Blog Carnival: Learn From Your Mistakes

Blog Carnival: Learn From Your Mistakes

Teach English in Georgia

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. The host for this month is Vanessa Long, here you can find other similar articles. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to this blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me at, and I’ll let you know how you can start participating!

As a squeaky clean teacher who has never once made a mistake in the classroom in his life due to his unquestionable teaching methods and style I shall be unable to answer this question.

Yea right!

Oak sapling - Caldy WoodsThe truth is that making mistakes in teaching is all part of the learning curve. Teachers aren’t just pumped out of a TEFL course with all of the skills and knowledge base of a teacher that has been doing ESL for 20 years has. This is a skills based industry and we all know that skills aren’t just learnt from a textbook, they need to be planted in a classroom and watered with time. With enough nurturing you watch your teaching skills blossom and flourish. And even then, mistakes can still be made.

Keeping with this analogy my teaching probably reached the level of a small healthy tree before I went into recruiting, but it wasn’t always this way. The beginning was a rough start indeed.

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I started my ESL journey on the island of Bali, Indonesia. An amazing location full of paradise beaches, spicy food and waves to make any surfer drool. Teaching in Bali was a fun experience, the kids had a lot of energy and spirit to them, sometimes not always a good thing, but it always made the class feel more alive.

Now, let me take you back to my very first class. The school did what most schools do; they went through the curriculum with me and had me sit in on a few classes to get a feel for how their classes work. I sat, I watched, I got it.

No I didn’t.

I sat and planned my first real class in the teachers’ office, I had allocated time slots for each stage of my class, I was all ready to go and I was pleased as punch, the class was set to be awesome.

I sucked in a gust of confidence and walked in to my new class, I was met with silence and blank faces, not quite the beaming bundles of joy I had seen when sitting in on the other teachers’ classes. From that point on it became a desperate show of me trying to claw my way into their popular teachers’ books. I was trying to make everything I did as fun as possible, and guess what,  I succeeded. For me this was a huge bonus and a huge confidence booster.

So the next few classes I stuck with the same formula, if something works why change it right? Well, I was soon to find out. After about a week of kicking it with the kids, they turned on me. These little angels that I had come to know as my new pals suddenly changed their fickle little minds about this relationship and became my worst enemies. Control had gone from the class as quick as an attack from Jaws and I didn’t even see it coming.

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I had a revolt on my hands.

They had decided that they were bored of teacher Dean and his games and they just wanted to speak in Bahasa and run around and do whatever they wanted. So I rolled up my sleeves and gave them the stern teacher talk. Some stopped, looked at me, and just as I thought I had them they gave me the ‘OK teacher, anyway as I was saying in Bahasa….’ treatment. So I let the class run its course trying to gain as much control as I could.

How do you come back from that? I was disheartened to say the least, our buddy pact had been thrown out of the window in an instant and in a matter of minutes I realized that somewhere I had done something drastically wrong. So I turned to some of the more experienced teachers for some advice.

The mistake I had made was starting off too friendly, too soft, too much on their level. All teachers want their students to like them, that’s natural, but the bit that I missed was that they should first respect you. By going in and starting friendly you become ‘one of them’ and not the authority figure that you should be. These kids need boundaries set for them and they aren’t going to accept those boundaries laid out by one of their own kind.

Gradually over time I earned back the respect that I lost/never had. But this was not easy. I had to go in firm and stick to it. Any threat I made had to be followed through. I became a mean teacher Dean who took no prisoners.

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Skip ahead to my second teaching position in Taiwan.

There was no Mr. nice guy here. I had learnt from that mistake in Bali. I went in letting them know that I meant business and that breaking my rules had clear consequences that are followed up with punishments. Over time I eased up and showed my fun side but by doing it this way round they knew that there were boundaries and even though I am fun, these boundaries aren’t to be crossed.

What (hopefully) my two experiences demonstrate is that yes, mistakes are made, but you only fail as a teacher if you power through with the same technique thinking that you know what’s best. If something doesn’t work, change it. By doing this you open yourself up to growth allowing  yourself to really lay down your roots and spread your branches as a teacher.

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