Although my own teaching career began many years ago, I by no means feel that I am at the top of my game and have little left to learn. Actually, as the years pass, I grow more amazed at the truth in the saying the more you learn, the less you know. And while I may never feel at the top of my game, I’ve acquired enough confidence to know I can handle almost any situation as a language teacher. That kind of confidence comes from overcoming a set of fears. They include the following.
1. What do I do if I don’t know the answer?
Relax. Don’t panic. Can you think it through and arrive at the answer? You can enlist the students’ help and try to form a conclusion through discussion. Are any resources readily accessible, such as a learner’s dictionary or a grammar reference book? If you can’t manage to answer the question in class, promise the students to research the question and get back to to them. Consult with colleagues to confirm your knowledge about particularly tricky language points.
2. What do I do if I make a mistake?
Admit it and fix it. If it’s a small mistake, you can smile your thanks and turn it into a game. Give a lucky penny to any student who catches your typos. If you discover you’ve given wrong information, offer students an updated explanation. Explain that you’ve had more time to think and you’d like to present information to make their understanding more accurate. It’s more important to provide quality instruction than to save face. Learn from any mistakes you make and be sure to study a topic in more detail if you have doubts when you’re teaching it.
3. What do I do if my instruction doesn’t go as planned?
You’ll learn from experience. First, pay attention to your students’ needs. You might have to adjust your learning objectives for the day if students are having difficulty with the material. Second, pay attention to the time. If you never finish your lesson plan, you’re planning too much, spending too much time on certain tasks, or digressing too often. If you have too much time to kill at the end of every lesson, you might not be maximizing the potential of your materials. Have some short activities ready to go for when you have a little extra time. You might keep a collection of jokes or poems that can be read quickly and easily, so you can send students out the door with a lasting thought in English. In the back of your mind, store a few quick games that can help students review vocabulary and grammar recently learned.
4. What if students don’t like me?
Hopefully, if your desire to teach is genuine and you do your best to establish a supportive atmosphere, students will respond positively to you. However, no teacher is going to be everyone’s favorite. Accept this. Our role is that of a teacher, not a rock star. I encourage new teachers to read about the likability factor and remember my words: “Teach from your heart as much as from your brain. Competent teaching combined with genuine passion is powerful. At the very least, students will respect you if not like you.” (From Part Two of “The Likability Factor”)
5. Is this the right profession for me?
Only you can answer this, but don’t throw in the towel just because you had one bad day. Remember what it was that originally drew you to the profession. Find an analogy for teaching (like my comparison of teaching to dancing) and explore it. Any professional should be able to form a clear picture of what the job is all about. That vision should excite you and motivate you.
If any of you would like to add to the list of fears or to my advice for dealing with the teaching jitters, feel free to post a comment!