Making the right first impression as a TEFL teacher

by Jonathan Last @JonathanLast1
TEFL teacher and author of Teaching English with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline

Jonathan with his students in Korea

Jonathan with his students in Korea

We human beings are judgmental by nature – we size up new people we meet, making initial conclusions based on first impressions, and then over time wait to see how close to reality our assumptions were.

Assumptions we make

The relationship between student and teacher is an especially delicate one, established on the assumption that the former is here to learn and the latter is willing, able and ready to teach them.  So be under no illusion: your students will be assessing you when they first meet you.  You will be entering the classroom, and their lives, to spend a short or long period of time as a trusted educator.  Many questions are running through each of their minds, with two standing out: Is this person up to the job? and Am I going to get on with them?

The first lesson

Your very first lesson together is crucial.  Unless completely unavoidable, you should refrain from getting stuck into your curriculum just yet.  Instead, orchestrate a getting-to-know-each-other exercise.  The most typical (and unimaginative) incarnation of this sees the students pairing off to have a chat, possibly with a few set questions provided by the teacher (along the mild and inoffensive lines of ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Why are you learning English?’ and ‘What did you have for dinner last night?’), to then report back to the collective.

This is all well and fine, but I prefer to do the following:  I write three statements about myself on the board and the class have to guess which one is false.  This can then be reproduced between them in pairs, and they can report back about which statements their partner made, say which was false (or the rest of the class can try to guess first, once we are all comfortable with one and other) and whether they correctly picked out the lie.

I start brand new classes this way for three reasons.  Firstly, putting myself through the process first shows that I am willing to join in, and won’t expect them to do anything that I won’t also do myself (not to mention it establishes the good practice of modelling tasks at the board, and gives the students the chance to ask questions).  Secondly, it gives me a chance to prove my credentials, with one of the statements designed to impress upon them my expertise, such as ‘I have taught English in three different countries’.  Lastly, it gives a reassuringly organised and fun game show style structure that usually elicits crucial tension-cutting laughter.

Once this has run its course, you can move onto a more formal questionnaire about their learning targets and motivations.  Then you should have gained enough confidence in and knowledge about one and other to start your time together firmly on the right foot.

Jonathan Last’s hilarious autobiographical novel “Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline” can be downloaded to PC, smart phone and various e-book readers, such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook.

You can watch a video interview of Jonathan talking about the book on his blog.

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