How Trial and Error, Pep Talks and My Online TEFL Course Helped Me Become a Confident English Teacher

An English teacher at a chalkboard.

Like a cliché movie scene, I walked into my first class wringing my hands and trying to keep myself from hyperventilating. My heart was pumping at what seemed like maximum capacity, and I started pacing back and forth in front of the whiteboard as I waited to meet the first of many Thai students I would slowly get to know throughout my time teaching English in Thailand at King’s College.

There wasn’t an air conditioner in the room, it was 8:00 AM and already 90 degrees, and I was dressed conservatively (read; covered head to toe), so my nerves were really starting to show in my sweaty, crinkled, cotton clothes. Before arriving to teach English, I had taken a cheap TEFL course that taught me next to nothing—which became glaringly clear at this moment in my life.

An empty classroom in Thailand.

An empty classroom of Kara’s school in Thailand.

Fast-forward three years later…

Despite my experience teaching in a classroom halfway around the world, those same nerves struck again as I prepared for my first tutoring lesson back home in Chicago.

Unlike the first TEFL course I took prior to teaching in Thailand, the online TEFL certification course I’m currently taking requires that I log 20 hours of teaching, tutoring and/or observing real ESL students in order to receive my completed certification.

The student affairs department provided me with a list of organizations past students had volunteered with in my city, and I reached out to a local community center. I was soon matched with a middle-aged, Chinese woman who was at about a pre-beginner level of English proficiency.

A teacher writing on a chalkboard.

Kara writing on a chalkboard to prepare for an English lesson.

The night before my first session with her, I sat and stared at my computer screen, Googling lesson plans and looking over my course materials trying to come up with an intro lesson. Anxiety and doubt came rushing back in flashbacks of my first day of teaching in Thailand.

  • How much did she study with the other tutor?
  • What if I don’t do a good job?
  • What if I just call in sick tomorrow and then blow off practicum forever and never get my certification?  

But, then I realized how silly I was beingI had submitted no less than five full lesson plans already as part of my Online TEFL course homework, and the feedback from my instructor was always positive and encouraging.

I also realized that although my first memories of teaching in Thailand weren’t necessarily my favorite, I remembered that it got easier. And the first day of trying anything new is always scary.

A teacher holding up English flashcards.

Kara holding up flashcards she made for her student.

Putting My TEFL Lessons into Practice

I decided against calling in sick, and the next day I met my student, Qixia. The first two hours we had together flew by. I had Qixia teach me some Chinese words, and we had a few miscommunication issues as well as a few laughs.

Because of the TEFL course work, I was 100% more prepared for my time with Qixia than I was for my Thai students, and I’m actually looking forward to more lessons with her. Taking a quality TEFL certification course with a student teaching practicum is one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself as a teacher abroad.

No matter how much preparation you’ve had, going into a new class is intimidating. You don’t know the students’ learning style, you likely won’t even know their level of English, the students won’t know you, and the first couple of lessons might be a little awkward. But, any new job comes with it’s first day jitters. The good news is that they will eventually go away.

Along with the day-to-day teaching experience, and trial and error, pep talks always help.

A hallway of a school in Thailand.

A hallway of a school in Thailand.

Here are 5 mantras to give you confidence in the classroom:

1. You can do it!

You’ve done the research, you’ve taken the TEFL course, you’ve done everything you can do to prepare for this experience, and you are going to be an amazing teacher! The first couple of weeks will be challenging, and you probably won’t give the best lessons. But, you have to start somewhere, and what better place to start than right where you are?

2. Fake it ‘til you make it!

Seriously, if I’ve learned one thing from teaching abroad and working in the professional world back home, it’s that no one knows what they’re doing at first, no matter how confident they may seem. Stop comparing yourself to other people. Put that energy into figuring out what the heck you should do for your English classes instead!

3. It WILL get easier!

Piggy-backing on the second mantra, you will start to get the hang of teaching. As you get to know your students, your co-teachers and what’s expected of you, your job will start to feel more comfortable and familiar. You’ll become more efficient with lesson planning and therefore spend less time doing it. You’ll become more familiar with your town and where things are, and you’ll start to make a routine of your life abroad.

4. You won’t regret it!

But, I guarantee what you will regret is not doing it. Sometimes your nerves get the best of you, and you find yourself deciding between quitting and not quitting. Sure, quitting is usually easier, but you will probably find yourself wondering “what if?” eventually, and that’s a harder weight to bear than stumbling awkwardly through a couple of lessons.

A foreign English teacher with students in Thailand.

Kara with some of her students in Thailand.

One of the reasons you probably decided to get TEFL certified and teach English abroad was to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person, and neither of those goals will be attained without some struggle.

The struggle will be real, but it will be worth it—please see mantra three and then re-read mantra one. You got this!

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