Tips for being a legend when you’re a new teacher abroad and you’re peeing your pants on a regular basis

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Catchy title, eh?

Seriously though, important topic. To be fair, I’ve only been at this gig for about two months, so I’m by no means an expert. Before my relocation to Spain I had zero experience – I mean, I taught someone how to dougie once at a party (badly), but this is DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

My previous life as a PR professional (I use the term ‘professional’ very loosely) taught me the complicated art of thinking on my feet, which is of course essential for teaching. Without this, I’d probably be dead right now, real talk. But other than this vital skill, I feel like I was totally unprepared. I feel like this is more of a problem when you’re in a new country – things don’t only go comically wrong, they go comically wrong in two languages.

So without further ado, or much ado about nothing (double negatives, very important for Spanish), here are some of my tips for being a legend when you are a new teacher in a strange country, and you have, at least in the beginning, no idea what you’re doing:

Music, the universal language

It’s no secret that I’d rather be making music than doing almost anything else, so I decided to incorporate it into my classes. Despite the occasional telling off because apparently other students in the academy ‘don’t like trap’, it’s been super useful to get people talking and also break the ice. With my advanced classes, we listen to English language songs and analyse them. For the kids, we sing songs and occasionally I allow a game or seven of musical statues. For one of my students, we dance to Michael Jackson (don’t ask).

Never underestimate the power of drinking games

Disclaimer: no alcohol was used in the teaching of these classes. This one was a total accident but I wanted to get one of my adult classes thinking about a certain subject, so we played Categories. Halfway through a game one of my students put his hand up and said “Wait, Beth, I know this game, we play this when we get drunk”. EXPOSED. But actually, it worked really well. I’ve also adapted several card-based drinking games and they’re super effective. So if you’re in your first weeks and you need a warmer or cooler idea, go nuts! No Centurion though, that’ll backfire.

Even if you only know one game, little ones will love it and become addicted for several months

Bingo is like crack to six-year olds. As long as you mix it up in terms of topic so they’re learning something, you can carry on doing it for weeks. They literally never get bored of it.

Bring cool stuff to class so your students think you’re cool

Again, accidental discovery. I bought some of my DJ equipment to class once because I was practicing that evening at a friend’s house. I left my controller on the table and my group of 12-year-olds went nuts and now they think I’m super cool (which obviously I am but it’s nice to be reminded).

Work smarter, not harder

Be disgustingly organised, even if you’re not. Plan in advance, work out when your free time is and reserve time for school prep/planning/marking outside of your lessons. Also reserve free time and keep it for just that, FREE TIME. Nobody likes a stress head. It’s super overwhelming at first, but do things which make you feel good and relaxed. For me it’s yoga, dancing, meditation, and watching compilations of Will Smith dancing on the Fresh Prince. Little things…

Put inspirational stuff up in your classroom to remind yourself that you’re doing great

Whenever one of my kids makes me a picture I put it on the wall. Last week one of my nine-year-olds made me an adorable heart-shaped letter that said “I love your Inglish class”. Sure, he can’t spell but the sentiment is there, dammit. I also include inspirational quotes; for example “WOO, ha ha”-Will Smith; and pictures of other inspirational educational figures, including Mr Schneebly from School of Rock and the Dean from Community.

Bottom line is, if your students are having a laugh, but still being challenged, then they’re learning. The rest is kind of up to them. But a few pretend drinking games don’t go amiss, of course…




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