I’ve been teaching since 2013 and have learned a lot of things along the way. I started out as an English Teaching Assistant in public and private schools in Spain. Because of the demand for English teachers, I learned quickly how to create my own curriculum, lesson plans, and activities for a wide array of ages, all while showcasing my Canadian culture. It was my first job abroad, and I was hard on myself. I worked long hours and researched until the late hours of the morning to make sure I was fully prepared for my lessons. I didn’t realize until after I finished the school year that it takes a while to get it moderately together.
Just like starting university or college, your first year of teaching is spent primarily surviving while reworking your plans, but the years that follow will eventually reveal the fruits of your hard work.
As I reflect 8 years later, I realized there are things I wish I knew coming into teaching. I wish I had known …
It’s difficult to do everything at the same time
Preparing lessons, assigning in-class work, and organizing activities and games is a lot of work, but I tried to do it all in my first year. In time, I realized it was unreasonable for me to do it all for each of my classes, and the consequences of juggling everything led me to burnout. As a result, I changed my priorities and planned out which exercises I wanted to focus on in my classes. When I felt comfortable, I introduced one or two more activities to the classes. Eventually, lesson planning became more manageable, and it kept me sane.
Not every student will listen or be interested
I’ve always been calm, cool, and collected, but teaching a classroom of twenty teenagers or even ten 4-year-olds definitely pushed my buttons. I encountered students who refused to listen or were simply disinterested. How did I change this, you may ask? I made the class more interactive by incorporating activities that was based on my students’ different learning strategies, and, most importantly, I made the decision to have more fun. For my older students, talking to them about events like prom or graduation in Canada got them excited and engaged to talk about what theirs would be like in Spain.
If a lesson is going badly, it’s okay stop and reconvene
I can sometimes be a perfectionist, and starting out as a teacher, I made sure my lessons were planned to a tee. However, my perfectionism didn’t prepare me for students who wouldn’t listen while I was teaching. It was then I realized there was no point in continuing the lesson. I learned that teaching is about fine-tuning your method and approach and customizing it on a whim. There were times when I had to stop my lessons completely and talk about something as general as the Christmas holidays to peak my students’ interest. I figured lightening the mood and talking about day-to-day life would ease some stress and help them refocus.
Talking to parents is not as scary as it seems
When I started teaching, I knew I’d be conversing with veteran teachers, students, and maybe the principal. However, I was not prepared to speak to parents. In fact, after my first month of teaching, I met some of my students and their parents on the street or at the supermarket, and they would stop and ask me how their child was doing…in Spanish! I had to muster up the courage to not only respond in Spanish but also tell them how they’re child was doing and anticipate the repercussions if the conversation went badly. I was not prepared and didn’t know the extent of the parents’ involvement in their child’s education. However, after these encounters, I realized talking to parents is like talking to students. You’re just conversing about their child’s behavior and progress and strategizing ways they can improve or succeed. I also leaned on other teachers I met, and their experiences and their advice helped me along the way.
We all make mistakes
As a native English speaker, understanding grammar is easy, but having to teach it to a group of children is a different story. I remember having to teach the difference between past and present tense. I was prepared and knew it by heart, but when I got in front of the classroom to teach it, I mixed up the two. I was upset at myself. I was supposed to be that role model my students can come to for answers, but I made a small error. Looking back, I realize we all make mistakes and berating yourself for making them is counterintuitive. It’s best to backtrack, correct it in the moment, and move forward.
Teaching will get easier
Think back to your first day in the classroom when you started teaching. Do you remember how you felt? You were probably nervous. I know I was. I was a young teacher in front of many students from kindergarteners to adults. I was afraid of making a mistake or seeming inexperienced. After a couple of months into teaching, it got easier. I learned more about my students and what interested them, so all my worries went away. I developed some awesome student-teacher relationships that I still remember fondly to this day. For that, I’m grateful because I know I made an impact and set them up for success.
Teaching is a passion and reflecting back, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned along the way. I am still learning, and being a life-long learner is one of the reasons why I love my job. I’m not as worried anymore if a lesson doesn’t go as planned, because I continue to evolve my teaching methods to my students’ interests. As long as my students are learning, even if it’s a life skill, I know I’m doing a job well done.