Foreward: This post was written six months into me being a new ESL teacher. Make sure to read “Teaching in Thailand: Part 2” to see the insight I gained after completing my one year contract.
Starting this post off with full honesty…I most definitely underestimated what teaching English as a foreign language would be like. Do you know those pictures that were surfacing around on Facebook at one point—“What your family thinks you do”, “What your friends think you do”, “What the world thinks you do”, and “What you actually do”—this paints a perfect picture of my situation.
I thought teaching English abroad would be an easy opportunity to travel the world (which it is), a time of solitude to find myself (which it has been), and since I already speak English, teaching it to others would be a piece of cake, right?
And this is where my naïve, never-have-left-America-or-been-a-teacher brain misled me.
Being a teacher, no matter what the subject, is an extraordinary profession. Think about the way that humans learn things from the time they are babies. They learn from their parents, their family members, their teachers, then their friends; and eventually the rest of the world begins to influence them. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, it’s essentially true.
So not only are teachers responsible for teaching their specified subject to their students; they also play a role in influencing that child’s beliefs, values, and morals as a human being. They spend majority of their day with that child, sometimes up to eight hours, sometimes more than the parents even do.
There are life lessons that go beyond the classroom that must be interwoven in the day to day structure. There is the role of a teacher, caretaker, discipliner, and encourager that must be exercised at all times. It’s like being one of those superheroes that has a million different superpowers and sometimes feels overwhelmed with all the responsibilities that come along with it.
Needless to say, becoming a teacher has given me a new perspective on the profession, and given me a huge amount of respect for every teacher that has taken the job to mold me into the human that I am today. The amount of perseverance, patience, forgiveness, creativity, understanding, positivity, and energy that is needed is tremendous—and I have had to adopt every single one of these qualities by necessity.
Being a new ESL/EFL teacher is a constant fluctuation of ups and downs.
It’s striving for perfection, then coming realizing that progress is more important. It’s spending hours making extremely detailed lesson plans, then having to make impromptu adjustments to fit your students’ comprehension levels. It’s having kick-ass days when your students remember every flashcard you show them, then having days when they stare at you in silence for what feels like hours. It’s getting your kids to use their manners, then watching them stick crayons up their nose because hey, they’re still children.
And even though some days feel like I’m riding the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk; my underlying purpose is what keeps me lining up for this crazy ride over and over again.
I came to Thailand to teach English to children. To do something beyond myself. To make a difference in their lives. To play a small role in their upbringing and their education. To laugh with them, congratulate them, and motivate them to keep progressing—and I am doing just that.
No, it’s not perfect, and no it’s not easy; but the sound of their little voices shouting “Teacher Sierra” whenever they see me fills my heart with joy and makes it all worth it.
The lessons I’ve learned about myself, about these little human beings, and about the rest of the world are insurmountable. And the one thing that I’ve come to realize from this entire experience is that being of service to others, and helping people learn and grow is the most fulfilling feeling.
Interested in teaching English abroad?
Check out the International TEFL Academy to get certified to teach anywhere in the world.