Echoes of laughter, yelling, and heavy footsteps grow louder and louder as I approach the classroom. Taking a deep breath, I glance quickly at my lesson plans one last time and push open the door. As I step slowly into the room, I can feel the sudden stares of thirteen pairs of young eyes. Though many students are still out of their seats, with their arms playfully wrapped around each other and toys in their hands, the once raucous classroom immediately begins to quiet down. In the midst of all this, I ponder what to do next.
As another July passes by, I look back to the summer after my first year of college when I taught English to underprivileged elementary school children in rural southern Taiwan. Every day for two weeks, my teaching partner and I created a new lesson plan in which we incorporated activities we found most effective for teaching children. The experience was challenging at first because of the all-new environment and our language barrier. Our students’ knowledge of English was very limited, and my Mandarin speaking skills weren’t at a confident level.
Before arriving in Taiwan, I thought teaching English would be very simple because it is my native language. After a few hours into the first day of class, however, I discovered that was not the case at all. Since I taught fourth to sixth grade students, their levels of English were all scattered. Some of them were not yet familiar with the alphabet while a lot of the older students already knew quite a few vocabulary words. Even so, my teaching partner and I tried our best to create a rewarding learning atmosphere. Whenever we saw our students getting bored with a certain activity, we would quickly try to come up with a new learning strategy. Whenever we noticed someone struggling to learn, we would take the initiative to get to know the student and find out the best way for him or her to grasp knowledge. We would experiment with different teaching methods, including games, songs, and dances, to help each individual learn while having fun. Prizes were a very effective way of getting students to participate in discussions and behave during class, as they were always excited to see what we had brought from America.
Something interesting I noticed at the school was how students there have such close relationships with their teachers. When I was teaching at the elementary school, I would stay after school every day and spend time with my students and a local teacher. This teacher would play basketball with the students for hours after English classes, listen to everything they had to say and take care of them as if they were his children. To his students, he was a friend, father, and teacher all in one.
That experience in Taiwan was definitely one of my best summer memories, and it sparked an interest in teaching. If there’s something I definitely would like to do in the future, it would be to visit my students again.