Teaching Abroad – Introduction from Marcia

The ATMA SEVA team has decided to include a NEW section on our blog, ‘Teaching Abroad’, which will include stories of teaching experiences from ESL/EFL Certified Teachers, present, past and future ATMA SEVA volunteers’ and interns’ as well as;

  • Suggestions to make teaching fun and interesting
  • Tips for class management
  • ESL Games, Ideas and Activities that can or have worked in the classroom
  • Funny and unique classroom experiences
  • Online resources
  • English camp ideas and reflections
  • Interesting websites about teaching
  • And so much more!

Without further ado, this will be our first entry and it is my turn:


Marcia with some of her students

My name is Marcia and I am an ESL/EFL Certified Teacher whose first language is not English, but Spanish; however, the English language somehow feels more natural to me –I read and write in English more than I do in Spanish, to the dismay of many of my Spanish speaking friends. Given that English is not my first language, I most likely make mistakes and might even have an accent here and there, but having had to personally learn a second language has helped me immensely to understand second language learners; I try to do my best and I strive to help my students communicate in English and to not be afraid of making written or oral mistakes, which are part of the fun of learning.

What is it like when I walk into a classroom? What is my most important goal?

When I walk into a classroom, I feel transformed, happy, motivated….almost like a brand new battery:  fully charged!….and yes, sometimes I also feel tired and frustrated but that’s part of the deal. I think everyone should, at least once in their lives, give being in front of a class a try. The first thing I do is try to get all the students’ names and try to memorize them all right in the first hour….this did not work so well in Thailand, all of their names were so new to me that it was impossible. Name tags helped…

My most important goals for my students:

1) I want the students to feel comfortable enough to make mistakes, to be foolish, to SPEAK; so, I make a fool of myself first, acting, signaling, drawing, even trying to speak a little of their native language……..etc.  This sounds odd but in order to learn a language one must understand that the pronunciation and the correct usage is almost impossible right away. We weren’t able to speak our own mother tongue without making mistakes in the beginning. It is not like we have a chip where we can just upload information, like in the Matrix movies. As we get older we become more self conscious and it hinders our ability to learn a new way of communication. The acting and the allowing myself to be foolish helps them see that it is OK.  It is OK to make mistakes, to pronounce incorrectly or to have an accent when using the new language…it is part of the deal.

In the beginning, usually students will laugh at one another; this laughter, most likely, comes from a place of self protection and fear. I try to help them relax and see that it is funny but not good to make fun of others; you must be attentive to the vocal tone and/or body language to notice the difference……..once they are able to let this go, and learn to laugh with each other we can have lots of fun during class without making others feel uncomfortable. That is my favorite part. One however, must be very careful because having fun does not mean not working hard, and this is where we monitor the feel of the situation, by settling students down….speaking in a whisper….or not speaking and just looking at them…..or acting something silently while focusing on the students who are paying attention to you…..little by little they will start to quiet down….you should not try to ‘calm them down’ by shouting or yelling….I think this makes it worse.

novices having fun at English camp

Novice monks having fun learning English

2) I like to engage the students into PARTICIPATING, I joke, interact and laugh with them. I like to be physical, in a loving way, it helps me feel closer to my students. However, these particular activities were a bit challenging while teaching Buddhist novice monks. A Buddhist monk or novice may not be ‘touched’ by women; I could neither ‘high-five’ them nor tap them on the shoulder nor touch their heads….no physical contact whatsoever. It was very hard in the beginning, but after a while I was able to feel comfortable with those limitations and was able to enjoy myself in the classroom.

My most important goals as a Teacher Trainer:

1) To help teachers not to be intimidated by the students; they are not there ‘to get you’ like the boogeyman; remember what it was like being a student and behaving mischievously?  It was harmless, however your attitude is everything.

2) To help teachers realize that they are just as human as their students and the title ‘teacher’ does not include ‘perfection’. We are humans and we cannot KNOW everything; it is vital to say “I do not know” followed by “I will find out and let you know”. Students can also teach us many things if we let them.

Past experiences & advice

Students appreciate honesty and when that happens they are more likely to engage and participate. We are there to help out, to facilitate. The students will do the rest, and when they are engaged, they will go beyond the finish line, just for the fun of it.

I remember when I started teaching “Advanced English” to English speakers at a high-school in Cabo; I felt intimidated, for the first time in my life I experienced fear of teaching, I had no idea what that was until that time…. and I am thankful for it.

As I walked in the first time, two of the girls, decided to switch their names. I didn’t see it right away but towards the middle of the class I realized it; their attitude was not the ‘fun’ one but the ‘let’s get her’ kind of mean…….but I was not about to follow that, better yet I let it go on for the whole class and in the following one I told them it was a good one and they had definitely gotten me!  They had had their fun teasing me, and I had enjoyed their joke; but it was time to start responding to their own name.

We had a boring “Literature” book and I had to read many parts of that in front of the students and boy was it hard!!…  I made colossal pronunciation mistakes, to which the students laughed. So, I decided to level with them and openly admitted that English was not my FIRST language but my SECOND and I was very likely to make many mistakes with all of those old English words; I asked for their help since English was their first language….but I also said I was a teacher and I was able and willing to help them use those new words properly to improve their written abilities. All they had to do was give me a chance and help me with the pronunciation. We became good friends!! I learned a lot teaching that class.

Sometimes communication does not require language skills but sensitivity, heart, and empathy skills. I believe we ought to start with this especially when we cannot speak the student’s mother tongue. And then, try to learn their language, a few words, a few phrases, and let them see you try and that you are not embarrassed to pronounce it incorrectly and/or make mistakes. Let them know their language is just as important.

school pa pei-3Being able to communicate with other human beings is priceless and being an instrument in this process makes me smile every time. I sure hope this also can happen to you.

Please leave us a comment below with any questions, comments, or ways we can help you in the classroom!

Marcia Somellera




5 thoughts on “Teaching Abroad – Introduction from Marcia

    • Very informative article; as I had never taught English (just tutored English one on one or one on three), your challenges resonated and I will be better prepared next year if this opportunity is still there. Hunaid

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