We are kicking off our 3rd year at AMI International School! Jon teaches the 3-4 grade combo class until our new U.S. teacher arrives. I am coaching and creating curriculum for the Pre-Kinder, Kinder, and 1st Grade English teachers while I wait for the baby to be born (baby girl Moon is due in October!) Teaching over the last 3 years has been a challenge for me, to say the least, but I have learned so many new things and have been stretched in unimaginable ways!
1. Children are never hopeless. Every child can change, learn and grow - Of course, everyone says this, but before teaching, I did not know this in my heart. There were some children I (at times) thought were hopeless regarding English skills, behavior, or ability to grasp concepts. I feel sad admitting it, but I thought a few would never catch up to the rest of the class. This would frustrate me to no end because I, as a results-oriented person, so desperately wanted these kids to learn and grow. Teaching these kids how to read, write and speak in English was my job, and I did not want to fail. However, over time, each and every kid grew and progressed. In many cases, they ended up surpassing my expectations. The Kinder kid that HATED to read was sitting and reading for 20 minutes by the end of the year. My problem behavior child, who constantly disrupted the class, became so sweet and loving. The child that just WOULDN'T start their writing work until I was standing next to him was writing short paragraphs by the end of the year. As far as what caused this change and growth? It wasn't silver bullet teaching strategies (newsflash - there aren't any). The development and change occurred because I showed up each day with consistency and patience. This learning has genuinely kept me going, and I am so thankful I stuck with teaching, the mission field, and working with children enough to see these remarkable turnarounds. I feel so blessed to witness these miraculous changes, and it gives me such hope, faith, and patience for the next generation.
2. Shaking off the bad days For both students and teachers, there are bad days. I had a million bad days as I struggled with my Spanish skills, learning to be an English teacher and juggling our various ministries. We were also dealing with all the flux and changes of COVID. In my previous career, I was in Finance. I had years of training and experience, dealt with other mature and rational grown-ups, and could have low-energy days where I simply worked on the computer and didn't have to deal with anyone. However, when working with children, they need you to SHOW UP every day. So on my bad/tired/stressed out days, I learned how to put on a smile for these precious kids and how to plan lessons that maybe were a little more relaxed on my teaching time (craft day! nature walks! videos!), so I could prioritize my energy. I also learned not to feel guilty about it. Giving myself that measure of grace also allowed me to have grace for students. My students would have bad days. Some days they were tired; some days, I could tell something was off in the home; and some days, they weren't ready to learn. I grew to have patience for them and patience for myself. Sometimes we have bad days, and I wasn't going to feel bad or guilty about it. Each and every day was a new start.
3. Your relationship with the students matters for academic results. This was Jon's primary advice when I started teaching: students learn for the teacher, not because of the teacher. If you can develop a good relationship with your students, they become SO highly motivated to learn, and teaching becomes that much easier. I learned that building relationships is less about how fun/cool/intelligent/interesting I was or how great my lessons were. It was all about how CONSISTENT I was in my attitude. Taking time to be interested in my students, encouraging them to work hard, disciplining them reasonably, and showing them respect daily, grew my relationships with them over time. Teachers can have such a significant impact on their students once this trust and connection are built.
4. You never know what is going on in a child's home life, so always treat each child with love, respect, and patience. Classroom management is one of the most challenging skills to learn as a new teacher, but I have learned that patterns of misbehavior always have a root. Those roots may have to do with something you are doing wrong in the classroom, but it often has to do with their home life. I have heard so many heartbreaking things from my students. The student that wouldn't start his work told me, "I don't start because my dad hits me if I do it wrong." While reading a story about a panda mother, one little girl raised her hand in tears and said, "I don't have a mom; I just have a nanny." As I taught about colors, one student said, "My dad taught me this, but he abandoned us this summer." Additionally, time and time again, as we bring up misbehavior to parents, many parents will break down and talk about what is happening in the home. I've learned that I cannot fix all matters in a home and that I have to leave that to God and fervent prayer, but I take solace that I can, at the very least, be a consistent presence of love and encouragement in a child's life and perhaps it can make all the difference.
5. Being a teacher means being a student. When coaching the new English teachers, I gave them lesson plans, tips, and a large caveat - you may have to throw it out the window. Depending on the specific group of students in class - certain things work, and certain things don't. You must be observant, quick to learn, and change your lessons based on your particular group of kids. Some groups of kids like certain activities, while others don't. Some groups of kids find a topic easy-peasy, while another group of kids will struggle. A favorite game in one class will be a most-hated game in another. There's not too much predictability in teaching. Every child has a different learning style, and discovering what makes them proud and helps them learn is an exciting part of teaching.
I have dozens of other learnings I've gleaned from being a teacher, but these are the ones I carry with me daily. I still apply these lessons in my parenting and in all the other ways we work with children and youth. Being a teacher for 3 years has made me a better parent, a more patient person, more resilient and has been one of the more humbling experiences of my life. Though it was HARD (maybe not the hardest job I have ever had - kudos to the international tax accountants out there), I am proud of the habits that I have built through teaching - namely to be a constant student, show up, be consistent, keep your promises, and be present. These are the habits I want to create in my life to love and share with those around me.