Teaching in Cambodia – professional conduct matters…
English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching in Cambodia is a highly respected profession and with this esteem comes many responsibilities. As a role model, you should endeavour to display a professional demeanour, use appropriate language and portray a positive attitude in all your dealings and interactions with students, parents, the broader community, colleagues, staff and administrators. Demonstrating professionalism does not merely mean assisting students to learn or following school policies and procedures. Please remember that you are also a representative of your school, country of origin, and, more broadly, the ESL teaching profession.
Teaching in Cambodia is important work. It deserves your complete care and attention. It’s noteworthy that the Australian Government accredited TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh includes ‘professional conduct’ as a stand-alone unit in their 4-week teacher training course. In stark contrast, other TESOL providers in Cambodia don’t touch the subject.
Serious problems can arise if you behave ‘inappropriately’ in a country like Cambodia; actions have consequences. At the very least, unprofessional behaviour could lead to a reprimand by your school, dismissal, and in extreme cases, deportation or time in jail. As a professional, you should always be aware of the standards required. Discharge these in a manner befitting the profession and ensure you do not breach the trust afforded to you.
In many ways, professional conduct while teaching in Cambodia is simple, common sense. You should aspire to retain the respect of your students and colleagues, provide your students with the best education possible and demonstrate professionalism in all aspects of your career. Folks who are professionally-minded operate within a schema of accountabilities and responsibilities; there are certain lines that should not be crossed. True, the lines might be blurry on occasions and subject to change without notice; such is life in a developing country like Cambodia.
Professional conduct tips and hints
From my own experience teaching in Cambodia, here are 14 professional conduct guidelines that I’d encourage you to reflect upon and, if you share my view of the world, act upon.
- Honour the sanctity of the ‘teacher–student’ relationship. Firstly, the teacher should endeavour to forge a relationship with students built on a foundation of respect, empathy and the preservation of individual dignity. This can be achieved by setting a good example and deploying a genuineness that would never make students feel embarrassed, stupid or ashamed, especially if they are brave enough to speak up. The second facet of this standard hinges on respecting personal boundaries. As a teacher, you hold a position of trust. These trust levels are further heightened when you are working with younger students. Never behave in a manner that’s unbecoming of your position by making students feel emotionally or physically uncomfortable.
- Create a safe and secure environment for learning. Teachers should use all of their skills and knowledge to ensure that classroom conflicts are kept to a minimum, that students feel safe coming to class and that bullying or student harassment issues are dealt with immediately. In the very rare situation where there is a real threat to individual or group safety, you should be mindful of your duty of care responsibilities that come with teaching in Cambodia and discharge these accordingly.
- Promote and encourage student expression, even in circumstances where your beliefs or views may be in direct conflict with those of your students. If you disagree with a student, it’s not appropriate to belittle them or make them feel vulnerable. Lead by example. Require all in the classroom to show tolerance of other people’s rights and beliefs, no matter their source or origin. It’s also essential to make sure that your teaching doesn’t intentionally or accidentally encourage students to break the law or behave in a manner that might be confrontational or physically aggressive. Instead, create a space that offers a safe forum for discussion where everyone’s views are respected.
- Be aware of school rules when teaching in Cambodia. Professionally-minded teachers understand that following the rules, policies, and protocols serves as a foundation for productive learning. Furthermore, by understanding the ‘rules’ of the school, the teacher is better equipped to ensure the integrity of the age-old, ‘teacher–student’ relationship is maintained. There are a few basic rules that ESL teachers should always follow: be punctual and well prepared, dress professionally, avoid using foul language, never lose your temper or become aggressive, be courteous and friendly and do not engage in gossip, arguments, and other inappropriate behaviour.
- Never give or take money from your students while teaching in Cambodia – or anywhere else. What might seem like a harmless transaction can easily be misconstrued or, worse, place you in a situation of criminality.
- Ensure every lesson you ever take is thoroughly planned. If you stop preparing for your classes or, at a minimum, adjust lessons plans that you have previously taught, it is probably time to look for a new career.
- If you’re unsure how to respond to a question from a student, it’s best to say nothing and then find out the answer later. If you should give a wrong answer, you could potentially lose the respect of your students.
- Make sure your classroom is set up for a productive teaching and learning experience well before the first student is due to arrive.
- Don’t make friends with your students during your time teaching in Cambodia. Yes, it is important to create a cordial atmosphere in the classroom to encourage learning and build trust, but do not blur the lines of the teacher-student relationship by extending this to friendship.
- Treat all your students equally. The worst thing you can do as a teacher is to play favourites. Be universally welcoming and ensure that all students are treated equally.
- Maintain objectivity. It’s not acceptable to afford assessment and/or grading leniency to the students you may like, feel an affinity towards or who are simply better behaved in the classroom. You must remain objective and assess any work submitted on its merits.
- Avoid taking gifts from students. It is never a good idea to accept a gift from a student. Don’t open the door to the perception that you are complicit in an inappropriate relationship. It’s not worth the risk. If you’re offered a gift, then just make it clear that all you expect in return from your students is good, old-fashioned hard work.
