Reviews, Gratitude, and 25,000 Minutes of Teaching.
While walking home from grocery shopping last week, someone called out to me: “Miss Ann!” I turned swiftly around. The young man waved excitedly. “Do you remember my name, Ma?” I did not. It’s been 7 years since anyone called me that, and I’ve borne many aliases since I taught his Jss2 English class. Of course, the interaction made me feel ancient, but it reminded me that I’ve done this for a while. And I have the data to prove I do a great job at it.
The realization hit me, my Upwork account had been gathering dust because I was focused on landing creative writing gigs and completely ignoring the vital English teaching skills I had honed for years. The skills I had provable experience in. So I narrowed the search to teaching gigs, sprinkled in a few reviews, and watched the interviews roll in.
It’s all grand to have many talents, but it is necessary to focus on your obvious strength. Deepen your knowledge rather than broaden it. Then take that one skill and use it on several platforms. Yes, be a jack of all trades but a master of one.
Late last year, I was such a grouch, and being self-aware, I tried to fix that with a daily challenge where I started the day with gratitude. And not just mumbling mindless prayers of thanks, but pondering my reasons to be grateful and writing them down.
Here are a few excerpts from the gratitude journal…
“I am thankful for peace in my solitude.”
“Yesterday was payday. Prompt for the 5th time in a row, after the trauma of jobs that owed salaries, I am genuinely grateful for reliable systems/stable jobs. I intend to display that gratitude in my dealings with my employer and colleagues.
“I am grateful for good food and sleep and all the other innocent pleasures of life.”
“It’s the weekend. Woke up with nothing planned. It’ll probably get busy soon. But for now, it looks like rest. I’m grateful for rest.”
“I’m grateful for the year I’ve had. I know, a lot of it was a bummer, like carrying a dead body and getting robbed. But so much good also happened this year. I started exploring life, left 2 toxic jobs, and got a stable one, then yet another. Moved out with my sister and got some privacy. Started teaching online and learning life changing lessons. I’m also super grateful for the people in my life that remind me to look at the positives.”
“Grateful for routines to get you back on track when you’re floundering and for friends turned family that remind you that you already have all it takes to ground yourself and to succeed.”
“Today, I’m grateful for colleagues, past and present, who have contributed to my personal and career growth.”
“Today, most of all, I’m grateful to love and be loved…”
“Grateful for intense workout sessions and music that gets you hyped up and feeling great.”
“Grateful for new beginnings. And for the joy that is remote work”
“Grateful for family and the opportunity to show them love, through little things like cooking”.
“I am grateful for an opportunity for a do-over, to learn and right my wrongs.”
I got up to 18 days before I forgot.
However, those 18 grumpy mornings taught me that if I was looking, then I’d see a reason for joy right under my nose.
25,000 Minutes of Teaching
When I penned down the first few words of this text, my reason for gratitude was inspired by my student, a person whose joy radiates so purely, I’m tempted to flatter myself and claim that it is merely a reflection of my own joy. We had just ended a 25-minute class and I expressed how grateful I was to have crossed paths with her.
I teach English as a foreign language online.
On one platform alone, I’ve taught over 1,000 25-minute classes. Then there’s at least 30 hours combined from all the other online classes.
I wouldn’t know how to count the number of hours I spent teaching English in physical classes. But that period of my life spanned across 15 schools and maybe a total of 1500 students aged 3 through 18.
Now my students are more often adults than children. Some of the virtual classes have been heartwarming, filled with consuming joy. Today, I’m grateful for all the remarkable people I could only have met through the teaching platforms.
Many of these people think I’m great too. Here see a few pages of their comments… (Forgive the typos. The comments were written in Japanese and this is Google Translate’s fine attempt)…
I’m extremely honored to have been a part, a smidgen if only, of their journey, not just on the path to mastering a second language, but quite holistically, the entirety of their unique life stories.
There’s a mother of two, for whom I wrote a draft business plan, and we’re working out the kinks together. She’s going to start a vegan and cruelty-free cosmetic line, in a new country where she’s learning the laws, the language, and the nuances. She must also make sure her children adjust to the new school, and to speaking English.
There’s a 70-year-old who is learning to code and wants to study Artificial Intelligence.
One of my regulars took her class during her morning walks and I got to see the sun rise over a grandiose Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan.
There’s a friend who owns a restaurant, my first lesson with him was a week after I started a new food delivery business. In between word structure and grammar, we would talk about the daily travails of running a full-time restaurant for over 30 years.
Yet another notable encounter was with a long-time business tycoon whose chains of restaurants did great during the first couple waves of the pandemic. He speaks a horde of languages which he thinks will come in handy when he solo travels to his 67th country with his newly acquired pilot’s license. Towards the end of our session, I insist that I’m better suited to be his student than his teacher. He responds in perfect accent-free English that the teacher must also never stop learning.
Gratitude floods my heart when I think of the opportunity to meet, teach, and reach such delightful people. You also have similar opportunities. Especially with social media.
Let’s put it this way, in your entire life, you get to meet say ten, maybe fifteen thousand people. You might get to intimately know a tenth of that number and perhaps, only a sliver of that tenth will affect you deeply.
If you’re in the business of people, perhaps you’re a salesperson, or you’re in the service industry, or like me, you’re a teacher, then the number of people you meet or are likely to meet, takes a hike. It means you have many more opportunities than the average Joe to make an impact on someone’s day or even their life storyand in turn, you get to meet so many people who will have an impact on the way your life turns out.
In my relatively brief teaching career, I may have met a little over a thousand people (A couple of students are returning) in the last half year, many of whom share a vulnerable piece of themselves, because that is what humans do in an honest interaction, we bare our souls. So, of course, I’m baring right back at them. We’re learning new words and tenses and why we don’t quite use those words when we mean this, rather, we say this. They are learning to express themselves in a language that is new in a sense for both of us. For them, there’s the obvious character/alphabet difference and for me, it is uncharted depths of expressions I didn’t realize were possible to walk through with a complete stranger.
Of course, it couldn’t have been all rosy. I did meet a couple of people who were less than pleasant. Statistically, it was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s the internet. There are all sorts of weirdos lurking out there. But I’ve had a mere 0.005 rate of unruly online students. This means I’m 1000X more likely to meet a pervert in person than in my class.
I’ve had the absolute pleasure of teaching children who were nothing short of protégées, not only in their grasp of a foreign language but in understanding concepts or stories that should have baffled them in any language. I loved the little ones the most on my high-energy days. They’d draw pictures for me and mime out the entire lesson. They’d sing and dance along to all the rhymes. Their excitement is like a drink of pure energy. And just like with caffeinated drinks, you crash from the high.
I’ve learned so much from these 1000+ interactions, and I’m thankful for every one of them. I’m forever a teacher in my heart, regardless of how I decide to earn a living.