On Teaching Things to Little People

I’ve been asked countless times since I started teaching about what sort of qualifications I’ve got, and then after explaining that I have virtually no teaching qualifications, people ask how I wound up teaching. First off, I don’t have any background in any kind of education. I have an anthropology degree. What I do have though, is a Canadian passport and experience as an au pair. Evidently, theres not much more you need to be a teacher if you find yourself in the right part of the world.

Before I began teaching in Istanbul I had worked as an au pair four times, in three different countries. I would say this had some to do with my hiring, but I’d be lying if I thought they would have hired me if I wasn’t Canadian. Being able to claim native English status is quite a bonus in any place that isn’t primarily English speaking, and I’ve definitely come to realize the value of my nationality and my accent since I started looking at the teaching options around the world. So the first thing you should know about teaching abroad, is that if you’re Canadian, American, British, Australian or from New Zealand, it’s going to be a lot easier to find something than you might think starting out. And if you aren’t from those places, don’t underestimate the value of a North American or British accent and a phone interview.

Once I had landed the first teaching job I panicked. It was easy getting the job, but the thought of teaching children anything, having a whole class of them listening to what I’ve got to say, terrified me. The idea of planning lessons, having to act like I know what I’m doing, and teach a whole language to kids that I don’t even recall learning, was incredibly overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. I had never taught anyone anything, let alone a class of twenty kids. Sure, I had played with kids plenty, but being thrown into the classroom and expected to entertain them, get them to like me, and maintain some sort of authority with them, all before really knowing them, seemed daunting at best. I’m not the sort of person that knows kids songs, or games, and it takes me time to get to know kids before I can even say I like them. I don’t instinctively like kids. I need time to warm to each one, and get to know them individually, before I will be confortable with them. So before my first day, I couldn’t help worrying about what the parents would think when I didn’t immediately want to play with their child, or when I didn’t have a song to sing or a game to play with them. I worried that they would realize that I wasn’t a teacher, that I wasn’t qualified for anything remotely similar to teaching. I basically felt like I was just pretending to be a teacher, like I was somehow lying, being a fraud. However, I now recall that my favorite writer once said that in situations like this, you should just pretend to be someone who knows what they’re doing. This is what I did, I just pretended I knew what I was doing, and learned from the teachers around me, and somehow, without even realizing it, eventually I really did know what I was doing. I never took any courses, aside from a quick internet certificate, the Introduction to TEFL Teaching, and yet, I found a way that works. I fell in love with each of my kids in different ways over the course of the year, and I think I learned a great deal about teaching, not only from my colleagues, but from my kids.

Teaching certainly isn’t easy, but it also doesn’t have to be difficult. I’m into my second year as a kindergarten teacher, and I’m enjoying it even more than I did last year. At first, I figured it was just the most available way to work abroad, and it is. It is probably the easiest way to make money overseas. However, it’s also a real job,  Sometimes it’s tough; sometimes lessons need planning and kids are loud and you’re exhausted. Other times though, I find myself reflecting on the impact I’ve had on so many little people and their families. I think about the things that I’ve taught them; things that might go entirely unremembered, but on the other hand, could be the things that will stick with them forever.  Most importantly though, through teaching, I’ve learned more than I could have doing any other job. I’ve learned so much about teaching and children of course, but through my kids I’ve learned about their culture, their language, their traditions and their families. I’ve learned more words in different languages from kids than I have from books and courses, I’ve learned about how they celebrate birthdays, holidays, and whether we all have the same tooth fairy. I’ve learned about different sports, games and TV programs that I would have never been exposed to otherwise.

So while teaching was at the time the easiest and most available job to find, it was terrifying at the start. And despite the initial anxiety I felt about teaching, I’m so glad I chose to give it a shot. I never wanted to be a teacher, and I don’t plan on being a teacher forever, but for now, it not only pays the bills, but it’s something that I enjoy and it’s a job I can be proud of. If you want to work abroad, it will not only be easy to find a job, it might be a job you love, so my advice would be to give it a shot and work past any reservations you might have. You might end up with little ones like I’ve got, or perhaps with highschool or adults, but regardless, teaching will not only be the economical option, it’ll be a job you can learn from one way or another.