- Don’t enforce your beliefs. Teacher neutrality is imperative in the classroom. ESL teaching in Cambodia requires you to teach English, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t require you to indoctrinate, inculcate or push your personal beliefs onto, or convert, your students.
- Don’t bore students with tales about your life. While it can be fun to use personal anecdotes to illustrate certain facets of the course, sharing your personal life should be kept to a minimum. Using individual students (or the whole class) as a personal confidant or therapist is simply ‘not on’.
Teaching is a highly regarded occupation across Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. Westerners who teach abroad are sometimes taken aback by the reverence they receive from students and the wider school community. Foreign ESL teachers are often paid more than their local counterparts and almost always earn significantly more than the average wage in the country where they’re working.
It is not surprising that employers generally expect a high level of professionalism and commitment from foreigners teaching in Cambodia, both in and out of the classroom. There is a wide range of duties and responsibilities that fall to ESL teachers beyond the classroom. Depending on your employer, some non-teaching duties will likely be expected without additional pay. For example, it is very rare for teachers to be paid for lesson preparation time. Some or all of the following may be part of your normal days’ work:
- Accurately recording results and attendance
- Attending meetings, work functions and events
- Participating in professional development
- Planning and preparing all lessons
- Writing student reports
- Meeting with parents
- Collaborating and seeking feedback from colleagues
- Observing less experienced (or more experienced) teachers in the classroom
- Conducting demonstration lessons
- Cleaning and tidying classrooms and facilities
- Participating in school open days
In addition, employers may have expectations about maintaining their school’s image. For example, you may be required to adhere to a dress code, remove piercings, cover tattoos and so on. Your employer may also want to take pictures of you to be used in marketing activities.
From my observations teaching in Cambodia, the local people are curious by nature. With this in mind, there’s a high chance that ‘all and sundry’ in the school community will actively seek out your presence on social media platforms. Have you posted anything that might conflict with your role teaching in Cambodia? If so, delete it before you go to your first job interview.
Who can view your posts? Who can interact with you on social media? I’d encourage you to use all available privacy measures to prevent people in the school community from finding you on social media in the first place. If, by some chance, a member of the school community does find you on social media, you should have a backup plan so they can’t engage with you. Under no circumstances should you add students (or their parents) as friends or contacts on your social media platforms. The reality is that we’ve all said and done things that we wish we hadn’t, and often misadventure finds its way to social media. Deal with it before it becomes an issue for you.
Ongoing professional development
Teaching in Cambodia is one of those professions where keeping up to date with best practices, standards, guidelines, research and suchlike – commonly known as professional development – is paramount. If you know what’s going on in your profession, it follows that there’s a better chance that the way you conduct yourself – professional conduct – will be more aligned to what’s expected than it might otherwise be.
Understandably, when people hear the expression ‘professional development’, boring conventions, further study and stuffy networking events come to mind. Who has time (and money) for those things? Well, the great news is that it can be fun and easy to keep up with teaching in Cambodia trends, to the extent that you won’t even know that you’re engaging in ‘professional development.’
Your everyday social life is a professional development ‘gold mine’. Just by chatting regularly with co-workers, setting up regular lunches or coffee meets with like-minded colleagues or staying in touch online, you will be able to share your experiences and knowledge on ‘what’s what’ in the ESL world. It doesn’t all have to be about work, of course, but doubtless, you will find these are great opportunities to share tips and ideas about teaching practices that have worked for you and to learn what has worked for others. Other fun and social techniques for keeping your knowledge on the cutting edge include joining groups on Facebook and, of course, staying in touch with classmates from your teacher training days.
Certainly, more formal opportunities for professional development exist and can add tremendous value to your teaching in Cambodia journey. If you are lucky, you might find these opportunities being offered by your employer. If not, you may opt to invest some of your time and money to take part. ESL ‘Associations’, Organisations and the like, whether in your home country or abroad, often run courses and events with a professional development dimension. It’s a matter of keeping an eye out for what’s available.
Conducting yourself professionally is central to succeeding as an ESL educator, whether it’s teaching in Cambodia or another location. In the main, going about your business in a professional manner requires nothing more than common sense. Choosing not to lend or accept money from students, treating all students equally and maintaining objectivity are three examples of professional conduct ‘101’ while teaching in Cambodia. Be mindful that your social media platforms will attract attention if you allow it to happen. Interacting with students and parents via social media is a ‘no go zone’ in my view based on a simple ‘risk versus benefit’ analysis. Lastly, don’t underestimate the connection between professional conduct and professional development. They’re intertwined.
About the blogger: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and founder) of AVSE-TESOL in Cambodia (Phnom Penh) and Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City). Peter and the team at AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh have been helping aspiring educators to land that all-important first job, teaching in Cambodia or Vietnam, for more than a decade. Check out the AVSE-TESOL website: www.avse.edu.vn