Five Things I Learned As An ESL Teacher

In January 2018, I jumped on a flight to Vietnam to become an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. At this point, I had very little teaching experience and didn’t really know what was in store for me. I was nervous, I was excited and I was eager to get stuck in- a sense of enthusiasm that carried me through five months of teaching English to over 600 students.

It’s true when they say that no two days are the same as an ESL teacher; it’s frantic, invigorating, and at some points a real challenge. Who knew a classroom of 50 students could be so loud?

I’ve taken away so much from my time in Vietnam, but here are just five things I learned as an ESL teacher:

  • Experience isn’t essential – I was so nervous about my lack of teaching experience when I stepped into the classroom on my very first day, however it turns out that it really didn’t matter. Very few of my fellow teachers had any previous experience, and some of them went on to be the most amazing, confident and creative ESL tutors. Whether you’ve taught for 30 years or 30 minutes, it seems that the most important thing is to tackle each day with boundless enthusiasm, patience, and a good sense of humour.
  • Your pupils will teach you more than you can teach them – I’d always loved being around children, but it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realised just how much there is to learn from them. Some of the students I taught practised English with so much confidence that it inspired me to try harder in my own Vietnamese language classes (…I was still rubbish), and demonstrated such perseverance that I couldn’t help being amazed every single day.
  • It won’t always be plain sailing – Trust me, just when you think you’ve got the hang of teaching, one of your pupils will throw such a curve ball that you’ll be lost for words. Some of these times will be positive, and others not so much.. There was the time one of my students brought his pet turtle to class in a lemonade bottle (why?!), and the time a boy of no more than eight years old wrote “f*** you teacher” on his whiteboard to let me know just how he felt about my lesson. Fab. Nevertheless, you’ll grow to handle these challenges and become a better teacher for it.
  • Games are your best friend – No matter what age or ability your students are, a good game will always always always save your life if your lesson plan has fallen apart (or if you’re just hoping to lighten the mood). Language games are fun, they give your lesson another dimension, and they’re a great way to reward hard-working students. They’re also a great way to encourage shyer pupils to get involved (and give you a little break from teaching the hard stuff), so they’re a win win all round.
  • It’s incredibly rewarding – There really is nothing like the sense of pride you feel when a student grasps a tricky tense, or the rush of excitement you get after a lesson went well. I formed such great bonds with some of my pupils and saying goodbye after five months was really, truly difficult. Of course, teaching isn’t for everyone, but I couldn’t believe how rewarding I found the whole experience.

Click here to read more about my time as a ESL teacher!

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