Happy New Year!  We hope you had and are having an enjoyable holiday season!  Today, we bring you a great post from Dunya Carter who worked as a volunteer English teacher in Thailand.  We hope her experiences give you some inspiration as we start 2013.  ~EMP

After finishing my English language and literature studies in Australia I realized that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I had experience teaching English as a foreign language, and a friend suggested that volunteering as an English teacher would give me an opportunity to get away for a while and think about what I should do. I applied to several programs and got a position teaching English in Thailand. Spending a year teaching English in Thailand was an eye-opening experience. Thrown into a new culture with students who didn’t speak my language forced me to re-evaluate how I approach the classroom and teaching in general. Though frightening at first, it forced me to be creative and to really better myself. I’ve shared these lessons to inspire other teachers and help them refine their own skills.

New Challenges Increase Creativity

The learning process is never over for teachers. Many of the schools I volunteered at didn’t have enough books, desks, chairs and teaching materials. Thus, I had to learn how to be creative with my lesson plans so that my students still learned English. This meant coming up with fun games and assignments that could be completed without regular readings. I had to figure out how to test students’ knowledge in fun ways: via conversations, making up plays, and more. Going without actually made me a more resourceful teacher. Instead of simply assigning readings and worksheets, I had to come up with engaging lessons. Armed with this experience, I can come back to Australia and better support my students. This volunteer work made me a more proactive teacher so that I didn’t rely solely on books.

Increased Cultural Sensitivity

It is easy to walk into a foreign country and judge the people and traditions. However, my time abroad taught me to never judge a book by its cover. I have worked with kids, teenagers and adults trying to learn English and broaden their options. Such diversity has given me a greater awareness of the world. Thus, when students walk into my classroom, I try not to assume anything about their personalities, backgrounds or needs. This open-minded approach ensures that I am sensitive to my students’ needs and can tailor lesson plans to suit individuals’ strengths and weaknesses.

Motivated Students

Despite being away from home, I found that my students were brave, hard-working and dedicated. This renewed my passion for education and teaching. If my students can work hard in and out of the classroom, why can’t I bring this same passion back to Australia? Meeting such dedicated kids and adults inspires me to bring this same zest for learning back to the classroom. Part of being a great teacher is understanding that students can be inspired to learn. I am a better teacher because I have seen people learn despite having the proper resources.

Meet Other Professionals

While abroad, I was able to meet other volunteers and teachers. This was a chance to exchange information and classroom management tips. Part of being a great educator is learning from others. I was able to work with professionals from Thailand as well as from home. These connections not only helped me create diverse lesson plans and work with students, but also offered important job leads.

Improve Communication

As I have already mentioned, working with Thailand students was eye-opening to me. Some of them did not know much English, so I had to learn how to communicate not only with my words but also my body language and by using different resources and tools. This experience has also helped me work with students with a wide range of skills. Today, when I am in charge of a classroom, I can reach more students because I understand that some students are visual learners, others are auditory learners and some people need hands-on activities, or are kinetic learners.

Confidence Boost

Teachers always need to shake things up if they are going to be effective educators. Going outside of my comfort zone was a chance to practice teaching to a different group of people. I proved to myself that I could teach in any environment, even when English was not the main language. This increased confidence translates into the classroom. Today, I walk into a room and own it no matter the age or experience levels of my students. This self-esteem boost helps me establish my presence and authority in the classroom.

The best teachers are creative, focused and open-minded. Working in Thailand has shown me that there is more than one approach to the classroom. Armed with these experiences, my volunteer work has helped me become a better teacher not just abroad, but also in Australia. Volunteering can be an exquisite opportunity to learn for any teacher. We have to see the world if we want to broaden our perspectives and refine our skills.

Dunya Carter is an English language teacher who enjoys writing articles about teaching and travel for different blogs. She is also currently working as a consultant for EDventure International, an organization which offers overseas volunteer programs, and through which she got the opportunity to volunteer in Thailand.