Adventures in Overseas Teaching: Part 2
In Part 1 of this three-part series Dr. Grow gave a few tips for what to think about when considering an opportunity to teach overseas. In this second installment, Dr. Grow draws on his experience to share what it takes to be successful in teaching college classes overseas.
As I consider the many times I’ve taught overseas, there are certain attitudes and behaviors that stand out in my mind as keys for having a successful experience. The original list of things that come to mind in this category is really quite long. I’ve edited my thoughts down to a few items that I consider most valuable. Attitudes and approaches first, and then then some specific strategies.
Attitudes and Approaches
Be an authority but not authoritative. Allow students to have their opinions. Encourage them to share. Guide class interaction, don’t dictate. Be real, be genuine, be real genuine and you will have a better chance of success with your class (unless your genuine self is an egomaniac, then there will be problems). Humility goes a long way in most cultures around the world.
Be pleasant. What applies in the West is true in other countries too; students are more relaxed, learn more from, and more enjoy teachers who are enjoyable. Smile. Be encouraging and friendly. If…more like when… students take a longer than you might like to quiet down for the next part of class, be patient with this. Raising your voice, or turning stern may get the results you want in the short term, but it will damage your credibility in the long run making the action not worth taking. In short, lose your cool, and you’ll lose your students.
Be flexible. Despite all of your planning for a class, chances are something will not go as planned. Expect this and roll with it. If an activity is taking longer than expected, fine. Let it play out. Find something later in the course to adjust. Don’t cut short activities that are working well because your plan is to do something else that hour. Conversely, if observance of student engagement suggests that Plan A is causing them to want to poke their eyes out with their pen, you might want to move to something else in a hurry.
About flexibility, be flexible not only in class but outside of class as well. You’re in a different culture, expect different experiences. Enjoy them, take
pictures, and maybe even blog about it! The picture I’ve added here is one example of this I encountered while teaching in Beijing recently. I know dumplings are a standard (and very yummy) part of the Chinese diet, as is green salad. I just didn’t expect to find all this amazing food on a breakfast buffet table. Good times!
Group Activities: Use group activities often and in many different yet meaningful ways to reinforce reading or lecture material. Activities should:
- have a clear purpose/product,
- have specific roles for each group member
- have a specific time period.
Many books have been written about meaningful group work. Read up on these and use them. Mix groups up regularly. Personally, I’m a fan of using of playing cards to create different groups. I deal out cards from a prepared stack based on number of students in the class and the number of groups I want. All those with a King, in one group, the Ace’s, the Jack’s etc. For larger groups, go with all those who have diamonds, or hearts. Numbers from a hat – 1-4, together, 4-8 etc. Getting students out of their chairs for learning activities and having different students together as they do these activities will keep students more engaged.
Lecture and Use of PowerPoint: In college teaching, lecturing is the standard and expected form of conveying knowledge. Find ways to make lectures more interactive. Consider demonstrating something during your lecture presentations. Give students something they can do as well. Break up lecture time with pair work, worksheets, or other tasks. About PowerPoint, avoid slides with a lot of text, particularly a lot of text with small print. Good slide design principles apply world-wide: Large font …Less words.
Videos: Two things: First, do not rely on the Internet for your video resources (FYI: YouTube is not available in China). Also, bandwidth may not be sufficient for any live streaming. For any video resource you intend to use, have them available:
- on a DVD that you will play through your own laptop,
- pre-loaded on your computer, or
- saved on a portable hard drive.
As you might guess, the first option has my strongest endorsement. Hard drives, be they internal or external, can die. DVDs, not so much. Second, if the video you are showing is not using the local language, use closed captioning and, if possible, use closed captioning that displays the local language. If the resource you have in mind to use does not have this feature, consider a different resource.
As I stated at the beginning of this blog, there are many strategies that come to mind when I think about what can help a teacher be successful as they teach in other cultures and countries. Many instructors might point out that these recommendations make sense for any teacher anywhere, and to this I would agree. Yes, the characteristics that help teachers connect with students are, for the most part, universal. However, using these strategies while teaching overseas will help insure a positive experience for you and your students, which is why I’ve chosen to share them. I hope they help.
Dr. Arron Grow is an associate professor in the School of Applied Leadership and is the associate program director for the Organizational Leadership program.