4 Things I’ve Learned After 5 Months as a Middle School EFL Teacher

The week before last, summer vacation started and I officially made it through one semester of teaching middle school in South Korea. I’m still in shock that time has gone by so quickly.

When I first heard I would be teaching at (two) middle schools, I was terrified. Everyone says they’re the worst grades to teach, what with puberty and their changing emotions everyday and simply, they’re just difficult. I came into the year thinking the worst, terrified about what was in store for me. Now, I’ve had time to be in the environment and it’s genuinely been a good time.

The last few months have been a learning experience for sure. I’ve learned what to do, what not to do, etc. And I know there’s even more to learn in this next semester as my year isn’t even finished yet. I won’t say I’m not nervous, but I’m more prepared for the challenge than I was in February when I could feel my body freaking out. So, I made a list of 4 simple things I’ve learned after 5 months as a teacher.

1. Not everything will work out

It took me awhile to truly grasp this point and learn to not beat myself up after every bad class I had (which was almost every week). I started out the semester blaming myself a lot for any class that didn’t work out or seemed to fall short of expectations. One day after a particularly bad class, I broke down in sobs alone in the classroom.

Everyday is a mystery with middle school students. What with their dramatics where everything at this age is life or death and their hormones are knocking about so much and so intensely, I never know how class will go. Add onto the fact that I’m teaching them in a completely different language, yeah not everything will be peaches and flowers. Some days they’ll be absolutely ready and sometimes excited (!) for class, and other days they’ll make sure I know my class is not where they want to be (this happens more often than not).

Not everything will work out. The activity I thought would go down so well in my mind actually bombed and nobody liked it at all. A word or phrase I thought they would understand is actually something they need a whole mini lesson on. A class I thought would receive a certain lesson really well, in reality hated it. I’ve learned after these five months to not get discouraged by this. That’s just how life is and I can only hope for the best in the next class.

2. You will have good days (and bad days)

When I first started, I was simple minded and let everyday determine how everything would happen from that point forward. If I had one bad class, I thought every class for the rest of the week would be bad. If I had one good class, every class for the rest of the week would be good. That’s not how anything works, especially in middle school. (Part of me also hoped in the beginning I would only have good days. That’s so wrong. Don’t expect that.)

Accepting the fact that every week would be a roller-coaster has made my life a bit easier and I start the week off with a deep breath and a moment of silence to myself before facing the day on Monday. Enjoy the good days when they come and make the most of it. When the bad days come, just power through it and hope that the next day will be better. More often than not, it will be.

3. It gets easier

I remember shaking with nerves prior to the first day of school. And even the first month, before every class I could feel my stomach turning. I thought I would feel like that all the time and while even now there are some days when before entering class I have to take a little moment for myself, everything is so much easier than when I started in March. All the worries I thought would never go away probably disappeared after the first month or two.

Standing in front of class with about 25 pairs of eyes staring at me has gotten easier. Lesson planning is easier. Talking with the students is easier. Talking with my coworkers is easier. Maybe the only thing that hasn’t gotten any easier is waking up at 7am every morning.

4. Just Enjoy It

I think this is the most important thing I’ve learned since being here. To take everyday as it comes, and to not to think too far ahead. To not worry or stress too much about being a perfect teacher. Nobody is a perfect teacher. This isn’t to say I have stopped trying to produce good lessons. I always take something from every class so I’ll learn how to improve on it the next time. However, I want to enjoy teaching my students and I want them to enjoy talking to me and build up some sort of confidence to speak English when they’re around me. That’s my goal and being uptight and stressed doesn’t help me get there at all. And in the end, they’ll remember me and how I interacted with them more than any lesson I prepare for them (and vice versa. I’ve forgotten almost all of the PowerPoint slides I’ve stressed over, but I remember all the jokes my boys crack at me and all the times my girls come up to me to ask about my weekend.)