Even though you’ll be starting your first day of school as a teacher rather than a student, you will still get those day-one jitters. It just takes you back to your childhood, doesn’t it? “Will I make friends? Will they like me? Who am I going to talk to at lunch? What should I wear?” The night before feels like your “teacher” title has been stripped and demoted to “new student.” The anxiety is real teaching abroad, people. Tranquilo. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I think I’ve come up with some tips to help you survive your first day.
1. Prepare the Logistics
Sounds obvious, eh? It’s all easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy until you arrive at the school and realize there are 200 different doors and you have no idea which is which. Or, you used Google maps to check how long getting there will take. It turns out you didn’t factor in the time of day when you checked and realized morning rush hour turns it into a 55-minute journey instead of the 32-minute journey the app showed you at 1 am. Know when, where, and how to get there exactly. Even then, give yourself 15 minutes of wiggle room, just in case you get all the way to the station and realize you left your wallet at home. Imagine having to run backwards 10 minutes to get your metro pass. Personal experience? Yes. Yes, it is.
2. Ask Questions
Most day ones are all about getting to know the school and faculty. As a teacher, there are lots of things you need to know that may not be included in your beginner’s tour. Here are a few questions to ask that I’ve always found handy:
- Where can I get materials and what are my limits (i.e. printing, number of copies, colors, art supplies, etc.)?
- Who do I contact in case I am ill and have to call in sick? What’s the procedure for this?
- Where can I get a copy of the school calendar to stay informed about breaks, half-days, and events?
- Is there a school-wide procedure for managing bad behavior (demerit system, counselor assistance, etc.)?
- Which students in my classes need accommodations and modifications for their learning needs?
3. Greet, Greet, Greet
Get to know everyone around you by simply saying hello! Such a “duh” tip, but it really works! No one knows you, therefore, you need to make yourself known in a positive way. Introduce yourself and don’t worry if you forget a name or two. Greetings are a sign of respect in many cultures, so you want to be hyper-aware of the first impression you’re giving off. Also, you don’t know everyone just yet, so imagine walking by the director without knowing it and not saying hello! Personal experience #2? Yes. Yes, it is.
4. Get Personal While Teaching Abroad
Before you jump into getting to know the students, give them an opportunity to get to know you. I love starting my first day with some pictures. Students love seeing that us teachers are also humans! I typically share pictures of my friends and family, travels, hobbies, and of my youth. They FLIP OUT when they see my old prom picture. For purposes of my own humility, it will never be shared on this blog. At the end of all your talking, give them a chance to ask questions. You’ll feel like you’re being interrogated, but when they start asking personal questions, it typically means they’re already invested in creating a relationship with you.
5. Have an Ice Breaker Ready
Yes, it’s cliché. But some of them are awesome to do in class! Let me share a few of my students’ favorites:
- Who Do You Know Bingo: Create a bingo page with random questions. Is there anybody you know that shares your favorite sport or movie? Kids have to go around and get different names for each question you ask. When they find somebody that they have something in common with, they write down the name in the box and keep going until someone gets BINGO.
- Find your pair: Create pairs on post-its. I use the classics – Beyonce & Jay-Z, peanut butter & jelly, shoes & socks, etc. Give each student a card and tell the class it’s a silent activity. They can only talk once they’ve found their pair. Once they have pairs, they must sit and discuss/write five things they have in common with their partner. Tip: look at your roster ahead of time to prepare for a possible group of three.
- Name word search: Create a word search with all the students’ names. Once they find a student’s name, they must approach this student and ask whatever question you decide and write it on their paper. This allows kids to find names and talk to each person they find.
- Spider Web: Get a big spool of yarn and put students in a big circle. Start with one student holding the beginning of the yarn. This student must say something about him or herself. “I like barbeque-chicken pizza.” If another student has this in common, the spool gets passed to that person, but the first person cannot let go of the yarn. We continue passing the yarn to different students who share common interests without letting go of the yarn. You will see a giant web being formed.
6. Set Ground Rules
It’s the beginning of a new year, so get your expectations across clearly. Let students know your rules, routines, and procedures. Be clear about what you want from them, your goals, and your vision. The more you communicate, the better response you will have from the students. And here’s a pro tip: Start recognizing positive behavior from day one. I’m a positive reinforcement enthusiast, so I’m always pointing out the students who are paying attention, respecting the classroom, ready to learn, etc. It immediately makes students feel great about how they’re starting the year, and it makes others aware of the recognition of positive behavior! Don’t forget: You are the Teacher.
Final Thought About Teaching Abroad
You’re about to start an incredible adventure teaching abroad, but remember that you’re not in it alone! It’s about you and your relationships with the school, students, and faculty. Once you start off on the right foot, you’ll be set up for an amazing year! Best of luck!