ESL Teachers of South Korea: John Avaricio Mascardo
Name: John Avaricio Mascardo
Hometown: Spokane and Seattle, Washington, USA
Currently living: Tagaytay City, Philippines
Job: English Teacher
What are you doing right now?
I'm having some tea, here at a local Starbucks in the Philippines...
And what’s your typical day?
I get up in the morning around 8 a.m. and get ready for work, then have some coffee and toast, do some light stretching, and then head to class.
I have a couple of classes before lunch, then have lunch at a local eatery or at the local mall. A few times a week I eat healthy by making fruit shakes - perhaps another round of coffee for the afternoon. I always try to keep with a light lunch, because if I have a heavy lunch I get tired easily and it’s hard to stay awake and attentive in class. I think these sorts of lunch habits are important for a teacher because too much food for lunch bogs you down, but the right amount gives you enough energy to power through the day.
After lunch, I continue with classes, and if I have a break I do lesson planning preparation, social media, read up on some self-development, or study languages. After I finish up with afternoon classes, I head to Starbucks again to do some reading and get some dinner. Lastly, I head to the gym in the evening. I usually finish at the gym around 11 p.m. and then get home about 12 a.m. to wind down and get ready for bed. I fall asleep around 1 a.m. - wash, rinse, and repeat.
Where are you from?
That’s a complicated one. A couple of places I guess. I was born in Manila, and my current residence is approximately 50 kilometers south in Tagaytay, Philippines. I left the Philippines while in the second grade, spending a few years in Saipan, 7 years in Guam, before moving to Washington state to finish high school and attend university. I spend a significant time in Washington state and California, so I'm a West Coast type of guy.
Why did you decide to move to Korea prior to your work as a teacher in the Philippines?
The international residence and travel bug hit me early in life, so I knew I wanted to see different parts of the world. I always knew I would come to see and live in Asia again. I figured the best way to travel and make money was to teach.
It was a toss-up between Korea and Japan at the time - either one would have been a great experience for me. The paperwork and process was just much faster and easier for Korea at the time.To add to that, I also want to make a difference in the lives of children, besides to feed that wanderlust. I thought I’d just stay a few years in Korea then head to Japan, but I ended up staying for 6 years.
Why do you teach?
I would modify that question to "Why do you love teaching English?" Admittedly, I don’t necessarily love teaching English. I like it a lot, but more than that, I like teaching about life. I love teaching people to love learning itself, and to open their eyes to other ways of seeing the world.
I don't know if I see myself teaching English forever, but I do possibly see myself teaching about life - like life coaching, speech communications, business presentation, etc. But of course, you can’t truly teach people about life - we have to live it. So I guess I'll likely be teaching "life lessons" far longer than "English lessons".
If you weren’t teaching, what would you be doing?
That's a good question, I think if I wasn't teaching I would be some kind of entrepreneur; also my mom seems to think I'd make a good newscaster because of my voice impersonations; or maybe I’d be a struggling actor or an attorney.
What separates the good teachers from the bad?
I think a good teacher is introspective, and attempts to become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses In order to learn from them. I also think they are true to themselves. A teacher isn't necessarily liked by everyone, but a mark of a good teacher could be where just a single student comes up to them, and tells the teacher how they’ve changed their life. Even if the teacher is never told or never finds out, at least the student realizes it and benefits in some level. A good teacher is a good learner, a constant learner.
What were the hardest life lessons you had to learn while here in Korea?
That not at all foreigners are treated the same. I really had to expand my lens of the world rather than through a narrow set of primarily being an American. I mean I've already been aware of seeing beyond our own personal perspective beforehand, having spent time outside the mainland U.S. growing up. But knowing it and applying it on a day-to-day basis are very different animals.
For example, other people would get angry at me or scold me for not following or fitting into a social norm because they thought I was Korean, and so there is a premature expectation that I should know better. I do know as a foreigner in a foreign land that you are subject to their laws and customs. It's just that were I white or foreign in appearance, locals would've given me more of the benefit of the doubt. I have to remind myself that they see me as who they think I am, rather than who I think I am.
