Are you about to embark on a new career as an English as a foreign language teacher? If you’re anything like me you’ve been so focused on the prospect of moving to a new country or city, assimilating into a new culture and starting a new life, that perhaps you’ve failed to realise that you are also about to start a completely new and challenging job. Many people (myself included) are guilty of thinking teaching English is going to be a breeze. ‘I speak English, how difficult can it be?’ Turns out it can be pretty damn tough, particularly for those with little to know experience with teaching.
Teaching English as a foreign language can be an immensely rewarding and satisfying career, however it can be incredibly daunting the first time you step into a classroom full of bright eyed and expectant new students. But fear not, this post is here to help. Here are five top tips I wish somebody had told me, prior to my first EFL teaching experience.
First and foremost, Learning a new language should be fun. Children are largely extrinsically motivated. They don’t care about how language is going to help them order from a restaurant or do their groceries in some distant future, they want to earn stars and trinkets, engage with their peers and have a good time.
Many children in countries where English as a foreign language is emphasised have a very strenuous and hectic academic schedule. If you are teaching in major EFL hubs such as Asian countries, China, Thailand or Japan, or the middle east, chances are your students will be juggling your English classes between 10+ hours of school, multiple extra curricular activities and a multitude of homework assignments. The last thing they need is another boring hour of tedious academia.
The good news is that Children are easily pleased. Flashcard games, board games, competitions and creative activities will all help to better engage your students in your lesson. The more fun they are having, the more they will engage and the more they will learn. Get online, speak to your peers and find some inspiration. There are hundreds of simple activities proven to be favourites amongst young learners, spice up your lesson plan with games and scenarios you think your children will enjoy. Ask yourself, if I was a student in this class would I be having a good time?
Most importantly, don’t worry about failure. Inevitably some activities will be more popular than others, occasionally you will try something new and exciting only to find it fall flat in the classroom. The key thing to remember is, nothing ventured nothing gained. Over time you will build up a bank of tried and tested activities which you know will engage your students and promote active learning. Keep innovating and keep it fresh, young learners need to love their English classes.
Learn From Others
Starting any new career can be stressful. You look around you and see your fellow teachers designing excellent lesson plans, developing great relationships with their students and delivering awe inspiring classes. You wonder to yourself, how will I ever be as good as them? The beautiful thing about English as a foreign language teaching is that it is generally speaking, a novices game.
Many of those teachers you admire and aspire to be like have likely only been at it only a few months longer than you have. There is a steep learning curve expected from you as a novice teacher, likelihood is you will be thrown into your first class long before you feel you are ready. This can be daunting at first, however the benefit is you will find your personal confidence and competency growing exponentially in a very short period of time. At the end of the day you can read and research teaching tips until the cows come home, but there is no better way to improve yourself than real physical teaching experience.
Your peers will definitely remember what it was like to be in your shoes and any decent fellow teacher will be deeply supportive of your personal progression. So lean on them heavily, observe their classes, ask them for tips on how to improve your lesson plan and seek their feedback and general suggestions. Take what you admire most about their teaching and adapt it for your own classes. Soon you will develop your own unique teaching style and before you know it you will be a fellow ‘experienced’ teacher who new recruits will be looking towards for guidance.
Fake it Until You Make It
Children feed upon your energy. If you are nervous or ill prepared you can bet your ass your students will pick up on that and act accordingly. It’s important to remember no matter how nervous or out of place you may initially feel, your students will be looking at you only as ‘the teacher.’ Remember when you were their age looking at people in their early 20’s and thinking they are adults. They belong to a separate grown up world. They must have it all together and know what they are doing. This is how your students see you now. Act with confidence and purpose and you will be received as such.
The worst thing you can do is show weakness to your class. Trust me they will eat you alive the second they realise they can. Walk into your first lesson with confidence and assertion. Remember, you belong there. You passed the interview, you completed the training, you are THE teacher in this room. Even if you have to fake it initially, you will find your students are deeply reciprocal to your feigned confidence and will trust in whatever you say and do with the inbuilt respect children have for for us so called ‘adults’.
Grade, Grade, Grade Your Language
This is possibly the most difficult and unique challenge to new teachers of a foreign language. When you are nervous it is easy to start rambling away and speaking at length in order to fill the void of silence. This may be slightly more forgivable in a traditional teaching role, but you should know in an EFL setting your students likely understand absolutely ZERO of what you are saying.
If you have ever learned a second language then you know that you start with the absolute basic building blocks of that foreign language. 85% of the English language comprises of just 100 of the most common words and you will spend much of your time with young learner teaching these basic stepping stones of understanding, anything beyond this is just white noise. If you end up straying into more complex language and sentence structures your students don’t understand, then you not only risk losing their concentration, you also risk alienating and irritating them. Have you ever been spoken to and had no idea what the hell the other person is saying? It can be a pretty frustrating experience.
Take a breath and ask yourself, are my students at an ability level where they will understand what I’m about to say? If the answer is no, then don’t say it, plain and simple. There’s no need to talk when you are the only one in the room who knows what you are saying.
Take what you what to say and reduce it to its basest of components. Are there superfluous words in your sentence? Get rid of them. Are your words too advanced? Simplify them. Don’t worry about sounding intelligent or academic, make yourself understandable, that is the number one priority.
Relax, Don’t be Too Hard on Yourself
This is the most important piece of advice. The beautiful thing about teaching is that whether you have one month of experience of ten years, there is always something new to learn. There is no peak you can reach, a teacher is perpetually climbing, learning and adapting. Never forget that no matter how good you are, you can be better. So continue to learn from your peers, adapting you lesson plans, faking confidence and striving to be better.
Take a step back and reflect, what did I do well and what could I do better. Every teacher has good and bad days, the key is to relax and learn. Without even realising it you will soon fond situations that would have terrified you in the past, are a walk in the park now. Don’t be too hard on yourself, some things will work and some won’t. The important thing is you are always learning, always improving. It’s never about how hard you fall, it’s about how you pick yourself back up.
So that concludes my five top tips for new English as a Foreign Language Teachers. Remember what you are doing is a beautiful thing. Learning a new language opens up a world of opportunities for your students. You are changing lives, never forget that.
Have any other further tips or experiences you would like to share? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
If you would like to read more about my teaching and travelling experience check out the first part of my series of blog posts detailing my time in China as a fresh teacher and expat.