Who inspires you? Is it a parent, a partner, a friend? Maybe even a celebrity?

As people, it’s natural for us to look for role models and people who inspire us. As educators and as teachers, we are often that role model and inspire others. But sometimes the opposite is true as well. We are inspired by our students. We are reinvigorated by their enthusiasm, their hard work, and their dedication. It has happened to me, and it has made all the difference in my learning and teaching abilities.

Teaching English Overseas

I have been teaching English overseas with EF English First for more than two years. My education experience was mixed before I started here. I completed high school and university; sought a qualification in wine; pursued teaching qualifications; and set out to learn Chinese. During this time, I also held full- and part-time jobs, and even squeezed in time to “have a life.”

Today, though, I am drawing closer to my thirties, and I am thinking about family. How can I manage to learn a new language, gain further qualifications, and start a family? Can it be done? Well, I am sure we all know the answer is “yes,” but it is not easy and requires discipline. And that’s where my students come in.

Chinese English Language Students

If you haven’t, I recommend that you watch the Ted Talk on students learning English in China. It is amazing. The sheer zeal and enthusiasm to learn English is incredible. It’s this passion, dedication, and motivation that has inspired me. When you watch celebrity chat shows, you’ll occasionally see a successful or famous person say that they were inspired and encouraged by a teacher. A teacher who saw something in them encouraged them to do more. We’ve all had at least one teacher who inspired us, made us want to learn more. Now I feel the shoe is on the other foot; I am constantly inspired by my students.

Before joining EF my personal motivation was lacking. I wasn’t at school, so self-study was difficult. Since teaching English in China, and meeting my students, I have found that this has started to change.

My students are the most hardworking and dedicated people that I have ever met. Many of them have full-time jobs, with families and children and extremely busy schedules. Yet they still manage to come to English classes 6 days a week. No matter what, they will make the arrangements necessary to be there, to learn English. If it’s raining, they’ll be there. If it’s snowing, they’ll be there. I’ve even had students show up ignoring severe weather warnings and come to class on the day of a typhoon. How many of us can say the same about ourselves? When it’s raining outside, or we’ve had a tough day of work, how often do we say “tomorrow.”

For many of my students, there is no tomorrow. There is only today.

Why this matters

For me, this experience has taught me a lot. I have noticed that their motivation is infectious. I have learned so much more Chinese in the last year because of my new role models. Not only that, I have become a better teacher. I don’t want to be the one that gets in their way and lets them down, so this is forcing me to improve.

But what if we don’t have these inspiring students? I think we all have, we will always have a student who will inspire us, but we don’t always see it. If we have a class that is poorly behaved, we tend to narrow in on this negativity and focus on behavior management. This can be very draining. We need to look closer; there will be one student who wants to learn, and if they’re in a bad class, they’re learning in spite of this, rising above the negativity. If this isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

I hope the takeaway from this is that we all stop to think, to look. As a teacher and educator, we are in a position of authority, but that doesn’t mean we can’t humble ourselves and allow ourselves to be inspired.

Adam DiFrisco teaches English in Beijing, China, and blogs for EF Education First, a NAFSA Global Partner.