If you ask me, the hardest part of any semester is the first week, and that includes the first few days of teaching. But if I (someone who's never taught before) survived it, you will too.
If you've never taught before, you might be worried about how you'll do when you start teaching during your semester volunteering with International Language Programs. I definitely was. And that's totally fine. Most ILP volunteers have never taught before, so you're not alone.
One thing that really helped me was knowing that ILP didn't expect me to be perfect. I really wanted to be a great teacher for the kids though. Because that's what this is all about. So I was determined to just jump out of my comfort zone and give it a try.
Do you have questions about how teaching with ILP works?
Text a representative from the ILP office!
ILP's teaching methodology works despite your experience leading a classroom, so that's why you don't need any. (Knowing that when I was a first time teacher brought a lot of comfort to me!) We love that we can benefit volunteers by allowing them to gain experience when they're just out of high school or in their early twenties, while simultaneously providing a valuable education and positive atmosphere for the students — schools where ILP volunteers have taught for years (and for some decades) have received awards and qualified at the highest levels.
First Things First, Know Teaching Is Hard
The truth about teaching ... and I have a feeling that most (or all) experienced teachers will agree ... is that it's hard. Really hard.
Your first week of teaching is going to be hard. And many of the days after that too.
Add onto that the fact that you're in a foreign country, out of your comfort zone, teaching students who come from a culture you're not familiar with, and many don't speak the same language as you. It has the potential to be stressful and overwhelming, especially in the beginning.
Yep. Hard. Oh and did I mention that in most ILP schools the kids are kindergarten-ish age which means they have all the energy and none of the patience, plus a big dose of the wiggles. And zero attention span. Teaching. Is. A. Lot. Of. Work.
Also, if you're teaching in one of ILP's Humanitarian programs you'll run into students who come from a difficult background. Many of our students in these programs have absentee parents, or parents who work all day and aren't able to be home with their kids after school. Many of these kids learn their social norms from other kids they hang out with on the street, having little to no experience following rules or listening to adults. So that adds an entirely new level of hard for teachers who are trying to hold an organized lesson.
But the good news is that it gets better! Seriously. Most of our volunteers have found that this is also true: You start to get more comfortable with the culture and you fall into place as the leader of your classroom. You get to know your students, and after a lot of trial and error you become familiar with what your students need and what works best. Pretty soon you figure out that Dasha thrives off of helping the teacher, so you find ways for her to do a little extra. And Timmy is less rowdy when he's not sitting next to his best friend James. It all comes with time and experience.
This post is here to help you get a better glimpse on what teaching with ILP is like and help you prepare for the adventure of your life. Lots of our volunteers are initially attracted to volunteering with ILP because of our Instagram page, where we repost really rad photos that our volunteers took. Although those pictures are cool, just like all other social media platforms, it's hard to show the full story.
Just don't expect that every minute of teaching will look like most of the photos you see, all smiles. Each of our wonderful volunteers most likely struggled in some way during their time on the program. Teaching kids is not easy, even if they are really cute. You'll get the most out of your experience if you recognize some of the challenges that will come and adjust as they arise. Give yourself (and all the other teachers around you) some grace.
The hardest things have a way of often becoming things you're the most grateful for, if you let them.
Get In The Right Mindset
So what's the best way to approach the first week? Know that all you can do is your best! Everyone has a different experience with teaching so I can't tell you exactly how it will be, but over and over I hear volunteers saying that they had so many hard days with teaching but in the end they fell in love with their students anyways and it was the best part of the experience.
The first week has a lot of unknowns. If you're a planner you might get frustrated that there's so much of the "wait and see how it goes" setup. You'll need to have have patience. If you're an introvert you'll probably come home exhausted. You'll need to step out of your comfort zone.
It's all okay. The best mindset, if you ask me, is to give it your all and know that it's all part of the adventure.
It might help you to know what teaching is like with ILP before you actually set foot in one.
There is a pre-departure 2 day training that ILP volunteers have before they take off for the semester. This won't fully prepare you for everything you'll come across (learn the method is really hands-on), but it just gives you a general idea on how it all works.
Honestly, you can't fully prepare yourself for teaching! It's really one of those things where you just have to jump in and figure it out as you go. That's why we've assigned a Head Teacher to every ILP group to offer more in-person support. They've taught with ILP at least one time before, so they have some experience under their belt and can help you navigate the challenges of teaching as well as help you find the answers to your questions. They have a set of mini training sessions that they'll have with your group after you arrive, and especially during the first month, to go more in depth with learning best teaching practices.
