Opening your heart to students can payGo the extra mile. Yup! Start running. I don’t mean a half-marathon but rather teaching English with all your heart.
I’ve heard the horror stories. I, too, was almost ready to pack my bags. My schedule and living conditions were disastrous. But good things happen to those who wait; today I work for a great school and am very happy.
The first thing I did was change my attitude. I tried smiling every day and projecting this toward my students. Korean students can be timid, even nervous, at first, so I tried getting them to relax and open up. When they start smiling, that lightens your load immediately, and time passes more quickly. It may not be in your contract to make students smile, but the rewards are enormous.
Going the extra mile means caring about students’ lives. For instance, if they went on a trip, I’ll get them to talk about their experience. I ask students to bring pictures and share them, and take a few minutes to inquire about their health or their family.
Some teachers tell me their students always pay when they study at a coffee shop or go out for dinner. Why should they bear all the burden? One of my past students, the president and CEO of a large company, paid for everything at first, but by our third meeting I covered the tab; not everything is about money. Spending time out of the classroom might not be mandatory, but I believe it’s essential. Besides, buying someone coffee won’t put you in the poorhouse.
When teaching kids, I made sure that they had fun. If we had a productive week, I’d treat them to a few snacks and drinks. To spend a few thousand won every week on the little rascals was pure pleasure. The director saw this and the parents found out about it. Some of my kids later bought soda for me; that put a smile on my face.
After work, I sometimes found myself at the playground interacting with kids, maybe offering a few pointers on shooting a basketball or dribbling (I coached basketball and soccer for 14 years in Canada). Did I have to do this? No, I just wanted to.
Creating a fun atmosphere around adults is easier, as simple as talking about girls and dating with a college student. Koreans love to test themselves by speaking freely, so why not let them? But at all times, talk from the heart and be sincere.
Everyone has a different definition of what going the extra mile means, but there’s no harm in trying. Your school will appreciate it, but more important, your students will respect you for it. Your teaching experience will be that much richer.
by Igor Grinersky