If you’re a teacher, you’ve had some bad days before. Days when it seems like your students are out to get you. As if they came to class in order to just make your life a little harder. As much as I hate to say it, we’ve all been here before. And I really hope that those days become fewer and fewer as my teaching career continues. But, let’s not get our hopes up too much, eh?
I always find that Summer is a great time to be able to reflect and think about the past school year. What should I do differently next year? What should I do the same? How can I better grasp my students’ attention? How can I keep my class more managed on a regular basis?
I find that as July turns to August and the school year approaches, life becomes hectic as a TEFL teacher. No matter how experienced a teacher you are, sorts of anxiety and fear, excitement and joy, all hit at once. The unknowing of the year ahead pushes lots of emotion to the forefront and it can be difficult to cram all your preparation into a month or three weeks. That’s why it’s important to take the whole summer to re-set and prepare.
Having time away from teaching, from your students, from the school environment allows you to breathe in new ideas and a fresh start for the upcoming academic year. Without this time, TEFL teachers, at least myself, get utterly burnt out, quick. When I began teaching, I didn’t really take summer breaks because I needed the cash flow, but over the years I have come to realize that these breaks are what give me my sanity. Don’t get my wrong: I absolutely love what I do. I love my students to pieces and I love being able to teach them a skill that I was fortunate enough to be born into. But, boundaries and breaks allow me to feel this way.
For a long time, the question of “How can I keep my class more managed on a regular basis?” was like an evil cycle that happened to me year after year. “How can I keep the students more in check?” “How can I manage my classroom better?” “How can I keep everyone on the same page?” “How can I peak everyone’s interest so I have a class full of big-eyed and bushy-tailed learners?”
The answer is….well, the answer doesn’t fully exist. But, there are tools you can employ that will help your time in the classroom go as smoothly as possible most of the time, at least 😉
Here are some of the things that have helped me over the years.
- From day 1, minute 1, you must appear as the LEADER. By this, I don’t mean you have to act as an authoritative dictator. No, not at all. Rather the opposite. If you appear calm and in control at the same time, you’re students will know from the get-go not to mess around. Let’s face it, there’s going to be a language barrier between you and your students, so you’re demeanor and body language will speak loads that first day. By appearing nervous and uncomfortable, your students will take full advantage of it and you will not be taken seriously that day, or any other day. And, if you do feel nervous, which most of us do on the 1st day, pretend not to be! In situations like this, I like to think of myself as a stage actor. Imagine yourself as the teacher you want to be (confident, full of life) and then you’ll be able to be that teacher. Even if you are a teensy, or very, nervous. Eventually, you’ll forget you were even nervous, to begin with!
- Have a well-planned lesson. Prepare a lesson and run it through a few time. Have a so-called dress rehearsal at your home before class. Go through it, find some areas that could improve and make some tweaks before presenting it in front of your students in real time. Take some notes. By doing this, you’ll see how it will most likely play out in the classroom and you’ll feel much more relaxed and confident.
- Have a backup lesson. Always, always, always! This is something I learned the hard way. It’s easy to overestimate the time it takes for certain lessons. There have been lessons that I planned thinking they would take 60 minutes and they ended up 20. On the other hand, I’ve planned a warm-up before that has taken my entire class time. Students are unpredictable! They can be intrigued by things you wouldn’t have guessed. They can be challenged in areas you wouldnt imagine. And vice-versa! So, be prepared and have an extra lesson plan in your back pocket for times like these.
- Address the “funny business” head on. If you notice something happening in your classroom that is inapproprate behaviour, don’t let it happen a few times before addressing it. The first time you see it, you call it. If you notice a student on their phone, having a side conversation, scrolling the web (if your using computers), or just straight up misbehaving, address it right when you see it. By doing this, you are letting them know it won’t be tolerated. Again, it is possible to do this in a nice way. You don’t need to yell, you simply speak to them in a normal tone. You take the phone. You move seats. Whatever you do, you do it with intention. Students can pick up on your energy and they’ll understand if you mean business.
- Talk to other TEFL teachers. Especially if you’re a newer TEFL teacher. Other teachers, particularly more experienced ones, are a great resouce. They’ve been down this road before and probably have some good advice for you. Ask them what they do to manage their classes. Remember that all teachers have some bad days, so you’re never alone in this.
- Be fun, have fun! Show your students that you’re a human, too! Give them a little glimpse into your life and what you do for fun. There’s a time and place for everything, which is important to remember. Once in a while it’s not a bad idea to give them a little free time in the classroom to joe around and get to know you on a more personal level. This establishes a sense of comfortability in the classroom, which establishes mutual respect, which then establishes a really nice classroom environment!
Teaching TEFL is a blast overall. On bad days, try to go back and remind yourself why you chose this career path. Every profession has its ups and downs. In my opinion, the ups totally outweigh the downs in my career.
As always, let me know what you think!