“At a first lesson in a new class, who is likely to be more nervous – me or the students?”

You are bound to be nervous in your first lesson with a new group. Even highly experienced teachers still get a little nervous at the beginning of a new term. There are various methods used by actors and presenters for calming their nerves, which you can easily search for on the net.

Calming your nerves

If you can, meet the students before they come into the class, i.e. when they arrive in the waiting room. This means that when the class is in stony silence waiting for you to begin, rather than seeing them as one uniform block of new people, you will notice some of the individuals – and some of their faces will be smiling at you (and in some way encouraging you). You will learn that individually they are lovely people and collectively they are just the same people. Being part of a big class doesn’t change them.

The students may be nervous too!

It may help you to know that your students will be nervous too.

If you observe students waiting outside class, you will notice that many are actually even more nervous than you are. I once spent 20 minutes watching a new group of eight beginners arrive at a language school, every single one went to the bathroom and most had a worried expression on their faces. Why are they nervous? Doing a language course puts a student onto a stage where they have to perform. They don’t want to make a fool of themselves regardless of whether the other people in class are friends or strangers.

What are they thinking?

Below are some typical thoughts of new students at a private language school as they wait outside the classroom for their first lesson to begin.

I wish I had opted to pay in instalments. Supposing I don’t like the course?

(Looking at another student). Who is that guy? I wonder what they do and why they want to learn English.

I hope the teacher is friendly. Not like my English teacher at high school.

My hands are sweating.

I need a pee. Where’s the bathroom?

Students have expectations and unanswered questions whizzing around their heads. They have expectations about you as a teacher. These expectations (good and bad) may be highly conditioned by previous exposure to English teachers, either at state school or in other languages schools. They will need reassuring immediately that you fall into the friendly positive category of teacher.

They may also be concerned about the group dynamics:

What will the other students be like?

Will the others be better or worse than me?

Who will I sit next to?

Who should I avoid sitting next to?

Given that they have just shelled out a fortune on their English course, they may now be panicking that it may not be money well spent – either that the teacher will not deliver the goods, or that they themselves may not be up to it.

Create a relaxed environment

So one of your first jobs in the first minute of the lesson is to make everyone feel comfortable, to create an environment where they will feel OK if they don’t understand everything, where they can freely splutter out poorly constructed sentences, and where they don’t need to worry about getting tongue-tied when trying to reproduce alien sounds.

Adrian Wallwork