I recently gave my second presentation to incoming native teachers about the benefits and processes of lesson planning. Such orientation talks not only helped me meet and encourage fresh foreign English teachers, but also provided a well-timed shift in perspective.
This second presentation proved to be a more intimate affair. JLP rushed nine instructors to fill last-minute openings around the province. While I gave a lecture-style presentation to over 30 teachers in August, I felt compelled to sit down and arrange tables in a Socratic horseshoe this time around.
Lately, I’ve struggled with feelings of inadequacy and impostorism as I racked my brain for the value I could provide to Korean English teachers, most of whom possess experience and explicit English grammatical knowledge that far surpasses mine.
So standing before a room of teachers, many of whom have little to no experience working with Korean pupils, reminded me of how far I have come and hearkened me back to my own fawn-faced early days in Korea. The excitement, optimism, and wide-eyed wonder, and not-always-negative culture shock provide ample nostalgic mental comfort food.
I still remember seeing lecturers in August 2017 in the midst of a coffee-fueled, jet-lag-induced stupor while daydreaming about how cool it would be to one day stand in their place.
Then I blinked. Two years passed. Here I am.
The process of growth is slow. It’s easy to overlook the miles trekked forward when restricted to a myopic, one-step-at-a-time viewpoint. We cannot witness the growth of a tree in real-time. We only notice after failing to notice for months at a time. We see before pictures and after pictures. We don’t often see during photos.
My first and second orientation presentations were night and day in terms of confidence and comfort.
I first shared my thoughts on lesson planning in the middle of August. I scrambled to tie all loose ends at Namak High School while mentally preparing myself to start at JIEI the following week. In the meantime, the JLP Coordinator tasked me to give a three-hour presentation on lesson planning. So I braved the two-and-a-half bathroom-break-free bus ride from Mokpo to Yeosu, endured a sleepless night in the institute dormitory, and loaded up my PPT the following morning.
It was all prepared. It would be so simple. 50 minutes of lecture, 50 minutes of sample lesson participation, and 50 minutes of lesson planning practice.
As I mature into my late-20’s, the inlaid narcissism of my late teens has ebbed away like an irreversible tide. I now fail to see the point of bluster and bravado and instead err on the side of honesty when sharing how I feel. So before the presentation began, I told everyone the truth.
“Look, this is my first time presenting and I’m a bit nervous.”
Those not in the throes of devastating jet lag returned kind smiles and words of encouragement.
“Don’t worry about it.”
I countered, “If you’re bored, just let me know. ‘Ey! This is fuckin’ boring!'”
That garnered a few laughs. My shoulders lowered in relief.
So I launched into my spiel about the benefits, considerations, and tips related to effective lesson planning. My goodness! I have reinvigorated respect for my university professors. Speaking in front of a room with limited teacher-student interaction is terrifying! Blank expressions and silence emitted from my audience. To an unruffled mind, this is just a sign of respectful participants fulfilling their role as willing learners. Or just a crowd of tired teachers fresh off a 13-hour plane flight crossing too many time zones.
But that day, without the cathartic release of conversation, my monkey mind filled in blanks with alternative interpretations.
You’re boring them to death.
Your presentation doesn’t make any sense.
You suck at this.
Hey! A few of them took notes. Nice!
How far along are we, anyway?
Nice! How much time has passed?
Fortunately, several new teachers asked some enlightening questions. Some wanted to know about classroom management, while others were curious about the protocol when students add them on social media. I hate to admit it, but their deference lifted my foundering ego.
After 30 minutes (20 minutes short of my goal), I released myself from the prison of one-way lecturing and declared a 10-minute break.
After that, I assumed a more familiar role as an English teacher, asking the new teachers to role-play as high school students. We worked through one of my sample lessons, which allowed me to share sample activities as well as discuss lesson structures in real-time. I especially enjoyed sharing dialogues with them. They brought energy and nonverbal interpretation that I rarely saw from exhausted high school foreign language learners.
After another break, we wrapped up the three-hour block with some sample lesson preparation. This segment benefitted me just as much as them, as I learned novel activities and lesson concepts. Oftentimes, professional development only requires teachers to be in the same room sharing their diverse techniques, experiences, and ideas.
In contrast to orientation presentations, where I am often thrust into an authoritative as a more-experienced educator, I also have the benefit of sharing ideas and learning from more-experienced instructors in KOTESOL (a professional organization for English teachers in Korea) as well as Institute-sponsored professional development sessions.
These sessions force me to confront an ego-sponsored conflict in my mind. On one hand, it’s not always easy to ignore the voices of inadequacy in the presence of more knowledgeable and experienced peers. In fact, it feels strange to even consider instructors with master’s degrees and 7+ years of teaching experience as peers at all.
I have to catch myself before I descend into pits of despair, asking myself what I am doing at this institute. What business do I have asserting my identity and competence as an educator? Someone else out there would clearly be a better fit in this role.
But on the weekend, I enjoy listening to personal development podcasts like The Art of Charm. This podcast, along with the occasional experience of working with less-experienced, fresh-off-the-plane English teachers, returns me to a more productive frame of mind.
If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.
It may not be comfortable. It may produce disconcerting humility. But remembering the above quote reminds me of the abundant learning opportunities I have here. I have so much room to explore my potential, develop my teaching skills, and ascend to new levels of wisdom.
Change is painful, but it is fulfilling as hell. And the more I embrace the hard-earned wisdom of those who came before me, the more I realize I am exactly where I want to be, and the more I embrace moving towards their level.