What You Need To Do When You Teach Children English Abroad

I kicked off my official teaching career four days before I was scheduled to do so.

I happened to be at school working on some lesson plans and other things when our education department head asked me if I could substitute teach a class for someone who was out sick.

I told her, “Of course,” while I wondered if I could actually do it.

Happily, I had a few hours to prepare.  Even more happily, it was an adult class of the same level that I would be teaching once my own classes got underway, so I was already familiar with what they should be doing.

I spent the next hour getting details from the regular teacher about what she had covered in the last class so I wouldn’t cover the material that she had already gone over.

Based on what she told me, I took elements from the lesson plan I had already prepared for my own class and adjusted it for hers.

When the time came for the class to begin, I prayed over the coming experience – for myself and my students – as I walked down the hallway towards the classroom.

As I had experienced with every class I had during my first two weeks of teaching in Indonesia, I expected to have flop sweat for the first ten minutes or so of the class.

Instead, I was cool as a cucumber.

I guided the students right into the class from minute one and I didn’t stop until we were done ninety minutes later.

They were engaged and responsive and I left the class feeling that it had gone well.

Four days later, I had my own first class of little kids – a group of four-year-olds, four of them, to be exact.

Again, I expected the flop sweat and again it was missing.  We sang, jumped, ran around the classroom, did activities and exercises to learn each other’s names, and we did some tracing so I could get an idea of the dexterity levels.

I ran short of activities for the last ten minutes of class time so we spent that time coloring, which they liked.

At the end of the forty minutes (they’re little kids, they can’t be in a class for longer than that) I felt that the class had gone well and that my kids had fun.

I also learned to plan extra activities for them.

This class was followed the next afternoon by a class of 7 – 10 year-olds.

These are older children with a longer attention span so their classes are an hour and a half long with a ten-minute break in the middle.

This means I have to plan more activities and exercises and keep the class engaged for a longer time period.

Again, not a hint of flop sweat.

I was cool, the kids were engaged throughout the entire class; they learned something and went away happy, homework in hand.

Unfortunately, the next day I learned that one of the little girls from this class transferred to a different class because, as it turns out, she didn’t win at a particular game in my class, even though she did very well during the rest of class (lots of, “good job!” for her) and even did well at that game.

At first, I thought I should feel bad but my understanding is that the little girl is a perfectionist and hates to lose.

I know they’re sensitive about such things at that age so the lesson I learned is to plan team activities so that no one child bears the burden of feeling like a loser despite how well they’ve done.

In another class of eight to ten-year-olds, I was well prepared for the lesson but I had one boy who was extremely energetic and not as knowledgeable as the other children, so he kept misbehaving.

He’s not a bad kid; he’s just overly active and lacking in knowledge of the English language compared to his classmates.

I made a mental note to try to find ways to manage his energy and help bring him up to speed.

I’ll watch him over the next couple of weeks and, depending on my observations, I may have to recommend that he be moved to a lower language level class where his knowledge gaps can be filled more effectively because he won’t be able to keep up with the material we need to cover in this class.

In the same class, there’s another boy who thinks he already knows everything.

The thing is, he did know everything I was teaching for that introductory class, so he was bored during some parts of the lesson.

I watched him for a few more classes then found out that he had done this class before.

So instead of wasting his time, my time and his parents’ money, I recommended that he be advanced to a class one level higher than his current class.

And so it’s gone for every class since I started teaching almost two weeks ago.

I try to be well prepared and organized so that my classes will go as smoothly as possible, and I have not experienced the nervous sweats at all.

That’s not to say that I expect every single class I teach to be an immediate smash hit.

For example, in another group of little ones, one little girl was fine until her dad left the room, then she cried for the next twenty minutes.

But I kept up the enthusiastic chatter and kept the kids doing their activities until she decided that she wanted to join in the fun.

At the end of the class, her dad had to tell her that it was time to go.

Happily, I wasn’t flustered in that situation because I believe, I’ve developed a basic confidence in myself that I hope will continue to grow as I hone my skills as a teacher of English as a foreign language.

As to my work schedule, I have Thursdays and Sundays off.

On the five days that I teach, four of them have my first class starting at 9 am, which is fine with me since I’m a morning person anyway.

On the other day, I start just before 11 am.  On two of my working days I’m done by 6 pm and on another two of those days, I’m done by 4:30 pm.

Only on one day do I go on until 8 pm, but that’s not a hard and fast rule because we sometimes have evening extracurricular activities for our students in which I must participate.

My most demanding day is Wednesday, which has me starting at 9 am and finishing at 6 pm but with some of my classes scheduled in such a way that I have no real break in between.

I’ll have about an hour for lunch and a little less than an hour break in the mid-afternoon; otherwise, all I’ll have is a ten-minute break between my classes.

This means that I have to be even more organized than usual for Wednesdays in order to manage my stress levels because I’ll only have time when one class ends to fetch whatever materials I need for my next class.

Some teachers work best when they plan their lessons on the day of class or even just an hour or two before class.

I can’t do that; my anxiety would be through the roof if I did.

When it comes to work, I’m just not a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type of person.

I did my lesson planning for all of my first classes at least a week before classes actually started.

Now that classes have begun, I do my lesson plans between one and three days ahead, since I now wait to see how the previous class has gone in order to determine what exercises I need to repeat or if there were any activities I didn’t get to that I’d like to do in the next class.

Planning a few days ahead also helps if I need materials that aren’t at school so that I can request them from the appropriate person and get them in time for class.

Every now and then happens that as I’m waking up I find myself thinking about the lessons of the days ahead; even before I open my eyes thoughts are running through my head of what classes I’ll have that day, additional activities to include in some classes, and special considerations for some students.

Good ideas sometimes come to me then.

Meanwhile, I’m getting used to the ins and outs of teaching children.

My aim is to keep things simple but interesting and fun for them so that they remain engaged and actually learn English.

The fact that my school has proper resources and teaching support helps immeasurably with that.

I’ll keep you posted as the school year progresses and I find myself growing and improving as a teacher.


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