Here comes the sun- it’s the end of the school year, hooray!
Nearing the end of a school contract is always a crazy couple of weeks, you’ve got the exams lurking around the corner, the dread of knowing that some of your students haven’t got a hope in hell and you’re counting down the days ’til you’ll be back home or just somewhere, anywhere else.
Well, that’s pretty much the case here (although the student’s without a hope in hell of passing their exams were only handed over to me last week… I might be a good teacher but I’m not a bloody miracle worker). So there’s stress. A lot of stress. But as the days roll by, more and more classes finish, reducing my hours. It feels like a bonus, a reward. And so it should, these last 5 months have been challenging to say the least.
In Vietnam and Maldives however, it was completely different. Vietnam was the first place I’d ever taught English in, and as it was part of an Internship program, there wasn’t nearly as much stress. I was only teaching kinda elementary learners and the lessons were creative and fun, not at all grammar or exam-based (the Vietnamese English teachers taught grammar in separate lessons). As well, as it was my first teaching post, and indeed my first ever solo trip abroad, I couldn’t wait to go home. I was completely homesick and hadn’t adjusted or settled in at all. The students were extremely friendly and almost too cute- constantly taking selfies and editing the photos with Hello Kitty stickers and cat ears etc. I definitely formed some kind of a bond with a group of girls I was teaching as part of an English Club thing the school was trying to get going. On my last few days there I was bombarded with flowers, cards and even presents like weird-looking plush toys and a massive vase, even from students whom I’d never taught before! I felt incredibly loved and valued, it was like a Teachers Day just for me.
In Maldives too the students surprised me with handmade cards and notes, and oddly another vase (is there something about Asia and giving people vases?). There wasn’t really any stress as I only taught children taking A1 Cambridge exams (Starters, Movers and Flyers) and the students were more than capable of passing those. That meant that in the last lessons we could have a lot of fun while revising topics, some students brought in cupcakes and sweets for everyone. We even had a ‘Graduation Ceremony’ where the kids came up to shake my hand and receive a certificate, with all their mums and dads watching, it was so lovely! Obviously memorable for the right reasons.
Even during my time working as a Camp Tutor in Italy a couple of years ago, the last few days of camp were such a mix of emotions! In just a few weeks I’d formed such strong bonds with my students, with other camp tutors and of course with my host families. I’ll always remember one camp in particular, it was my final camp of the summer, and the students there were particularly advanced in English for their age. On the final day, there’s a big party and the students perform a play in English, with their mama’s, papa’s, mama’s mama, mama’s neighbour, just about anyone and everyone watching and taking videos of their little stars. Since my kids were so bright, I looked up and found the script for Mamma Mia and adjusted it to about 30 minutes and with simpler language, although we kept the songs the same. The kids were absolutely phenomenal and looked incredible. We’d spent a few days making costumes and of course practicing their lines as well as the dance moves. What a knock-out show, I’m just gutted I was in charge of the music and so I didn’t have a spare hand to film it.
So that brings me to here (Naples, Italy), where there’s just 1 week left!
Here I’ve mostly taught teenagers and adults around A1- A2 level and students taking the Cambridge KET exams, with loads of other random classes thrown in one week and taken away the next. Teenagers here don’t seem to be very sentimental at all, although most of them assume I’m coming back next year even though I keep saying “our last lesson!! Ultimate lesson!”. They’re not really bothered, polar opposite to the teenagers in Vietnam. The children are very cute but like I said, one week I taught a couple of kids classes, the next week a different teacher took over them so I could tutor some adult one to one or whatever else they had me do.
However, there have been two classes which I’ve had from the beginning which I’m starting to feel emotional about- one class of 13 year olds and one class of 7-9 year olds. Having a class from start to end is SO important, I wish more schools would realise that. I can see so clearly where and how the students have improved and then there’s the rapport- how can students feel motivated and interested when their teacher keeps bloody changing every week/month? The class of 13 year olds is actually off-site, I have to go to their public school and teach them there. At first it was really daunting, especially because the schools own English teacher insisted on observing my lessons, making notes, and frequently sticking her nose in and speaking in Italian! But after a while me and her became kinda friends, and she proved useful in cases when the students went off on a “5 minute” break and didn’t show up for ages.
The point is, while it was a little bit sad leaving my students in Vietnam and Maldives, it’s not really all that sad here. I just hope that all the hard work we’ve done together won’t become undone next year. Some of the students for example aren’t continuing next year so they’re hardly going to remember the things I’ve taught them. Makes it all feel a bit pointless. But it’s important not to feel like that. I know in my heart that I’ve at least tried to make English interesting and fun. I often think back to my own school days and of the teachers whose lessons I enjoyed and whose lessons cultured in me a passion for the subject. There was my English teacher at college who acted out the characters of The Tempest to help us visualise it and remember quotes for the exam, there was my Sociology teacher who made it so interesting I read and studied far more than I needed to, my Religious Studies teacher who, even after I received poor grades and should have taken just the “foundation exam”, pushed me to take the “highers” exam- and helped me get 1 mark off an A*. Even my mathematics teacher made maths interesting. Imagine that, maths, interesting?! Remarkable work. I’m thankful to our education system in the UK and to all the teachers who helped me get to where I am today.
Some people smirk at the idea of teaching English as a foreign language, as if it’s easy or just something you do on a “gap yah”, not something you base your life around. I don’t know if I’ll always teach English, how could I?, but for now it suits me and my lifestyle perfectly. I work my ass off helping people learn my language so they can go to university or move abroad, get a promotion at work or even just be able to order dinner or check into a hotel on holiday. In return for this I’m rewarded with living in the heart of the community, spending my working hours learning about the culture and the country in which I’m living. It’s a far deeper experience than travel alone and I’d fully recommend it to anyone thinking about teaching abroad.
Looking forwards, I’ve been applying to teaching positions in Spain as I mentioned in previous posts, but also in Sicily (Italy), which is of course where P is from and where we first met. I feel like I’m not quite done with Italy yet, so if it all works out you’ll be sure to hear about life living and teaching in Sicily. Don’t have a BA degree? I don’t either; it doesn’t mean that teaching abroad is impossible. However, I’ve been looking at Open University and really thinking about signing up to an online degree or something. It’ll take me between 6-12 years part time, which I’m not bothered about, I’m more concerned about the money and if the piece of paper at the end is worth it all when I could spend the money on simply enjoying the now. Any thoughts, comments or experiences of your own would be greatly appreciated! Any questions, I’d be more than happy to help you.