First things first, stop giving yourself a hard time. It is completely natural to have nerves. Unfortunately for most teachers, those first-class nerves never really go away. You do however, learn how to deal with them.
The more you plan before a lesson, the less there is to be nervous about. Having some back-up activities and extension activities is always a great reassurance, even if you never use them.
When you are planning a class, have a clear aim for what you want to achieve. Once you have decided your primary (and secondary aims), work backwards from there to reach your goal. A well-structured lesson will start with controlled exercises, then move on to semi-controlled exercises with more room for student improvisation. Once you have achieved this semi-controlled practice, move onto free-exercises where students have a chance to use the new vocabulary/grammar/skills with autonomy.
Preparation goes beyond planning. Be creative with your learning-material. Get your scissors, tape, and post-it notes out. Find interesting, high quality images. If you have great learning content, then half the battle is won. Be sure to create materials that work with all learning types. Technology provides us with an almost infinite amount of material to work with, but remember that it can be unreliable. Every teacher at some point will have painstakingly prepared a class using online materials, only to discover that the internet is having a day-off.
Despite the benefits of preparation, it isn’t the be all and end all. Good teachers make good activities, great teachers know when to abandon them. Some classroom exercises might feel like a stroke of educational genius in your head, but in practice just don’t work. Change it up and move on. There is no point persisting in an exercise that isn’t working, just for the sake of your own ego. Most experienced teachers will also tell you that sometimes improvised classes that abandon plans, can turn out to be the best ones. There is even an educational theory called “Dogme” which suggests abandoning plans completely in favour of a naturally flowing class that goes wherever conversation takes it.
Be sure to utilise concept-checking questions to ensure students have understood what you have taught them. Student feedback is essential to knowing that you are teaching effectively. Often new teachers get too caught up in speaking that they don’t give students a chance. Remember that teacher-talking-time should only take up about a fifth of the lesson. Don’t lecture!
It also helps to have some great safety games to fall back on. Is your class unresponsive and apathetic to your exercises? Sometimes, nothing beats a good game of hot-seat or pictionary.
If a class does go wrong. It’s important not to dwell on it, yet even more important to learn the lessons from it for next time around. It’s not unknown for teachers to have terrible first classes and fantastic second ones!
Your greatest resources are your colleagues and friends. Talk to other teachers – newbies and old-hands. You don’t need to take what they say as gospel, but play it off your own ideas or use it for inspiration. Experienced teachers are veritable encyclopedias of educational knowledge, brimming over with great ideas and solutions. They have lived these experiences before and know what you are going through.
Always remember to use your personality to your advantage. No two teachers are the same, and that’s a good thing. Whether you’ve got a big bubbly personality or a dry sense of humour, as long as you bring a positive learning experience into the classroom, you’ll be able to catch your students’ imaginations. Enjoy yourself and you will inspire a love of learning. Good luck!
Written by Alex Sinclair Lack for Teacher’s Friend – Vietnam