22nd September 2016

How to get better at your job


By David Kim, CertTESOL Trainee, 2016

Hey, you could teach them English!?

What? Really? How?

As a corporate sustainability practitioner, I am responsible for managing many aspects of my company’s environmental, social, and governance performance. The social component of my work often involves company-organised events and activities for under-resourced members of the community.

A number of charitable activities are organised by my company’s volunteer team for children. The team strives to leverage the skills of staff members as parents, artists, cooks, magicians, and in my case, as an English speaker. As a big believer in social responsibility, I was happy to lend a hand and as one of the few native English speakers in my company, I was confident that my language skills would be all I needed to make a difference. How hard could it be?

And so, on Saturday mornings, I found myself at the front of a room full of students wearing eager expressions, giggling, poking, and squirming. I soon discovered that something wasn’t right. A missing ingredient. Students’ energy levels would wax and wane, and their faces showed that they didn't value the learning experience. I hated the realisation that my performance was mediocre, even if it was outside work and came from the best of intentions. Ultimately, I knew this wasn’t really my job, so just the fact that I made an effort was good enough, right?

I had underestimated my ability. I wasn’t prepared.

What was I lacking?

After several disappointing experiences, feeling like I was floundering, I decided to find the missing piece of the puzzle. I realised that I needed teaching skills.

I enrolled in a part-time TESOL course that would allow me to work and study, and equip me with the basics of teaching English to non-native speakers. I was, of course, most interested in the basics. I really wanted to know how to make the kids in my volunteer classes leave the class with a smile on their faces. I wanted to leave my volunteer classes with a smile on my face.

In all honesty, I was taken by surprise.

Over the course of three months, I learned an incredible amount of information about the English language as well as the art and science of teaching. At times, I felt overwhelmed by report deadlines and the demands of lesson planning. I recall the late nights, frantically preparing materials for teaching practices. I still vividly remember how nervous I felt as I headed out the door to teach on Saturday mornings. On a few occasions, I considered throwing in the towel. Why am I putting myself through this grief? It doesn’t really matter, it’s not like it’s my real job. 

But I knew that a lot of meaningful life experiences are bumpy rides. In truth, I could feel myself becoming a better teacher with each class. I loved the Unknown Language experience. I really enjoyed working with my Learner Profile student. And all along, I found the trainers supportive and their feedback very constructive – there was always someone on the other end of an email, or waiting for us to arrive for our evening study sessions, reminding us of dates and deadlines, keeping us on track.

But I stand in front of a class with greater confidence now.

I can structure a decent lesson plan and map my board work.  I don’t lose control of my classes anymore. I don’t lose my train of thought.  Now, my students leave my class with a smile on their faces, and I, more often than not, leave the classroom with just that little bit more of a spring in my step.

But this is where I was really surprised.

While existing responsibilities limit my teaching to volunteer work, I have discovered that I can apply my newly acquired tools to many situations in the office. Concept checking helps me ensure that members of my team clearly understand instructions and challenges while elicitation helps me keep people engaged during presentations and meetings.  In a more general sense, the TESOL course has taught me how to interact with people more effectively − how I can communicate more clearly and how I can better anticipate responses. 

It’s made me a better professional, in more ways than I could have expected.

I greatly value my TESOL experience and I whole-heartedly recommend the course to anyone who has broader interests than full-time teaching. 

Who knows where it might lead you……