Posted on January 9, 2019 | By Jenni Fogg
27th Nov 2018
It’s obvious that building confidence is a key part of teaching a language. Creating safe classrooms where students feel brave enough to practise without judgement is not only vital but human. This blog, however, explores the ways you as a teacher can gain confidence in your first lessons after qualifying or when you meet a new class for the first time.
Fresh from my initial teacher training course, I felt as prepared as I could, but as a relatively shy 22-year-old, there was still a lot that I didn’t feel confident about. (And I’m sure I won’t be alone in these initial nerves!) Not only can it be super scary to teach your first lessons ever, but you can find this fear coming back every time you teach a new class or start working in a new school.
So, here are five ways to improve your confidence in the classroom:
#1 Know the space around you
In some schools, you’ll teach all your lessons in the same room, however, it’s quite normal to move to different classrooms or even different buildings for each lesson. Prepare for this: ensure you can use the technology (laptop, projector, interactive whiteboard, CD player) – for example, write down a list of passwords you need to access the computer. Make sure you know how to open and close the windows and blinds or turn off/on the heating without causing chaos, bring extra whiteboard pens for you and spare pens and paper for forgetful students. Save your Director of Studies’ or a receptionist’s phone number in case you need something. It’s a good idea to take a packet of tissues with you too – especially in the sniffly winter months when students will try and pop in and out of the classroom throughout the lesson.
These are all things that can be easily rectified during the lesson but taking a few minutes to familiarise yourself with new surroundings and making sure you have plenty of equipment might help you feel more comfortable and look like the pro you really are. Don’t be the teacher who spends more time out of the classroom than in it, hunting for materials and stationery during the lesson.
#2 Build a rapport with your students
The ultimate way to increase your confidence in front of a group of students is to get to know them. Ask questions about their lives and interests before the class starts and pay attention to what they’re saying throughout the lesson. Don’t forget to talk about yourself (sharing as much as you want to) – the relationship between teacher and student should be sincere and meaningful. Can you find any common interests? By chatting informally to your students, you not only know more about them but you can learn about their strengths and weaknesses linguistically and adapt the lessons more to your class.
#3 Learn your students’ names and use them!
I remember my first observation feedback with my Director of Studies back in 2014. “Jenni,” she said, “Do you know your students names? You didn’t say them once.” I had learnt them, yes. I could match the face to the name on my register. I knew the seating plan backwards. The problem was that I couldn’t say the names. Faced with learning the pronunciation of names using sounds I couldn’t make, I decided to avoid using them altogether instead of stumbling through the names and feeling embarrassed.
If you plan to teach in a foreign country, you’re likely to come up against some tricky names and challenging pronunciation. But using students’ names is hugely important – it’s the first step in building a relationship with them. It also gives you the upper hand in classroom management; you can pick students to answer questions, give more genuine praise (“Pawel had an excellent idea, would you like to share it with us now?”) and stop disruption with a mere mention of the name.
I sat with the receptionist in the school and we drilled the names again and again until I could say them with good pronunciation. This really helped me feel confident in front of my students and certainly improved my relationship with them.
#4 Set rules and routines
In the first lesson, especially if you’re teaching young learners or teenagers, it’s a good idea to work with your students to come up with rules for the classroom. Surprisingly, giving your students the power often encourages them to make sensible rules, such as speaking in English as much as possible and always doing their homework. However, prepare to enter into negotiations about eating in class (Yes, if you’re desperate but no hot food and nothing extremely crunchy!) and listening to music (Try asking your students to write down their two favourite songs and play them randomly throughout the year – everyone’s happy). If everyone knows where they stand, you’ll have better discipline overall and mutual respect.
For me, routines are also an important way for me to feel in control. I always start lessons in the same way. I set students off on a five-minute warmer: chatting in pairs about a given topic or a topic of their choice, discussing a picture or a challenge to find out more about different people in the class. Then, for a further five minutes, students review vocabulary from the previous lesson.
Try this yourself by splitting the class into small groups and giving each group a set of vocabulary from the previous lesson. (Obviously you’ll need to print out the words and cut them out in advance!) Then ask students to define, mime or draw the words or phrases on the slips of paper. They can also write sentences or try to make a story using all the words. By doing this, everyone knows what to expect at the start of the lesson and it gives you 10 minutes to sort yourself out.
#5 Have some tricks up your sleeve
Even if you have a beautifully prepared lesson, things don’t always go to plan. Learn a handful of materials-free games in case you have time to fill at the end of a lesson or you feel like you’re losing students in a hot room. Similarly, whipping out a simple conversation lesson that can be adapted to all levels will make you look organised and professional if you’re asked to cover for a colleague or if you miss your alarm!
In addition to this, continuous professional development (CPD) will help improve your confidence long-term. Speak to your Director of Studies about CPD sessions in your school.
If you’re raring to go, why not start getting ready for your next lessons by checking out our fun activities to get your TEFL students talking.