Today is the day; the day you will walk into the classroom not as a student, but as a teacher. You palms are probably sweaty and your mind probably racing with a million thoughts about what could go wrong; Will the kids cry? Will I forget the vocabulary? Do I have all my materials? What if I don’t know what to do next? I want to tell you that all of the above will happen, but trust me, it’s all part of the experience and you will look back on those nerve-wracking moments fondly.

About a year ago, I was a first-time teacher too and I entered the classroom and had 25 sets of eyes staring back at me; most of them looked terrified, a few were even crying. And so my first piece of advice is, even when you are faced with so much animosity from so many young people, smile! Take it in stride, act like you have done this before and smile as big as you can! Not only will the smile put the students at ease, but you will be amazed at how much more comfortable you feel mentally with a simple physical action. Plus, a friendly face always makes a better teacher than one twisted in nerves; so relax and be model for your equally nervous students; being a positive influence is part of teaching too.

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in China by yewenyi, on Flickr

I also recommend bringing some stickers or candy to share with your students in the first class. It may seem counter-intuitive because you don’t want your student’s to start out associating you with treats, but throwing out some stickers or pieces of candy for students answering your questions or speaking correctly will work wonders in building rapport. This is especially true for young learners who are often terrified of new teachers, even more so if they are a foreign teacher who looks different than the adults in their life. So, not only will the stickers make your students feel good, they will also boost your own confidence thereby kicking any jitters you have to the curb!

Another piece of advice: have a couple game ideas tucked up your sleeve for time you run out of material to teach or have an extra ten minutes of class, because trust me, it will happen and you will be scared. But, if you know some quick games that keep the students attention and let them practice their English, then you will be able to handle those awkward situations with ease. Simple things like, Hangman, Bingo and Pictionary are a lot of fun for students(don’t we all remember how excited we would get?) and you can easily tailor them to help the students practice their English! If the students are having fun while practicing their English, then it is a win-win situation and terrifying thought of, “What am I going to do for the next 10 minutes?!”, dissipates and suddenly you are the world’s greatest teacher in the eyes of your students! If you are teaching young learners, songs are a great way to entertain and educate. My student’s loved singing “Bingo”, “5 Little Monkeys…”, “Twinkle Little Star”, and much more and I would always let them choose a song to sing while I would quickly think of some new words to teach, or watch the minutes tick by on the clock. If you have lots of extra time, teach the students a new song they have never heard before and slowly challenge them to sing without you.

McKane and Asher teaching English.
McKane and Asher teaching English. by sixintheworld, on Flickr

Lastly, I know it has been said a thousand times before, but relax. I hated people saying that to me too, it sounded so patronizing and I was jealous because they had already been through those first few days in the classroom and come out alive; they were no longer a rookie, “newbie” or a first-timer. But honestly, the number one thing that calmed my nerves was reminding myself that these students were just a bunch of kids, young, silly, and lovable kids who were just as nervous as I was on the first day of school with a new teacher. Remember, you are the adult in the situation and your attitude will project onto the students, so take a couple deep breathes , calm your mind and walk into the classroom to teach…and have fun!

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Jessica Watson

Over a year ago, Jessica Watson packed up her bags and hopped on a plane to teach English to young learners in Bangkok, Thailand. She loved it so much that after completing her contract in Thailand she moved next-door to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to continue living and working abroad. Life abroad is exciting, exhilarating, sometimes annoying but always fun and Jessica plans on continuing to explore and experience life abroad for years to come! Follow my personal Blog.
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