Becoming Teacher Sio…

3 Jul

After travelling down the coast to Saigon, we are back in Hanoi and a mere two days spent looking for a job in the capital city has proved fruitful. I made it through my first initial interview and have arrived at Popodoo School for my teaching ‘demo’. Despite this being standard procedure for most teaching jobs here, I am scared. The thought of, what is essentially, playing games with a group of 5 and 6 year olds should not instill this amount of sheer terror into anyone. Yet as I knock on the classroom door and tentatively push it open, my palms are sweating and my breathing is shallow. I feel faint. I peer round the door and the class stops in their tracks. They stare at me inquisitively. I gulp, loudly. I wonder who is going to break the silence first. After their initial pause, it begins: “Hello teacher!” they shout excitedly. The barrage of badly pronounced questions that follow floor me, for about an eighth of a second, before I pull myself together and attempt to switch into ‘Children’s TV Presenter’ mode. I would like to say effortlessly but that would be an absolute lie. To the untrained eye, perhaps it seems this way (doubtful) but the truth is; my voice is quivering and I am teetering on the verge of a full blown panic attack.


It sounds ridiculous, I know. I have spent the last 6 months (intermittently, I’ll admit) studying for my TEFL qualification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and this is something I have been saying I’ve wanted to do for years. For so long, in fact, that I think it had gotten to the stage where nobody believed I would ever get round to actually doing it. Myself included, to a certain extent. After all the years of thinking about it and months of planning, I was finally here. And truthfully I wanted to run away. And never come back. From the moment I stepped in the front door of the school, it hit me. Shit. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. No amount of planning or TEFL training can really prepare you for walking into a Vietnamese school with non-existent teaching experience, no knowledge of the local language and very little idea of what is actually expected of you.

In general, I am quite guilty of planning things without actually considering the reality of it. Teaching English in Vietnam sounds pretty fun… OK, let’s do it! I had been too busy booking tickets, sending CVs, finding someplace to live (living in a hotel like Alan Partridge is only fun for so long, believe me) and navigating my way around the crazy place that is Hanoi to actually think about the reality of teaching. English. In an actual school. To Vietnamese kids. 


In truth, children scare me a little. I’m not anti-child in any way but I am definitely no natural. I would love to be someone who can effortlessly meet someone’s 4 year old and form an instant bond with them. But I never know what to say. “Hello, how are you?” in a slightly sing-songy baby voice is about all I’ve got. And 4 year olds aren’t really into making that sort of polite conversation. It can get awkward.

So, I’m standing in this sweltering classroom with beads of sweat glistening on my forehead, twenty-or-so expectant Vietnamese children looking up at me… and I freeze. I have planned for this ‘demo’ lesson but it all goes straight out of my head and I forget everything. I turn to the Vietnamese teacher for help but she looks less than impressed and raises her eyebrows at me as if to say, “well..?”

I manage to snap out of it and introduce myself to the class. Even the teacher struggles to pronounce my name so we settle on ‘Teacher Sio’. Cute. I then spend the rest of the 20 minute demonstration bumbling my way through a poorly thought out flashcard game that is clearly too difficult for the children to understand, cringing the whole time and dying a little inside with every mishap.

The teacher looks on unimpressed and as I finish, I smile and thank her. She nods curtly at me and ushers me to the door. This is embarrassing. Feeling humiliated, all I can think about is getting out of there immediately. I am supposed to wait after the class for some feedback and a follow up chat but I can’t bear the thought of a Vietnamese-style dressing down so I do the only thing for it – run away. Literally. I sprint down the stairs, through the stuffy reception and straight out of the door, avoiding all eye contact on the way out. Stopping round the corner, I address the situation in disbelief. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking just disappearing like that but I console myself with the fact that I never have to see any of them again. Everyone is entitled to one little freak out when they have moved to a new country, surely. I take a minute to remind myself that I am here out of choice and that this is supposed to be fun! I decide to stop putting so much pressure on myself and start afresh looking for jobs tomorrow.

Later that evening, I receive a call from the teacher in charge of recruitment. I ignore her. She leaves a voicemail and I am too embarrassed to listen to it so I put it off for a few hours. I finally pluck up the courage to listen to the message and manage to decipher from her broken English that the school would like to offer me the job – starting in two days’ time. Seriously? I RAN AWAY from the trial lesson. Calling her back, mortified doesn’t cut it but I swallow my embarrassment, make my excuses and bashfully accept the job offer. (This doesn’t say a lot for the teaching standards over here, I’ll be the first to admit it…)

I can’t quite believe it but just like that, I have a job. It’s really happening; I am an English teacher in Hanoi! Then the dread sets in. I better get planning my first real lesson… 



3 Responses to “Becoming Teacher Sio…”

  1. louisemcg June 9, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Miss Sio!!! absolutely loved this post. I had an interview that went a little similar to this a few weeks ago….haha, and ive been working with kids my whole life….I even have one of my own! so pleased you got the job…hope you are enjoying it lady xx
    keep the posts coming!

    • siobhanambersmith June 10, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      Thanks for commenting Louise! It was really scary the first time but it has been a couple of months now and I am really enjoying it! That is reassuring to hear it isn’t just me who has had moments like that! Hope all is well with you love xxx

  2. Emma-Liisa Greed September 15, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    Hey! Yay I’m so excited I found your blog! Have just finished my TEFL qualification and am looking into working in Vietnam, so your blog is a brilliant real-life-experience 😀 Plus you write very very well, I shall now proceed to read more of your blog posts! Cheers! Emma x

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