Enter the classroom.
So, it’s your first day at school. You probably feel the same way you did when you were a student. Lots of new faces, lots of things to remember and an overwhelming urge to hot-foot it back home.
The best way to be confident is to be prepared. Have a broad idea of how your first few lessons are going to go. If you can get hold of a lesson plan or course book beforehand, then wonderful. If not, at least have a ‘getting to know you’ type of lesson up your sleeve.
My first lesson wasn’t one to remember. Within 20 minutes of arriving, the head of department greeted me, said ‘Good luck, I hope you enjoy’ and vanished.
With that, my first lesson as an English teacher began.
I was left alone outside a classroom packed with 55 teenage boys. A lady named Tai from classroom 2/9 emerged and invited me to step inside.
So there I stood before a den of baying students. No course book, no direction, absolutely no bloody idea. There can be few things as terrifying as a virgin teacher entering a classroom for the first time, let alone one entering without a plan.
I walked in and smiled faintly. The head boy sprang up,barked an order, and the rest rose as one and chorused ‘Gooood mor-ning tea-cher’.
I stood there for a few seconds smiling at their friendly nature when it dawned on me I was supposed to respond.
‘Erm, hi, good morning, how are you?’ I managed.
‘I’m-fine-thank-you. And you?’
‘Very well thanks,’ I replied, and with that they all sat down again.
What followed will be forever etched upon the memory of each child present, as I stumbled, crawled and tripped my way through my first lesson.
I knew that the ability to relate to things is helpful, so I started by asking if anyone had seen the previous night’s football match, which had seen France beat England 2-1 in the European Championships. Given that it hadn’t kicked off until 1.45am, it was unlikely many were going to admit to viewing the game, but a few knew the score, so we had an impromptu question and answer session about the match. This seemed to go down reasonably well, so I followed it up with a football quiz. The dozens of faces looking back at me seemed a little dazed by these spontaneous questions.
If teaching were actually a game of football then at this point I would have been the defender hauling down the striker for a last-minute penalty while simultaneously steering the ball into my own net.
I then muttered a bit, shuffled around, and decided they would be fascinated with details about their new teacher.
‘OK, I’m Mark, I’m 32, I am from England. I like reading, writing and movies. What’s my name?’
This was a short game.
Once it was over, I tried eliciting the same information from some students, but nothing came back. Foolishly, I then opened the entire floor up so they could ask me anything, absolutely anything at all, about me, my homeland or my interests. The response: complete silence.
At this point it was apparent the students were becoming as confused as their teacher. Games were the last resort, and that particular juncture had been reached several stops back. Taboo, I announced to silence. After explaining the rules, one boy tried hard to persuade his classmates to say ‘grass’ by pointing out the window at some trees, while another had the task of describing a ‘dog’, which he achieved by barking rapidly.
During those first 50 minutes I learned far more than any of those 55 students.
[Ed note: since that first day, Mark has gone on to teach at some very good schools and is recognised as a quality educator; his biggest problem is convincing his students that the England football team can one day win a World Cup again]