I remember the first time I entered the classroom as a teacher. I was nineteen years old, working as an English language teaching assistant in the southern region of Grenoble, France. Setting foot in a foreign country with nothing but your passport to provide a comfortable reminder of home is no easy feat. Add a tiny rural French quartier and no English speakers to the mix and you’re officially out of your depths. With my confidence already taking a battering, surrounded by unfamiliar territory, I remember thinking there was no way in hell I could stand up in front of a room full of students mostly around my own age and deliver a class. At this stage, I hadn’t undergone any teacher training whatsoever, so this was undoubtedly a test of my character. Luckily, the excited students were happy enough to engage with me enthusiastically as though I were an alien, come to divulge the secrets of a foreign land. Full of questions and queries about Irish life, culture, education… I barely had time to teach let alone indulge in my fear. From then on, I was considered a novelty for the students, which made the whole teaching process far more interesting, and a lot less formal.
How to Conquer Teacher Stress
While this experience offered me my first real test, eventually coming home to teach in Ireland presented a far bigger challenge. Although 24 at this stage, I had become comfortable in my status as “the foreign teacher” which provided me with a certain intrigue, one that became a useful tool in my teaching. Once I landed back on Irish soil, I instantly lost my Je ne sais quoi and reverted back to a frightened teen, once again lost in unfamiliar territory, but this time my passport provided no comfort. I remember the dread, and the uncertainty that arose from my belly as I entered the classroom for the first time, so familiar to me as a young student. I suddenly realized I was no longer a student, I was the teacher, expected to stand at the top of the class and deliver a lesson as I had seen my former teachers do so many times before. It all came flooding back: The teacher-taunting, the noise levels, the unprecedented hormones… How was I going to pull this off?
I watched the principal introduce me to the class without hearing a word. She then turned and smiled as she headed towards the door, shutting it firmly behind her, not without first throwing a concerned glance my way, surely due to the fact that sweat was now fast approaching my eyelids. The minute the door closed, a ripple of conversation filled the air as thirty unimpressed faces searched mine for a reaction. The lesson I had spent days preparing rested in my hands, shaking violently. They could sense my fear, like a pack of hungry wolves preparing for an attack. They all huddled closely together, exchanging bewildered glances and impatient sighs. A teacher’s words of advice offered to me in the months previous were ringing in my ear: “Get them on the first day, or you’ll lose them forever”. There’s only one way to describe how I felt at this moment in time: ridiculous. Here’s this sweaty, shaking baboon at the top of the class who’s supposed to gain their respect and attention in an instant or lose them forever?
Connect with Students on a Personal Level
I immediately blanked out the words and took a deep breath. I decided to take a different approach and simply introduce myself as a friend. We spent a while exchanging introductions, talking about school and exchanging ideas before I decided I’d better start teaching. By this stage I had realized this wasn’t actually a wolf pack, but a bunch of kids, and I started to relax. While I wouldn’t exactly have branded my classroom management ideal, I had at least survived, and I knew I hadn’t lost them forever. As I slowly improved my teaching and built my confidence, I realized the answer didn’t lie in “getting them now or losing them forever”, but in relating to them in any way possible, and progressing through trial and error.
While still learning the ropes and finding my feet, I’ve come to the realization that you can never fully master the art of teaching. There will always be new concepts, changes, and methods, but one of the most important things to remember as a new teacher starting out is that it’s ok to be different. You don’t have to be that enthusiastic ‘super-teacher’, your own methods may well suit your learners better. Here are a few simple things to remember as a new teacher starting out:
8 Simple Tips for New Teachers:
- 1. They’re not wolves, they don’t smell fear.
- 2. Stop trying to be that teacher, be your own teacher.
- 3. Think of your favourite teacher, and figure out how they got there.
- 4. Acting is a fine art for a teacher to master!
- 5. Don’t try to do too much at once, take it one step at a time.
- 6. Relax and have fun with the students, they will respect you a lot more this way.
- 7. Be strict when you need to be, but try to maintain a positive environment most of the time.
- 8. Never be afraid to fail, it’s the only way to succeed.
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About the author:
Lorna Keane is a teacher of French, English and ESL. She specializes in language teaching and has taught in second and third-level institutions in several countries. She holds a B.A in languages and cultural studies and an M.A in French literature, theory and visual culture. Subscribe to her blog or follow her on Twitter.
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Image credits: Tulane Public Relations / CC BY 2.0