If you’ve never had any formal teaching experience, stepping into a classroom in China for the first time can be daunting. With classes of up to 50 students relying on you to teach them something, you’re sure to feel nervous, though it’s important you don’t let it get to you. Schools across China knowingly employ foreign teachers fresh out of university or from vastly different professional backgrounds. Even without any formal teaching experience in your home country, you have a lot to offer your students, and you should focus on this when preparing your lessons. To help calm any nerves that might be starting to creep in, we’ve put together this guide to help you prepare as a first-time ESL teacher.
If you’ve never planned a lesson before, it’s easy to overestimate how long tasks may take. You might think you’ve got your timings down to the second, but you’d be surprised how many activities either aren’t as popular as you expected or take much less time. Spend time before your first few lessons planning far more than you think you’ll need; this will help avoid an on-the-spot panic when you realise there are still 10 minutes to fill and no activities left. After a few lessons you’ll get used to your students and be able to plan your lesson times more accurately.
2. Be Flexible
If you’ve spent a lot of time planning your lesson, you’re likely to have imagined exactly how the lesson will go, from start to finish. But as an ESL teacher, you need to be prepared for things not to go to plan and adapt your plan to suit them. Of course, over-planning helps with this, but it’s also important you are mentally prepared to think on your feet, make decisions and adapt your plan to better suit your students. This can be overwhelming at first, but it will quickly become second nature. Remember; the more flexible you are, the more successful your lessons.
3. Be Prepared to Act
No matter how nervous you’re feeling, do your best not to show it when you step into your classroom. Be prepared to think back to school drama classes and feign confidence even if you aren’t feeling it. Doing so will help you gain control over your students and earn their respect. Because, if you’re visibly nervous, students will see it as a chance to play up – which will neither help your confidence, nor your lesson run smoothly. You’ll soon find your flow and won’t need to act any longer – it will all become natural.
4. Create a Comfortable Classroom Environment
As a foreign teacher, you’re there to help your students improve their English-speaking skills in a comfortable environment. Your lessons should be fun and engaging, and your students should be happy to answer questions. This can take time in a Chinese classroom, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Make sure to assert your authority, but also to maintain a friendly, approachable appearance that will put your students at ease.
5. Make Sure you Understand What You’re Teaching
There’s nothing worse than being asked a question you aren’t sure how to answer, especially when you’re new to the school. Though this applies mainly to teachers of higher grades, all ESL first-timers should make a conscious effort to fully understand what they’re teaching. As native speakers, it can be easy to just assume we know, until we’re asked a question we’ve never really considered the answer to. Make a quick internet search part of your lesson plan when teaching grammar to ensure you’re ready to simply explain difficult structures.
6. Prepare for Cultural Differences
Cultural differences are some of the hardest things to come to terms with when teaching abroad. Having been brought up and adapted to a certain way of learning, it’s easy to take things for granted and assume that things will be the same in your host country. This is untrue for most places, but especially for China. The Chinese use vastly different teaching and learning methods to what most of us are used to, and this will influence the student’s reception to your lesson. Make an effort to learn about these prior to beginning your placement, as doing so will help you prepare for certain situations you may encounter.
7. Break the Ice
While you’re likely to be preoccupied by your own nerves, it’s important you realise that your students are probably just as nervous as you. Foreign teachers are a novelty for many Chinese students, so they may be scared to meet you. Ease them in with a few easy tasks and ice-breakers that will help you and your students get to know one another. This is a good way to build both their and your confidence and will lay the foundations for a good semester of teaching!
Learning about the culture, managing your expectations and being prepared to adapt are all important steps towards being successful in the role. If you’re about to begin a teaching placement abroad for the first time, don’t forget to use these techniques. Good luck!