In the Adventures in TEFL series, I will be recounting stories from my year in Thailand Teaching English As A Foreign Language (TEFL) to students age 11-16 in Attamit School.
This one is there to encourage young people to do something different and potentially make leaps and bounds because of it.
Older folks, I respect the wisdom your age brings, what do you think?
Hiding From Life
Growing up, I was told by my teachers that I need to come out of my shell. Things didn’t changed after college. I was told in my year end review by the CEO of the company that I (again) needed to come out of my shell.
And you know what they’re right. Albert Einstein once said,
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
In order to live a high contrast life, being the same old same old won’t cut it. Time to stop being a cocoon and emerge as the butterfly I was went to be.
Earn Your Wings
First step in that process was Thailand. I earned my wings there. Here’s why you should do the same.
First reason is Public Speaking. I remember my college communications class. I was absolute crap in speaking with other people.
Don’t have much choice as an English teacher though. Or any teacher for that matter. Talking in front of others is one of the greatest fears (unfounded) that plagues humanity.
The beauty is, once you get over that mental hurdle, or if you are proverbially pushed off the plane (with a parachute) like I was, that mountain turns into an anthill.
And with anything, if you do something long enough, you get half decent at it at the very least. One aspect of that is that you learn how to speak so that other people understand what you’re saying. Part of that is learning how to speak slowly and effectively.
“Expand Your Horizons”
Most people in the world are not native English speakers, so there is a rewiring process to understand the words coming out of your mouth. Sometimes it reverts to using pigeon English among other methods to get your point across. Whatever the case, your ability to communicate with billions of people around the world greatly increases.
Talking with people from a vastly different culture expands your perspective, which is a topic that deserves its own article. Another perspective you gain is of that of your teachers. Most people have been schooled throughout childhood. Being the teacher puts you on the other side of the court.
It gives you a new sense of appreciation for a large section of people that have been in your life. As such, you are no longer the kid in the relationship, you are the adult which means you have to grow up. You experience a different reality you would not have known otherwise. From the parent teacher conferences, to controlling a classroom when the numbers are against you, to doing the right thing even when it’s not easy. In other words, you grow up when you got people to look after and realize it ain’t all about you.
With that said, the question may arise on why be a teacher when you are young. Why not later on in life when you are ready to retire or if you ever decide to switch careers. Think of it this way, pick any career: doctor, lawyer, police officer, you will start on the bottom. It’s a natural transition from being told what to do at school, to being told what to do at work.
And it will be years before you gain any real leadership position. Essentially you’ll be on the same trajectory as everyone else.
And true greatness comes from doing what few are willing.
So take being a TEFL teacher in Thailand instead as an alternative. Immediately as a college grad in your early 20s, you are expected to lead a classroom of people whether you are ready or not. You become the big fish in a small pond which will prep you for larger ponds down the road.
The Time Are Changing, But People Ain’t
Arguments against this: these kids, teens are in a foreign country plus they’re not adults.
People don’t change, the times, fashions, languages, culture are different, but not people. Our brains work the same. Is there a human psychology/sociology course for East Asia only and a separate one for the west? Nope.
And whatever you learn there can be applied to whatever you pursue later in life. Because a classroom with randomly selected students is a microcosm of society and any group of people (work or pleasure) you encounter later in life will always have your cool kids, joker, brainiac, “predator” etc. Learning how to handle these social milieus now while you’re young means you will be light years ahead of your peers.
Because you chose to do something different.
Some may say you can get these benefits at a young age by being a school teacher in the States (or wherever your home country is). You can, the caveat is that being in your home country to teach means a lot more laws and statutes that limit your flexibility in what you can or cannot do, especially in developed countries.
It restricts your ability to experiment with what works and what doesn’t (in terms of handling people). And if you bend the line where it breaks, being in a foreign country allows you to separate yourself from those you may have inadvertently offended by your experimental methods. (See it as an internship, mistakes will be made.)
Why You Should Work With Teens: They’re Like Toddlers
And an important note. You want to be working with teens. Small children are irrational and dissimilar to adults in too many ways. Adults, from my own undergraduate experience, know how to behave themselves in a classroom setting.
But teens though, think of them like toddlers. They have just begun to develop their own agency and sense of self and want to use it. Just as toddlers don’t stop running when they learn how to walk, teens use their newfound sense of self with limited inhibitions, without the barriers placed in the adult world to keep us from killing each other when we are living and working together at close proximity.
Now it’s up to you to “chase toddlers” and when flashes of those toddlers emerge later in life with new people you encounter, you already know how to handle it.
Think of all this as first steps in learning how to become a leader. When I guest lectured in Thai Unis as an example, I was still nervous speaking in front of fresh faces despite all the practice I already had under my belt.
But I was much more prepared going into it then if I had not been a TEFL teacher.
And that’s the thing about any job in general, you can make as much or as little of it as you want. It’s up to you on how hard you want to try and hit those points listed above (plus anything else you had in mind) and to see if you are the parental type or not. That’s all on you.
So invest in a skill set now while you are young so that it can be applied throughout your life.
Young folks, after hearing all this, what do you think? Do you have the courage to make the jump?
Older folks, do you agree with the points made? If you could turn back time, would you make this leap of faith?
Express yourself down in the comments below.