It feels like only yesterday when I set out from my home in Coventry with a packed lunch and a book entitled ‘How to Teach English‘. My destination was Japan, and my goal was to TEFL. 2 years on, and things have changed a lot.
During this two years, I have taught businessmen, children, university students and everyone in between. I think I can safely say that I started out as a pretty bad teacher; high on enthusiasm, aspirations and friendliness, low on nouse, materials, and contacts. I wouldn’t say I’ve corrected everything in my teaching repertoire, but I’ve certainly become, or have been made aware of my strengths and weaknesses.
So, a few tips for those starting out.
1. Take advice
Resenting your employer for providing training, criticism or advice is only going to detract from you as an employee and as a teacher. Everyone has areas that they could improve in the classroom; take advice on board with an open mind and learn from your own mistakes.
2. Prepare for some bad lessons
A new teacher said to me the other day that he is petrified of the idea of one of his lessons going wrong. I reassured him by saying that one of his lessons – probably more – will definitely go wrong. Lesson plans just don’t work out as thought; students turn up with no desire to learn; you may even have an off day and lose your power to teach. It’s not so much about having a bad lesson but how you react to it. Don’t be afraid to scrap a lesson plan if it’s not working. Equally, don’t let one bad lesson knock your confidence too badly. Pick yourself up and try again.
3. Go by the book
Thinking you can re-invent the rule book is naïve. As a newcomer, you may have strong ‘opinions’ on grammar, American vs. British English, Fluency vs. Accuracy or any number of things. Until you’ve got some real experience, it’s probably best just to go along with the pre-defined methods until your own style and ideas are properly formulated.
4. Be prepared
Whoever you are teaching, finding the right materials, sticking with them and developing them is essential. This could be about choosing the right textbook, or finding the approach that suits you. Being prepared is about having clear ideas. What are you teaching, why, and how? If you can answer these questions you will (hopefully) never be caught out.
5. Get along
With who? Students, fellow teachers, other staff at work. You are the foreigner. Be willing and ready to adapt to local culture rather than trying to change it, or complaining about it. If you do, you will find the experience much more rewarding and successful.
As I may have mentioned before, I am taking on a new challenge as an English teacher at a junior high school here in Japan starting in May. In some ways it feels like I am going back to basics, so reviewing what I’ve learnt until this point has been useful for me. I hope it has for you too!