A letter of advice to my #youngerteacherself

What follows is a letter to my younger (teacher) self, to be delivered on March 16th, 2000.  This is a part of the blog challenge from Joanna Malefaki (if you click on the link you can see her post and links to many more great posts). 

March 16, 2015

Hey Mikey,

I hope this finds you well. I don’t know exactly what you are doing these days but I do know it is your last semester in university and you will be graduating in about 2 months. Congrats. One funny thing to share from the future is that you sometimes have nightmares about not graduating college. Something about not finishing the work on that special course in Irish History you are taking. My advice for now is to immerse yourself in those books and write a half decent paper. I know you have a lot going on at the moment but I think you can make time for the class. I also know you are trying to have as much fun as you can before graduating because you somehow think life after college will be a drag. Don’t worry there is plenty of fun to be had so you don’t need to worry about that. Be sure not to choke as you suck the marrow out of life. Also, your “NBA Live” skills won’t be so important in the future so maybe you could de-prioritize this a bit.

I think you have already decided to go to Korea for “just one year.” Good for you. I am sure that you will choose a good place to work. I am also sure you will trust your instincts and not go to the schools that sound too good to be true.  They almost certainly are. Go to the place where the contact person sounds honest and trustworthy and doesn’t sugarcoat everything. Things will work out just fine.

Oh, speaking of Korea. Don’t give out your phone number to recruiters. They will be calling nonstop. An untrained, naive and enthusiastic “native speaker” will attract the sharks. Just communicate by email and only give out your number when you are completely sure you need to talk to someone. Your current flatmates will be far less annoyed.

I told you to follow your instincts and I think that is pretty good advice. It will generally serve you well. I am not suggesting there won’t be missteps, mistakes, or mishaps but, in general, following your instincts will be good for you. There will be plenty of learning experiences (read: fuck-ups) but that is fine and sometimes even fun. Embrace the mistakes and learn from there. Sure, it might suck at the time but there is always something to learn.

I think it is cool you have decided to try to live in 5 countries in 5 years and to see the world in this way. I also find your belief you will be ready for the “real world” after this five years quite interesting. In any case I hope you will be sure you are getting into teaching for the right reasons and will do so with your eyes wide open and not because you think it is the only or the easiest way to see the world. Or because you think you will be rich! You might think you are putting off the “real world” (whatever that is exactly) but I think we all grow up sometime or somehow or at least in some ways. Also, regarding the 5 countries in 5 years thing, plans can change and that is fine too.

What else can I share? Sometimes people will be super helpful to you. Accept this help with grace and gratitude and try your best not to feel strange about it. If you help others when you can the original helpers will probably be pleased with their decision to help you. Of course, thank you notes are always good.

In your teaching life not everyone will be wonderful.  On occasion you will meet people who grate on your very last nerve. The important thing is to be respectful and understanding. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone. You just need to do your job and let them do theirs. Interestingly, some things that bother you at first will not bother you so much later on. Chill out a bit and don’t be so damned judgmental. It doesn’t get you anywhere. Along the same lines, if someone produces something really crappy there might be reasons behind this other than their intellect or diligence. Again, try to hold off on judgment.

Finally, saying yes to professional development or other or other opportunities tends to work out well. At times you will want or need to say no and this is also okay. You don’t need to cry over spilled milk or missed opportunities. You just need to make more opportunities. A bit of patience is always helpful when waiting for opportunities to roll around. Also, sometimes opportunities will present themselves at seemingly unlikely times and places. Be ready for them!

I realize I have been a bit cryptic here but hopefully i have been slightly helpful too. I wish you the best of luck.

