"How I ended up being a teacher is kind of a long story... I started to get interested in teaching when I was in college and I started a group with a bunch of people that I work within in the creative writing department, and we started a summer camp for local students. We were teaching over summer and I think that this was when I really got interested in teaching as a career. And then, Carrie (girlfriend) and I taught in Indonesia for a summer, that was the moment that we saw international teaching as a possible career.
The students are really the reason why we wake up every day to teach.
Our beginning here in KL (Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia) was a little complicated because we’ve been traveling and we both somehow lost our bank cards, so some "friends" (I guess I can call them that) helped us until our parents could send us some money back from home. So we had a very weird beginning here. But as far as the teaching goes, it’s just about the kids. No matter how things can get hard about the job, or having to do things that our bosses ask us to, and the problems with the management, or other boring parts. Having fun with the kids on the daily bases makes it worth. It makes you keep coming back, it’s very rewarding.
By the time I was in High School I really enjoyed being in school, and definitely in college. I loved the classes then. And even now, I think of going back to school, maybe. I spend a lot of time reading or listening to podcasts and lectures. I love History. So I still learn a lot of History and watch documentaries and things like that. I still love to learn and I try to incorporate lots of the things I’m learning into my teaching. With the older students, sometimes I can talk about History and I can bring in things that I’m learning, which is very nice for me and really good for the students, because they get to hear different things, things that are not on the their text books.
In High School I had really good English teachers. They were teachers that I really appreciated. Some of them were difficult, so I guess I didn’t appreciated them at the time, but now, looking back, I really think that they did a great job, pushing us into college. And in college I had some amazing English professors as well, so all of them push me into a English Teacher career. I definitely learn some from my older teachers, especially the energetic ones, since I work with young kids.
I think that professors and teachers shaped me into becoming an English Major and now a English Teacher. So, teachers can definitely change the future of their students.
I try my best to do everything I can to make my students learn, but at the end of the day I’m also concern if we have good relationships, because I know that this is really important. I’ve heard before elsewhere that every good relationship that you have with a teacher growing up, you average thirty thousand dollars more across your lifetime in money that you earn. Of course that is quantifying it, but people who earn more money tend to have better lives, so I think it is important to pay attention to the teacher-student relationships, and that is mostly what I try with my students. I give them all the education I can, I try to keep them happy with school, I want to keep them interested in education, and I want them to be happy everyday that they come into my classes or with other teachers.
I’m not a energetic person everyday in life, but when it comes to classroom you have to ramp it up a bit. But from these teachers I learned how to keep things interesting for the students or how to bring humor into the classroom, and how keeping things funny can actually work. I think kids learn a lot more in these situations, it’s better than being super restricted, make them sit still and do basically nothing. They learn so much more when you have an open classroom.
In the U.S. being a teacher is generally seeing as something very important, but you also don’t make a lot of money, and there isn't a social prestige associated with it, so it’s kind of understood by most people that if you are a good teacher there is more intrinsic value, it’s like something personal that makes you feel good, makes you happy to be doing it.
And that’s kind of true for me. I mean, it would be nice to make more money teaching, but it’s nice to know that back home people understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing or why it’s important to you. And than you understand that it’s important. Here in KL is trickier, I don’t exactly know how people feel. I know that when I say that I’m a teacher people no longer think that I’m just another traveler, but I don’t know what they associate teachers with for real.
A lot of times you talk to people in foreign countries and they don’t like tourists or travelers. But the teachers are people who live here and have a more personal experience with the culture.
Do I get better treatment or do the locals look at me better? I don’t know. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I hope they do. I hope to be a part of the society here and I hope they understand that I can bring some positive things for locals and that I learning a lot from them. Students and parents there is a lot of respect for teachers, but I really don’t know about other people. The parents are really nice to us, even if is just to say ‘Hi!’. A lot of our students live in this building, so we meet some parents outside the school and they are always friendly. Of course you’ll always have some parents there aren’t happy about some homework, assignments, and things like that, it happens to every teacher. But in general, parents seems to understand that teachers are important and the role that we have, and they show lots of respect for what we do.
I’m the youngest teacher in the school, and we have the least experience. I was worry that some older teachers may think of us differently, but it was not like that. They treated us as equals, works with us, listen to our ideas, are generous and helping with us, without being condescending or something. The teachers are good and I believe that it’s important to have good relationships with your coworkers. Some of them we are friends with and hang out sometimes, this is good.
The thing that is bad about being a teacher back home (in the U.S.) is that you work insane hours in classes, planning lessons, preparing everything, parent-teacher meetings and all this things. They work really hard and don’t get compensate enough for it.
Part of the trade is that you have all of the breaks that kids have, like summer breaks, holiday breaks...
A lot of people thinks ‘oh, teachers don’t get pay that much, but they have all these holidays and stuff’, but really, teachers add up the hours that they work and they are still, even with all the holidays, living with not enough money, so a lot of teachers need to have second jobs, to earn extras on the weekends, days off and holidays.
