Teacher Stories: Julia Newby-Wadsen

How I Became an ESL Teacher

by Julia Newby-Wadsen

Like many ESL teachers, I did not start university with the intention of becoming an ESL teacher. My mother was a high school English teacher for over twenty years. Although she loved teaching, and often spoke about how rewarding it was, I decided early that I would never be a teacher. Maybe it was teenage rebellion, maybe it was seeing all the extra hours of work that my mother put into teaching outside of school hours, but I swore that I would never teach. At university I studied Religious Studies with a focus on Buddhism, teaching being the farthest thing from my mind.

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After I graduated, I began looking for a job. After working at several office based jobs, I took a job… teaching. I had grown very bored at my office jobs, and had begun looking for a new challenge. A friend told me about an opportunity at a school program, and although it was teaching and I had sworn that I would never teach, I decided to give it a try. I taught first and second grade students and fell in love with the work. I loved the challenge of  trying many different ways to convey information until my students grasped what I was trying to say. I found teaching really fun, and although I am normally a very shy person, when I began to teach I was a different, outgoing, fun and energetic person. Most of all I loved the connections that my students and I created, and the atmosphere of the classroom that we all thrived in.

After this first experience of teaching, I was hooked! Because I had studied Buddhism in school and had always wanted to travel to Asia, I began to look into teaching ESL in Asia. When I arrived in South Korea, in the middle of a very cold winter I felt confident that my teaching experience and enthusiasm would make my transition to ESL teacher an easy one. That was not quite the case, as teaching ESL provides a different set of challenges and requires some different strategies than teaching native English speakers in your home country. Throughout my first year of teaching in South Korea I learned a lot from my co-workers, from an ESL training course, and most of all from my students. That year was one of the most challenging years of my life, and also one of the most rewarding. I gained so much by being surrounded by ESL learners of all ages; a new perspective on my native language and country, and a new vantage point on myself and what I wanted out of my life.

After that first year of teaching, I continued on to two more schools in South Korea and then continued on teaching ESL in Peru. I also embraced a new challenge, teaching online. Although it took me a little while to adjust to the differences between teaching in a classroom and teaching online, I began to love online teaching as well. The ability to use technology in a very natural and integrated way while teaching, and to see students in their home environment are two of the things that I love about teaching online. I was even able to show my mother a few things about teaching (online)!

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Now I look back at my initial resistance to teaching and I am completely baffled. Why would I ever think that teaching was not the profession for me? It is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs that you can do, and one of the most fun as well. I have developed a lot as a teacher and as a person since that very first teaching job. My work and my students have given me so many amazing memories and experiences, and now I cannot imagine my life outside of the education industry. My mother has been remarkably kind about my change of mind and has only said “I told you so” once or twice since I began my teaching career, which I think, shows a lot of self-restraint on her part.

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