New Trainees Arrive. Ian Learns Teaching All Over Again

The real work has begun.  A new class of trainees arrived – a class who only know Ian as the speaking and listening instructor.  It was my turn to stamp my mark on this program and step up as a true contributor.

For the past two weeks, I graduated from being an outsider to being an imposter.  In other words, while there is no doubt in my mind that I am part of the JIEI teaching team, I am yet to realize confidence in my competence.

When starting a new job, many struggle to overcome initial imposter syndrome.  This is a well-documented psychological phenomenon in which individuals internalize a fear of being exposed as fraudulent or incompetent.  For many, imposter syndrome manifests in a scary (though improbable) imagined scenario.

“Listen, Ian.  We’ve been talking, and we decided that we’ve seen all we need to see in terms of your teaching abilities.  We’ve voided your contract.  It’s time to pack your bags.”

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“Stuff your belongings in a shipping crate and stuff it!”

While I am happy to get started on some real work, exiting my ruminating, catastrophizing mind for the greener pastures of concrete experience, stepping into the unknown also begets fear of the unknown.

“You’ve never worked with advanced, adult English learners before.”

“Many of them have taught English far longer than you.  What do you have to offer them?”

“They’re going to see right through you.  Piss and vinegar.  That’s all you have.”

Last week afforded me ample time to formulate lesson plans.  I had the prep.  It was time to get the reps.

It all kicked off on the first night of the new 6-month program.  In a cooperative effort with my new-hire-in-arms, we led a welcome night full of ice breakers, laughter, and fresh insights.  Despite initial nerves about time and pacing, we actually failed to cover all of the games we planned.  As a teacher, I’d rather leave ideas loaded in the chamber than fire all shots before the final bell.

We succeeded in learning more about each other.  In one secret story-telling game, I shared my experience of acting in a documentary for KBS, a Korean television station.  That probably warrants its own post (someday).

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I hope we take better pictures in the future.  But you gotta start somewhere, yeah?

I also fell back on a classic quick-drawing game that once served up hours of laughter during family Thanksgiving gatherings.  While a mistake in instruction led to a discontinuity between pictures and words, it made the results all the more hilarious.

Two days later, regular classes commenced.  My knees shook with leg-wetting anxiety.  But of course, all of the fear proved unfounded.  My first lesson was not hard-hitting in terms of academic punch.  It was more of an excuse to break the ice and warm trainees up to my class.  My favorite activity was “Name Five”, a quick-thinking creative improv game.

“Jennifer!  Name five things you want your husband to tell you.”

“Um…I love you so much.”

“One!” we replied in unison.

“I will cook dinner tonight.”

“Two!”

“I will clean the dishes too.”

“Three!”

“You look so beautiful today.”

“Four!”

“Why don’t you take a rest.”

“Five!  Five things!”

The first lesson was nothing special, but still enjoyable for both the trainees and myself.  I shared a brief slideshow, explaining my background.  The trainees sifted through a vast list of personal qualities to choose three core values.  We played various ice-breaker games (including an infomercial game where teams of two and three trainees had to sell a mundane item in creative fashion).  And finally, the trainees helped me decorate my sad, barren classroom walls with some artwork detailing their favorite sources of sound (a.k.a. listening baskets).

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All the cheese you please.

I teach two groups of seven trainees each.  Unfortunately, I always teach Class 2 first.  They’ve become my guinea pig group.  I had guinea pig groups back in Namak High as well – classes that received the first iteration of a new lesson.  Oftentimes I have to work out bugs in instruction, pacing, and activity parameters if not ditch activities altogether.  As a result, Trainee Class 1 often receives a more polished, confident lesson.

This past week, I hosted an open class – Lesson 2 – Small Talk.  Nerves crept in as I realized it was only my fourth time teaching trainees.  Two fellow instructors sat in for the first 30 minutes to record feedback on my lesson content and teaching delivery.  One co-worker was kind enough to share his feedback shortly after my lesson concluded.

Co:  Overall, I thought your lesson went well.  The trainees seemed engaged, and I think the topic is very relevant to speaking skills.

Ian:  Thank you.

Co:  I did have two pieces of feedback.  In one instance, a trainee asked about synonyms for the word “shocked.”  That would be a great time to open the discussion and elicit new vocabulary from other trainees.  Many trainees appreciate the chance to expand their vocabularies.

Ian:  That makes sense.

Co:  The other thing…I know this sounds a bit harsh.  Don’t take this the wrong way.

(Ian smiles.)

Co:  You’re smiling.  Stop!  Don’t be nervous.

Ian:  It’s fine, it’s fine.  It’s not going to break me or anything.

Co:  Your speaking comes off as very robotic.  Sometimes you speak very slow with pauses mid-sentence.  It sounds very unnatural.

Ian:  Uh-huh.

Co:  Like, I would speak that way with middle school or elementary camp students, but never with the trainees.  These are advanced, college-educated English learners.  And if you continue with that cadence, they might see it as patronizing.

Ian:  Damn, that’s a good point.  I guess it’s a habit I’m working to break since working in a high school for so long.

Co:  Yeah, but otherwise I feel like it went well.

Ian:  Thank you.

He made an excellent point.  Working with advanced English learners, I need to revert my speaking cadence, prosody, and intonation back to a native-level.  The last thing I want is for experienced English teachers to resent me for “talking down” to them.

Fortunately, that is a very fixable issue.  I was more concerned with the content of my lesson, but the feedback was very encouraging on that front.

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This dog loves to follow me for like 100 meters every time I take an afternoon walk.

Despite two years of experience, teaching Korean teachers hearkens me back to my first days fresh off of the plane.

At times, I feel completely discouraged.  Why am I here?  Who okayed the decision to hire me?  My coordinator mentioned I was chosen for my potential.  When will the clock run out?  When will I descend into the trash heap of teachers who gave it their best shot and came up short anyways?

And yet other times I find my experiences encouraging.  Co-workers have given me plenty of kind compliments.  No one has delivered backbreaking criticism (to my face).  I receive far more feedback and valuable teaching insights in the last three weeks than I acquired in two years working in Namak.  With open eyes and ears, professional development is becoming a daily, effortless process.

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My coordinator has a knack for small gifts and affirmations.  It makes my day :).

Most of us have felt like imposters as new hires, but managed to silence our inner critic by waltzing through the crucible of adversity and experience.  I believe this will be much of the same.  Each class provides feedback that light the path to proactive adjustments and better classes.

Today I take solace in the fact that I am not experienced, polished, or working to my full potential.  There is peace to be found in the bottom of an upward spiral.

It starts today.  It continues tomorrow.  And it never ends.

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