I still vividly remember that time when someone opened the class's wooden window outwards and hit 8-year-old me hard on my chola (head). I instantly started to weep. I remember my teacher running towards me, hugging me so tightly and comforting me for what seemed to be a long time. That teacher would turn out to be my first favorite teacher, Ms. Castillo.
The next teacher that deeply impacted me did not come into my life until my second year of sixth form, when I was 16 years old. During a single lesson, he singlehandedly changed my future. That evening, he spoke so enthusiastically about his time in Singapore, about how it became such a powerful country in such little time and how international business would be the sector that would bring about success for many governments and businesspeople. And because of its unique location and cultural linkage, if Belize followed suit, it could also become the Central American and Caribbean hub.
It only took that one class period for me to decide that Singapore would be my dream country and come hell or high water, I would make it to Singapore! Mr. Gutierez.
My third favorite teacher came along during my university years in Taiwan. She inspired me to want to become an Ambassador. She walked and talked like royalty, dressed like royalty, too. She taught us proper etiquette, gave us experiential learning as if we would indeed become future ambassadors of our own countries. We were afraid to give mediocre presentations in her class, we never left her assignments for last minute, and we always thought of all the possible hard questions she would ask. Grades were earned the proper way in her classes. No free tickets to the next grade, baby! My admiration for her gave me courage to ask her to become my Master's thesis adviser and it was a real honor to have been accepted and work under her guidance. There was a point when even I wanted to go to Harvard just because she went there. Dr. Chow.
My thoughts settled for Cambridge and my reality is that I never applied to any. Not yet. Maybe I'll leave the doctorate degree to my daughters, who knows.
I believe that teachers are God-sent creatures, to guide you along your life path, whether they intentionally do so or not. My mom was a teacher once. Of the few thoughts that still managed to stick to my long-term memory while being a child, this one lingered: When I grow up, I will become a teacher, just like my mom. Then I did. Now I'm not. Don't ask me why, that is another blog all by itself. I'll tell you later on, okay?
What I can tell you now is that being a teacher was one of the most rewarding jobs I ever, ever had. Not only because it pays more in Taiwan *wink wink*, but also because I know for a fact, that those kids are impacted by our words, our passion and our actions. I left Hsinchu City in 2019, but my 7-year-old student Ryan, STILL sends me Line messages to wish me Happy Birthday and Happy Teacher's Day! Does your coworker from your previous job (supposing you are of working age) even remember you exist?
I feel honored to have a network of teachers in my life right now. My partner is a teacher, my best friend(s) are teachers, my best friend's mom is a teacher, even my favorite ex-supervisor is a teacher! (Maybe I am meant to be a teacher?!) Can you hear Oprah now? I'm a teacher, you are a teacher, everyone is a teacher! ...I digress.
Because of my deep appreciation for teachers in my life, I have asked a few of them to enlighten us regarding their personal experiences. Some wrote a little, some wrote a LOT! But no matter the word count, know this for sure; the message they relay in this blog, comes from their heart!
I want to start with Ms. Tanya Mai, who now teaches Std. VI at my alma mater. Ms. Tanya shares with us her online teaching experience ever since the pandemic distorted our meaning of normal and how she has powered through it all. Take a read:
Tanya Mai, Standard 6 teacher at Mount Carmel Primary School, Benque Viejo, Belize.
"Distance Learning has been challenging. It can never replace face-to-face learning but it is what we have had to adjust. Just the fact of not being able to form a bond like you usually would with your students, makes it a challenge. How do I keep my students engaged and paying attention as I teach them through a screen? If they sometimes day dream when they are in the physical classroom, keeping them engaged at a distance is not easy. I try to incorporate different teaching strategies during my lessons. Yes, I need to explain at some point but I also have them contribute to the discussions. Even those who are shy are prompted to share. I had to learn about apps which can be used during the lesson for students to learn as they play. Believe me, they love it! They do not only learn through play but it promotes sort of a competition among them.
