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  • Finishing Strong by Peter C. Meltzer

    One of our very first teachers, Craig Blackburn, summed it up very nicely when he said “Super English teachers are a breed apart.”  It takes special skills to do what we do and teach the way we teach.  It may look easy but it actually takes a bit of practice and a rather all-encompassing view of the English language to do it right.  Beyond that, SE teachers are (or should be) aware of the various trends that set in throughout an academic year and how to use those to their advantage.

    The biggest trend in a school year is the impulse to relax as you approach the end of each semester.  Particularly in Thailand, this is an easy pattern to fall into.  The kids start losing their focus, random holidays pop up with increasing frequency, and the Thai teachers themselves seem to lose a lot of their steam.  So, often without thinking about it, other teachers will do the same, especially teachers who are finishing their contracts.  The light at the end of the tunnel is clear and bright, you’re thinking about what you’re going to do next, and you spend an increasing amount of time online.

    This is wrong.  If you want to be a true SE teacher then you must drive yourself and your classes to finish strong.  It takes determination, self-awareness and patience, but you owe it to yourself and your students to do it.

    To relax 1-2 months before the end of the semester (when everyone else seems to be doing it) hurts the students in the following ways:

    For years these students have been taught incorrectly.  They finally have you, someone who cares and can actually teach them, and you “check out” two months before you even are saying goodbye to them.  After spending all that time building up a relationship with them and earning their trust, you owe it to them to do the best job you can. Your students will be faced with an exam at the end of the semester.  “Checking out” robs them of an opportunity to perform better on that exam.  In Thailand, the exam score means everything.

    Sitting back and relaxing 1-2 months before the end of the semester hurts yourself in the following ways:

    It is obvious to people when you aren’t putting in as much effort as previously.  Absentmindedness, laziness and mistakes are easy to spot.  Once spotted, people will try and correct that behavior and attempt to get you to perform to your potential.  By working less hard yourself, you are creating more work for another.  That doesn’t sit well with the person who has to do the extra work. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “Always leave them wanting more.”  By finishing strong, people should be saying, “Wow!  What a great teacher!  We are so sad to see him/her go!”  If they are saying anything else, you’ll know you didn’t finish strong.  Leaving somebody with a poor impression of you is never a good thing.  You never know whether you might need a bit of help someday in the future.  I have been asked for letters for grad school several times.  Two times they were easy to write and the people got in, another two times I wrote back and asked the person whether they seriously thought that I could write anything remotely impressive about them.  Even they had to admit that considering their performance the answer was clearly “no”. When you return for the next semester, you will either spend 1 week or 1 month reviewing.  If it’s the latter you only have yourself to blame.  If you finish strong, you’ll return and the students will be ready to move forwards, not backwards. You are at the height of your teaching powers.  You have been teaching for a while.  To not give it your all, particularly at this time, is selling yourself short.

    Finally, not doing your best at the end of your own contract means you are making life infinitely harder for the next teacher.  There is nothing worse than walking into a mess of classroom management, kids who don’t know anything from the syllabus, and an administration that is paranoid from the last teacher’s shenanigans. Do your best so the next teacher can perhaps have an easier time than you did getting adjusted.  

    Tips for finishing strong:

    • Less review, more new material
    • If you’ve finished all your assigned material, go into the textbook/syllabus for the next semester
    • Experiment with new ways of getting the material across to the students
    • Brainstorm new ideas
    • Do a great job on your reports
    • Be around to assist other teachers.  You’ve been here for a while and are now the voice of experience.
    • Ask for additional training, feedback and support to continue improving as a teacher. 
    • Give feedback to the school in the form of articles, testimonials and personal communication about your experience
    • Don’t become jaded or frustrated by what the students and other Thai teachers are doing. 
    • Focus on your goal: make your students’ English the best it can possibly be.  

    As a Super English teacher you are not like the rest.  You are a breed apart and you will finish strong. The end of the semester is not the time to lean back and relax.  It is the exact right time to push your classes harder, push yourself harder, and continue to show everyone how completely and totally awesome you are.

    Special note for teachers finishing their contracts:

        If you can end your time with Super English knowing that you made your students’ English the best it could possibly be then you will have a greater sense of achievement and satisfaction than I could possibly put into words here.  You can do it, you know how to do it, and there really is no good reason for not doing it.  By finishing strong, everybody wins.