Avoiding the first ESL lesson blues
Suck in the air, relax, keep breathing. This is it. After mulling over teaching theory, classroom management skills, grammatical terminology and honing your pencil sharpening speed to 15 pencils a minute, it's time for the main event. Regardless of how much public speaking you have done or how confident you usually are, it remains stomach achingly nerve wracking to stroll to the front of a room full of multinational, multilingual students all waiting expectantly for you to improve their collective English ability. Here are some of the things I think you can do to help the first lesson seem less painful and make the experience enjoyable, hopefully for you and the students!
I'll always remember my first lesson. It wasn't first lesson proper as such, I mean my first lesson during the CELTA course. Picked at random, each of us was assigned to teach a class of students who had volunteered to take a lesson with trainee teachers, the students only volunteered because the classes were free but this failed to alleviate any of the pre-teaching tension I was feeling. I was given a half an hour long class at first, building up to an hour after the second week of the course, my first lesson was to be with the Upper-Intermediate students. Having taught a range of levels since, I think with each standard of English comes slightly different challenges - there's definite pro's and con's to each one - but I remember my thoughts at the time, from a teaching perspective I thought that teaching Elementary meant 'easy,' and that Upper Intermediate meant 'hard.'
We were told the classes would be around 15 in event there was around 25 students present. I was shocked at this gross error of judgement at first, now I realise it was probably done on purpose for our long term benefit, the EFL world seems full of surprises like such as this one. Manchester is not generally known for its balmy summer heat, but this day (of all days) it felt hotter than the sun in the classroom I was due to teach in. I have since taught in the middle of the Thai hot season (upwards of 35 degrees) with broken air-conditioning units offering no respite, I swear that classroom in Manchester was the hotter of the two! The heat and the swelling numbers (students sitting on the floor and standing in the door-way) did nothing for my self-confidence, and the feeling of 25 sets of eyes watching, waiting, was more than a little unsettling. Just before my lesson, one of my fellow CELTA course students tried to help me (?) by offering these words of wisdom; "Remember, they can smell fear!" Oh really? Thanks for that vital information!
I remember the lesson was on uses of the past tense, when and why we use the different forms. Being a native speaker, I knew how to use the past tense perfectly, I didn't however know the rules - or even the names - of the different forms, or why we use each one when we do. After 2 days of information stacking as preparation, I chose a text and questions on King Arthur. The only thing I remember from after the lesson started was that I mixed up the names of Lancelot and Guinevere at least twice, "Arthur and his lover Lancelot, err I mean Guinevere..." this led to much stifled chuckling from the on-looking teachers as much as the students. Other than this, my first lesson was over and I hadn't made a complete mess of it, I was also comforted by the knowledge that even if you haven't taught the lesson very well, you have at least given the students an accurate example of speech as well as giving them a chance to improve their ability to listen to a native English speaker.