Tip: Include activities through which students need to do some thinking, writing solving, etc., at home and let them know that they will be called upon also helps to make learning interesting as students can visualize what they are learning and not only imagine what it is that you are telling them.
As the days go by, I learn more strategies that I can use for the benefit of my students. I always keep in mind that there are different types of learners and try to incorporate strategies that cater for most, if not all of them. If it doesn't work for you, change it. Whoever said there is only one way of doing things?"
Do you know of any apps that can help teachers keep students active and engaged? I'm sure Ms. Tanya would appreciate if you could share more ideas for interactive learning. ;)
I move on to another Benqueño, caz he is my friend and also a teacher. He is a dancer too, if you need to hire one. ;) Mr. Alex talks about how your talents, and not only your degree, can land you that teaching gig:
Alex Orellana, Belizean, Teacher in Taiwan
"Imitate yourself, be genuine and silly when necessary." If you follow this advice, you will find yourself having fewer difficulties and more fun.
If it's your first time looking for a job, and you think your resume isn't marketable enough, then I have the #1 tip for you. Write and emphasize your talents and/or extracurricular activities. They will take you a long way, believe me! l did it and it worked."
I can't lie. Is that a talent, Alex? Please tell me it is.
Moving on, Ms. Tammy Tate tutors during her free time and shares what works for her:
Tammy Tate, Belizean, Tutor and Full-time student in Taiwan.
"Tutoring: I like to design my classes around my kid’s interests.
If I have a Science buff, I’ll plan my lesson around that. If they are more athletic/sporty, I’ll go that route.
Teaching: I still haven’t really figured out how to tame them 😅
I do like to introduce new games until I find one they like and then I use it as a reward."
I second that. Also, try calling them by their first names and pretend they are part of the story so they feel involved. Thank you, dear Tammy!
Our next person is also still a student and tutors a few hours a week. Here's what Mr. Current BTA* President has to say:
Amador Castillo, Belizean, Tutor and Full-time Student in Taiwan
"Advice for someone who tutors: If you’re blessed like me and happen to have someone who offers you a tutoring job, take it.
Not just for the money, but for the experience. I think tutoring gives you a platform to do something different. Something more personal and in-depth.
One-on-one tutoring is more effective. You’ll be able to see the improvement and feel the student’s effort.
Tutoring online from the comfort of your home (or anywhere you decide to be) is serene.
You could be in the middle of a country tour on bike, five cities from where you live and still make it on time for tutoring 😉 Don’t take it for granted. Put in the effort.
Though you’re teaching from “home”, don’t get too comfortable. Remember you’re making a change when you show up on time, and remember to encourage the student even when they make mistakes.
In Taiwan, we know the struggles of learning Chinese. Be mindful that it might be just as difficult for them to learn English."
Well said, sir!
The following person was my classmate and she turned out to be my older daughter's teacher! Life is truly interesting, right? Ms. Adilia has even gone the extra mile to give a special mention to another teacher! Take a look:
Adilia Pech-Vega, Teacher at Santa Elena School, Cayo District, Belize
"Teachers and learners are the centerpiece linking classroom and school improvement. "Barrie Bennett". As a teacher, I educate on this philosophy, because we must facilitate thinking, engage minds and encourage risk. Our students learn best when they feel welcome, comfortable and safe. It is our job to create that environment.
The most valuable resources we have as educators are the human resources who touch our lives through their generosity and support. They make our work a little lighter and our days a little brighter. I am blessed to have such a wonderful colleague and friend. Judy Bautista."
I don't think I know you, Ms. Judy. But, I do feel a little envious right now. You go girl! I mean, Great job, teacher!
