Teaching

What is it really like teaching abroad? Part 2

03/03/2016

Part TWO

So what’s coming up in this blog post? This post is focusing on first time teachers abroad where they’ll be watched by parents in ‘open door’ classes or speaking with parents at Parent Teacher Meetings.

Click here to read Part ONE which is based on dealing with no teaching assistant and lesson planning.

 Open doors

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In other after school activities like ballet, dance, practising playing an instrument, karate, taekwondo or other practises having parents observe a lesson they (usually) go with the intention to see their child at the stage they are. There’s encouragement, there’s acknowledgment that their child isn’t perfect, but they’re still improving. This is my summary, I could well be wrong.

What I saw in China was the opposite and I have to highlight not all parents were like this. Many parents I came across had this idea that their child would be more “active” in class…I vaguely understood what that meant if I’m honest. I think they were trying to say that they wanted their child to speak more English. Twas a tad difficult if the student was shy, or took longer to grasp the language they only heard once a week but some parents had the idea that as long as they were getting their child English lessons with the foreign teacher, their child would pick up the accent and language after several months (some thought weeks) of learning. So when watching an open door class and parents couldn’t see any progression, any participation (though their child was speaking quietly and actively listening to the teacher or their classmates during class activities) parents got annoyed and had lots to say.

‘Why can’t my child speak to another foreigner?’ (Your child is like five years old lady!) ‘The class was too active (too many games) how will my child learn?’ (But you insisted that the teacher played more games didn’t you?) ‘My child can’t read!’ (though you’ve specifically said you wanted the teacher to focus on speaking, not even listening.) ‘The teacher was unprepared’ (though I’d said the computer wasn’t working initially but it didn’t effect the class.) ‘Your pronunciation is wrong’ (That one was rich. Those who complained were complaining because of their child’s understanding of what I’d said or they were simply used to an American accent which I clearly do not have.)

You can see the trend right? Those are some of the things parents said to me after ‘open door’ classes. Now of course, I had tons of positive reviews as well but at the end of the day, which one stands out? I didn’t get much support when I started out in teaching in China so those negatives really took a toll on me. Later, I decided not to let those comments bother me. Why? Because I knew I was doing my job and students got what they needed successfully.

So, some advice for you new teachers: having a class full of students’ parents is a really terrifying teaching moment… initially. But I can assure you, after you’ve done a few with different age groups, you’ll learn to ignore those parents scribbling away at how you pronounced something “incorrectly” or how you didn’t pay their child “any attention.” You’ll also realise that some parents just always have something to say because they spent lots of money on the course and expect you to teach them perfect English in a small timeslot.

I found open doors the extremely pointless. They were worst determiner of student’s behaviour, classroom environment and the teacher’s skills all because class became a performance.  They are learning a language not a dance routine. There are times to practise with people outside of class, but they need to have built up confidence first. Realistically, if you knew your parents were watching you in class, would you act up? Would you try your best in class? On the other hand, would you care?

Tips: 

  1. If you’re fortunate enough to have open observations my advice to you is this – know what you’re doing and be prepared. Seriously, relax. Explain what you’re going to do in the class to the parents and remind them whose boss – you are! (That means they have no interaction with their child, they must take phone calls outside, and for crying out loud get off your phone and watch your child!) Proceed with your class making sure that you keep the students’ minds off their parent’s presence the classroom.
  2. Don’t let the parents’ comments get to you. Come to terms with the fact that not everyone is gonna like you or your teaching style. Please, whatever you do, don’t get discouraged by the parents (sometimes really spiteful) comments. My thing was, unless I could hold a full conversation with the parent in English then their comments meant zero to me. Probably that was harsh, but hey, you brought me over to teach your child English right? Gotta draw the line somewhere.
  3. When planning open door classes, plan with the idea that students will be either frightened or nervous (none or both) during class. Try and make it as busy, within reason, as possible so students don’t get distracted by their parents presence.
  4. This probably doesn’t count as a tip, but I’ll give it a shot. If you ever have classes where no one says anything – as I’ve had before with older students, I’d suggest making the content and activities pretty interesting so that students will wanna talk about or participate in the activities in pairs at least.
  5. Never, never let students do things one by one. This was my mistake I frequently made. They get all sorts of shy and no. Just no. Yes, it depends on the student and maybe their age doesn’t matter, but it’s a lot of pressure. I’d steer clear of that kind of one person answer thing in general but in open doors, let students work together or whatever, the possibilities are endless but not singling out the child. If they get it wrong? How embarrassing that must be right? Think of what the parent will say to their child on their way home. Limit those lectures.
  6. Think on the spot. This goes for teaching in general but when you’ve got double the amount of people in class, you start to get a little hotter than normal when activities deflate in front of you. Have a bag of ideas ready or move things around on your lesson plan if it works

Parent Teacher Meetings

Parent Teacher Meeting

I haven’t mentioned much about parent teacher meetings as they’re not based on your performance but the focus on their child’s performance in class. Let’s get this straight you’re in (or going to) a country and on the side of the continent where students are forced to work their butts off for “that place” in middle school, high school or university. Parents do not want to hear about their child falling behind. Why else are they paying extra money to improve their child’s education? To keep up with the Johns’, silly!

Tips: 

  1. Asian education is highly competitive so bear this in mind. Students are under high pressure so when they meet with you, they want to know their child is successful. But don’t buy into that and tell them the truth! If they’re bad they’re bad.
  2. Try to cover as many points so parents don’t have tons of questions at the end.
  3. Suggest things parents can do at home to practise.
  4. If you know any extra materials like watching English TV cartoons/shows tell them.
  5. Knowing some of the local language helps because you will know if the teaching assistant is actually translating what you’re saying.
  6. Stay calm, it’s nothing like the open door. You don’t have to talk much any way.

Thanks for reading.

Hope it helps!

I did mention in the last post that I’ll discuss the differences in school cultures but as this post has been lengthy, I’m gonna wait a little bit. When I get into the swing of teaching here in Busan I’ll be able to make some more comparisons. So, stay tuned. 

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