5 Commandments of Teaching Abroad

teaching abroad

foreign-correspondent badge finalIt’s funny. I’ve been in the home stretch of my teaching job (which lasts for only one scholastic year) for a while now. As it usually happens, the last day is always the most emotional.

Friday was my last day, and I must admit there were some teary eyed moments. One of them happened when I said goodbye to a sweet old man whose job I have yet to understand, but who continued to be one of the many bright spots in my day with his kind words and helpful nature. Another instance came when I hugged a colleague I’ve worked closely with throughout the year and she told me to never lose touch.

Probably the most significant time for me was when I was sitting with students from my favorite class. Just before the bell rang, they presented me with my favorite kind of cookie and clapped for me. As a teacher, this gesture was monumental.

There were times when teaching was frustrating. Was I teaching these high school students anything that they would remember? Was I engaging them? Was I challenging them enough or too much? Was anyone even listening? I had asked myself all of these questions when the going got tough. Sometimes my students were pretty difficult to read and other times they weren’t.

To have this moment where these people who I have grown to care about, and look forward to seeing every week celebrate me in such a thoughtful way, honestly made all of those hard days one hundred percent worth it. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that your efforts were appreciated.

There are so many lessons I have learned from becoming a teacher, and I would like to share what I call my “Five Commandments for Teachers.” I have found that these commandments can and should be applied to all people we encounter, not just students. They are:

1. Thou shalt not underestimate one’s ability.
Seriously, I have had more insightful conversations with 13-year-olds than I have had with some people my age and older. First of all, I was amazed by their capacity to express themselves in such a genuinely heartfelt way using a foreign language. Second, they were able to challenge my stereotype of young teenagers for being self-centered.

2. Thou shalt encourage creativity.
In hoping to get rid of some of the “too-cool-for-school” attitude, I attempted to have students be as creative as they possibly could. Amazingly, some of the most delightful writings, performances, or conversations occurred when they totally let loose and had fun. And that’s what learning a language should be all about: having fun with it!

3. Thou shalt always respect your students.
Yes, I am older than them, and yes, I am fluent in a language they are trying to learn. However, this does not mean that they don’t have real ideas and bring nothing to the table.

4. Thou shalt always have patience.
I can’t tell you how many times I have corrected the pronunciation of the word “soccer” (as well as other much more important words) while speaking with the same person, sometimes even in the same sentence! Be understanding because if you berate them for something, the next time they may be afraid to express their opinion, and there is nothing sadder than someone who has an opinion but withholds from sharing it.

5. Thou shalt have fun.
Don’t take yourself too seriously; there is just no point. If you can make your job something you have fun doing, then you will be happier and so will the people who you work with.

I’m going to miss teaching a lot, but more importantly, I am going to miss my students who made this whole experience worth my while. So thank you to all of you.

About Mollie Swanson

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