As teachers, we care about our students. We want to do the best for them. This is important and admirable, but it can also create a lot of pressure, especially for new teachers.
When we first pick up a tennis racquet, we don’t expect to be able to win an Olympic medal.
When we first sit down at a piano and put our fingers to the keys, we don’t expect to be able to play Chopin.
But when we first walk into a classroom, we expect to be able to teach perfect lessons.
Just like playing a musical instrument or a sport, teaching is a skill which takes time to develop. Don’t expect to win a medal or play Chopin without practice, and don’t expect to teach perfect lessons.
Perfect lessons don’t exist. That’s why I still love this job – because there’s always something new to learn.
When our students make a mistake with their English, especially if they’re beginners, we don’t tell them they’re bad students and shouldn’t be in the classroom. We don’t point out all of the problems with their language. Instead we choose one or two areas and give them feedback to help them develop. We also praise their strengths and build their confidence in their abilities.
When we make a mistake as a teacher, especially a new teacher, we often tell ourselves that we’re bad teachers and have no place in the classroom. We dwell on the problems with our lessons. We beat ourselves up about what went wrong. We forget to notice the things that went well and what we’ve improved, which probably far outweigh any problems there were.
This is not fair to us or our students.
Learning a language is like building a house. We need to lay the foundations and build it up brick by brick. If we build it too quickly or without having proper foundations, the house will fall down. And although we can build it alone, it’s much faster when we get help from other people who are supportive and can share their experience.
Learning to teach is the same. Let yourself be a beginner. Notice your strengths and be proud of your progress. Notice where you need to put the next brick. Give yourself time to build the foundations, and ask for help whenever you need it.
When you’re using the internet, if you’re trying to download a big file it slows everything down. If you have too many things open, it can crash. There isn’t enough bandwidth.
We all have a finite amount of attention, which I call mental bandwidth. When we’re teaching, we need to pay attention to a lot of things: what’s next in our plan, how to make the technology do what we want it to do, how to answer the question a student just asked us, the fact that we forgot to have a snack before the lesson and are starving…and how stressed and overwhelmed we’re feeling right now.
As we build up experience, some of these things become automatic. We know how to set up the next activity, we’re confident with the technology and have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work, we’ve heard that question five times before and don’t need to think about the answer, we remembered to have a snack…and we’re so much calmer and less stressed in general now. We no longer have to think about these things, releasing mental bandwidth for us to pay attention to other areas, and particularly to be fully present in the classroom and pay attention to the students. This doesn’t happen on day one. It takes time.
Give yourself that time.
Embrace the learning.
Be kind to yourself.
(And if you need help, here’s a similar CELTA-specific post, here’s a guest post by a CELTA trainee who initially struggled with confidence on the course, here’s a list of useful links for CELTA, here’s a short presentation about building confidence as a teacher, and here’s a short task to help you think about what you say to yourself about your teaching.)