Thanks for reading and best of luck,

Mike

PS- Here is some more random advice for you:

  • Have, carry, and share your business cards as much as possible.
  • Don’t ever buy an expensive computer. This letter was written on a $300 item that works just fine. Don’t consider buying an expensive computer on the daft idea it will somehow save you money in Japan.
  • Use sunblock.
  • It’s totally fine not to get absolutely shit faced every weekend in your 20s.
  • Don’t ever think or say you have enough friends.
  • If you are ever in a job interview and one of the interviewer is being a complete dick and you are convinced you won’t get the job feel free to get your shots in. 
  • Speaking of jobs, if someone begs you to take a job and claims he will be fired if you don’t take the job, please remember the most important person in this equation is you and you need to make the best decision for you. Also, do you want to work for a company that would fire someone for not hiring you?
  • If you want to make tech stuff you need tech skills or tech people. It might sound obvious but somehow it wasn’t always obvious for you in the version of events I experienced.
  • It is something of a cartel but you might consider spending the extra money on the most name brand certificate if that is the route you want to take.
  • ‘Tis fine to base professional decisions on silly things as “I think one of the profs in that program is really cool and smart.”
  • Try to get on Gmail as quickly as you can. Claim the name you rightly deserve.
  • Don’t be so sure you are “done” with a country or continent. And certainly don’t tell people such things!
  • Social media (which is probably not a term you know yet!) is great but don’t feel the need to rush into it.
  • If you ever get literally yelled at by a boss don’t yell back. Just tell this person the behavior is unacceptable and you will not stand for it again. If it happens again give your notice with a smile and an excuse. Don’t burn bridges.
  • Related to burning bridges, this field is so much smaller than you could ever imagine. People that you meet in your first few years will be in positions of authority soon and you will see the same people over and over again at conferences and such. So, just keep in mind that you will likely see people again and again so you will want to work to not make a horrible impression.
  • The more time you spend studying languages the better. It is too easy to fall into the “I am leaving soon” trap. You might get much more out of your time in certain places if you study more. You can also think of it as fun or as an investment or as a learning experience but study languages as much as you can no matter the motivation.
  • And finally, the best general advice I can give is “Shit or get off the pot,” as your granddad might have said.
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10 comments

  1. joannamalefaki

    Hi Mike,
    I loved your letter to your #youngerteacherself. You mentioned some things that really got me thinking. For example, I wish I had travelled the world a bit. I never did. My only teaching abroad is teaching EAP in the UK (funny eh? the UK is where I taught English to international sts ).
    Saying no and walking away are also things I totally agree with. I think that the joy of landed a job makes us happy with whatever goes. Don’t know about you but I know I was that way anyways.
    Re help, accept , give and ask for help. I think new (and old) teachers sometimes feel scared to say they are drowning.
    You also mentioned business cards. Spot on!! Do you know how many times I wish I had a card (I do now) and saved myself the embarrassment of writing things on scraps of paper?
    NBA live is not improtant? You didn’t wear sunblock? Comon!!! :p.

    Great tips here Mike. Thanks for writing 🙂
    Joanna

  2. Pingback: #Youngerteacherself | My Elt Rambles
  3. Pingback: A letter to my younger teacher self | languagelearningteaching
    • mikecorea

      Hi Joanna,
      Thanks very much for the comments and also for starting the challenge. Some really great posts came out of it. As I mentioned on Twitter, I think it would be great to use such posts on training courses for pre-service teachers. We can’t guarantee the advice would be followed but it might be nice for raising awareness and getting people thinking about things.

      I think the idea of not being afraid to ask for help is among the most important things. Sometimes it can be hard to ask but I think teachers are generally very eager to help!

      I am really glad you liked my post!

      ps- Just a few weeks ago I was sharing my email address on scraps of paper because I’d left business cards elsewhere!

  4. Sandy Millin

    I remember this: “I think it is cool you have decide to try to live in 5 countries in 5 years and to see the world in this way.” When I went to Paraguay I thought that after I graduated I’d stay in each country for a year, then move on. Then I arrived in Brno, fell in love with it and ended up staying for three years 🙂 Plans do, indeed, change!
    Another great contribution to Joanna’s challenge.
    Sandy

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Sandy. I guess what I didn’t mention in my post is that I planned to stay in Korea for just one year and ended up staying for 2.5 years that first time and now much longer the second go around.
      Interestingly, one of the places I looked into after my first year when I was still thinking of following the five year plan was the Czech Republic. Didn’t manage to make it. Someday, maybe. 🙂

  5. Pingback: #KELTchat Slowburn: My #YoungerTeacherSelf. 28th April 2015, 11am–7pm (KST) | #KELTChat

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