Anonymous of Holland            -A Dutchman in Korea-

    Helo welcom 2 my websight

Who am I as a teacher?

This was actually an assignment for one of my classes, but I thought it would be interesting enough to share with you guys as well. One of the courses I’m taking right now is called ‘TESOL 현장학습’, which is basically ‘Fieldwork’. It’s being taught by my favorite professor, who, unlike any of the other professors at our department, actually cares about people instead of just research and numbers. Because of that, his classes are very entertaining and inspiring to attend, and we also end up sometimes thinking about what we’re doing and why instead of just frantically dashing to the next deadline.
The subject for this assignment was especially appropriate since I only just said goodbye to my students last week.

INTRODUCTION

            When I first came to Korea, it was supposed to be a short break from my life in the Netherlands and a chance to see something of the world and get to know myself. I had just graduated from Law School back in my own country, and since I had always been rather jealous of the people I knew who had traveled all over the world and this seemed like the last opportunity for me to do something of the sorts before settling down into a steady job and an equally steady life, I decided to visit Korea and do some volunteer work. As it happens, I ended up being assigned to a project in Wando-Geun as an English instructor to children who could not afford to attend a private institute.

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With no experience in teaching, no experience with Korea and nothing but my presumed skill in English to get me through the challenge of working in a country I had never been to before and which was vastly different from my own, I learned a lot more about myself than I could have imagined before setting out on this trip. I was by no means a great (or even good) teacher, and there were so many ordeals with regard to the owner of the school that I sometimes felt I could go crazy, but in spite of these issues one thing became very clear; not only did I fall in love with Korea, I had also fallen in love with teaching.

 

WHY I WANT TO TEACH

            Honestly, I never expected I would be interested in teaching. I never thought of myself as a patient person, nor could I see any value in getting a bunch of rowdy kids to pay attention for ten minutes. It wasn’t until I actually stood in front of a classroom that I realized what an amazing experience teaching is. Of course, the first time was nothing more than a giant mess, but as the weeks went by, as I got to know my students, as I got to understand what they thought was hard and what kind of tasks they liked to do, I also started to understand why teachers enjoy what they do.

There’s something very special about seeing a child write or say something and being able to tell yourself “I thought him that.” Even though it might be only a small thing, like the correct pronunciation of a difficult word, or the correction of a spelling mistake, as their teacher you know that you made a difference, no matter how slight, in their lives. Seeing your students grow and develop not only when it comes to their language faculties but also in regard to their personality and the way they act towards you is something I can’t even put into words, but the one thing that made the biggest impression on me during my time teaching there in Wando-Geun was how much I felt like I became a part of all these little kids’ lives, and they became part of mine. When I left, I couldn’t help but cry as I read the cute cards and letters they had written for me, and when I saw their smiling faces again months later, when I came back to visit them for one last time before going back to the Netherlands, I knew that my life was not going to go down the path I had initially set out.

Since that life changing trip I took it upon myself to find a way to move to Korea and teach English there. That was, however, easier said than done. As citizen of a country where the mother language is not English and with my background in law instead of education, chances to find a teaching position were all but non-existent. It was only after years of planning and thanks to the scholarship that I managed to receive that my dream of becoming a teacher in Korea is finally starting to look like more than just a dream.

 

WHAT DEFINES ME AS A TEACHER

Before I came to Korea, I had always thought of teaching mostly as imparting knowledge. Of course I still believe that is a very important aspect, but as I came to know more about the situation in Korea, the way Korean children are expected to learn and the way their schedules, even on weekends and during vacations, revolve around hopping from one private institute to another from morning to evening, I realized that more than anything I just want to give them some time that they don’t have to dread.

So, if I had to pick one thing that defines me as a teacher, I suppose I would pick ‘heart’. The most important thing, to me, is that my students are comfortable. Of course school is never going to be truly fun, but I’d like them to at least not dislike coming to my class. I care a lot about getting to know my students, talking with them, listening to what they want to say and understanding how I can make my classes better for them. I’m still not exactly sure if this is a strength or a weakness, but when my students are having a good day, I’m having a good day, and when they are having a bad day, I’m having a bad day too. Because of that, I think I always do my best to engage them as much as I can.

My experiences learning Korean have had a very large influence on my style of teaching. For most teachers, it has been at least a decade since they had any real language learning experience, but in my case everything is still fresh in my mind. I remember all the things I disliked about the way some of my teachers taught me, but also what I liked and what worked for me when I was studying.

As a result, one thing that is very important to me is to give students the freedom to do what they want as much as possible. The moments when I’m happiest, as a teacher, is when I see my students being creative with language. Making up their own stories, laughing after thinking of something that’s really only funny to them, the pride in their faces when they tell me “Teacher, finished!”. In my opinion, forcing your students to write or talk about certain topics when they are not interested in them is not going to lead to any good results. I want my students to see English as a tool they can use to make their thoughts heard, and as something fun to use to talk about the things they are interested in.

 

WHO I WANT TO BE

            Of course there are many things that I still need to work on. My classroom management, in particular, needs a lot of work. Being the person that I am, I don’t like getting angry at my students, berating them or punishing them. As a result of that, it isn’t easy to deal with rowdy classes or students. It is also sometimes difficult to remember that children are not miniature adults. The way they think is very different and most of the time they’re not impressed at all with the serious talks I try to have with them about their behavior.

It will probably take years of learning and teaching before I can become the teacher I want to be, but I don’t doubt that someday I will be.

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One comment on “Who am I as a teacher?

  1. Cael Bravery
    4 April 2017

    As a person interested in teaching in future, your article is really quite reassuring to read through, its great to hear about your experiences, specifically in Korea. Keep it up man.

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This entry was posted on 4 March 2017 by in Korea, Personal Thoughts, Studies, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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며칠동안 #미황사 에서 시간을 보내는 게 큰 인상을 주었고 만난 사람들 너무 친절하게 챙겨서 감사하는 말 밖에 못 한다.
다들 #수고했어.

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For people living in a big city like this, it's important to #slowdown and not get caught and lose yourself in the flow of things. Life in the #countryside and in a #temple is so different, so much more #empty, but so much more fulfilling.

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Another gorgeous #sunset at #Mihwangsa #temple.
I am so thankful to #SBS and 혜민스님 for letting us stay here.
Just like the title of his book, there are many things you can only see when you #slow down. Staying at the temple and talking with the staff has taught me once again that Korea is an amazing country, and I couldn't be happier to be here. 
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#nature #Korea #SouthKorea #sea #island #절라도 #절라남도 #바다 #섬 #자연 #일몰 Away from the hectic Seoul life for a couple of days, enjoying clean #Jeollanamdo air and the #calm of the #Mihwangsa #temple.

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