Who’s Really Teaching Who?

To all the teachers reading this, I have two things to say:


First of all, thank you. For everything. After teaching English for a month in Vietnam, I have truly come to appreciate how exhausting teaching is. I come home after a long day of energetic teaching and just want to lock myself in my room without talking to anyone. I couldn’t imagine teaching year after year, and I applaud you for all the effort and energy you put into teaching our future generations. Our teachers do far too much work for what they are paid, and don’t get nearly enough credit.


But this is where my second comment comes in, which is…I get it. I now understand why you trade low salaries for stress, badly behaved children, and long exhausting work hours. You do it for the love of the kids.


While teaching English, nothing fills me with more satisfaction than seeing something finally click with the students. I love seeing the passion for learning in the strong students. And I love working with struggling students who finally grasp a concept. The light that goes off in their head as I teach them warms my heart.


That being said, I think these students have actually taught me more than I’ve taught them. Here are four things that I’ve learned in my short stay that will leave a lasting impact for the rest of my life:


1 - Creativity and Quick Thinking

I’ve never considered myself particularly good at thinking on my feet. In fact, every impromptu speech in school left me so anxiety-ridden that I never performed well. I’ve always done best with adequate preparation and practice beforehand. But since teaching here, that’s changed.


I recently taught two 90 minute classes back-to-back with absolutely no preparation. Well, that’s not true. I had spent maybe an hour preparing lessons for the 6th and 7th graders, but when I got to the class, they were apparently on a different lesson entirely. Oops. So I pivoted out of necessity, and created the lesson plan as I went. The students seemed to learn a lot, and actually had fun.


After class, I played badminton with a group of them, and one particularly well-spoken student said I was one of the best teachers they’d had. He loved the energy I brought to the class, and how I related to them. Which leads me to my next point.


2 - When teaching, it’s best to be yourself

If you put up a façade and try to be someone you’re not, the students will see straight through and call you on your BS; which isn’t good for any party involved. Instead, I’m simply my weird-ass self with the students, and they love it. I run and jump around the classroom, joke with them, make stupid faces and goat noises, brought them candy on Halloween (my favorite holiday) and have even juggled for them. They went insane for the juggling.


The students just want someone they can connect with. Wearing a smile, being confident, and letting your true personality shine through is the best way to make that connection. This breaks down the traditional wall between student and teacher, which opens up new avenues for learning, and makes the information flow much easier.

The Human Tilt-O-Whirl
Football At Recess
Halloween 2017


3 - Patience and Knowing Your Audience

I think this one is obvious. But you need patience to teach. Students can be stubborn, hard-headed, or simply slow to learn. If you get frustrated with them it will cause them more frustration, which just leads to a negative spiral. I experienced this firsthand when I was unable to teach a 2nd grade class what I considered a simple lesson. Looking back, I realized that I was blaming the students for what were more than likely my own shortcomings; I had failed to recognize their lack of understanding, and did not properly cater the lesson to their needs.


Since then, I have implored myself to be more patient with the students and to “understand the needs of my audience,” as my Business Presentations professor constantly preached during my first semester of college. Knowing your audience is a good rule for any presentation, and it’s essential for teaching.

Here's an attempted patience demonstration
Pretending I know what I'm doing


4 - You can leave an impact

When I set out on my world journey, I promised myself to not be just another tourist. I’m a wandering soul with little direction in life other than a passion for others, and a desire to make a difference wherever I may be. While I haven’t found my true calling yet, teaching is a damn good way to make a difference. And after only a month here, I’ve already seen myself make an impact. All 600 students I teach know my name, and I think I’ve said the word “hello” more times in these four weeks than in my first 23 years. Their faces light up when I come into the classroom, which brings me the energy I need to teach.


Perhaps the most impactful moment teaching came last week when an entire class of 5th graders handed me notes of appreciation. I could clearly see the time and effort they put into creating the colorful little cards, and nearly cried. I only planned on teaching here for two weeks but fell in love with the students and decided to extend that stay to two months.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m so thankful for the experience I’ve had with these Vietnamese students. And I’m excited to create more lasting memories and leave an impact.

Edit: As teaching is currently very close to my heart, I'd like to ask for your help. A close friend of mine and fellow IU alum, Oliver Thornton, has been teaching at Indianapolis Public Schools for nearly two years, and his classroom is in need of supplies to give his extremely bright and motivated students a proper education. They lack basic supplies such as pencils and pencil sharpeners, and he is raising money to do just that.


Oliver is one of the most caring, intelligent, creative people I know. I have full confidence that his vision will help his students follow their dreams of pursuing careers in the fields of science, engineering, law, and entertainment.


Please consider donating here. Even $1 would help, and your donation will get matched up to $50 if you use the promo code LIFTOFF at checkout. Know that I have put my money where my mouth is and have personally donated because I believe in Oliver.


Thank you.

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