I was a bundle of nerves when I walked into class on a chilly Monday morning to give my very first English lesson. To make matters worse, I had the class from hell.
As a teacher who has almost seen it all in less than two years (I had a 17-year-old throwing up in class and two other students coming to blows over a homosexual comment), I have compiled a few tricks of the trade for would-be EFL teachers.
Students have stories to tell. Listen to them.
Students can be slightly self-conscious on their first day, and the stories which they will be willing to share would most likely be about their last trip abroad or how their pet met its untimely death.
But if your students are on a long-term study program, it won’t be long until they start spilling their juicy stories. They’ll walk into class and spend the first fifteen minutes unloading all the details about the previous night’s drinking escapade onto your painstaking lesson plan.
And what do you do? You listen to them. Give them the opportunity to express themselves confidently in their second language. It’s good practice for them, especially if they incorporate all the grammar structures they’ve learnt throughout your lessons into one engaging, humorous story.
Once the conversation dies out, follow it up with a correction session. Draw their attention to the most common grammar traps that they fall into during their speaking practice. They will return with more anecdotes the next day, and the day after, and while some students enjoy being in the spotlight, don’t let them get too carried away with their stories.
Show a keen interest in your students’ cultural backgrounds.
It’s very likely that on many occasions your class will be one big melting pot. If that’s the case, get a long spoon and stir away! A good nationality mix in your class is a great inspiration for many discussion topics. Build lesson plans around your students’ cultures. Talk about cuisine, festivals and holidays, superstitions, laws and customs, but try to avoid going into religion and beliefs.
Give the floor to the students and encourage them to give a presentation about their countries. Ask them questions about strange laws in their countries, their favourite celebration and unusual delicacies. Bear in mind that some of them would have had to travel halfway across the world to enroll in an English course, and being able to share a bit of ‘home’ with their teacher and fellow classmates would surely comfort them.
Show off your drawing skills, or lack thereof.
I find drawing to be a good way of helping introverted students come out of their shell. If you walk into a class and find students who are either battling a midweek hangover or they just happen to be in the doldrums, get your coloured markers out and use the board as your canvas.
Introduce the topic of the lesson by drawing a quick comical picture on the board. Turn around and you’ll be very surprised to find pairs of twinkling eyes pinned on your masterpiece. Let them laugh at your hopeless artistic talents.
Ask students to guess what the drawing is, or what it’s about. Elicit the topic of your lesson from them. If possible, give them a drawing task to get them talking.
Be firm with them.
I’ve often been in situations where I had to tell a class of adults, some of whom were ten years my seniors, to put more effort into their class participation. Never rake students over the coals for not adhering to your class rules. Some of them do it unintentionally, and a small reminder of the house rules would suffice. But with other students you might have to use a stern tone. However, you must never confront troublesome students in front of their classmates.
You’ll often find that long-term students will start slacking on their homework and their attendance begins to dwindle. Start by asking them if something’s troubling them. They might be suffering from low morale, or perhaps they’re stressed about their upcoming test. Be their coach and help them find ways to boost their confidence and get them back on track.
Grow a thick skin
Brace yourself for the worst kind of students. Students can turn nasty and act disrespectfully in class. I’ve had this problem even with adult learners. You’ll also get the occasional ‘wet blanket’ and the ‘smart ass’ that everyone hates. Whatever they do or say, don’t take it to heart. Growing a thick skin will come in handy once you start teaching teenagers.
Always remember that it is your duty, as a teacher, to teach, but it is the student’s responsibility to digest the knowledge that you bestow on them.