Blog Carnival: The Best Age To Teach
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 Rebecca Thering. I’ll be posting a new ESL-related article on my blog at the start of every month, and the carnival is always published on the 5th by that month’s host. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will let you know how you can start participating!
Teaching ESL abroad can bring you many different experiences, especially in the classroom. In general teaching is split into teaching with Adults (18+), kindergarten (0-6) or in between, generally around 6-17 years old.
There are crossovers with the groups, some positions will have you teaching a mix, and what some countries consider kindergarten age will differ, but as a rough guide, and based on my own experience, we can work with these age’s for now.
I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach all ages during my time as an ESL teacher abroad and what I have found is that all offer their own pros and cons for a teacher.
Everybody will lean slightly more towards one kind of teaching than another, for me kindergarten teaching was definitely where I felt the most comfortable.
Fresh and New
My favorite thing about teaching kindergarten is the pure wonder and joy that kids of this age take in learning something new. To them, almost everything they are learning is completely new information and they are very quick to learn, there is a lot of satisfaction to be had here.
Most kindergarten classes will have you with one class for the whole term or even the year, this is because children of this age need consistency, they cannot adapt to different teaching styles so easily like older students can. This means that you really get to spend a lot of time getting to know each individual student.[contextly_sidebar id=”ytBzZ25jxZngHYGRUgduBClTUkIJ8KVE”]
The energy in a kindergarten class is usually always very high, expect to do a lot of singing, dancing, smiling and generally being as expressive as you can. This energy is something I found rubbed off on me in a big way, I could be having the worst day, and maybe I had a 30 minute scooter ride to work in the rain with holes in my rain poncho (true story), but then I get to school, walk into my classroom to be greeted by 15 students wanting to give me hugs or pictures they have drawn, telling me how they love teacher Dean. All of the bad stuff just melts away.
As great as kindergarten teaching can be, it is also limiting as an English teacher. There is only so much you can teach a child that is learning not just English, but also their native language. Often classes focus around basic vocabulary, or for the slightly more advanced, very basic sentence structures.
You will of course never be able to enter into a discussion with a 4-year-old about world politics and even discipline can be tricky as most kindergarten kids have limited vocabulary so you will be limited with what you can say.
Children and Teens (6-17)
These come in all shapes and sizes, along with all perks and cons. The age range can bring with it such a span of hormones, endearing moments, rewards and issues, but here is what I found to be the best and worst parts.
With the slightly older students, usually teens, you can get into more complex English which in turn allows you to communicate more with them. Once you figure them out you can start to cater your lessons towards their interests and become ‘cool teacher’, if you can get on their side then you are rewarded greatly.
I was teaching in a buxiban in Taiwan with students ranging from 15-17 and they were awesome. During class break we would have discussions about all kinds of topics, I even came out to them as gay and we explored the differences in attitudes and opinions of being gay in Taiwan, all in English, in a very mature way.
This can be viewed in a good or bad way, but kids around this age are no longer the adorable little kindergarteners they once were, not by a long shot. They are growing to be a little more free thinking and are now pushing boundaries and testing waters for how they can manipulate the teacher. I found that channeling a lot of their cheeky attitudes could convert a dull lifeless class/topic into a lesson filled with fun, laughter and jokes (usually at my expense).
I found that channeling a lot of their cheeky attitudes could convert a dull lifeless class/topic into a lesson filled with fun, laughter and jokes (usually at my expense).
Now, clearly this is a very thin tightrope you walk as a teacher and the balance can easily tip so as not to be in your favor, so you have to be very observant. You want the kids to respect you above all else, I would usually start firm with a new class, and then afterwards ease up and become more ‘fun teacher’, this way they know that I can be serious when necessary.
Too Cool For School
This is my limitation for this age group and it is one that doesn’t always apply. With teenagers, you get hormones and with hormones you get unpredictable students. What I came across in a number of my classes was this ‘I’m too cool to do that’ attitude that some teenagers hit. They no longer want to get up and play board slap games or do anything that could damage their street credibility. So you have to adapt, maybe play word games or other activities that do not involve potential embarrassment.
What I came across in a number of my classes was this ‘I’m too cool to do that’ attitude that some teenagers hit. They no longer want to get up and play board slap games or do anything that could damage their street credibility. So you have to adapt, maybe play word games or other activities that do not involve potential embarrassment.
With adults, you have reached a teaching age where you can finally get on a level with your students that is similar to your own.
You can say goodbye to gimmicky little cartoon characters illustrating your textbooks, farewell to having to get the class involved in high energy active games, and ‘see ya’ to arts and crafts, songs and dancing.
You have now entered the adult arena and so can talk about topics and issues that you yourself may find interesting. I did Sociology at university and so mainly analyzed issues and topics typical to the western world.
This gave me an opportunity with my adult class in Taiwan to not only share these but also get them to speak about the differences between the West and East on these topics. This ranged from race, gender, and homosexuality to politics, business etiquette and family life.
With adults comes a range of ways you can teach. Not every class is looking for the same thing; you may have business professionals sent from their company to improve their business English in which case you might have to be quite professional. You could have university students looking for conversational English; here you may have more flexibility to bring in juicy topics. You may even have a class of housewives or househusbands looking for a hobby whilst the kids are at school. Or you could have a mixed bag, in which case you really will have to get to know what the class is looking to achieve.
Do you have anything you want to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.