While I was doing the CELTA, during the pauses in a very busy schedule I often wondered what kinds of classes I would be teaching once I got my first teaching position. On the CELTA course I became accustomed to teaching smaller classes (between 5-8 students) of mostly Thai students. The atmosphere was often relaxed (and never threatening) and any mistakes on the part of the trainee teachers were exclusively met with smiles and gentle laughter. In other words, the classes were very comfortable at IH Chiang Mai and I knew that out there, in the wider TEFL-ing world, things could be different. I think that I speak for many people that do the CELTA when I say that it is often the thought of teaching children that causes anxiety when we think of our teaching lives post-CELTA. This was definitely the case for me. I could handle adults…they were easy…they wanted to learn. Adults are able to motivate themselves to study because, otherwise, they have simply wasted money on classes. Children are very different. If they don’t study in class, then it is their parents that have wasted their money. I thought about trying to explain this to a room full of over-excited screaming 8 year-olds first thing on a Saturday morning. They are difficult to reason with.
I finished the CELTA on the Friday and already had a job lined up at IH Bangkok. So on the Saturday I flew down from Chiang Mai and secured some accommodation with some help from the IH staff, and visited the school on the Sunday to plan my first lessons as a CELTA-qualified teacher. I already knew I wouldn’t have to face my first kid’s classes until the following Saturday so I had plenty of time to plan what I thought would be a very stressful experience. My first week went a bit like this…
Monday to Wednesday were mostly Study Holiday classes. Study Holiday in Thailand is a programme that IH Bangkok (and IH Chiang Mai) runs that is mainly for travellers visiting Thailand who want to improve their English whilst exploring everything else that Thailand has to offer. The classes were fun and I was instantly put at ease by the friendliness of Birdy, John and Sergio. These guys were awesome. They worked hard, both with the work, and with being patient with me in my first week. I also had several one-to-one private classes in my first few days. I personally thoroughly enjoyed teaching one-to-one English classes – I liked really getting to know the students and understanding their learning needs. My first few days proved to be relaxed and enjoyable. Thursday and Friday I had as days off. This is the nature of the work, as most private language schools do the bulk of their business at the weekends teaching children, teenagers and university students.
When Saturday rolled back around I was an anxious mess!!! Had I prepared enough? What if they hated the materials I had prepared? What if I couldn’t control them? What if they set fire to the classroom? What if my boss saw all of this and fired me? All thoughts I seriously considered before teaching my first kids class. Although the lesson didn’t go exactly to plan it was mostly OK. They enjoyed most of the activities I had prepared, they were quiet and well-behaved (in general) and after the class had finished (and I had breathed a big sigh of relief) I was left with the strong impression that any problems we encounter in the classroom can only serve to make us better teachers. As Tom, the senior teacher puts it…“calm seas do not make good sailors.” Sage advice for a budding TEFL teacher.