weeks, I've started to notice some fundamental changes in my work ethic and character. That's what's going to make all of this worth it.

I come in every Monday morning just knowing that, sometime during my day, I will fail miserably. I've forgotten flash drives, broken lesson plans in half, fell down stairs, stuttered in class: you name it, I've done it. What boggles my co-teachers and peers is that, in spite of all this, I still keep my perfectionism and work ethic running on all cylinders. If something isn't working, I stay and fix it. My contract states that I work from 8:30-4:30, yet I find myself coming in at 7:45am and leaving at 5:30pm all the time. I'm constantly reading books and taking courses to get better. It's something strange for someone who intends to stay at this job for only one year. Why would you want to train if you're just going to be doing something else come April?

Well...even though I lose all the time, I hate being a loser. I'm a winner. It's in my heart and soul. If I suck at something, I refuse to keep sucking at it just to get a paycheck and bounce out of there. That's not me. I got to get this right.

It wasn't until this week that I realize that, in a way, I was getting it right all along.

I was giving speaking tests to my 3rd graders (9th grade). It was my first round of speaking tests of the new semester. For the most part, the process is mind-numbing. Testing 200+ kids individually with the same script is boring. I started to notice, however, how much I really care about these kids. I'm not talking about hoping for their success...but truly loving these kids for who they are. Names are tough for me, but I know each and every one of my kids. Some I know better than others, and some kids I've developed great friendships with. I can't wait to see what they make of themselves, and I think this was that golden moment that teachers always look for in their careers: that moment when you care for your kids more than yourself.

I also noticed how my lessons were starting to stick, and after some honest self-reflection I realized that I've been a great teacher all along. With no experience and no formal training, I was forced to teach what I know. Turns out....I know a little about a lot and a lot about a little, and both have helped me create some pretty good lessons. I also opened myself up to my students because I am learning to be a teacher at the same time as they are learning to speak English. They speak more, and I'm seeing improvement.

That's critical. Language learning has the nuts and bolts to it, yes, but it ultimately comes down to communication. They're communicating with me. That's the best way to learn, and you won't find that in your TEFL certification course.

Maybe I'm a teacher after all. I'm still learning every day, and I know there's so much that I don't know. I'll say it again: I don't know what the hell I'm doing.  Most 23 year olds don't. Heck, most people don't. What defines maturity isn't figuring everything out...it's knowing that you'll never have it figured out, and you being ok with that. I'm starting to like it because, no matter what I do, life will continue to surprise me.

I'm a teacher learning how to learn again. How ironic is that?

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