For many, the most daunting part of teaching is the planning and preparing of those first lessons with new students. Whether it is during the first few weeks of teacher training, the first steps of the NQT year or just the new job (when you are looking to impress any passing observers and new managers).
This is never more true than when completing the move to teach abroad for the first time, as everything a UK teacher would normally take for granted can be absent. It is very likely that as the date of that first lesson approaches, you won’t have any information about the ability range of your students, what they have previously covered or even the number or breadth of nationalities of your new class!
With that in mind, below are some hints and tips on how and what to plan for what can be nerve shredding first lessons:
The importance of cultural capital
We’ve all planned that first naïve lesson - you know, the lesson on breaking the ice, getting to know your students and letting them get to know you. Generally, these lessons don’t engage students as it’s either the 4th or 5th time they’ve had that same lesson that week, or they’ve been in that class with each other for years. In international settings however, this is rarely the case (students and staff move schools quite frequently in comparison to the UK and don’t always get the chance to get to know each other). This represents a fantastic opportunity when teaching that first lesson – what experiences have you had that they may not have? Where are you from? What can you teach them about it? About you?
This is a sure fire way to engage students from the off, learn about where they are from and their starting points and will act as a great way to build relationships whilst you assess what they need to know before you get down to the nitty gritty.
The importance of speaking and listening
Sadly, speaking and listening is becoming less and less important in UK schools (as evidenced by the change in specification for GCSE English Language and lack of award for S&L), but its value can never be understated in international education. As much as students are eager to learn reading and writing skills in English and other academic subjects, it is often seen as vital that they are able to reflect these skills in formal and informal conversational settings.
This presents a fantastic opportunity to try tasks such as role play, drama, speaking and listening games, student presentations, Dragon’s Den style lessons and a host of other tasks which have slowly been phased out in the UK.
Too much preparation
With a summer break before teaching starts, and potential worries about the new international setting, many teachers use this time to over plan and over prepare, creating term after term of resources for the coming year.
As previously mentioned, it is impossible to assess students you have never met, with backgrounds, contexts and cultures you may never have experienced, so why plan for impossible situations? It is possible to create templates and frameworks of lessons which you can add or amend later in the year, but any planning/resources you create for after the first half term will more than likely stay unused. Instead, put time into researching the culture and context of your new school, city, region or country. This will make the more challenging parts of your new life and role easier and give you an excellent foundation to plan and prepare those lessons after you’ve settled in during the first half term.
Much, much easier said than done! It’s easy to get concerned that you might not have enough resources, planning or lessons prepared for your leap into the unknown (especially if you’ve spent a significant amount of time in UK education in which monitoring can sometimes be King), but the lessons you prepare after getting to know your context, culture and new class will be much more engaging, informed and useful than those you create during the summer break armed with little but the internet and some guesswork.
You may feel that there may be some pressure to perform on your arrival, but managers and senior leaders know full well what it’s like to enter a new international setting (and how difficult it can be to acclimatise) and as a result, there will be a range of support during those early days in the classroom. Enjoy the time off between your UK role and your new adventure, and begin to look forward to adapting your skills to suit an exciting new set of students.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Hartlepool College of Further Education. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher . He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.