What does teaching mean to me personally?

TCCS (teacher collaborator and community service) volunteers start training pre-departure for a TEFL certificate. We were asked to write a reflection on:  

  • How do you feel about being a teacher?  
  • How does being a teacher fit your identity?  
  • What are some practices you are going to try to add to your teaching repertoire after this session?  
  • What are some practices you will want to avoid?

“I feel confident and reverent about being a teacher. I know that being a teacher is a challenging and rewarding role. I have always felt that the label “teacher” renders too much to a giver of information rather than the true role of a teacher: that of a guide, a coach and a learner. Teachers are guides who open up new opportunities, facilitate growth and create a safe path in which to explore the world. Teachers are coaches who encourage, problem-solve and nurture the growth of young minds. Teachers are also learners who are forced to face a daily mirror of self-reflection and continual self-improvement. I feel that teaching requires flexibility, fearlessness and humility to successfully meet challenges that arise. Later, the rewards can be found like the first blossoms of spring, few and far between at first until there is a whole garden of bright, blooming flowers reaching for the sun.

Clearly, I have an optimistic view of teaching. While I revere the role, I am not naive to its monotonous moments, its frustrations and its ability to provoke vulnerabilities. Even so, I choose to face every challenge as a positive moment for growth. If every day is a challenge, than every day provides the opportunity for learning. By making learning enjoyable and a safe place to make mistakes, an effective teacher can motivate a younger generation to become lifelong learners and independent thinkers. This module emphasized that teaching is about the students more so than the teacher, and I completely agree.

I identify myself as a lifelong learner; therefore, I enjoy the role of a teacher because it provides a constant learning environment. As a child, I always loved learning and was a role-model, teaching others by my actions without knowing what I was doing. In middle school, I soaked up books, watered my competitive nature and sprinkled my enthusiasm into a plethora of extracurricular activities. In high school, I became critical of the educational system that fit my learning style yet left so many others behind. I went to college for the pure love of learning and yet I realized that not everyone valued the education they were being given. What pushed me forward into more teaching roles was the desire to share my enthusiasm and gratitude for education while also improving its implementation and effectiveness.

My training has taught me to be observant and to discover ways to facilitate individual achievement so that the whole team succeeds. I know that everyone learns differently and that everyone is capable of achievement. Having worked with the challenging population of learning disabilities and anxiety issues related to learning, I have a huge compassion for different learning styles, different attitudes towards learning and the lack of skill sets provided for students so that they can succeed.

I look forward to teaching English because I enjoy teaching fundamental skills from the ground up. As a sports coach, I enjoyed the aspect of taking inexperienced kids, training them with the basics until they had the ability and confidence to become independent and creative with their skills. Furthermore, as social human beings, language is so essential to our connectivity and understanding. I know that language is challenging to learn and also rewarding, much like the act of teaching. With language as a communication tool, people have an unlimited canvas to experiment, build relationships and become leaders.

I am looking forward to collaborating with Thai teachers, learning from them and contributing whatever skills I can. Some practices I would like to add to my repertoire have to do with structuring and scaffolding. Although I am familiar with employing these concepts, they are not natural to me and require my due diligence. To be an effective teacher, I believe that I will need to be well-prepared with strong lesson plans that effectively facilitate retention and include learning practices that incorporate many modalities. I would like to be exposed to more lesson plans and more theories of language learning.

One practice I want to avoid is the attitude that the American way of teaching is superior to Thailand’s. Being aware of cultural norms and respecting the teaching methods already employed by Thai teachers will be important. Adopting an attitude of humility and curiosity will be key to learning, improving and gaining respect. I naturally feel confident in my ability to connect with people, to build a safe learning environment all while maintaining respect and authority. However, that is in an American environment. There will be subtleties and nuances in Thai interactions that I will need to learn and follow. I plan to observe closely, ask many questions and show the utmost respect for my host country.

Also, I want to avoid rushing while speaking, being unclear in my expectations or being too serious. I want to make sure I am speaking simply, clearly and precisely. I want to add more interactive activities to my repertoire, more attention-getters and more light-hearted fun that will enthuse my students and allow them to blossom into their own leadership roles. I am sure to gain a lot of insight and ideas in training from my experienced colleagues. I am very much looking forward to this wonderful opportunity to learn from my Thai counterparts, to learn from the students and to build lasting relationships within my community.”

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Strength Finder: putting my best barefoot forward

As I prepare to leave for Thailand, I am beginning to realize what a vulnerable situation I am getting myself into. I have never taught a classroom of students how to speak English, never collaborated with foreign teachers, never painted a mural, ran a youth group or organized any other typical PC community project one might fantasize about…

Even so, I know that I have talents to share. It got me to questioning: what are my strengths? In what capacity can I be most helpful? In what ways can I best contribute to others? How can I put my best barefoot forward?

My co-worker recommended the book Strength Finder 2.0. Based on the findings by a team of Gallup scientists led by the late Father of Strengths Psychology, Donald A. Clifton, this book provides an assessment to help people discover their top 5 strengths out of 34 common talents. The book gives its reader an access code to take the assessment online; after the assessment, a personalized report with along with an action-planning guide lays out one’s strengths and the book becomes a tool for learning more about the 34 common talents.

According to this assessment, my top strengths are:

  1. Connectedness
    • helps to build teams and change the “us” and “them” mindset
    • helps others to understand how their efforts fit into the larger picture
    • fosters shared knowledge by listening and counseling
    • embraces the humanity in each person
  2. Input
    • soaks up information like a sponge
    • leverages knowledge into action
    • likes to read articles and books that stimulate
    • wants to acquire new information every day
  3. Intellection
    • likes to build relationships with big thinkers to inspire and focus her thinking
    • needs to be involved in the front-end of projects
    • engages others in intellectual and philosophical debate to make sense of things
    • schedules alone time to think and to re-energize
  4. Learner
    • chooses to be in constantly changing fields of study/work
    • takes advantage of adult learning opportunities
    • excels in a consulting role and being a catalyst for change
    • time disappears and attention intensifies when immersed in studying or learning
  5. Command
    • loves to be in the driver’s seat and defending causes against resistance
    • natural decisiveness breaks bottlenecks, removes roadblocks and creates momentum
    • seeks roles to persuade others, lead committees and spearhead new initiatives
    • strives to be known as a candid person who speaks plainly and directly

While these are all written in the present tense as if I already own all of these strong attributes, they are more importantly reminders of how to utilize my strengths. This assessment encourages a person to seek roles in which he or she will be most successful. By setting up my blog into the categories of my strengths, I hope it will serve as a daily reminder of how I can best make a difference in my Thai community. As Ben Franklin once proclaimed:

Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?

Spotlight: my astrological side

Freedom.

That word is the mantra for a Gemini born in the first phase of the twins’ astrological cycle.

Not only this; those born on my birthday, have a particularly strong “drive for freedom and independence, [that] works both positively and negatively for May 30th people, but free they must be.”

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Of course, with great vitality comes the possibility for great sabotage.

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While astrological signs are not hard science nor magical forecasts, I do find them to be strangely accurate. I love to look to their wisdom as a way to self-reflect: what are my potential pitfalls or weaknesses? what are my admirable traits or strengths?

It is precisely this insistent desire to know myself that I look to all sorts of descriptors: astrology, Chinese horoscopes, Myers Briggs, etc.

This blog is a tool for me to track my thinking. By constant self-reflection, I hope I can record my growth, creating the short-term discipline for daily writing,  and, in the long-term, better myself.