Take Care of Yourself
You're in country, you've just survived a long flight, and you are working on getting settled into a new time zone. That first week, it's especially important to:
You need to try and get on a good sleeping schedule. If you're in a time zone that is 12ish hours different than the one you're coming from, that means staying awake until an acceptable hour and waking up in the morning. You'll probably have to fight the urge to stay up all night talking to your friends back home because you're wide awake and not transitioned to the new time zone yet. But don't worry, jet lag usually only lasts a few days or up to a week for most.
Get used to the food in a new country! The food is going to be very new at first, but try and find things that you love — plates of tacos, bowls of borscht and piles of plantains! Yummm. Soon, you'll come home wanting to make those authentic recipes for everyone you know (and for just yourself because you miss it so much).
You'll have plenty of time to get acquainted with your new home along the way but one of the best ways to get comfortable in your new area is to jump right in! Don't be afraid to head out with your new friends to test out the bus routes, go into the new city, and get to know your way around.
Now that you've done a great job taking care of yourself, it's time to jump right into teaching!
Some In The Classroom Tips
Don’t sweat the small stuff!
Easier said than done, but wise still the same. You will definitely make some mistakes your first day (probably a lot after that too). The kiddos will be very excited to see you and probably won't be the best listeners. First, don't get frustrated but also don’t think for one second that everyone else in your ILP group isn’t going through the same thing.
From talking to our most recent group of volunteers, a common theme of advice they gave was to make sure you have humor with your kids and the ability to relate to them. Here's some in-site and advice from Emily and Isabel.
- "You’ll definitely learn to go with the flow and that sometimes when things go wrong you can turn it into something fun! That is something the kids in the DR taught me...sometimes you just have to laugh when things go crazy! I was told the kids were going to be crazy but they were way crazier than I expected!! But as time goes on the crazy becomes normal and fun!!" —Emily
- "The most important thing to remember is to cut yourself some slack—your lessons won’t always be perfect, in fact they probably never will be, but if you can adapt and keep your sense of humor, you’ll go far." — Isabel
Set a routine
It's important to get your kids into a routine as quickly as possible so they know what to expect with their new teacher. But it's almost as important to get yourself into a routine as well. Plan on waking up and going to bed at a normal time and work on settling into a good routine with your classroom. Your head teacher can help with this because they've done this before.
Plan your lessons
When you first arrive your head teacher is planning on helping with this, so don't stress. But having organized lessons that you've planned in advance is so huge when it comes to having more successful lessons. This will help you with your class routine and it will honestly make your teaching time go much more smoothly. Like I said, your head teacher will help you get started, but if you want to get a peek at what lesson plans look like to start getting some ideas check this post out.
Adapt your lessons when needed
With that being said, it's important to pay attention to your kids needs and not focus too much on what you have planned. Our volunteer Emily does a really great job at doing this. While teaching on the program she had this experience,
- "There were a few kids who would not listen to me but once I got them to laugh and make them realize that I just want to be their friend and help them, they listened a ton better!!" — Emily
Although she might have had to go a little off schedule she was able to adapt and that made the class run smoother and the kids, I'm sure, enjoyed the class more.
Let your family and friends know how you’re doing!
Even though you’ve only been away from them for a little bit of time it is always nice to know that you can keep in touch with the people at home and hear their kind words of support. It will be really nice to have some familiar voices while you are getting to know your new friends.
With all the teaching advice you are getting remember you are not alone and other volunteers may be feeling the same way. Remember this quote from our volunteer Bria:
- "The first day of teaching was crazy. The kids didn’t listen, and they were running all over the place! But everyday got better and better. Lesson planning gets easier, your lessons get better, and you learn to love those crazy kids! Really my biggest advice is just to keep going, and get as much help as you need from your head teacher! Things will get easier and the kids will end up being the highlight of your semester. Soak it up because before you know it, you will be saying your hardest goodbye to those sweet kids!" —Bria
Like Bria says, you'll have your head teacher to help you and the hard days don't last. Before you know it, you'll be at your last week of living abroad and saying goodbye to your cute kids. It's harder than you think but seriously, there are 30 hard things that'll happen to you when you volunteer with ILP — and 15 of 'em happen that first week.
Being a Teacher is a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity
After coming home from my semester abroad in Mexico I found myself missing my students, the food, and my volunteer friends I lived with for those 3-4 months. I never imagined feeling so apart of a culture I wasn't born into but I truly feel like half of my heart is still in Mexico and I am forever changed from the children I was able to spend time with and serve.
If you're not an official International Language Programs volunteer yet, what's holding you back? We've got ILP countries all over the world, so stop dreaming about teaching English in Europe or Asia, and just apply!