The bridge between completing your TEFL certification and teaching in the classroom can be a long one. By the time you’ve secured a job, gone through a seemingly never-ending visa process and set foot in your classroom, it could have been months since you finished your course. This is daunting for a lot of ESL students. They worry that they’ve forgotten everything and, ultimately, feel like they’re not equipped for the classroom on their first day.
In an ideal world, we’d finish our TEFL and start our job the next day while the lessons we learned are still fresh in our minds. But, does it work that way? I’m afraid not!
Luckily, there are steps that you can take to ensure that your first day goes smoothly. You’ll soon learn that, ironically, the real classroom is nothing like your TEFL training. But, with these tips, you can be sure that you’ll be a confident and effective teacher from the get go!
Be Prepared for Anything
What’s the biggest difference between TEFL and the real classroom? The unpredictability.
You see, on your TEFL course, you pretty much know what’s going to happen every day. You follow a set structure and most of the students are motivated to learn and unlikely to act up.
The ESL classroom is different, though. You could have students of very mixed abilities, students who can’t sit still in their seats or even more annoying, broken equipment.
The real classroom is another world away from the safe and secure TEFL classroom. The best thing you can do is be prepared for anything!
Make an Awesome First Lesson Plan
Want to know how to win over your students (and co-teachers and parents)? Make an awesome first lesson plan! On your TEFL course, you would have been shown how to do this in great detail. Whip out those notes and get planning!
Make sure that your lesson is appropriate for the age group that you’re teaching. If it’s young students, you’ll want to switch up activities and keep it as engaging as possible. If you’re teaching teenagers, you might want to throw in some references to popular culture.
Plan Some Fillers
No matter which lesson plan style you decide to follow, there is one extra component that you need to add for the real classroom.
And which component is that?
The 5-minute filler!
I can’t stress the importance of having a few 5-minute filler lessons up your sleeve. Most experienced teachers will tell you that lesson plans are a best-case scenario – not a realistic plan of what will happen in your class. I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, which is why I suggest adding some fillers to your repertoire.
If you find yourself in the situation that your lesson finishes 3 minutes before the bell, please don’t let your students leave class early! Nope, give them an extra 3-minutes of fun English time as a reward. (You can find activity ideas here, here, and here.)
When I teach, I carry conversation prompts and Taboo cards around with me for older students. For younger students, I enjoy playing whiteboard games like vocab races or a simple alphabet game. The time goes by quickly and you’re not left twiddling your thumbs.
Consider Your Teaching Style
Becoming a teacher is a bit like creating your own personal brand or character. Some students might like your teaching style and others won’t. That’s life. The only thing that you can do is be consistent.
Before you begin teaching, think about what you want your teaching style to be.
What do you want to focus on in the classroom?
How do you want your students to perceive you?
If you think about this before you enter the classroom, you’ll be more confident on the day and also have a lot more ease creating lesson plans in the future.
Revise the More Practical Parts of the Course
You might be tempted to read every bit of your TEFL course before entering the classroom, but I speak from experience when I tell you that not every part needs revising.
Are you going to be teaching kindergarten? There’s no way that you’re going to have to brush up on your tenses! (Apart from maybe present-perfect but I’m hoping that you know that one like the back of your hand already!) Actually, unless you’re teaching an advanced grammar class (which is rare), I wouldn’t bother looking at them at all!
In my opinion, the most valuable parts of your TEFL training are the classroom management and lesson planning sections. These units contain information that I’d even advise reading over on a bi-daily basis in your first month or so.
You’re going to be creating a lot of lesson plans and you’re going to be managing a classroom. Make sure that you know how to do these things really well. Your TEFL course was created by experts and contains invaluable advice about these things!
Familiarise Yourself with the Country’s Culture
Although your TEFL training will have touched upon the importance of understanding your chosen country’s culture, it won’t have gone into much depth on specific cultures.
That’s your job.
Find out the cultural faux pas of the country you’re going to be teaching in and take note. Don’t expect it to be like your own country because it won’t be.
Make sure that you don’t talk about cultural taboos and that you’re sensitive to the country’s customs. For example, if you’re teaching in Thailand, don’t pat your children on the head. If you’re going to South Korea, as provocative as those K-Pop videos might be, dress conservatively in the classroom. Just make sure you know what’s ok and, most importantly, what’s not ok. There are plenty of expat blogs that will give you some ideas about this.
I hope that these tips will help make your transition from TEFL student to ESL teacher as smooth as possible. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to join in the conversation in the comments. Until next time, we wish you the best of luck on your new journey!
About the Author
Hailing from Scotland, Nicole is an eternal expat addicted to travelling and eating spicy food. After spending 3 years teaching English in South Korea, she’s now on an indefinite journey through Latin America. She spends most of her days hunting out the best coffee and strongest WiFi but will never turn down the offer to hike a volcano or find a hidden beach. You can follow her blog, Wee Gypsy Girl, where she writes about all her international adventures! Visit her blog for a great read. Visit her Instagram or Facebook Page to connect.