Mark Beales

On entering the classroom

On your first day as a teacher, winging it is not an option.


So, it’s your first day at school. You probably feel the same way you did when you were a student. Lots of new faces, lots of things to remember and an overwhelming urge to hot-foot it back home.

Preparation is key

The best way to be confident is to be prepared. Have a broad idea of how your first few lessons are going to go. If you can get hold of a lesson plan or course book beforehand, then wonderful. If not, at least have a ‘getting to know you’ type of lesson up your sleeve.

My first lesson wasn’t one to remember for several reasons. I hadn’t been told what year group I’d be teaching, I hadn’t been given a course book and I only had a vague idea of how my first lesson would proceed. Within 20 minutes of arriving, the head of department greeted me, said ‘Good luck, I hope you enjoy’ and vanished.

With that, my first lesson as an English teacher began. I was left alone outside a classroom packed with 55 teenage boys. A lady named Tai from classroom 2/9 emerged and invited me to step inside. The 55 faces had already turned to scrutinise the latest recruit. 

So there I stood before a den of baying students. No course book, no direction, absolutely no bloody idea. There can be few things as terrifying as a virgin teacher entering a classroom for the first time, let alone one entering without a plan. I walked in and smiled faintly. The head boy sprang up, barked an order, and the rest rose as one and chorused ‘Gooood mor-ning tea-cher’. I stood there for a few seconds smiling at their friendly nature when it dawned on me I was supposed to respond. 

‘Erm, hi, good morning, how are you?’ I managed.

‘I’m-fine-thank-you. And you?’

‘Very well thanks,’ I replied, and with that they all sat down again.

What followed will be forever etched upon the memory of each child present, as I stumbled, crawled and tripped my way through my first lesson. 

Boys love football

I knew that the ability to relate to things is helpful, so I started by asking if anyone had seen the previous night’s football match, which had seen France beat England 2-1 in the European Championships. Given that it hadn’t kicked off until 1.45am, it was unlikely many were going to admit to viewing the game, but a few knew the score, so we had an impromptu question and answer session about the match. This seemed to go down reasonably well, so I followed it up with a football quiz. The dozens of faces looking back at me seemed a little dazed by these spontaneous questions. 

If teaching were actually a game of football then at this point I would have been the defender hauling down the striker for a last-minute penalty while simultaneously steering the ball into my own net.

They probably felt insulted that I was asking them who Wayne Rooney played for, or that all they had to do was name a Chelsea player, but they sportingly went along with it. The biggest problem was that I couldn’t understand half of what they were telling me. It soon became apparent that teaching off the cuff is not a wise move. Preparation is everything. 

Following the quiz I muttered a bit, shuffled around a little, and then decided they would be fascinated with details about their new teacher. 

‘OK, I’m Mark Beales, I’m 32, I am from England. I like reading, writing and movies. What’s my name?’

This was a short game.

Once it was over, I tried eliciting the same information from some students, but nothing came back. Foolishly, I then opened the entire floor up so they could ask me anything, absolutely anything at all, about me, my homeland or my interests. The response: complete silence.

At this point it was apparent the students were becoming as confused as their teacher. Games were the last resort, and that particular juncture had been reached several stops back. Taboo, I announced to more silence. After briefly explaining the rules, one boy tried hard to persuade his classmates to say ‘grass’ by pointing out the window at some trees, while another had the task of describing a ‘dog’, which he achieved by barking rapidly. 

TA to the rescue

With five minutes of the class remaining, the cavalry arrived in the form of Miss Tai, who it seemed was my teaching assistant. She had been standing at the back the whole time and, in presumably an act of belated mercy, produced the Holy Grail – a course book.

The class opened their books, whipped through some adjectives, and the first lesson was over. It wasn’t the smooth and seamless introduction to teaching I had been hoping for, but then the world of ESL is rarely either of those two qualities. 

During those first 50 minutes I learned far more than any of those 55 students. In my defence you could argue that I hadn’t been told who I was going to teach, or that someone should have shoved a course book into my hands beforehand, but ultimately it came down to being ill-prepared. 

For the rookie teacher, there are a few golden rules that you simply have to spend time getting right. And I'll talk about them in the next blog.


- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)

Links

Visit Mark's website (lots of stuff on Mark's travel adventures, photography, etc)

Buy Mark's book - 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)

Browse Mark's Amazon author's page for publications he's written for.

Follow Mark on Twitter

Read Mark's Hot Seat interview on Ajarn.com




Comments

Thanks for sharing, Mark. I know it won't help to say I'm sorry that you had to endure that.. but let's be honest. Nobody should have to endure teaching a room full of 55 teenage boys, at any time, no matter how skilled they are. Like a lot of things in Thai government schools, it seems designed to ensure failure. I wonder how the rest of that year went for you. Did you make it to final exams?

Cheers!

By Mike, Chachoengsao (1st April 2021)

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