Teaching ESL in Asia : Pick Your Poison

So you’ve thought about teaching English overseas.? The lure of a decent salary, free apartment and opportunity to live abroad baits thousands of university graduates each year to leave home and set off to some far away destination in Asia.  The experience can be life changing – both positive or negative – dependent upon a host of different factors.  I’m going to be presenting a series of articles that deals with the types of decisions/working conditions one will need to consider before dotting the i’s and the crossing the t’s of a one year contract.  Before signing your life away it’s important to think about what type of teaching assignment best suits your personality.  More specifically, it’s determining what age level you want to teach.  For some teaching Kindergarten students is an absolute nightmare and for others its pure bliss.  I’ve personally taught for three years in South Korea teaching students of ALL age levels in the public and private sector.  The following is a somewhat humorous/sarcastic take at the pluses and minuses of each level and what skill set is required to tackle the assignment without going completely insane:

KINDERGARTEN

The Bad

Imagine a room full of hyper active little ankle-biting ADHD Ritilin candidates swarming about the room conversing in a language you can’t understand while you’re desperately tying to maintain control of the situation in a language they can’t grasp either.  This is the nightmare some foreign teachers face upon first arriving overseas.  The qualifications to teach in Asia (for most countries) is nothing more than a University degree and if you have no formal training as a teacher or a lot of experience with small children it can be a rude awaking!  These are not little robots who want to sit still in their desks and color and chant in English all day long.  Kids of this age cohort have the attention span of shrews and unless you’re prepared for this things may not sail quite so smoothly.

The Good

Children of this age are absolutely adorable and as cute as a button.  If you have a lot of energy, planned activities and ‘fun’ things that will keep them engaged throughout the course of an entire lesson, you’ll find teaching this age group a rewarding experience.  The kids will love to dance, chant, play, and color.  A good teacher, at this age level is a dancing, singing & clowning machine – doing all kinds of things that one would never tell anyone back home for fear of getting tar-feathered.   A good lesson plan has NUMEROUS activities and several BACKUP plans for when things are getting a little dull for the students.

Final Thoughts

Teaching kindergarten is probably one of the most challenging assignments for a first time teacher.  You have to play the role of teacher, entertainer, guardian and clown all at once and if you’re the type of individual that doesn’t have a lot of energy or adores kids it’s probably best to consider something else; however, for those who have this skill set and enjoy being around children it’s probably a perfect fit.

 

ELEMENTARY

The Bad

They’re still kids yet they’re not as cute as they were back in kindergarten.  The little brat mouthing you off and testing your patience at every turn isn’t quite as sweet or innocent anymore.  Teaching elementary age students (especially at the grade 1 to 4 level) requires similar levels of energy and preparation time that it takes to control a kindergarten classroom.

The Good

The children, at this age compared with kindie students, are more mature and have been socialized to behave and listen to the teacher – at least the good students :P  Thus, classroom management is a little bit easier.  Furthermore, kids of this age are still enthusiastic about everything – provided it’s fun.  Do you want to play a game?  YEAH!  Let’s do a role play?  YEAH!  If you are entertaining/engaging and have interesting lesson plans the students will love you and treat you like a rock-star.

Final Thoughts

Teaching elementary age students is definitely an easier assignment than Kindergarten students; however, one must still thoroughly enjoy children and have an enthusiastic and entertaining approach in the classroom to make it work at this level.  Personally, this is my favorite age group to teach.

 

MIDDLE / HIGH SCHOOL

The Bad

Have you ever tried to draw blood from a stone?  How did that work out for you?  Sometimes finding ways to get your middle school or high school students to engage in a lesson feels on par with this analogy.  At this age teenagers are VERY self conscious, shy and typically afraid to make mistakes in front of their peers.  A really keen student will likely get ridiculed for being a bookworm.

The Good

If you’re more of a lecturer and less of an entertainer this might be the right level for you.  Teaching teenagers requires a lot of patience and different methods to pursue conversation, activity and other classroom participation; however, you’ll be less pressured to put on a show and if you decide to dance, sing or try methods you used with younger children you might be met with a few giggles.

Final Thoughts

Teaching middle or high school students has its share of challenges; however, I think for a newbie teacher it’s a little less intimidating of an assignment because you’re playing more the role of a teacher and less the role of an entertainer, guardian, etc.

 

ADULTS

The Bad

Image having the most rude & self-centered student – the kind that speaks out of turn, hogs conversations and doesn’t get along with others – aged 49.  Instead of being able to scold the man/women like you would with a child you’re forced to handle things more delicately.  Mature students are far more demanding and at times critical of your teaching and classroom performance.  No matter what kind of teaching style you adopt (whether it be structured or informal) you’ll have your share of critics.

The Good

Adult students – by and large – are very dedicated and committed.  They’re likely paying for a private English class and are hoping to get the most out of the lesson.  You’re almost certainly unlikely to find students who are lacking motivation and focus within the classroom.  Furthermore, discipline problems are few and far between; however, when you get a self-centered or socially inept student it’s harder to deal with them than it is with a child.

Final Thoughts

Teaching adults is the perfect fit for those who do not enjoy teaching children.  It’s the most ideal situation for a teacher that prefers a more formal setting and could never imagine singing, dancing or wiping runny noses.  You can develop rapport with adults and some of your students could potentially become your friends outside of the classroom.

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