Nicola Quiggin taught English in Brno, the second-largest city in the Czech Republic after Prague. She has also taught at a summer school in the UK and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam, in September to continue her teaching career. Here, she reveals the six lessons she’s learned so far…
1. Students need thinking time
Silence in the classroom shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. When you’re bombarding students with lots of information, sometimes they just need a few moments to let the cogs in their brains whirr.
2. Being a teacher is a BIG responsibility
Students have an implicit trust of you because you are ‘the teacher’, and you must respect this and your position. Which brings us on to my next point…
3. Students will do what you do
Students will often mirror your mood in the classroom. All eyes are on you as a teacher so you must be mindful of the way in which you present yourself. If you want your students to be enthusiastic and motivated, you must also be enthusiastic and motivated. Unfortunately, this can mean that you end up radiating all your energy in a lesson and are left feeling quite drained when it ends.
I think I came across as particularly energetic and enthusiastic to my Czech students. Without wanting to generalise, Czechs can be quite reserved so I think my students were a bit taken aback at first. But, as I gained their trust, they opened up more and I found that I could pass on my energy and enthusiasm for English. In one class – the last lesson with my students before their FCE exam – I tried out an activity I had made up and called “I’m awesome at English because…” The students first had to work in pairs to think of reasons why they’re awesome at English and we then shared our ideas. I was slightly apprehensive at first because it’s really not in their nature to boast, but the ideas they came up with were amazing
4. Save the stuff that works
If you create a cool activity, game or way of teaching a specific language, make sure you file it. I have a couple of files filled with stuff I spent hours making in my first year. As a result, my planning time now is significantly reduced – I can just grab a folder and go.
5. You can’t be angry with English
The part of the language that was always most difficult for my students was phrasal verbs – ‘pass out’, ‘look forward to’ etc. It’s because you can’t translate them literally, and the meaning of the phrasal verb (the verb and preposition together) is often completely different from the meaning of the verb on its own, without the preposition. You just have to learn them as you go along really. But when my students got frustrated, I’d remind them that they have a very similar thing in Czech too.
6. If you stop enjoying it, it’s time to quit
This is one thing I hope I’ll stay true to: if you stop enjoying teaching, you should find a different job. Teaching is a special and beautiful thing, and it’s sad and unfortunate that not all teachers love their jobs. Students deserve to be taught by someone who loves and is interested in what they’re doing.