Rewards of Being an ESL Teacher

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I am often humbled, honored, and blessed to be an ESL teacher. Not for the job. It is never a job to me. It is because of the kids I get to interact with daily. And, ever once in a while, I am reminded that I am more than a teacher to my students. I have become their friend, their mentor, and part of their extended family. In China, they call people like me “uncle”.

Sometimes, I feel like I never make a difference. I am just spinning my wheels in the classroom. I feel like the school administrators, my teaching assistants, and the students only see my classroom lessons as mere entertainment time. It seems that they see my class being as important as maybe PE or lunch break. Yes, I play games and am very entertaining. I like to have fun and make them laugh. But, I never play games or be entertaining, just for the sake of it. Everything I do in the classroom has a purpose whether to the lesson plan or to maintain classroom management.

Today, I was reminded…once again…that I am making a difference in young people’s lives as an ESL teacher. I have been temporarily assigned to another school to finish the term. The previous teacher had to leave for a family medical emergency. Although I have never been to this school before, I was extremely excited to come to the school and see some of the students. I know some of them from last year’s summer camp in Beijing. They were my kids for an entire month. We grew quite close and fond of each other in that time. And, I was wanting to see them a year later. I have kept in contact with many of them throughout the year using a chat forum called QQ. It is kind of like Yahoo Messenger. I would send them little notes or holiday greetings. A few of them would send me a message now and then. I have worked at enough summer camps and with young people to know that usually after a month, the kids have moved on with their lives and have all but forgotten about me.

I have been here for three days. In that time, I have seen maybe two or three of my former camp kids. It was a nice reunion. But, I was a bit sad that it was only a few. I had hoped to have seen more. I sent out QQ messages before my arrival telling them I would be arriving. They replied back with eager messages of welcome. I began to ask myself, “where were they”? Were they just saying things to me to be nice? After all, it had been a complete year of being absent out of their lives. And, I was only in their lives for just a month at a summer camp. One of my camp kids that I became quite close with during the summer camp had stopped chatting with me completely after the camp was finished. Maybe I had expected too much of a homecoming reunion.

All that changed today, the third day of my arrival. I had just finished teaching a class. I walked out of the room and there was one of my camp kids. The young man that stopped talking with me after camp. It seems that his parents are very focused on his studies and he is not permitted to have a cell phone or computer access for such frivolous things. He gave me the biggest hug. Then another kids showed up. Another great big hug. Before I knew it, there were about half of my camp kids surrounding me asking me, “Do you remember me”? Of course I remember each one of them. Yes, they have grown taller, changed their hair style, and changed as young people do at their age. But, I remember them very well. Then there was one girl who greeted me. She was so happy to see me that she began crying tears of happiness. I must admit, I came close to joining her.

During the summer camp, their class had to sing some songs for a talent show. Some of them want to get together and recreate that moment by singing it again. It was their idea…not mine. Of course we will. I will try to video the event and post it for you. Many of these students are in different classrooms now. Many of them have moved on in various friendships. They have told me that in a school of over 3000 students, they are not as close as they were in camp. That is another casualty of summer camps. Strong friendships made during summer camps seldom last forever. But, today was a homecoming. It was a reunion of sorts. And, they came to see me. To say thank you and to show the love and respect I have developed in each one of them.

This is not the first time I have been reminded of the impact I have with young people being their teacher. And, I am hopeful it will not be the last. But, I am blessed each time I have these experiences with my kids. They are my kids. They are not merely students. They are my friends and extended family members.

I know there are many ESL teachers that do not get this type of treatment. And, if asked why I get this type f treatment and results from my students, I can only say that my success comes from a variety of things. I am very passionate with my kids. I love on them. I hug them. I show that I care for them. I keep them safe. I have patience and compassion for them. I treat them more than a revenue source for my pocketbook or a stepping stone in my journey through life. They are my children. I invest much time and energy into them. I try to show them the very best of me every time I encounter them. I am seldom too busy doing anything when they need my attention. And, maybe it is just a special gift I have with children. This gift would have to be described as a spiritual gift from God. Oh, I know that may seem far fetched and looney to many who do not have a faith in God. But, I know I am not capable of achieving these things without someone greater than me bringing me these talents and skills. I do not think it is anything that I, or anyone else, can teach to get these results. And, I know there are many excellent ESL teachers having similar experiences without God’s assistance.

I was told today by one of the teachers that in just three days time, I have become kind of a celebrity on campus. Students are seeking me out during class breaks. They are screaming my name from the outdoor walkways in the buildings when they see me. The teacher is being asked when I am coming to a particular student’s classroom next. All that is wonderful to hear. I am flattered. And, I am a bit humbled and embarrassed at the same time.  Since I began teaching in China, I am often told by people in the company, schools I have worked at, and other professionals in ESL, that I am one of the best they have experienced. I do not say this with a huge head and ego. In fact, I really hate when I am told this. Sure, it is nice to hear. But, I never want the spotlight on me. I never want to be placed above anyone else. I hate to be the standards that others an evaluated against. I just want to do the task that God has asked me to do. I just want to do the best I can for my kids. I just want to enjoy this experience and be the best I can be.

I read a quote a while ago (I think I posted it on here before) that is my hope and goal as an ESL teacher. It said something to the effect of, “People come and go in our lives. Some are remembered and some are forgotten. But, teachers, whether good or bad, are always remembered.” I think this is very true. There are many school friends and life friends that I can not remember. But, I can definitely tell you about each of the teachers in my life. Both the good and bad. I hope that I will always be remembered as one of the good ones in my kid’s lives.


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