I stumbled into teaching English quite by accident. All through school I had always said that I would never be a teacher and I was sure of this, even as I finished university. But then an opportunity arose for me to work in a school for three weeks, offering me money and the chance to extend my stay in my university town. I found it hard, but I took the opportunity – standing in front of a crowd of judging teenagers can be quite daunting. During these first three weeks I was able to build a few fleeting connections with the children. They were little glimmers of hope in an environment that I wasn’t particularly comfortable with, but they reminded me of how much of a guiding figure a teacher can be in one’s life.
My path in life took me from England to Uganda, and I soon found myself teaching to a class of Ugandan children, aged between five and eighteen. The classroom was no more than the shade of a mango tree, but I genuinely loved every moment of the children screaming out colours in English each time I held a plastic plate over my head. Teaching them Pythagoras was a little more challenging.
Right there in that moment I decided that I would teach full time for a while, just to try it. And a few months later I boarded a plane to South Korea where I taught English full time for a year. This year in Korea offered me the chance to live completely independently – I was provided with a private apartment as part of my contract and the financial reward of teaching in Korea was quite lucrative. I grew in confidence, learning how to speak in front of groups of people as a matter of survival. I arrived for an adventure, but I left with the confidence to walk into a classroom completely unprepared, and be able to connect with kids whilst educating them. I am not a naturally confident person and I am happy out of the limelight, but my year in Korea helped me grow in confidence more than any other experience.
After Korea I next taught in Poland, as part of an adult, language exchange camp. By integrating with people 24 hours a day, our relationships grew rapidly and I made life-long friends, sharing a week that we will remember forever. Whilst on this language camp, I met a young lady who has now explored the world with me for four years, and our future paths are well aligned. She gave up her whole life (her home, her job, her dog) to be with me because we became so very close in that one week of constant interaction. Of course her parents weren’t happy when she didn’t board the plane home, but I live in hope that they have almost forgiven me.
Together we moved to Istanbul where I taught English to adults and children in one of the most difficult teaching environments I have ever encountered. My school was particularly difficult and I struggled with the busyness of Istanbul, but learning what you don’t like in life is sometimes as important as learning what you do like.
I thought this was the end of my life as a teacher, but it is hard to give it up – I returned to Korea where I taught again (although not full time) and have even dabbled with online teaching. My little brother is now following a similar path as he heads to Korea to teach, and I often tell happy stories of my experiences, reminiscing on my time at the front of a classroom.
I always said that I would never be a teacher, but I was wrong (Read: 5 Myths of Teaching Abroad). I was a teacher for a couple of years during which time I grew as a person in terms of confidence, I was able to experience parts of the world that I could not have seen otherwise, I met friends who will stay close forever, I gained financial independence, I made memories that will stay with me always, and I like to think that I had a positive effect on at least some of the lives of my students.
I doubt I will teach again – although I can never be sure – but being an English teacher was – and is – a huge part of my life, for which I am very grateful. To anyone who asks, I always recommend trying it once and seeing what they think – even if only to see a new part of the world and understand that other people live in different ways.
Education is a way of life and we should value those who offer it. Whilst I am not a teacher in a classroom anymore, I like to share knowledge in other ways and take the time to learn from others. Only by striving to improve ourselves, can we progress in this world. If you want to teach, have a go. You don’t have to do it forever.
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