The next person is my very own, Bee. He asked me how come I asked many teachers and didn't ask him to contribute to my blog. Because Bee, I was saving the best, you know...(the shame nuns are coming for me). Bee was a Computer Science teacher in Belize before coming to Taiwan to pursue his undergrad and graduate studies. He also created a tutorial page for aspiring engineers called @connectahead. Just like Ms. Tanya, he shares his online teaching experience during COVID. Enjoy the read:
Bernabe Matus, Belizean, Teacher in Taiwan
"Being a teacher is not for the faint of heart. Every day, I wake up and prepare for battle. My armor, a smile, my energy supply, mugs of coffee. As I get closer to the battle grounds, I prepare myself to face a mighty army of "gremlins". They all hunger for a piece of my attention and they will do whatever they have to, to get it. 😊. Oh, my little 🥔 and 🐛.
As a teacher I have learnt countless lessons and I guess you all have as well, so I’ll spare you the extra reading. Kidding, I'll make it quick. I have been learning how to be a better communicator and I have become less shy. Keeping to the times, I am grateful to be working at a school that did not lay me off during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, I was told of the horrors that teachers used to face while teaching online. The difficulties and setbacks they faced every day. They were just stories. Then, the situation got dire. World War Z had begun, and it meant it was my turn to experience these stories. I was concerned. I started to stress. I panicked, I ran and never looked back. Kidding again.
Lucky for me, the school had a plan. At the beginning it was rough. I had to record videos, which the students watched in the comfort of their homes. After some days, the school got Wi-Fi. Online teaching begun and it was a challenge (the teaching, not the tech part). The tech. department was covered, this monkey got to work and figured out the ins and outs of the Google classroom platform quite fast. A click here, and there, a PowerPoint presentation and word file over there. It was all set up. Here are some tips, because this is a give tips kind of blog post. 😊
Tip 1: If you are using the Google classroom platform. Use all the tools they provide. Use Google docs, email, chat, the grading and assignments system, the browser. Use them all, it will make your workflow much easier and less time consuming.
Tip 2: Don’t give your student pdf files. Write the document using Google docs, share a copy to each of them. They will open it and close it and remember it until the day before it is due, but it will be there and it will be easier for them to write and upload.
Tip 3: Ask for help. Not all of us are tech savvy.
Ok back to where I stopped. The challenge was keeping the students engaged and keeping it for the whole sessions. If the students were in the classroom, activities could have been done instantly. No need to plan extensively, no need to be at the mercy of the internet. After sometime, I started to get the hang of it. I learnt some games, changed my voice to sound like a minion, a chipmunk or a robot. It worked; it was all working out.
It was a challenge because I didn’t know what to do, it was different and it was new.
I got to say that even though I liked the online teaching, I missed my little 🥔s and 🐛s.
Bee is now teaching his students face-to-face. Hopefully, it remains so for a long time.
Ms. Tracy is my next contributor. Tracy is a PhD candidate and also teaches in Taiwan. Like Mr. Alex, she gives us tips on how to also land a job and what to do during an interview.
Tracy Quetzal, Belizean, Teacher and PhD Candidate in Taiwan.
"Tip 1. "Networking is as important as in any job, I would recommend teachers to be willing to take sub teaching. It opens opportunities and creates a good network.
Tip 2. Salary negotiation can be done depending on your experience and qualifications. A good demo can help with the salary negotiation."
Nowadays, they also ask for video demos, right, Ms. Tracy? So, if you have some teacher friends, borrow some materials from them. My bet is they spend a lot of their own money on class props to give an enhanced experience.
My next teacher contributor is also from Belize. Ms. Karina is a full-time teacher in Taiwan. She shares with us what works for her in the classroom:
Karina Torres, Belizean, Teacher in Taiwan
"Have an activity in your pocket that can work for all ages. Maybe just like a game where you can have two students stand in front of each other and a book on the floor in the middle. They need to touch the body part you call out, and when you yell book, the first student who grabs the book wins. Then you can work this in with any part of the class, whether it be vocabulary, grammar, reading, phonics etc."
