ESL Teaching Highlights

“In learning you will teach
And in teaching you will learn” – Phil Collins, Son Of Man

Despite my rough start to teaching English in Taiwan, the overall experience of it was rewarding. Like any career, it had its ups and downs, but the positives far outweighed the negatives. Here is my list of top ten ESL teaching highlights:

Two students studying English at a Taiwanese c...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

10.          Being called “Teacher” for the first time

In Taiwan, a great deal of respect is associated with the title of “Teacher” – so much so that at some schools, not only do the students call you “Teacher”, but so do your co-workers and managers. I was rarely called by just my name. Coming straight from university, it took me a while to get used to the title.

9.           Forced conversation practice … with mixed results

Many English cram schools try to immerse their students in English, not allowing them to speak Chinese or Taiwanese while they are in the building. For many students, this is their only chance  to use English. To make the most of their time there, some schools require students to make conversation with their foreign English Teachers outside of class. The older students who had a handle on what they were taught spoke to me quite comfortably. The younger students who didn’t really understand the material, on the other hand, would ask me questions like:

“Teacher, what do you want to be when you grow up?” You mean I still have more growing up to do ?! Why wasn’t I warned about this years ago?

“Teacher, why did you eat the sandwich?” I was hungry. I’m sorry. Did you want it?

8.            Kids asking the darndest things  

While growing up, many of us were taught never to ask certain questions. My students were either never taught this lesson, or didn’t pay attention to it. I was often asked questions like:

“Teacher, why is your nose so tall?” I guess it’s because I’m not Taiwanese. Compared to most native Taiwanese noses, mine was colossal. In the land of hobbit-like noses, mine was Gandalf.

“Teacher, why do you have fur?” Because I haven’t completely evolved yet! Leave me alone!
Actually, Taiwanese do tend to have a lot less body hair than non-Asians.

7.            Students not wanting to leave class at the end of the lesson

Sometimes, the lessons seemed to fly by, and the kids would genuinely enjoy them. Because cram school or buxiban is essentially an after-school program, many encourage the use of educational games as part of the lesson. Once, when I told the students that it was time to go, many of them were sincerely disappointed. A chorus of sad “Oh”s erupted as soon as I said good-bye.

6.            Seeing students enjoy class

During one lesson, a student enjoyed the material and activities so much that she said, “This is fun!”  – and in a non-sarcastic way! What made it all the more special is that this was an older student. In my experience, it is harder to keep older children in a cram school setting interested in a lesson.

Two students studying English at a Taiwanese c...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5.            Being welcomed back

After being away on vacation, I would always assume that the students had so much fun with the substitute teacher that they would be less than thrilled to have me back. But most of the time, they were actually happy to see me. Some who spotted me before class would even come up to me, all excited. It felt nice to be missed.

4.           Priceless Misunderstandings

Occasionally, as a game, students would deliberately mispronounce words. This annoyed me. One particular lesson, I shouted, “Say it properly!” The students, in perfect unison, responded: “Prop-er-ly!” It was hard to stay annoyed at them after that.

3.           Being payed for having fun

When the students are able to understand the material, are well behaved, and the universe is at peace, teaching English doesn’t feel like work at all. It feels more like having coffee with a friend. For me, in some cases, the lessons were exactly that, albeit a more structured conversation with educational goals in mind.

2.            Seeing students’ hard work pay off

Taiwanese students have, in my opinion, a lot more pressure than their western counterparts. Competition is fierce and school days are long. There is heart-wrenching disappointment when they get anything below an A, but seeing their faces light up when they get the highest score is awesome.

1.            Teaching students who are eager to learn

W.C. Sellar once wrote

“For every person wishing to teach there are thirty not wanting to be taught.”

I’m not sure if Sellar’s ratio is correct, but finding that one student who really and truly wants to learn makes the job fulfilling. A student once said to me, “Teacher, I will keep on learning, and one day my English will be better than yours.” I believe that every teacher should hope for their students’ abilities to surpass their own. Excelling is the highest compliment a student can give their teacher.

Teaching is not always an easy job. The students won’t always want to learn, their behaviour will at times be disrespectful, and the lesson plan will fall apart from time to time. But what teaching should always be is an opportunity to challenge students to excel at their studies, and at life.

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