While preparation is probably the most important element to focus on in terms of delivering a quality lesson, there are some potential issues that are more difficult to prepare for and which must be dealt with during the class itself. We have already addressed how you should go about preparing for your first lesson, but now you may be wondering how to actually get through it.
First classes are always daunting, even for experienced teachers. Starting a class without any prior knowledge of the students and their abilities can create a lot of anxiety as there are too many unknowns to deal with at once. But rather than getting bogged down by what could go wrong, why not focus on how you will solve the problems, when and if they do arise.
Handling Your Nerves
The issues that can arise during a teacher’s first class can be divided into two distinct categories: internal and external. We will discuss the external factors later on in the post but for now, let’s stick with the major internal problem – nerves.
The first thing to understand about being nervous is that feeling this way is normal and even appropriate. Regardless of the amount of preparation that has gone into your class, you will still feel some first-day jitters as you start logging into your teaching platform.
For some, this feeling comes across as a simple feeling of excitement mixed with some trepidation. For others, feelings of nervousness can actually present quite a practical problem as these emotions can make it difficult to focus. It is challenging to remember all of the necessary tasks one must perform in order to conduct the lesson smoothly in a state of “fight or flight”.
This is especially challenging as online teaching typically involves a lot of multitasking. In these moments when your anxiety is sky-high and you’re struggling to keep it together, pause for a moment and pick a single element to focus on. Whether it’s being more attentive towards your students’ speaking, towards your own speaking or the lesson material itself, find one thing to focus on for a few minutes and stick to it. Anxiety tends to scatter our thinking, so the first step to regaining focus is to narrow it down to a single entity.
What can also help in terms of starting your lesson is having a pre-planned introduction. Your first interaction with the students will most likely bring you the most fear. Once the lesson get’s going, it’s likely your emotions will settle naturally, so having a sure-fire way of getting through the most emotionally challenging aspect can really help.
You can preplan your own introduction as well as some of the questions you will ask the students- “Where are you from?”, “Why are you learning English?”, “What do you do in your free time?” and “What areas of English would you like to improve?” are all great examples of questions that not only get your students speaking but also give you some valuable information about where to focus your lesson.
Now that we have covered some of the “internal” issues teachers may face, it is time to focus on the external problems. While it is certainly advised that during your preparation, you look for parts of the lesson that will give you or the students trouble, it is never possible to predict all the problems that could arise.
Unfortunately, some problems can simply not be solved through preparation. So how can a teacher go about tackling some of the issues presented during class? Although specific problems require specific solutions, one important factor to keep in mind when trying to solve a problem during your lesson is class time.
With some online classes being only 25 minutes, this does not leave you with a lot of time to troubleshoot. As such, you need to balance the benefit of solving the problem with the amount of class time lost. Some problems need to be solved before the lesson can continue, but others can be a lot less crucial in terms of achieving the lesson objectives. Always consider the lesson objectives when diagnosing the importance of a problem and how much time it really requires.
Technical issues can relate to internet connection problems, camera issues, audio issues or user-interface issues. As a professional, you should be doing your best to ensure that technical issues do not occur on your side. Our online English teaching course discusses some of the technological requirements for conducting smooth lessons, so this may be a good resource to look into.
If you are having technical issues on the day, apologise to your students as sincerely as possible and maintain as high a standard of professionalism as possible. If the problem is on the students’ side, do your best to help them in a kind, courteous and patient manner.
Broadly speaking, academic problems relate to issues your students may have with the lesson content or your teaching style. Again, being adequately prepared will help a lot in this area but the challenge of any first class is that you will not know exactly how the students will respond to the lesson material.
Usually, online companies will have some way of assigning students to classes that suit their level but this system is not always perfect, so you may need to increase or decrease the complexity of the language you use. You can use the introduction part of the lesson to give you an idea of a student’s level and adapt your language use accordingly.
In other cases, you may just be teaching a particularly challenging lesson that day. If the students are struggling to understand the content or your instructions, having a preplanned idea of how you could simplify an activity will really help. For example, if an exercise requires students to change sentences from one verb tense to another and they are having difficulties, you can begin by making the focus of the activity simply about identifying the verbs in each sentence and stating which verb tense they are in. You could also conduct the task as a group-work activity so that the students have some extra help from their peers.
If you are teaching kids and they have been taking lessons with your company for a while, they may just be bored of the material, which may not be your fault, but unfortunately, it is still your problem to deal with. This can be a very challenging problem to handle during your first class but can ultimately help you win favour with your students if you are able to find a way of making the lesson enjoyable for them.
The best option, for both adult and child classes, is to turn everything into a game. Even the most mundane of activities can be interesting if you turn to activity into a race to finish it first. Younger (and even older) students love the element of competition and you can often leverage this to make your lessons more engaging.
The challenges you face in your first lesson can vary considerably and will likely test your ability to adapt in the moment. Knowing how to handle your emotions and continue thinking straight despite the adversity is one of the key things to focus on as it is within your control. One crucial thing to remember is that every teacher makes mistakes and rather than letting those mistakes affect you negatively, use them as learning opportunities to improve your next lesson. Your general focus should be on progress, not perfection, so don’t let your errors affect the way you value yourself as an educator.