Why I Teach ESL Students

I’m often asked by friends back home why I choose to teach ESL students in faraway locations.  Often far from childhood friends and family, I choose to teach second language learners because I want to help ESL students succeed in class and thrive in life, but I have also chosen this career for selfish reasons.  I enjoy working with my students, I can actually see the difference I’m are making in their lives and I have fun doing it.

ESL Students want to learn:

I have taught French and history to students and unless they had a personal interest or were really highly motivated, it was hard going.  Teenage students could not see the immediate benefit and struggled to relate to the subject matter.  ESL students don’t have that problem.  Whether their aim is to someday apply to an English speaking country for university, being able to access more English language content on the internet or simply sing along to the latest Ed Sheehan or Beyoncé tune, they recognize the value of being able to communicate in English.  The main benefit this creates is that ESL students are motivated to participate and are engaged in their learning.  A side effect is that discipline is rarely an issue.

Classes are never boring:

Sure, there is a curriculum to be followed, exams to sit and all the usual elements of a standard school term but an ESL classroom never needs to be boring.  Language skills can be taught in so many different ways.  No two classes are ever the same.  Some days we are reading the a novel, the newspaper or a comic book.  Maybe we are watching a movie or clips from YouTube, while other days we are doing role plays and acting or practicing tongue twisters and telling jokes.  We get to be creative, funny and innovative.  I have answered questions from ESL students like “what’s a jock strap?”.  I have pantomimed what a seal is for my Chinese students.  I have carved Halloween pumpkins with Korean students and explained Valentine’s Day to Vietnamese teens.

I’ve learned from my students:

Over the years my students have mostly made me laugh, occasionally made me cry and inspired me everyday.  I have heard heartbreaking stories from refugees that made me grateful for all I have in my life.  I have been amazed by how children can adapt to and thrive in a new culture.  I have seen stammering terrified ESL students develop into confident English speakers and active members of their school community.  But best of all,  I have been educated on how, despite our differences and varied backgrounds, ultimately we all want the same things – an opportunity to create a happy, fulfilling and secure life.

Theresa, ESL Teacher


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