One reward – and challenge – of teaching English abroad is finding yourself in new and fascinating situations in the classroom. Whether it is entering a classroom for the first time or teaching a class you didn’t expect, there is a good chance you’ll find yourself in challenging situations over the course of your career. For a new teacher, the journey into uncharted waters may stir up feelings of excitement mixed with anxiety. To help alleviate some of this anxiety, here are some suggestions to deal with unexpected situations that will make your first year teaching abroad go more smoothly.
1. Be Prepared
One of the best ways to be ready to handle unexpected situations is to be proactive. By taking the initiative, you’ll find that your confidence in handling those situations will be much higher. Some suggestions to help you are:
- Create an electronic and/or hard copy portfolio of your materials – Before stepping into your first class, research some supplementary teaching materials that you could use for future classes. Try to find a wide variety of activities, worksheets, and games that cover many English levels. The Oxford Seminars‘ Training Manual provides you with a range of activities and exercises for use during your lessons abroad. Also, as you progress through your career, continue to add resources to your portfolio. As you gain experience, your expanding portfolio will help provide materials for everything from class coverage to starting at a new school.
- Plan your lessons to run with or without technology – As everyone knows, technology such as computers, the Internet, projectors, and interactive whiteboards occasionally fail. If you plan every lesson so that it could function without technology, you’ll be more confident in situations where technology suddenly fails.
- Create a lesson plan template to use for every class – A consistent lesson plan is an excellent and underused resource. It not only assists with planning a class, but it can also improve the timing and pace of your lesson. Moreover, you could add each lesson plan to your portfolio and further expand your teaching repertoire.
2. Be Flexible
One guarantee of teaching English abroad is that, at some point in every teacher’s career, he or she will come across a completely new situation. This situation (or, if you’re lucky, these many situations!) could be anything from cultural differences in the classroom to being asked to cover another teacher’s class at the last minute. Aside from preparation, a good rule of thumb when dealing with unfamiliar situations is to be flexible. If a Head Teacher or a Director of Studies asks you to cover a class or create a new course, accept the challenge with enthusiasm. Although these situations can cause anxiety at first, every opportunity you take to challenge yourself makes you a stronger and more well-rounded teacher. By being flexible, you become a valuable asset to your school, which may come with more responsibility and even the opportunity of advancement. Over time, unexpected situations become familiar as you gain valuable experience and confidence in your teaching ability.
3. Be Positive
Although each new teacher has their own reasons for embarking on a teaching career abroad, many choose to do so for personal and professional growth. Since the leap to teaching abroad can be profound for new teachers, keeping a positive attitude does wonders for both your teaching practice and your general well-being. Some pieces of advice to help stay positive when starting a job abroad are:
- Don’t fear making mistakes – All teachers make mistakes. See each mistake as an opportunity to learn and adjust your teaching practice. A good habit to get into is to have a section at the end of your lesson plan where you can notate what went well in the lesson as well as improvements you’d like to make.
- Smile at the extraordinary – I remember teaching a class in a small, rural community in Oman, and during one of my lessons, all of my students suddenly ran out of my classroom. I first thought that they were maybe upset at my teaching or that I had maybe committed a cultural faux pas! However, as I looked out the window of my classroom, I saw that they were actually chasing off a rogue camel that had wandered onto the campus. Unexpected things happen abroad. Take the time to smile and appreciate where you are.
- All teachers go through it – All teachers began their career in the same position as you. If this is your first experience teaching abroad, keep in mind that you’re also learning, and each challenge met leads you closer to becoming a more confident teacher.
For a teacher looking to embark on their first-ever journey abroad, it can be daunting to put yourself into a situation that is unfamiliar and radically different from which you are accustomed. As a result, it is completely normal for new teachers to experience a bit of anxiety during the early stages of their teaching career. Hopefully, the above suggestions will provide you with more of an understanding about what can be expected when you enter a classroom abroad.