“What are you going to do with an English degree," is the question that anyone who studies English has received at least ten times in his/her life. The concept of teaching English rattled in my brain right around my junior year of college, but I didn’t want to be one of those people who copped out and decided to go abroad to “find themselves.” So, I decided to set out and do what I signed up to do: teach. Upon arriving to Argentina, I realized that the world of teaching English abroad can be difficult, not because of the actual job of teaching, but because there is always the chance that the American English teacher who worked before you didn't put effort into high-quality instruction.
My advice for anyone teaching abroad is to do just that, teach. It is unfair to your school and students (and future teachers) if you prioritize travel over your students, which many Americans are guilty of doing. My enthusiasm for lesson planning often came as a surprise for some students. They were equally surprised that I remembered their names. Remember; you are a teacher first. Everything else is second.
It is also important as a teacher to present the United States in way that truly shows what we are about - change and progress. Teach your students that the United States is a country shaped by immigrants, and that we have memorable writers and unforgettable artists, actors, and musicians that have shaped our culture. We have made scientific breakthroughs and technological advances that have shifted the modern world. These are the people who capture what is means to be American.
When it’s black history month, teach them about it. Tell them about Toni Morrison and how she was the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize, and then read excerpts of her books and open up a dialogue. Talk about the Latin influence in the United States. Discuss how Rita Moreno won the Oscar for West Side Story and how Latin voices are becoming louder in American cinema and culture. Don’t think that these issues are too complex for an eight-year-old to grasp. In learning about the United States, students are often first exposed to rhetoric that focuses on division, exclusion, and self-centeredness. You as a teacher can shape their minds quicker and stronger than any media outlet, and by doing so you can dismantle such rhetoric and teach them about what makes the United States united.
I love being a teacher. I love all of my students and I love seeing them grow and improve their English skills. Teaching English can be made that much more rewarding if you take the time to be there for your students. The travel will come.
Tim Power currently teaches English in Javea, Spain. He is from Harford County, Maryland, and studied English at Tulane University in New Orleans. Tim will be earning his Masters in Library Science from University City Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. You can connect with Tim and follow his adventures on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.