Natasha Lock, State School Teacher in Suzhou
It’s true what they say, first impressions are everything. And even more so when it comes to teaching! The first lesson is of course quite daunting, but the most important thing to gain from your school kids is their respect. Earning their respect early on is key and will make lessons more enjoyable for both themselves and you.
Start strict – become softer
You have to set your tolerance level with the kids and let them know what you expect of them on the first day. Start more strict with them, because then you can soften up. Unfortunately you cannot do this the other way round. If you start soft you cannot suddenly become strict. Lay out your ground rules and what you expect of them in class. My 4 main rules are:
- Respect your peers and teacher
- To answer a question put your hand up
- Do not laugh if someone gets the answer wrong
- Always try your best
With the first rule (respect peers and teacher) – instruct them to always listen when someone else is talking, be kind to their peers and no speaking when the teacher or someone else is speaking.
Instruct them to always put their hand up to answer a question. This will make classes less chaotic and also give people who’s English may not be as good a chance to practice. I often find the kids who are already very capable at English are keen to shout out the answer.
The third one is very important. I outline that everyone in the classroom is here to improve their English. Their English will only get better if they try, which leads to mistakes. This is absolutely fine! And always the way to get better at a language. The Chinese students, on the whole, would rather not answer your question than risk answering it wrong. It’s really important to try and get over this hurdle. Outline that if someone gets the answer wrong not to laugh as their confidence in their language ability will decline.
Always try your best! Do not tolerate kids doing their homework in class, kids resting their head on the table in your class or kids not putting in effort. Convince them that in trying their best lessons will be enjoyable and their English will improve.
Learn their names
It’s important to learn your students’ names. Of course this will take time, so on the first lesson I would suggest:
- Getting your students to stand up and introduce themselves. Telling you their English name and their favourite hobby
- Following this getting your students to write their English name on a piece of paper along with the answer to: ‘if you could live in any country when you are older, which country would it be and why’.
At the end of the lesson, take these pieces of paper and write a list of all the names from them in your notebook. Next class, when doing a task you can then read through this list and get students to stand up to give the answer.
Tell them about yourself & your country
For a lot of the children, this may be the first time they have ever seen a ‘wai guo ren’ – foreigner. This is all very new and exciting for them. On your first few weeks at school you will be bombarded with stares, hellos and questions. To begin with, some of the kids may be a bit shy around you because they are intimidated that you are a foreigner. The best way to jump this hurdle is to let them know more about you and your home country.
The kids are absolutely fascinated with 1. Anything about you & your private life & 2. Your country. I started the first lesson by telling them my travel experience, my major at university and my favourite hobbies. I then put pictures of my family on the PowerPoint. Following this I asked them to brainstorm about what they already knew about the UK, and followed this up with information regarding sports, culture, history, the royal family and food.
The kids still ask me questions to this day regarding the aforementioned and have retained things such as my sisters names?! I guess telling them a little bit about yourself humanizes you beyond being a foreign teacher.
Bring energy, play games & make them laugh
Strong energy is a must in order to keep the kids focused and occupied in class. Kids will engage with your classes if you are engaged in teaching them. Make sure you come to lessons prepared, well slept (trust me you’ll need it!) and fed.
Making students laugh will help them to feel more relaxed around you. The Chinese style of teaching, as you’ll find out quickly, is very strict, serious and ‘lecture’ style. The kids attend school on average from 7am-6pm six days a week. Yes, our task is to improve their English; but also give them a taste of Western styles of education. Be fun in the class, make jokes with them & include games at the end of your lesson. My thought process is so long as I’m speaking to them in English and they are understanding and speaking back to me then it is all fantastic practice, no matter the context.
Some great games to play include: Simon says (for younger kids), two truths one line (write 3 statements, 2 must be true and 1 a lie – the class has to guess which is a lie) and ‘who am I’ (a picture on the board with one student facing the front unable to see it, the other students have to describe it).
I have interestingly learnt that hangman does not work in China. The majority of kids are very black and white, meaning the idea of ‘guessing’ something – and then potentially getting it wrong in front of the whole class and ‘losing face’ – does not appeal to them. They spend ages trying to work out the word rather than guessing a letter.
Learn some Chinese phrases. The kids absolutely love this and find it hilarious when their foreign teacher dishes out the ‘putonghua’ – Mandarin.
- 666 – liu liu liu (pronounced leo leo leo) is slang for great in Chinese
- Jia you! (pronounced G-ya yo) means literally to add fuel in Chinese, but translated as go go go!
- Bu cuo (pronounced boo swore) means not bad (very good)