Published 27th June 2019

What to Expect on Your First Day Teaching English Abroad

Your first day of teaching is the same as the first day in any other job. No matter how well you did on your TEFL course, your first day teaching English abroad in a new classroom is a daunting one. You are starting a new job but you need to act like you’re in charge. You have no idea where anything is, but you need to pretend you know what you’re doing. You’re a bundle of nerves, but you need to act like you’re confident. Let’s face it, you have no idea what you’re doing!

Read more: 5 Reasons to Quit Your 9-5 and Become a TEFL Teacher

Well, forewarned is forearmed. Here are a few things you can expect from your first day in a new classroom to help you fake it ’til you make it.

Your learners will be fascinated by you

Regardless if you are teaching Young Learners, teens, adults or businesspeople, your learners are going to be intrigued by their new teacher. That’s you! They may be a bit shy at first but that’s normal. Before you jump straight into your lesson, set aside a few minutes to let them get to know you. Let them ask questions freely or design an activity that will help them find out who their new teacher is. 

One nice get-to-know-you activity is to write down some answers on the board and your students must work together to guess what the questions are. For example, for the question “How many children do you have?”, you could write “2” on the board. Considering that you will have quite a few new classes in your first week, try to make this activity flexible enough to be able to use it with all your classes, regardless of their age or English level.

Read more: Your First Lesson with a New Class

You will be overwhelmed by their names

You’ll probably have a lot of students, which means a lot of names to remember. If you teach 20 students in a lesson, 4 lessons a day, 5 days a week, that’s 400 names you’ll have to learn! While they’ll only have one – yours. Don’t freak out when you can’t remember everybody’s (or anybody’s!) name, just try not to call them by the wrong name. 

There is nothing wrong with asking your students to wear nametags or use name cards on their desks for the first few weeks until you get to know their names. Be sure to include activities in your first few lessons which will help you remember their names.

A clever idea is to make a map of the classroom, writing down their names where they are sitting. Throughout the lesson, you can refer to your seating plan and use their names when asking them questions. The more often you use a name when you meet someone, the more likely you are to remember it.

Read more: The Importance of Learning Names in the Classroom

First day teaching english abroad
First day of teaching English abroad

Your lesson won’t go according to plan

As it’s your first day, we expect that you’ll be super prepared! Right?! We hope so! But don’t panic when your lessons don’t go exactly to plan. It is difficult to accurately plan a lesson when you are not familiar with the learners, the space and the material. Give yourself a few lessons to find your rhythm. In the meantime, focus on having fun and creating an enjoyable learning atmosphere.

In fact, even when you know your students and have some experience under your belt, you’ll still find that your lessons don’t go according to plan. And that’s ok. As a teacher, you will learn how to think on your feet and adapt your lesson to the needs of your students. 

Start with the basics of a solid lesson plan but allow yourself some room to manoeuvre. Have a range of activities up your sleeve that are flexible enough to work with all your classes and if you find that one doesn’t work so well, stop the activity and move onto the next one. Your first lesson is often about getting to know your students anyway, so any activities which involve a needs analysis are a good idea. 

Read more: 5 Reasons your TEFL Lesson is a Dumpster Fire

Don’t be shy about asking questions

Forgotten where the bathroom is? Not sure how to use the photocopier? Need a password to log on to the IWB? Ask! You’ll be forgiven for asking a million questions the first few days of your new job, so ask away. 

Asking questions when you start a new job is understandable and to be expected. Usually, you will be given a mentor who will be tasked with answering all your questions until you can stand on your own two feet. If you’re too shy and don’t ask, you might find yourself asking your teaching assistant what her name is a month later, which could be a bit awkward!

You will be exhausted

By the end of the first day of teaching English abroad, you will be more exhausted than the time you did a 4-hour hike in 30-degree heat. Teaching is exhausting. You’ll probably be on your feet most of the day and your nervous energy will have you bouncing off the walls. 

Teaching is more than just the time spent in the classroom. Teaching involves preparation and planning and sourcing and preparing lesson materials – and then writing up reports and assessing students and marking tests! It’s a lot to get on top of and it’s a lot to keep in your mind. Be prepared to be tired, and just know that it’ll get easier with time – and you’ll get fitter!

Read more: 11 Teaching Hacks for TEFL Teachers

Being the new teacher can be frightening, but you’ll soon get the hang of your new surroundings and feel comfortable in your classroom. Expect that the first few days are going to be a bit of a rollercoaster and soon it’ll feel like you’ve been teaching your whole life!