This is a guest post by Jessica Stewart.
The day before I began teaching at the Children’s Development Centre in Mae Sot, Thailand I was decidedly nervous. This was my first time teaching English as a second language, my first time teaching overseas, my first time overseas on my own, my first time in Thailand, my first major teaching experience outside of my teaching degree. It was a first for many things, but I can confidently say that it was not the last time I would be teaching overseas.
I had so many doubts about myself and I had invented a hundred different catastrophic scenarios as to what would happen when I walked into the school on the first day. What if I couldn’t find the school at all? Someone did tell me it was in an obscure location, but didn’t tell me where. What if no one understood any English at all? What if they did not remember that I was coming to teach? After all I planned this many months in advance and had limited contact with them since they confirmed my visit. What if all the things I planned aren’t what they need or are looking for? What if I didn’t do a good enough job?
What if, what if, what if.
It was at this point that my boyfriend of often not so many words, said the most profound words to me that came to define my experience in Thailand, and hopefully my experience in future when I teach overseas again:
Even if they don’t understand your words, they will understand your joy.
And that is completely accurate. It's easy to forget that in the planning and responsibility of teaching or in the newness and ‘unknowness’ of teaching ESL overseas that, in the end, the students will respond more to your joy and passion for teaching rather than the planning or perfection of your lessons and programs.
While exploring the town on bicycle, in an attempt to locate the school I stumbled across a cluster of cream coloured buildings in the distance. Could this be the school? I peddled faster, there was a great sense of relief as I discovered that it was the school.
When I arrived at the school on the first day, I introduced myself to the most obvious person I could see: an American who I came to find out was teaching at the school too as a part of his teaching degree. My worries about no one speaking any English at all were well and truly dashed.
A welcoming and smiling vice principal, who was immediately grateful for my coming, even before I’d stepped into a classroom, then greeted me. Turns out they remembered that I was coming.
Then I was introduced to a small and gentle woman, whose name I misheard, and I referred to her as ‘Kind’ for my first week. I worked closely with her to plan and prepare English units. She continuously told me of how helpful the planning was and I passed on every resource that I found and created. All that I had planned was useful, even if it wasn’t used during the time I was there.
As my time in Mae Sot drew to a close I found myself considering this question of whether I had done a good enough job. The experience had fine-tuned my awareness of my teaching practice and reflection: an invaluable asset in any teaching context. But had I done a good enough job? Had the students progressed, learned more and discovered more? I think any teacher wanting to be a great teacher is predisposed to striving constantly to do a good enough job. We are never satisfied because we can see our room for improvement. So to answer my own question, perhaps I did a good enough job or perhaps I may say that I could always do more, that way, I can go back to the Children’s Development Centre and teach again.
Jessica Stewart is a first-year-out-of-university teacher living in Canberra, Australia. She is currently juggling the excitement of relief teaching at a number of primary and high schools in the area, trying to get as much experience of different schools, age groups and subject areas as possible. She does her best to keep in contact with the school in Thailand and hopes to go back to teach again.