The field of teaching is not, nor ever will be an easy endeavor, no matter how you slice it. If y’all have been following my blog, you will know that for some time, I have been experiencing some intense professional ups and downs. Some of these ups and downs caused me to legitimately question my career choice; others left me to legitimately question my sanity. But in spite of (as well as because of) it all, I always ultimately reach the conclusion: that teaching is an integral part of what I am and who I am. I am a teacher, full stop.
If y’all have been following my blog, you will also know that now, thankfully, the worst part of a difficult professional time seems to be over. I have gotten back on the teaching horse and have been at my current middle school going on six years (woot!). Not only that, but as of a year ago, I also added, “Online English teacher” to the feathers in my cap.
The opportunity to teach little kids (some as young as four years old) initially came about by serendipitous chance via a recruiter last January. At first, I thought it was one of those “get rich quick while working from home in your PJs” scams that I was being contacted about, but upon further inspection, I became very curious. While I was indeed intrigued by the appeal of working from home, I was equal parts skeptical of the notion of being able to actually, legitimately teach a small child who was literally halfway across the world from me.
But you know what? It has actually proven to be a very positive experience. Being a naturally early riser in the Western Hemisphere has its advantages in this field (as there is a thirteen hour difference between Buenos Aires and Beijing time). Moreover, not only have I had the unique opportunity to share my language with the next generation, but I have also learned a thing or two from the experience of teaching online:
- Smile, smile, smile! 😀
Smiling is a universal language. It puts the student at ease and lowers the student’s affective filter. It is a way to say without words, “Hello. I am friendly, I am fun. Learning is fun. I will not suddenly morph into a crazed, horrific monster and voraciously devour you through the computer screen. Yay.”
- Do not torture your students (in person or online)
For some students, being forced by their parents to learn English is a form of torture in and of itself. At least try to make the process as painless as possible. Do not implement further instruments of torture by looking uninterested, critical, or impatient, or with extended periods of silence. While I believe in wait time to allow a young scholar to think for him/herself and come up with an answer, if a student clearly does not know how to respond, put them out of their misery. Give them a subtle clue, silently mouth the answer to them, act it out with TPR, whatever. Which leads me to my next point…
- Be a ham (with extra cheese)
If you are working with young learners (especially if you are doing distance learning), it is imperative to be a goof. Luckily, this has always come naturally to me.
In any case, just be a ham. Be super cheesy. Exaggerate your gestures. Use funny voices and ridiculous expressions. Pantomime your little heart out. Be a karaoke queen. Whatever.
Back in my ESL teacher training days, I had heard of the concept of TPR (“Total Physical Response”), which is essentially using body movements to aid language learning. I had sort of put the idea on the backburner when teaching adults, but the benefits of TPR quickly resurfaced when I began this particular gig. Getting and maintaining the attention of these youngins is not easy work, but if you add some creativity with a dash of linguistic expertise, it will pay off.
- Disney princesses, unite!
Blame it on globalization’s far-reaching effects, but when it comes to Chinese students selecting their English names, Disney apparently rules supreme. Apart from the occasional, more traditional names (think: James, Zack, Cindy, Andy, Linda…), Elsa, Rapunzel, Moana are just a few of the interesting monikers that have encountered, as well as Orange and (I kid you not) a Donald Trump (thankfully, the student had to cancel that class before we met online, but I have to admit, I was quite curious)!
- The importance of a “brain gain” vs. a “brain drain”
I have to admit, the emphasis on learning (not just language learning) that I have witnessed in Asia is more than admirable. Even when I lived in South Korea, I observed a notable contrast in how teachers are regarded in the United States (where we are currently experiencing a serious “brain drain.” More on that later). The value of hard work and a Confucian attitude toward the importance of education are not to be understated with these students and their parents. Hence, it is not hard to predict who will be the future leaders, world powers, and innovators of the next generation. I am glad to have a role in this, no matter how minor.
Of course, it’s not to say that this job is flawless, either. Like any other gig, it also has its drawbacks. The first one that comes to mind is when the kid likes to purposely *SCREAM* into the microphone, and I still have to feign a smile (which turns out more like a feeble cringe). Or when the student is clearly uninterested in obligated to study English and getting them to follow requests and directions is no easy task, and requires infinite patience.
The most stressful aspect of this job is actually tech-related. I am an utter failure in the eyes of the millennial generation, I only know the very basics of computers and technology. I had quite a learning curve when it came to the inevitable technical glitches that arise, causing me to go into full-on panic mode. However, the China-based IT team where I work is also very professional (and really knows what they are doing), so they can even help a clueless person like me.
Keeping my new puppy, Milú, quiet and behaved in the background is often times beyond my control, but hey, there have been times when the student has asked to see him, so even he gets into the online teaching act! All in all, this has proven to be a pretty awesome experience thus far.
Now if I could just figure out how to keep Milú from literally chewing on my foot when I’m teaching, I’ll be set! 😀