Thousands of experienced TEFL teachers would say that you shouldn’t smile, but I beg to differ. Scowling is better than just not smiling, take the hard, Robert De Niro stance as in Taxi Driver and you should definitely get their attention (unfortunately a few complaints as well).
To be fair, it’s probably best not to walk in with a bandana and machine gun to your first class, although I heard of a TEFL teacher who did once, but he’s living in Pattaya in Thailand, so that would explain a few things.
Here’s my run down on what you should do in your first week with a new class as a TEFL teacher.
Tell them something about you
I always start my classes with ‘the star.’ I draw a star with information about me at the end of each point. This might include stuff about my family, hobbies, important dates, football team etc. I get the students to ask me questions to get the answers (which are on the board). This breaks the ice, especially with a few funny photos of me, my wife, and my kids and family, and you can see which students are generally interested in the class.
Get to know something about them
Knowing that Paco plays tennis every Thursday afternoon, or that Marta is a champion swimmer might be tricky to remember, or the last thing you are really give a damn about during your first week back, but you’ll be surprised how much of the information sticks. You can use it again at any time in class, especially with teenage and adults groups to show them you care, even if you don’t.
This is why I normally get my students to do their star as well. Then I either do a group mingling activity and get them to present another person in the class, or get them to individually present themselves to the class.
Set your boundaries
Last year I started a teenage class speaking in Spanish. I basically welcomed them to the class, asked them why they were there, and said I speak perfect Spanish but that’s the last time they were going to hear me speak it and it was up to them to prove themselves to me with their English. It died flat on its face as they were a quiet class, but I think I’ll do it again this year.
With most classes I use a red and yellow card system for things like no homework, not working, shouting and general bad behaviour. 3 red cards in a term results in a call to their parents. I’ve never called a parent, they hate getting red cards. Let them know you are the boss from the start and let them know what you expect from them, that way they’ll be no disappointments later on.
Be firm, but don’t scare the crap out of them
In my first year where I work now I went in all pally and jokey. Within a month I was being eaten alive. Students were coming in giving me high fives and asking for group hugs at the end. Needless to say my boos wasn’t impressed and I dug a sufficiently large hole to get out of for the rest of the year.
The second year I went in a bit too hard and had a few too many tears. It took me longer than necessary to bring some classes back round. So now I like to go in as ‘me,’ as much as possible in class. I am firm, but fair. I try to send out someone in the first week, even it’s for something petty, just to show them I can. But I also have a laugh with them, maybe tell an anecdote or try to relate to the students in a way that will make them laugh.
Even if it’s just a few sentences about them, or answers to a few questions about how they are going to pass the year and what is expected, or get them to write a personal letter, it’s worth doing in the first week just to show them you are serious about homework (if you are, because there’s plenty of arguments about not giving homework), and to get an idea about their level.
Memorize their names
I try to do this with all my classes in the first week. I set myself a challenge, just for fun, and because I know what I’m doing in the first lesson I can generally take a step back and check I know the names. I always have the register in front ofme to start with, and always pick people by using their name. Make sure they know yours too, ask them at the start of the first class, and the next, making sure they say it properly.
Teach one of your best tricks / pieces of knowledge / facts about English
Depending on the level, I try to impress them with something they probably don’t know. This could be a phonetic symbol (I like to try to get the schwa in as soon as possible), high level vocab, useful synonyms, or useful classroom expressions that they can use. This is tricky with exam levels, so I find the best way is to ask them a few questions about what they know about the official exams.
You want them to leave the first couple of classes happy, even if they do know they are going to be in for a rough ride. So the best way is to give as much praise as possible (using names). This can be individual or to the class. I normally mention the fact they speak well, or write well, and try not to correct too much in the first week, especially speaking mistakes. For the little ones it’s good to give out a few smiley faces, stars, or whatever system you have, just to make sure they are happy when they go home, even if they do cry when they realise how much homework you’ve set.
So, that’s what you should do in class. On my next post will be what you shouldn’t do in your first week. Which of the above do you think you’ll do? Or do you think I’m talking tosh? Let me know.