Amid cultural differences, crazy games, and communication challenges, I’ve learned a lot from my experience teaching English to children in an orphanage in Cambodia. Here’s a look at some of the things I learned:
Lesson #1: Teaching is for those who want to be more humble. It’s hard. I had heard that before, but I thought I could handle it and figure it out. And I still think I can. But because I had to learn to control a class, teach concepts, and understand students’ backgrounds enough to help them, that process took a lot more time than I had thought.
Lesson #2: Be patient with yourself. Teaching is hard, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be discouraging. One of my last days teaching went quite horribly, and I realized I had been teaching everything the wrong way. At first I was so frustrated—I had expected to be able to do things right by the end of my time in Cambodia, and it made all I had done seem pointless. But I realized that I simply need to continue to patiently learn and improve how I teach. No effort is wasted if I learn from my mistakes.
Lesson #3: Go with the flow. One day at the end of class, I announced that we would play fruit basket, a game the students had been begging me to play for days. I knew they loved this game and thought we would have a lot of fun. To my surprise, the class sulked away, some claiming, “Me sick, me no play,” and others just sitting at their desks. To say I was confused would be an understatement. This was their favorite game! Why didn’t they want to play it? We instead practiced writing in their books. I’m still not sure why they didn’t want to play, but I learned a lesson: we are not working with a computer or machine, we are working with humans, and many times you just can’t predict what is going to happen. Be prepared to go with the flow instead of getting frustrated about something not going as planned.
Lesson #4: Don’t lose it. This seems obvious, but I was surprised at how easy it was to get frustrated and how easily that frustration could come out in the things I said and how I acted. But it is vital that no matter how rowdy or crazy the students are, you stay calm. You can be strict and in control, but always calm.
Lesson #5: Enjoy it. Remember what teaching is all about: helping people. Teaching is full of ups and downs, but time goes fast, so enjoy both the ups and the downs of every situation.
Lesson #6: Love the students. After spending a long time discussing important things to do as a parent, my human development teacher shared this quote from Urie Bronfenbrenner about what’s really the most important: “Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always.” I think this quote applies just as well to teaching. No matter what we don’t know, how rowdy a class is, or how badly a lesson goes, the most important thing is to love the students and really care for them and their learning. That is the only way we can truly make a difference in their lives.