Entering year five of teaching

Saturday, the first of September, marks the day that kids in Russia hate: it’s now time to go back to school. While the advent of official classes on Monday means that the folks back home are going to lag behind (hello, Kings Dominion Law), I thought it would be appropriate to look back on reflect on my time so far teaching English in everybody’s favorite capital of the prequel and sequel of the Soviet Union. I guess this will involve some amounts of introspection, therefore anybody reading this needs to be prepared for it. But at any rate, happy almost return to the school year!

I’d like to preface this by saying that since I work primarily with adults, the academic year is essentially year-round. Hence, compared to other ESL teachers, my calendar is a bit unique. This does help me since I don’t really have to switch into work mode due to the simple fact that I’ve never stopped. (Though, it would have been nice to have had more of vacation, but my finances were non-existent for this. There’s always next year.) At any rate, I’m excited for this “new” year, as it’s always fun seeing what new students and groups I’ll have! I’m sure that by this time next year, the optimism will have waned a bit, i.e. a lot,

Almost exactly four years ago I started teaching English, and in that time I have noticed some changes in my teaching skills. I’m far from being the best teacher out there, but it’s gotten a ton easier to plan and to sit/stand in front of groups. There’s a sense of familiarity, as I’ve had some groups and students for a year and half, if not the full two years I’ve been with my company. It’s nice, as we’ve established a certain rhythm which enables us to maximize our lesson time. The counterargument to this is that we sink into the pattern of predictability and contentment, but I’ve been trying to find new ideas to spice things up; it’s fun, and both parties appreciate the break from the norm. Personally, it can be a bit of a challenge, but talking to my awesome colleagues always puts me on the right track. Let me just give new teachers this veteran tip: as wonderful as the internet can be for finding material, coworkers are as equally important. As the years somehow go by faster than one can imagine, it’s really neat to look back and see the evolution you’ve taken. Heck, I reenacted Bambi on my very first day-I smile thinking about how panicky and unnerved I was. Now? I feel a ton better. Or at least, I don’t outwardly show the trepidation. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, I like the feeling that I’m in control and that I can far more easily react to anything that might disturb the equilibrium of my lessons. (Working with kids and teens for two years does wonders for that ability.) Thankfully this isn’t really needed, knock on wood, but having this skill in my repertoire has proved to be invaluable.

One important thing I’ve also learned during this time is the power of saying, “no”. See, I’d been stuck in some pretty terrible lessons/groups that I was afraid of quitting on. I mean, some of these cases absolutely sucked the joy out of the job. Soulless, tedious, atrocious, you name it. I only stuck around because the money was really good, and that was a mistake. Over time, however, I learned that you have to place worth on saying “screw this.” Some things you need to realize that your time is better off in places that appreciate you and not treat you like a whipping boy/girl. In the end, you’ll find people who will court your services as a teacher and be far more relaxing to work with; trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way. And for that matter, don’t be afraid to market yourself. Sure it may be uncomfortable, but as a teacher you need to branch out. Don’t let things come to you all the time-go to prospective students. Be open to new things. This is a glorious experience waiting to be had, and if you remain too passive, you’ll miss out. It all starts with saying yes or no, and it’s a power that you should not hesitate to exercise.

Finally, I cannot give enough credit to my colleagues and my students. They’re literally why I get out of bed in the mornings (and in winter, that’s incredibly powerful) and why I’ve invested so much into being here. My original intent was to test the waters for a year, but after seeing the effect teaching had on my students, colleagues, and I, it was a no-brainer to keep on going and going! While it’s hard to look at each and every person, this space is where I want to say you all have left a lasting impression. From goofing off in the teacher’s room to having some wonderfully strange lessons, it’s been a ride to remember. It really attests to the bonds we’ve forged that after a long day, we seek out each other’s company, whether that be in the park or the awesome Muscovite bars. God, I love this job.

After writing this post, I realized this turned into an advice column of sorts. I didn’t mean for that to happen, but it is a cathartic release for me. All in all though, I do highly enjoy what I’m doing and would recommend it without hesitation. You can run through the entire gamut of emotions, but boy does it pay off. The time you spend preparing and teaching pays off when you see the progress your students make, and it’s hard to top the euphoria and jubilation of seeing that. Here’s to year five!


One thought on “Entering year five of teaching

  1. Very edifying post, thanks.
    Love to read this: “God, I love this job.” Really gladdens my heart to know that.
    I would think giving your Mom a little hint of your gratitude for her starting you down this path might be a way to cherish her superb maternal guidance. 🙂

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