Wanna try the book game for your next face-to-face class, dear teachers? What games have you tried that have turned out to be the one the kids want to play every single class? My kids, both young and older loved to play switch chairs. For example, you say: Who is wearing blue socks. Then, all those wearing blue socks have to switch chairs. They like to say who has hair, two legs, two eyes, etc. It works, everyone HAS to switch. :)
Here is a unique one for you. This person has shared with us his/her No. 1 tip on how to keep the peace among the 20+ students in our homerooms:
Anonymous, Belizean, Teacher in Taiwan.
"Here’s a tip. Assign classroom jobs! And rotate everyday. This will make students become responsible. This will also reduce the fighting between eager students."
Trust me, it works! I had 22 munchkins in my last homeroom class and boy do they fight to be the one who will clean the tables, sweep the floor, be line leader, etc.! Take this tip~
It will make your life as a multi-tasking, I-have-eyes-all-around-me teacher much easier~ Smooth sailing!
Teacher J. here shares with us two short but very valuable pointers. Take a look:
J. Colleene, St. Lucian, Teacher in Taiwan
"Ask the right questions and don't be afraid to speak up"
"You ARE replaceable. Do don't feel guilty for taking some days off."
Oh, the fear. Oh, the guilt. I myself hate to ask for time off, let alone days off. I always think of the workload that will meet me upon my return. Or, the task someone else had to do, added to their own, because of my absence. But we do need to take care of ourselves.
Let us muster the courage. Our future self AND our kids, will be grateful for the sanity and the well-being we will gain after speaking out and resting.
Ms. Portesche reminds us that teachers are also on the receiving end:
Portesche Warnick, South African, Teacher in Taiwan
"Few things could lighten my mood instantly, never in my wildest dreams did I think teaching would be on that list. Let's go to the messy hardships, tears, and bumping roads of life. Do you agree those become so much easier from 9-5? The good and colorful days, even better! Oh, what a joy it CAN be teaching children. Often comes with a great reward and tears of happiness! The best part; their complete innocence, excitement seeing me and growing into smart individuals. Even though I'm continuously clowning my way. After it, all the dancing, singing, jumping to the beat of their drum. One day, today, and tomorrow I hope I will always say. Oh, what a joy it is teaching children.
My teacher's tip: Always try and keep in mind, kids are our little sponges. Take complete pleasure and advantage of what one can teach them. The reward of seeing them grow, that's JUST amazing!
Sending love & light to my fellow teachers🧡"
Now more than ever, we need counselors like Ms. Dalia Arredondo in our children's lives, especially our teenagers. It feels great to be noticed, to be heard, to be believed in.
Dalia Arredondo, Student Counselor at Mopan Technical High School, Benque Viejo, Belize
“I know that every student has a story that needs to be heard, or sometimes they need some words of encouragement or just a little reminder of their great value, it’s truly a blessing to be that person that can make a difference in their lives. As a school counselor I feel it’s my job not only to remind my students of their great value and the importance of never giving up but also emphasize on the great importance of education. I know lots of them go through various struggles to be there so I motivate them by acknowledging that when they graduate from high school, they are given a key that can open many doors and it’s a key that no one can snatch from them but if they can’t use it at that moment, then the right time will come in the future for them to make use of, however I keep on stressing that it is today that they have the future in their hands and they can empower themselves with a good education”
Last but not least, my dear Mr. Angus. Remember that ex-supervisor I told you about? I really admire this Taiwanese teacher's way of conducting a class. He takes English teaching to another level. There is only one other Taiwanese teacher who I've worked with that makes me shake my head and think: "This person really deserves my full admiration."
Angus and I both taught a class of teenagers for two years. A group which to this day, still mean a lot to us. We tried different ways of aids for them to grasp the English language: music videos, cultural exchanges, class presentations, group work, debates, poster presentations, etc. I will leave you all with Teacher Angus's quote on what he believes will work for all teachers, no matter what age, subject or nationality is being taught:
Angus Huang, Taiwanese, English Teacher in Taiwan.
"A successful class for me is the one where the teacher and students are psychologically connected, leading to a natural learning outcome. This means that they know what they are going to do or cooperate to make the class run smoothly. "