Managing the politics involved in teaching requires you to just admit that you know nothing.
Pretend that you are an alien from outer space. You have no idea how to teach. You have no idea how the system works and you need help at all times. If you don’t do this, then people want to use your sense of importance against you.
At first they will flatter you and hold you to high expectations. They will give you compliments like, “Oh, what a great teacher you are, how pedagogically wonderful you are.” And then when the one bad thing comes up, they point the finger at you and say, “What happened? Are you slipping now?” It’s like a strategy for some people to maintain control, humiliate you, and try to make you kind of lose your sense of self. Similar to parenting or an abusive relationship, so be on your toes.
This is why I say to come into the school not knowing anything. You don’t know how to teach. Whatever you learn doesn’t mean anything anyway. The TEFL schools are just a business, they probably just gave you a piece of paper. Play dumb and people expect less so your average can be seen as exceptional. Smart right?
So, the good news about that is that if someone ever chose to challenge you, you just say, “I don’t know, teach me please. I don’t know.” And if someone tries to put more work on you, you could just say, “Well, I really didn’t know how to do this. So, you have to really help me.”
You're only human
And that’s true. I mean that really is true. You don’t have to be that one teacher who has it all figured out because no one has it all figured out. That’s impossible. So be honest and safe and just admit that you have no idea what’s going on. You have no idea how you got to South Korea… probably it was the wind. Mea culpa mea culpa mea culpa! It’s a great way to make it seem like you are working hard without working hard.
If you think about it, knowledge doesn’t really even mean anything. It just kind of comes in and out of your head. A lot of the things that we gained in school, we end up losing anyway. Most of it we end up losing. We forget the facts. We don’t remember things. We need to constantly refer back. The mind is a sieve. Don’t fight it, it’s a losing battle. Just accept it and tell your superiors that you need to be re-trained (again). If you can keep them assisting you it’s just less work and when you do something alone it looks good on you and them!
Need references? Ask Byron Katie about it, or Gangaji, Or Eckhart Tolle. Go to your boss and tell him or her, “Don’t blame me, Eckhart Tolle says I should live in the present.” Passing the buck always works for newbies in any position. It’s just good business.
Really, you may come across as stupid in this example, but you’ll at least be able to save face, which goes a long way in life, in Asia. Plus they already expect less since you are an outsider making any victory even better in their eyes.
Everything that we gain, we lose in the end. So it makes perfect sense for you to just go into the school saying, “I don’t really know anything, so teach me something. Teach me how to teach, please. I’m here, I’m the foreigner and let’s make the best of it. Teach me.” They feel smarter for teaching you and if you do it right they will feel better about themselves while at the same time making less work for you. Win-Win!
And that’s not to say that you don’t use your strategies that you learned in your TEFL program. Or that you don’t read books to give you ideas, or go to elllo.org and mooch off the videos for at least 6 months without anyone ever asking you if you changed up your lessons to make them more relevant. These are all a given! Just learn to work smarter by playing dumb, heck it’s worked for U.S. leadership for the last fifty years.
Obviously, you still have to work within the system you’re given. If they give you a textbook, you use the textbook. If they give you PowerPoints, you use the PowerPoints. And if you’re tasked with the responsibility of doing something from scratch or creating something new, you can just say, “I don’t really know how to do this and I’m going to ask around. Who should I ask?”
Saying a little “I don’t know,” every once in awhile never hurt anyone. Try it some time, you’ll see it takes the pressure off of being right all the time. And who doesn’t want that? It’s why most people have mental breakdowns, no one is perfect and if you acknowledge that early you save face and have less expectations.
The power game
And of course, the bonus is that you don’t even need to fight as much. Power goes to the person who admits they have nothing to lose and nothing to grip and hold on to.
It’s frightening for many teachers who witness this for the first time because they want their view of life as a reckless horrible competitive place to be validated! They might even, deep down inside, want to play the game with you and try to dethrone you and make you look foolish in the work setting.
The beauty of this is that there’s nothing they can do. You’re like Teflon. When you don’t even care, when you’ve got the Buddha nature on your side, you can’t lose! It’s like being a mobster without the crime!
This is the single best way that I have discovered for rising above workplace hostility and coming out on top. And it doesn’t even require dopamine (as far as I know). Imagine that!
Natural is always the best way to go, but sometimes alcohol helps!
Todd Persaud holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over five countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. He may be reached on his website