John Wolcott

Three ways to keep your composure in the classroom

How to get over that first day 'stage-fright'

Here you are. There go your students. It's your first day of teaching and you've just finished introductions.

Your heart races as you fumble through your lesson plan. Every second that passes feels like an eternity. Every eye in the classroom burns through you.

They wait...and wait...

And then you deliver. Horribly.

We've all been there. We've all had the first-day jitters as new teachers working for a school or language facility. We've all fumbled over grammar points or have been unable to answer a student's question on the spot.

After all, many of us come from non-teaching backgrounds. We were once roofers and mechanics, HVAC technicians, bankers, members of office staff or fresh out of college. To learn all the intricacies of the English language in just 4-6 weeks is unrealistic. It's the theories and methods of teaching we absorb. The rest, as they say, comes with experience-and a bit of due diligence on our part.

But there are a few tricks that we could use to help us keep our cool under the pressures in this foreign field. Here are three:

1. Remember to Breath

Don't forget to breath. Whenever we slip up in the classroom and lose momentum, we feel it inside. What we feel inside we tend to show. Our students will pick up on that feeling.

I experienced this during one of my first corporate gigs in Bangkok. I opened up my lesson poorly. I tried too hard to have fun. And it didn't work. Instead I became flustered, which sent me down the wrong path for the rest of the class. The energy was off. I knew it. The students knew it.

It was only after a few more mishaps that I learned to reset and to refocus myself, to breath - mindfully.

2. Learn to Laugh at Ourselves

If we can't laugh at ourselves, no one could. No, that's not true. People will still laugh at us. So it's best not only to learn from our mistakes but to laugh at them too. Thais love to have fun. If we can turn our mistakes into jokes, our students will appreciate the good humor.

3. Be Honest with Ourselves and With Our Students

I learned this bit of wisdom from my TEFL course trainer. If we don't know the answer to a question, we shouldn't lie our way through the answer. We can simply tell our students we'll find the answer and get back to them.

By doing this we show ourselves in a positive light, that we too are human, and despite being a native English speaker, that we don't know all the answers. It also closes the student-teacher gap, bringing us closer to our students as we are now able to learn with them.

After all, this is what teaching is all about. It's about learning English with our students, not dictating it at them.

As Joseph Joubert once said, "To teach is to learn twice."

How do you deal with being a new ESL teacher? For the veterans, is there any advice you can share with us newer teachers?

My website.




We're English teachers guys. Breath (noun), Breathe (verb). Don't forget to breathe and smell the bad breath of your neighbor.

Anyway, my advice. Preparation is always the key. But too be too glued on your lesson plan, rather have fun. ESL teaching is more about having fun with the students than being too serious and focusing too much on your lesson plan.

By Brian, Thailand (12th February 2015)

I forgot that new teachers have nerves, ha! The classroom is your domain. You are the lion, they are the cubs. Lions don't get nervous around their cubs.

By Ajarn Dara, Chonburi (3rd February 2015)

The best way to overcome your anxiety in the classroom is to know your stuff. But even knowing your stuff won't fix everything if you are nervous in front of a crowd.

There is a mindset you need to learn in a Thai classroom and you can pick it up from watching Thai teachers... or some farang teachers who have been teaching for a long time.

Have a wealth of materiel to draw from and don't rely on what you have been given from your employer. And this applies as much to corporate work as it does to teaching young children.

Generally speaking - all the text books in the world and even those stale hand outs that you have copied from the internet are never enough to inspire/wake up your academic progeny.

These days, Thai ESL students have seen it all before and have had legions of odd looking foreigners traipsing through their lives with their strange ways of speaking and odd choices in foot wear.

My advice to new arrivals who have never been a teacher and having trained for it, is this...

1 - Know your stuff. (Pick up a book on the English language and study it.)
You can't teach anything that you don't already know!
2 - Fly to Thailand and go straight to a language center like Inlingua.
(There are loads of others to choose from.)
3 - Look at other teachers teaching.
(Make notes of what you like about them... and what you don't like.)
4 - After a few months start looking for a permanent job and CHOOSE YOUR EMPLOYER CAREFULLY.

Depending on your confidence and ability, you'll have covered all the steps above in between a month and six months.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (29th January 2015)

10 mg Valium is best! It's called nerves and you get over them quite fast. Just make sure that you have good lesson plans, make sure you have plenty of good activities lined up.

The worst thing that can possibly happen for a noob is that you run out of material before the lesson ends! Learn to time your lessons down to the last minute.

Always make sure that you have a typed lesson outline of what you are going to teach, the activities you are going to use, and how long each activity will take. This will help with your lesson timings and aid you if your mind should suddenly go blank as a result of nerves.

By Jock, Scotland (28th January 2015)

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