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I was listening to this interesting podcast the other day on creativity. They were referring to artists, and maybe you are thinking you are not an artist, but we are all creative in some way.

They said there were two types.

  1. The planner
  2. The experimenter

They said the planner arrived at their work of completion by doing a lot of prototypes and planning. On the other hand the experimenter arrives by trial and error. They don't have a plan. They just start and work it out as they go.

So which type are you more like?

I am more of the later type. I don't plan a lot. Not usually anyways. For example, I started working on making a beat with my computer. I started with a piece of an old song I liked and then started playing around with it. Let's see where it takes me.

And then I have this other creative project I am working on and this mask. No, it's not a coronavirus mask, but a creative mask for artsy beatboxing enjoyment that I will probably use in a video.

I didn't real have a plan and just a vague idea. I didn't follow a model really I just did a little research into using paper mache and expanded on it.

And I've made some mistakes along the way and found out something won't work. It's got this tube on it that I will use as a sort of megaphone and attaching that to my face in the right position has been a challenge.

But bit by bit I am getting there.

There's been some revision along the way.

I think how I work is usually I start with one small idea and then expand on it.

The planner vs. the experimenter for teaching abroad?

Do you plan out everything in advance? Do you line up the job in advance? The housing in advance before you go over?

Some do, but I didn't and I've taught in China, Korea, Taiwan and now I live in Japan.

I didn't have a plan put together in any of those places. I didn't have a job lined up ahead of time either. Just an idea of what I wanted to do so I went over and looked and worked it out on the ground.

You can do it either way.

I think they said in the podcast linked to above that experimenters tend to arrive at their best work later in life. Hmmm... Maybe...

What about in the classroom?

Certainly you should plan right?

One of the basic things that you will learn if you take a TEFL course is about lesson planning. But what if you are not a planner?

Teaching was very hard for me in the first year+. I tried to make plans in the beginning, but they weren't very good and they didn't work very well. It took a lot of trial and error before I saw improvement. It was not fun. Teaching abroad to kids was unlike anything I had done before.

Sure, you can try to be creative and make it up as you go and you will learn some by trial and error, but your students and their behavior is a direct reflection of how well your lesson is. If it's no good it won't be fun and you will likely have issues with troublesome students.

So with time I did learn how to plan without planning.

Sounds ironic eh?

Well, I developed a certain system that I would use for pretty much every class.

Some teachers (on Reddit lol) say you can't learn how to teach from an online course or any course for that matter. That's probably because of the course they took. They'll say you learn on the job.

That's partly true, you learn some things on the job, but you don't just pull great ideas out of your hat and make stuff up (that works well) as you go. You still have to seek out information and ideas.

I thought the same thing about the course I took prior to teaching abroad. It just didn't prepare me well. Why not? It just didn't show me enough of what to do. It was too theoretical probably like the courses those other teachers took.

You need something practical.

You won't be some professor up there spouting off grammar rules or teaching theory.

I learned over the years by different means like from: sifting through forums, watching other teachers, attending workshops and by reading, but the later is not very efficient especially if you are not that interested.

What worked for me was learning lots of different activities, exercises AND how to use them. 

For example:

  1. How to drill material (language learning takes lots of repetition, but you can't bore them to death)
  2. How to use games and activities to teach vocab, sentences, phrases, numbers, etc.
  3. How to use your body in the classroom so you keep your student's attention
  4. How to handle difficult students. This is HUGE. There was no course I took or book I read that gave me a complete system on how to deal with problems. This course (TEKA) has got it. 

And you are going to have difficult students especially in the beginning.

At least in some classes. 

Teaching English is complex because you have the content from the book to teach them. You don't know how they will respond to you or your lesson, but you can usually see their reaction if you are perceptive.

Contrary to the experimenter I do think you need a plan.

But not just any plan.

You need to learn how to teach.

An art project is a solo piece of work. Teaching is not solo. 

The definition of a plan can be interpreted differently. How I see it is that you need a flexible plan with back ups for your lesson because you can write out the most extensive plan for your lesson and follow it to the "T", but it might be horrible.

Your students might not follow it and it might be really boring (likely if you are a new teacher). Or you could err on the side of trying to be the fun, friendly teacher which will likely lead to chaos in your classroom.

It's about balance.

And you have to find the balance between education and entertainment (especially if you are teaching kids). You could go too far one way or the other. You don't have to be an entertainer, but your lesson has to capture their interests and ATTENTION.

You could be too rigid, serious or too much of a clown. The point is whether you teach kids or adults to get them to want to learn because if they don't want to learn - they won't and you won't enjoy teaching abroad. Here's how to enjoy teaching abroad (especially to kids) whether you are more of a planner or experimenter.