This past week I’ve seen all the kids in my area starting the 2016 school year with their crisp glossy books, new clothes and bright smiles. There is an excitement and enthusiasm in the air that is almost palpable. These young students are on their way to face new challenges and catch up with all of their friends. They are ready to start the new school year, but are you?
Ok, so not every TEFL teacher starts school in September, though many do (read about it here). That said, embarking on a TEFL adventure at a new school is a common enough experience. Read on for my tips on how to make the most out of your first weeks back to school, or when starting a new TEFL job.
If you want my personal checklist of materials to buy at the start of the year, click on the button below.
Long and Short-Term Planning
When you’re just about to start a string of new classes, it is a great time to make some goals. All too often I talk to teachers who are just planning lesson to lesson. Long-term curriculum planning doesn’t have to involve that much more than looking at the table of contents and seeing what grammar and topics are going to be covered over the course of the year. It is also useful to take a quick glance at the class’s previous textbook so that you know what language they should be familiar with.
Looking ahead in the book will also help you create goals for your students for the year. Language learning isn’t just about memorizing vocabulary and grammar. Your students will be developing writing, reading, listening and speaking skills. It’s your job to consider how to create engaging activities that will cover the immediate aims of the lesson as well as develop these different skills throughout the course.
One personal example is my Movers Level 1 class. They started with no English whatsoever and after a year and a few months, they know a lot of vocabulary and grammar. They can have very simple conversations with me, listen to and understand simple conversations (if there is a context) and write complex sentences. Tomorrow I’m going to be doing a writing lesson with them and get them to write a paragraph in English. It won’t be anything fancy, but it will be a stepping stone in developing their writing skills. It’s important to discover where your students are meant to be at the end of a course so that you can develop milestones along the way.
This is also a great time to think of some long-term classroom management strategies. For young learners this could include something like star charts (they earn stars or badges for certain achievements). For older students, you might want to consider using this monthly goals template that I’ve created. Students choose their own goal for the month and then can rate how well they did.
Check out the monthly goals template.
It’s Easier to Get Easier
This is a piece of advice that was given to me a long time ago and it has helped me with new classes dramatically. If you’re reading this, thanks Duncan MacInnes. What it means in the context of classroom management is that you should start your classes with a little more rigid a structure than you might intend later on. Likewise, you should be a little stricter than you might otherwise be.
The reasoning behind this is that students like to test their new teachers to find out the boundaries of the class. If you start out too easygoing and loose about classroom discipline, you might find your class behaving out of your comfort zone. It’s a lot more difficult to create class rules and get kids to behave as a new concept than if it is instilled right from the get-go.
Try Creative Solutions to Last Year’s Problems
Whether you are returning to an old class, or starting a new one with a similar age group and level, you are likely to encounter similar problems to those you’ve had in the past. Starting fresh allows the teacher to try a new response to a classroom difficulty. It might be something that your students are having a hard time learning, a consistent pronunciation mistake, or one particularly naughty and distracting student. Whatever it is, why not try a new technique?
In the past, some of my very young student (4-6 year olds) could get a little over-excited about certain activities, and it was difficult to get their attention again after an active game. I’ve tried a lot of varied strategies in the past, but decided, with a brand new class, to try something different. I bought a small wooden frog, which, when its ridged back is stroked with a wooden rod, creates a loud croaking sound. When the students hear the frog, it means they need to be quiet. This has been working a treat for the past three months.
It’s extremely handy as a TEFL teacher to have experience and lots of games and activities that you know how to do. However, it is trying out new games and activities, and trying to improve upon previous ones, that makes a good teacher. Don’t get too stuck in your routine–make the class fun for yourself as well.
Get to Know Your Area
My first year working at a state school in Hanoi, Vietnam, it took me a month before I left the classroom at break time. I would set up for the next class and then just pace back and forth for twenty to forty minutes. Finally, I started going out of the school for these breaks and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. I met cool people and had the opportunity to check over my lesson plan. I came back feeling refreshed and with the requisite energy to take those students on.
Starting a new job can be difficult; one of the perks is that you get to explore a new area that is potentially full of great lunch spots, coffee shops and places for a refreshing beer with friends when the work week is finished. It’s also nice to have some places on hand to look forward to visiting when you are feeling a bit tired or having a hard day.
In general, though it’s going to be a difficult first week, it’s likely to be just as fun and exciting as it is difficult. The key is to persevere and not to take any small things that go wrong too seriously. If you reflect on each class and try to make it better, you’ll have a dynamic, fun, engaging classroom atmosphere in no time.
Want to get into the spirit of things by checking out my personal back to school shopping list?