What I Learned From Teaching English Abroad

February 2015 has arrived!

It doesn't seem like long ago that I was preparing myself for going away to teach for 6 months, yet here I am, with only 6 weeks left of my teaching internship.

The main thing I've learnt is that teaching is not for the faint-hearted. Last week I had my first experience of being fed up and unmotivated- and I wasn't the only one. Many of the teachers here felt like they were lacking energy, motivation and enthusiasm to get through the week. When Friday came around, we all breathed a sigh of relief! That's not to say we don't love this job; it's just to say that inspiring children to learn English can be hard work: it requires all your energy and enthusiasm.

D.H. Lawrence once said that the education system was like 'a battle of wills' between that of the teacher and the student —which I have come to completely agree with. Especially in the Thai education system, which uses physical punishment as a deterrent to misbehaviour. I myself don't agree with negative reinforcement as an effective method of shaping one's development; I'm very much in the positive reinforcement camp. So within the first few weeks, I introduced a 'star chart' system in my class.

Each lesson, when a student comes to the front of the class and says a sentence in English, they get a star. Similarly, if I have some children who are not joining in with group-choral repetition, I give the students who are speaking a star: it's super effective, and all the other kids soon start joining in. Every Friday, we have a 'star of the week', where the students with the most stars receive a certificate and a round of applause from everyone else in the class. Which of course they absolutely love! Now I'm not saying this would work with kids of all ages, but the principle of positive reinforcement is definitely applicable to any classroom environment.

My advice to anyone starting out teaching ESL with little teaching experience would be to get  on top of classroom management as soon as possible, by using rewards or positive encouragement. In my experience, shouting at the children regularly becomes an ineffective method of control — they become desensitised to it. Plus raising your voice hurts your throat! So it's best saved for when you're seriously mad. I think it's important to nurture their individual spirits, rather than intimidate them into submission.

 I find myself genuinely smiling at the wonderful children in my class: each day Is different due to the unpredictable nature of kids and although it's the most tiring job I've ever done, it's also the best and most rewarding.

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