October 17, 2018My classes with the little ones always begin in more or less the same way. I walk into the classroom, where all the young, bright-faced Vietnamese students shout a lilting "Hello, Teacher!" I emphatically reply with "Hello class! How are you?" to which the kiddies are taught to respond "I'm fine, thank you. And you?" From there, we launch into some energetic warmup activity before getting down to the topic of the day's lesson.
Classes usually take place in the evening, after regular school hours. No matter how hard the air-conditioned rooms try to beat back the muggy evening air, an active lesson always produces a trickle of sweat down my back as Teacher does his thing, becoming both clown and educator. The children laugh and learn, ideally. By the end of it, I'm usually exhausted.
This is my livelihood now, alongside teaching English to college students and professionals. To say I planned to end up doing this would be a lie, but then again, I've never really been a person who makes plans.
It might be tough for all of you back home in Small (or even Big) Town, USA to imagine, but as I drive around the fast-developing streets of where I live in Danang, Vietnam, I see them popping up everywhere: English centers. The demand for English is high. For many, learning the language is a ticket to a better life for themselves or their children.
And here I am, an American.
Constantly I'm approached by friends, acquaintances, businesses, even strangers, asking if I can begin teaching them a thing or two about English. They often offer me money. I have trouble saying no, but sometimes my schedule is already just too full.
What I'm describing is a situation that is perhaps foreign for most of you, dear readers: being highly sought after for a skill that one has been naturally born with, rather than having acquired through years of
education or apprenticeship. It's an unusual situation that I've taken in with mild doses of both amusement and unease.
The respect is nice. Vietnamese culture in general holds teachers of all types in high regard, and everyone at the places I work at smiles and greets me warmly when I see them. It's a sort of status I've never though I would carry at such a young age.
Yet, in my more cynical moments, I feel like something close to a mere opportunist.
In the U.S., for any sort of position teaching youth, one is usually required to possess at least a solid educational background in, well, education. The bar is set relatively high, and for good reason. You wouldn't entrust your child's future to just any Joe Shmoe.
This is not to imply that I am Joe Shmoe; despite my schooling in literature and journalism, I do have a certificate for teaching English as a foreign language that I received after an intensive month-long course (from a well-regarded university, no less). However, comparing general standards between the U.S. and Vietnam, I sometimes wonder if I'm just taking advantage of a society whose educational standards are generally lower than those of my own country.
But that's only sometimes. I think I'm getting the hang of this gig. And the oft-mentioned gratification of teaching is real. It's nice to help something grow and develop.
This is all to say that I'm doing fine here. I guess I've found my niche out here, even if that niche is baffling at times. But that's life.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and count Play-Doh balls with my 6-year-olds.
Email Andrew at email@example.com.