So, in such cases and others, I just have to learn to hold the moment and my judgment, and to keep my emotions in check. Often in our lives when we are faced by something that questions or invalidates our identity, we are inclined to be instantly defensive.
This particular situation also reminded of the power of mass perception formed from the mass media.
Applying those lessons - and by extension awareness - was an everyday struggle at times, especially in countryside Korea near the DMZ. In America, I would never have been in that situation, at least not to that level of frequency because of American pluralism and where I live in the West Coast.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about teaching abroad or living abroad?
Don't fantasize about it, do it. Don't overly romanticize it, as it's not all glitz, glamour, and glee all the time. Some of the best lessons and experiences come from the hard times.
And don’t get stuck in the "hero complex" mode - that you are out there to save the entire world. Not that you won’t end up making some difference, it may just not be in the way you think or expect.
We forget that the mindset of a culture in a society have been entrenched for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It’s more about finding the common ground between yourself and them, because if we are dead-set on changing people to who we think they should become, then we are bound to be inevitably disappointed. In the process of trying to make change, we change ourselves.
Do you have any passions or hobbies that you pursue abroad?
I'm trekking a lot. I like going up the mountains and experiencing nature. I've also been doing a lot of photography, I’d never thought I’d be doing portraits or working with models.
And of course, going to the gym and exercising. It's all connected. I go to the gym so I can trek, and that improves my health, so I can do more photography, like landscape. I trek or travel so I can take more pictures, and pictures make me want to travel more and exercise. It’s all interconnected in a way. Also languages. I love learning. Languages are full of ideas. If you ever want to understand a nation's people deeply, then learn their language (at the very least, survival level).
Do you want to add anything else?
I know it sounds overused, but it's tried and true: live a life you won't regret in the future. Fear of regret should help you tackle the fear of the unknown. The more you gain experience, including skills and knowledge, the less scary things will be.
Can you tell us a few tips or tricks to help improve our classes?
I think if anything, especially if you are having a long-term class, remember the tautology that humans are humans; if you connect with them on a personal level, then even the toughest student often end up taking down their own wall sooner or later.
Of course not all students will be receptive during your teaching tenure, but as a teacher, you do as much as you can.
Your students or classes are like a puzzle. Sometimes you figure them out and sometimes you don't. Sometimes it's a good match, sometimes not.
But once you complete that puzzle and make that connection with them, it's a rewarding experience.
Again, I think it relates to that concept of trying to be a savior, that problematic hero complex. The change you expect isn't the change you get from a student.
The most troublesome is the brightest.
More than anything a teacher doesn't just teach - I think a teacher helps students realize what's best in themselves.
What websites or books helped you when you first started? Which do you still use now?
The standard curriculum books at the schools I taught at helped me to get started, but I also used material from a hodgepodge of different ESL websites when I was on my own teaching without a co-teacher.
Also, I found it more effective to try to tailor classes to students' level by combining Iessons or activities I made with what was available in class or the web.
However, more than anything, it was not necessarily just using online and class materials that helped me, but life's insights that I have been learning and acquiring that helped me become more understanding, flexible, and imaginative.
I continually watch TED talk videos, which have opened my mind to different kinds of teaching, presenting, methodologies, and perspectives.
More recently, I do a lot of one to one conversations with adults so I derive topics and questions from eslconversations.com. Another source is pdfdrive.com where you can download free books in pdf format. Thirdly, the 4000 Essential English Words series, which helps students build vocabulary and improve reading.
What are the go-to tools that you think teachers should buy to improve their class?
With young learners, incorporating multimedia in your lessons can be very effective, as it can captivate the short attention span of the students and keep them engaged for awhile.
With older students, I'm a basic type of guy. I use a whiteboard sometimes, where I write words, phrases, or expressions to help reinforce learning. At other times during one-on-one sessions, I've found it useful to write on a blank sheet of paper because often times they like to keep my notes at the conclusion of class. Also, I have them write the most important thing on their own notebook though. That’s kind of my go-to, really traditional. Sometimes the simplest approach is the most effective.