A Time for Reflection

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Another year has ended in my journey as an ESL teacher. As I look back, I realize the roller coaster ride it was.

When I started in September, I had two students in a higher, multi-level LINC class. On the first day, only one showed up. On the second, the other student was there, but the one from the first day wasn’t there. Let’s just say that on both days we spent a lot of time getting to know each other.

Students came and went. The numbers went up, eventually reaching nineteen before settling in at thirteen. At times it felt like I was teaching in a lava lamp. Everything was constantly shifting. Some students came in late because they had to drop their kids off at school. Often it seemed that appointments with doctors, teachers, and others were made during school hours. The faces I saw in the classroom constantly changed.

This is what I learned:

  • I can only do my best –  If I can say to myself at the end of the day that I did my best, then I can hold my head high.
  • I am not totally responsible for my students’ progress – They are adults and know the role they must play in their education.
  • To listen to my students – What do they want? Give it to them.
  • I don’t know everything –  Every day isn’t going to be a brilliant lesson. Some days will be stinkers.
  • To ask for help – When I need help, I should ask for it. Often my colleagues or my boss are more than glad to assist me.
  • Students attend class for many different reasons – Sometimes learning English isn’t what it’s all about. Sometimes school is that positive, social place where they can forget about another life situation.
  • To praise my students – Finding reasons to praise the work of my students is important. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.
  • To use my strengths – I can only be me. Some of my colleagues have abilities and skills I wish I had. I don’t. If I can learn what they know great. If I can’t, that’s fine, too. I try to draw on the strengths I have.
  • To draw on the strengths of my students – Some have skills with computer applications, for example. I let them help each other.
  • Being positive or negative is a choice – This is not only about my circumstances, but also about the students’ circumstances. I always try to choose a positive outlook.
  • To take chances – My journey as an ESL teacher means constant growing and learning new ways to do things. Sometimes this means taking some chances.

Yes, it’s been an interesting year. I’m glad it’s over. I can’t wait until September when I start the process again.

What did you learn this year?


Hi, I’m John Stevens. After adventures working in radio and television, teaching computer courses in Canada and internationally, managing the Canadian Association of Journalists, and acting as the technical director of Softball Canada, I have settled into teaching ESL. As well as experiences teaching in Ottawa and London, I have had stints in Harbin, Jeddah and Istanbul. Since I am currently trying to find a full-time teaching position in Ontario, I help my wife with our bed and breakfast business in St. Marys, Ontario.


4 thoughts on “A Time for Reflection”

  1. I feel much the same way, John. What I learned this year was to turn more over to the students. I got better at flowing with the unexpected. And I learned that there is SO MUCH I don’t know about the fine art of teaching ESL Literacy. Like you, I can only do my best and continue trying to grow as an ESL educator.

  2. I have more time to reflect on my esl teaching experience while I’m having my hip replaced. Although I loved teaching in an all Korean after school, it was crazy in the Summer. Students of all ages would come to learn English after being assessed. Maturity levels varied, but most of them had set high goals. This became the common thread.

    During the school year, the class was more structured including the same students. I taught all areas: speaking, listening, reading, writing. I miss the sweet smiles and laughter the most.

    Now, as I await my next surgery, I didn’t realize how a double hip replacement interrupted my life so rudely, at such a young age. I feel guilty for leaving my job to pursue other interests that ended in injury in 2012. At least I can transfer my skills to a degree. I’m enjoying webinars and volunteering on and off. I just wish my for could learn esl. Instead, I have to learn dog language to a degree. In sum, I often learned the most from my students who advanced to become lawyersand doctors. I respected them for respecting me. When life through me a lemon, I had to make lemonade. That’s all.

    1. Hip replacement – been there, done that. I can relate to that. At the beginning of the recovery process, there is plenty of time to think.

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