WARNING: Some of this advice should be completely disregarded. What worked for me may not work for you. I taught English on the fly for 6 months at 6 different schools, teaching Vietnamese students ages 4-64. This is what I learned.
NEVER LET ‘EM SEE YA SWEAT
You stand before a silent / screaming / staring room of English students and you have no idea what to do. It is at this critical moment that you must assert your sheer Teacherness and take control of the room. No matter what you decide to do, YOU ARE THE TEACHER, the boss, Bruce-Fucking-Springsteen. After all, just listen to your perfect English. Need to buy time? Go around the room and have your students announce their favorite food. Or sing Happy Birthday. Or teach them a tongue twister, useless fact or clever idiom.
Your weakness will waft through the room like 4th of July short ribs. This must not happen. A weak teacher is a teacher who cannot hush a chattering room and a weak teacher cannot coax a shy student into speech.
USE WHAT YA KNOW
Make things easy on yourself, if you are an art student, use famous paintings to teach your students adjectives. If you are a TV junkie, bring episodes of your favorite program to study speech patterns and dialog.
Since most of my teaching engagements involved little or no lesson plans ( and as a side note, only once in 6 months did any administrator set foot in my class while I was teaching. ) I was left to my own devices to fill several hours with activities. I played Led Zeppelin and Beethoven and we described how it made us feel. We drew comics on the whiteboard and discussed monster and super heros from various cultures.
I revolved my lessons around my strengths and the students loved it.
This is a tactic I used shamelessly with my youngest students. Some colored erasers, comic books, Oreos, lofty titles like Teachers Special Helper… incentive drives results in a room of 26 kindergarten aged squealing children.
In my class of youngsters everyday we watched animated movies in English for the last 30 minutes, but every day I threatened to take away the daily movie and eat all the Oreos myself.
Don’t feel guilty. This is just the way things work. think of yourself as a lobbyist for good classroom behavior.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Again, a tactic for younger students, the Machiavellian technique for pitting your students against one another for your favor and extra rations of Oreos works splendidly. This means you must shower praise on one or two students that speak up and mind the P’s and Q’s. This also means you must punish, deride, heckle or shun the loudmouth who won’t stay in their seat.
Getting the favored students to police the rambunctious students helps level the playing field for a bewildered new English teacher.
For the love of god, have fun. You are doing something that many wish they could, immersed in a culture that you (hopefully) love and are excited to engage with. So loosen up. A few awkward moments or one bad day teaching English overseas is better than an average day in your hometown and don’t you forget it.
Coming soon: The Rules of Teaching English pt 2 & How to Teach English with no Tesol and no Clue