Getting Rid of the Jitters: An EFL Teacher’s Guide to Success on the First Day

I can still remember the first day that I was introduced to my new English class, a group of 15 or so high-school students in a small town in France. I walked into the room, took one look at their curious faces, opened my mouth and nothing came out. I was stuck somewhere between not knowing what to say and being afraid that they wouldn’t understand. My face turned bright red; the room was utterly silent, except for the sound of my heart beating loudly; all eyes were on me, waiting for me, coaxing me along with their yearning little minds. I cleared my throat and managed to get out my words in one long, fast stream:

“HimynameisKellyIstudiedlinguisticsinMilwaukeeWisconsintheUSwhereImfromImAmerican”

And do you know what happened? They burst out laughing. They had never met an American before in their lives, and after years of studying English, here was a real-live one standing in front of them spouting gibberish!

Many EFL teachers experience this same first-day stage fright, so here are some helpful tips that I learned over the past several years of teaching English.

1)      Memorize your introduction. In public speaking, the speaker is always most nervous at the very beginning and it’s this part that she is likely to mess up or forget. Write down how you want to open your first EFL class and memorize it word for word.

2)      Prepare like crazy and then be ready to throw that plan out the window. Sometimes lesson plans just don’t work, and you certainly can’t know how a class will react if you’ve never met them! Make a solid lesson plan, and then have back-up games, activities, worksheets – just in case the lesson isn’t suited for your English class. Here are some tips on making great lesson plans.

3)      Arrive early. If possible go to your EFL classroom before class starts and get familiar with your surroundings, also do equipment checks to make sure you have chalk/the CD player works/there’s a TV. I can’t tell you how many times technology has failed me! And as always, have a back-up plan!

4)      Chill out, don’t think about it and do some physical activity. When I was at university, I was an intern at the French dept’s film festival. On opening night I had to introduce a film. I was so nervous, and kept repeating the introduction to myself over and over again backstage, I missed my cue and came rushing out a minute later to a bored looking audience, coughed loudly into the microphone, was unable to read my own handwriting and sped through the intro at lightning speed. It was hands down the worst film introduction ever. The very next week, I was super exhausted from running around all week and made the introduction without batting an eye. My professor came up to me afterwards and said “You are a really good public speaker!” So, if your nerves are really getting to you, go take a jog, do some yoga or anything to take your mind off it.

5)      Break the ice. Using an ice-breaker activity between English students will help take the pressure of you. Here are some great ice-breaking activities that are sure to be a hit.

There you have it! Good luck with your first day of teaching and let us know how it went!

For more tips on how to succeed as a new TEFL teacher, check out this advice – pretty soon, you’ll be “dancing with the stars!”