Am I mentally preparing or just worrying too much?

If you read the post I wrote following last week’s telephone interview with Adventure Teaching, you know I was pretty excited. As our interviewer explained each step of the visa process, April began to feel a lot closer than June. Now it feels scary-close to January.

I wrote the first draft of this post around 3 a.m., after a lengthy period of lying awake in bed, trying to imagine what problems I might encounter in my job as a teacher. My fears stem mostly from my inexperience as a teacher and my near-total lack of knowledge about contemporary Korean culture. Hoping to allay them I then thought about the two adult conversational classes I taught in Prague, with the result that I’m now even more nervous.

When I went to Prague, I’d already spent a fair amount of time in Europe and had a fair idea of what my life might be like there. Sure, Czech has its own brand of cultural idiosyncrasies and much starker linguistic differences – made more imposing by a larger alphabet – but (post-)Christianized Europe tends to maintain a certain level of cultural homogeneity.

Thanks to the ongoing Americanization/globalization of world cultures (your side of that slash depends on who you read), there was also some level of shared culture among my students and I – they liked “The Simpsons” and American pop music, most had traveled abroad to major international tourist destinations like the Canary Islands and Israel, and they followed NHL hockey. While I expect a similar familiarity with movies and music, the indigenous culture will be completely new to me.

In Prague I had little trouble learning students’ names because they tended to be Czech-ified versions of Christian names used throughout Europe, like Jan (John), Petr (Peter) and Aleŝ (Alex). The names I found difficult to remember were those with – from my perspective – more alien origins, like Rotislav (Funny how I can remember it now!). How quickly will I be able to learn an entire group of foreign names based on another language and cultural history? I’m bad enough at remembering the names of fellow Americans!

This brings me to issues of class size. I am pretty sure I’ll be teaching in a private language institution, so I can expect classes to be smaller than in public schools. Even so, having to remember more than four or five foreign names sounds like a tall order. My short-term memory span would give goldfish a reason to pity me.

When it comes to teaching experience, my threadbare resumé could use some padding. What little experience I possess came from highly informal conversational classes, with groups of five or fewer students who helped determine the course materials and emphasis (Our crazy system of 12 tenses dominated most lessons). I have no idea what students and school administrators in Korea expect of their teachers and classroom settings, but the things I’ve read about Korean culture and public behavior sound anything but informal.

My last concern magnifies the others, but I think it’s realistic not to expect much downtime between my arrival in the country and my first day of work. Public schools provide some basic training before you start. They know how many of the people they hire will be inexperienced. I haven’t even been shown a contract yet, so I have no idea how or if private schools address this or their immediate expectations of me.

With so much uncertainty swirling around my brain, I decided some small amount of preparation would be prudent and thought up this simple lesson activity while lying in bed. At least I’d be able to learn something from my students, though I wonder if it sounds a bit desperate.

Teacher writes on the board: “Think about the best English teacher you’ve had. Without saying their names, what qualities made he or she such an effective teacher? Now think about the worst English teacher you’ve ever had. Without saying their names, what qualities made them ineffective teachers?”

Give students time to write their responses, then go around the room and have each student read his or her response aloud, asking direct questions to elicit more details and get them thinking in English on the fly.

If you’re an ESL/TEFL teacher, what tricks have you used to learn students’ names? Or you were/are an ESL student, what would be your response to my blackboard question?

-Daniel Daugherty



Filed under Employment Details, Please Advise

5 responses to “Am I mentally preparing or just worrying too much?

  1. Marie

    Names: I’m taking a TESL class at the moment, and my teacher has pretty much said to have the kids make name cards for their desks, and/or to sit in the same place until you know their names. (Or maybe the latter was from the book. The book also says you can make notes on the roster about each kid to help you remember which is which.)

    The exercise sounds like it would be good, but only if you’re teaching a fairly advanced class. Otherwise I think they’d probably have no idea what you’re asking.

  2. Karla

    I’m pretty sure you’re over thinking it!! How old are these students? Are they adults or children? Do you know their level of the English language? Do they speak some English? None at all? I mean I don’t have a teaching degree or anything; but I would think you would have to start with the basics. You know–like how you teach children to speak. Nursery rhymes and songs are an excellent way of teaching phonics. Jack and Jill went up the hill, One, two buckle my shoe, three, four shut the door, one little two little three little Indians, Three blind mice, If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, Row row row your boat, etc. The same time they are rhyming they are also learning animals, modes of transportation, body parts, and colors.

    I agree with Marie about the name cards.
    Also about your blackboard questions. Even if they understand what you’re asking; how could they possibly articulate an answer? When you ask the effectiveness of the “best” or “worst” teacher they have had, makes you sound like you lack confidence and are searching for solutions to be an effective teacher. Aren’t you supposed to already know that?
    Anyway that’s my opinion. It’s worth about two cents. I’ll bill you later.
    I hope you have a pleasant,fun and rewarding experience. Maybe you’ll have some interesting stories to tell. And hopefully North Korea won’t test their nuclear bombs on you. Hah!!!

  3. Daniel Daugherty

    If my application is taken seriously on any level, I should end up teaching older students who have had a fair amount of exposure to English. And if they can’t understand instructions then it’s an excellent time to learn new vocabulary!

    @ Aunt Karla: That was the idea behind the activity! A desperate attempt to glean information from students in the event that I have no guidance or direction from elsewhere. It’s meant somewhat as a joke, to highlight the lack of confidence I felt when writing the post.

    @ Marie: Let’s hope nobody ever sees the notes I’d write on a roster!


  4. cindy

    Anxiety. This really sums it up in one word. But what is causing the anxiety. The newness of this experience you will have. The uncertainty. The unknown. That always causes me to lose sleep.
    I think you are asking the right questions. Good replies. Good food for thought, and the more answers you get the better you will feel. You are bright and creative, and I think together with Jen, the two of you will create a lesson plan that will work for the type of students you will teach.
    Marie sounds like someone you want to stay in touch with. She is already going through the process!

  5. Jen

    You need to remember to put your name at the bottom of the post so people know who wrote it. Some thought it was me 🙂 I’m sure teaching will be difficult at first but we’ll both get the hang of it. Most teachers who go over there have no experience so we’re starting off better than them. We are TEFL certified remember?

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