“Humble Service: You Need To Care First” (Adventures in TEFL #3)

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 11-16Applied philosophy is used to take these lessons for utilization outside the classroom.

A Starry-Eyed Teacher

Like many youth, I started off as a very idealistic teacher. I had roughly 90 students spread out across grades 7 through 9. After getting my bearing kinda sorta knowing what I’m doing, I wanted to turn all my students into greats students.

I made a list of students that were a challenge, not necessarily behavior wise, but having a very poor grasp of the English language and by my assessment, would not be able to keep up with the course work.

Going The Extra Mile

I devised ways in which I would be able to help them. Once such method was I would ask these weaker learners to bring their lunch for a review session during lunch. Now this was unofficial and something I did on my own initiative.

Many were unwilling, but I remember 1 7th grade boy. At a early stage in the school year, I knew he had no idea what was going on and was therefore disengaged. To put it into context, even when I made the most basic requests such as “Please stand up,” while gesturing, he would respond in Thai rather the a simple “okay.”

So I brought him to one of the lunch sessions and discovered he was indeed clueless. Most of these unofficial study sessions were with him and another boy. We went over the textbook real slow so thar in class, he would at least have some idea what was going on.

And I noticed a gradual change in this students demeanor. Rather then sitting in the back of the class chatting with a friend during class, he sat front and center paying attention most of the time, raising his hand even when he didn’t know the answer.

And when I passed him in the hall, he would say, “Teacher” and gesture at the empty classroom where I held lunch time study sessions.

In other words, he was eager to learn, plus he gave me a box of cookies as a token of appreciation.

I was deeply touched.

I don’t care much for food, it was the thought that moved me.

And at the end of the school year, when I would be leaving Thailand, I wrote this student’s mother a letter explaining I would not be present to help her son for the 8th grade. And that the coursework would be much more difficult. Therefore it would be a bad idea for him to continue on in this school.

At least with me around, I could help this student muddle through the course material just like how I muddle through guitar cords. Without the extra support I offer, he would be list again just like the beginning of the 7th grade.

I ended up having a impromptu parent/teacher meeting with the mom and aunt. Basically they explained this school was far better than any previous school their child has been in and he likes it here.

In not this student’s father so it wasn’t my decision. What I did do is write this boy a letter, explaining the reality of his situation, how I would no longer be around to help him and asking him to promise me he would study hard inside the classroom and out.

Letter to said student with name cropped out.

A High R-Square: Motivation And Success (First Takeaway)

Many of the students I lended extra help to weren’t interested. I was a bit peeved by this at the time. But now I have a better understanding. I talked about previously that as a leader (teacher) you need to focus on helping your followers (students) succeed in meeting expectations set for them.

However, it goes beyond the assisting in meeting expectations. Motivation is highly correlated to success and more often then not they move in lock step. Trying to gt followers to succeed when they themselves don’t want to is counter intuitive.

Give them a reason (that they care about) to succeed and make it achievable, this will move them towards the right direction.

Distribute Humble Service (Second Takeaway)

And the reason why I helped this one student so much in hindsight I realize now that I saw my younger self in him.

I also struggled with learning a foreign language (Chinese) growing up, and it wasn’t that ai didn’t want to learn, it was because I just wasn’t any good at it. What happened to me was that I just got passed along and carried along from elementary school through high school.

I didn’t want my own childhood misfortunes to happen to someone else. So in a way I was trying to shelter this student from the same reality I faced (you’re at a second grade level in a 7th grade class and it’s unlikely you’ll ever catch up.)

This student ended up trying much harder when I became his advocate (I went as far as defending him when another teacher called him hopeless.) and again motivation and success have a high correlation.

If I hadn’t put in the extra effort, he would have remained the same.

But your the leader right?

Well sometimes leading means putting your foot forward and showing you care first so that others follow suit.

In other words, show them you care. Just like how Jesus washed the feet of a follower. It’s humble service.

The caveat is your time and energy is limited, so dedicating it all to serve a few can be seen as favoritism. With this 7th grade class I put a disproportionate amount of attention on this struggling student and “bubbly girl” from the last entry while neglecting large sections if the class whom were more difficult.

Now these were just 12-13 year Olds, many of whom didn’t like me very much by the end if the school year. If it were adults, there could be an outright mutiny on your hands.

So use humble service wisely, spread it out around the group and apply it like a surgical knife where key incisions will make the largest impact.

It’s one of these boys here, I won’t mention which one.

Previous Posts:

Dear Young Person: Why You Need To Be An English Teacher In Thailand (Adventures in TEFL Thailand #1)

“The Dangers of Unfairness” (Adventures in TEFL #2)

7 thoughts on ““Humble Service: You Need To Care First” (Adventures in TEFL #3)

  1. An excellent reminder to be humble in our service. I particularly liked what you said here, “Give them a reason (that they care about) to succeed and make it achievable, this will move them towards the right direction.
    Distribute Humble Service (Second Takeaway).”
    Thank you for sharing. Stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kinston, another interesting post about your classroom days in Thailand. I thought as I was reading your post: It is not enough to have lofty ideals about serving mankind or being a good person or doing the right thing or having brilliant lessons. It is personal interaction and empathy that really helps struggling students. You got it right in giving them individual attention! How are your future plans coming along? Best, Cheryl


    1. I think you hit the nail on the head Cheryl, it doesn’t matter how advanced our technology gets, nothing can replace the human connection.
      As for my plans, they are still a bit muddy at times but I’m confident I’ll figure things out no matter how uncertain the world gets


  3. Kingston, we need more teachers like you. Teachers who are patient and who really want to help the student learn. Even back when I was in school, those special teachers were few! Thank you so much for your service in education. And the part about the gift your students gave you for appreciation was so heartwarming! They really enjoyed learning from you and no doubt you made a huge difference in their lives!

    Liked by 2 people

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