For us, internationally, that is not true. The payment is very nice and it gives us a lot of respect for teachers back home. We make enough money to travel around and have fun, and we don’t have to work in seconds jobs. Of course we could make extra money, because it’s not like we are making a saving for life, but it’s enough for what we are doing and the kind of life we’re living.
The private educational system that I work is good, there is a lot of extra programs, and they invest a lot in these activities. The materials that we work with, in general are good and working in international schools gave us the opportunity to work with people from different places, teachers and students. I think that this is a good experience for me as a teacher and for them as students, because they are exposed to different teaching stiles, different backgrounds and stories, and we do to. This can be hard at an young age.
There are cultural barriers that can make things harder, but normally all this is good. We have freedom to do things in our own ways, and this is nice, because different kids learn in different ways. Some kids need more strict teachers to make them work harder, and some of them just learn better when they have more freedom, when they can explore more.
In my classes, I try to make my students explore the language as much as they can and have fun with it. I like when I see them trying different things. I like to see them trying to apply words that they learn from books and movies, even if they don’t use it in the right way, we can fixed a little bit along the way. I think this is better than sit down and have memorization routines, repeating words and this kind of things.
I would love to see something like that back home. In the U.S. we don’t have international schools, and I think it would be great to have international schools there, because the culture experience is really rich. What some of these kids know from each others countries, and their lives.
Even young students (like eight years old) know so much about politics around the world, because it’s important to them, because they are in touch with refugees in their classes, people who tried to stay in the U.S. (for example), so they understand the U.S. politics in a impressive extension for their age.
They know, for example, who they want to become the president of the United States, they have opinions on these things.
I want them to have choices.
I always try not to place any expectations on may students, I have some students that show extreme aptitudes for Science, for Math and English, and some of them have a lot of creativity, and I would love to see them become authors, writers, poetries, because I see their skills and their intelligences, but mostly, I just want them to do what they want. I want them to have choices. I guess this is some kind of an american thing, but I don’t like to put my expectations for them and I really hope that their parents do the same, I try to emphasize this as much as I can: ‘do what works for you, what makes you happy’.
I have students with nine years old and they have their minds set like ‘I’m going to be a doctor’, and I use to say to them that this is great, but they should be open to all they are going to discover and experience. The kids I used to know always answer the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ with professions like fireman, police, and other things they thought was fun and adventure. But some kids that I teach have a really practical way of thinking. In a way this is good, it’s nice for them to know what they want to be, but in another it’s weird to see some of them getting stuck on something at such a young age. My expectations are for them to do their best, and be their best in anything, nothing specific.
I definitely want them to have a choice. And that is part of the benefit of being in a country in developing economy is that you have lots of options in careers. A lot of them can try new careers or try to go back to their home countries and start new things there or going to other countries and experience other cultures. They have so many possibilities, because they are able to afford good schools and travels and everything.
Anytime you walk into a classroom, you don’t know exactly what you’re walking into, and I think one of the hardest things is to remain open day by day.
When I was in High School I saw so many teachers that were set on their ways, they couldn’t adapted well. For example, in my age, cell phones were beginning to become a thing and there was this battle between teachers and technology. They couldn’t review the situation and try to make something good out of it. They just say ‘no, no cell phones’. I think that is the wrong attitude to take, and that is my biggest message for my teachers colleagues is that: ‘Keep yourself open, because when you walk into a classroom, different students act differently, the same lessons don’t work with all of them. You need to experience their different intelligences, and the places that they are when it comes to mental development. It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of work to make sure that you are doing the best for them. It’s not about just what we want to do or what we want to teach.’
As a English Major and a person who loves books, I’d love to enter a classroom and talk about literature, or have some book that I love and make the students read it. But it’s not about that, because it’s not a reality. It’s not a reality for their age group, it’s not a reality for their English levels.
So, everything is about finding what works for each group, and that can be extremely difficult, I think this is the hardest thing about teaching, because we work with so many different classrooms, so many different age groups, and the only think that can make you go through this is ‘being happy with you students, having as much patience as possible, recognizing every small increase, getting exited about it, for small as it is’.
It’s so easy for some of these students to get frustrated, to get tired, and you can lose a student as soon as they realize that you are a teacher that is giving up on them. It’s about the attitude we bring into a classroom, our ability of accepting the way they learn, trying hard to be patience and to find out what are your tools, keeping a open mind for every kind of things. It would be easy to be a teacher if it was just about making a lesson plan that work in one year and spend the next 40 years applying the same plan. But we know it’s not like that.
On the hard days, on the days that is difficult with the students, the class and the school, just keep in mind that your students can't pay for these problems, they are struggling to learn. So have fun with them! And always remember why you’re doing this. If you can hold on to that thing that keep bringing you to teach, it will be great. "