Everyone knows that gut-wrenching sensation, the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling of first-day jitters.
Now imagine that you are a first-time teacher, about to start your very first day of your very first language immersion class.
You’ve got a group of small, expectant faces looking up at you. (And that’s if you are lucky to have the attention of the class!)
And then you think… Now what?
How will you get their attention and keep them engaged for the whole class… in a language they don’t even understand?!
Fear of that first day is one of the most common concerns I hear from newbie teachers.
“I don’t know how to begin.”
“How do I get started?”
“What do I do on the first day?”
That fear is well-founded. The truth is, your first day teaching can make or break your whole teaching experience.
Teaching is All About Confidence
As humans, we respond innately to body language. Your body, face and voice send powerful, unspoken signals that others interpret subconsciously.
When a teacher is confident, students can sense it. Perhaps without even realizing it, students pick up on that sense of calm control and are more receptive to what you have to say. Young children in particular crave a sense of order and authority to help them learn.
But it’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it?
Confidence is usually gained gradually, from day after day of working with children and learning from experience.
How do you gain that confidence without any experience?
How can you project the same confidence of a veteran teacher on your very first day of teaching?
Here’s the Real Reason You May Lack Teaching Confidence…
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Those jitters don’t actually have anything to do with whether or not you think you’ll be a good teacher. And they don’t have anything to do with your credentials, either.
When I began teaching Spanish to children, I was a Ph.D. student from Princeton University with a background in Romance languages, and I had taught undergraduate students for a few years. I was also a native Spanish speaker from Madrid with two small children of my own. As far as I was concerned, I had all of the education and qualifications I needed to eventually become a great early language educator.
But I still didn’t have the first clue how to get started, and what to do after that, and after that.
What I really lacked was a big-picture game plan.
I was armed with plenty of activity ideas, but none of them were connected in any sensible and systematic way. I was feeling my way in the dark, and it would take me 15 years of research, trial and error, to finally create a unified method for teaching language to young children.
Let Your Curriculum Be Your Road Map
You don’t need to feel your way in the dark. You don’t need to spend hours of your own time scouring the Internet for new activity ideas and putting together lesson plans that may end up hit-or-miss.
My best advice to any new teacher is to start with a proven curriculum, and here’s why…
- With the pressure to write curriculum lifted from your shoulders, you will be free to put your energy into conversing with your students. The best way to teach children to speak a new language is to fully engage them. Speak with them, make eye contact, use body language. We are programmed from birth to respond to these communication signals, and they reinforce what we are saying verbally.
- If your curriculum is structured around a narrative theme, each lesson will build upon the one before it. Rather than jumping from one subject to the next, your students will learn new words in context to ones they have learned already. This is the way we naturally learn language, and when we learn this way we retain what we’ve learned. This means the more you teach, the easier it becomes for the student.
- A well-planned curriculum gives you a script to follow, so that you can practice teaching before you start and visualize how your class is going to go. Like an actor, you can embody the role of a seasoned professional teacher. You can borrow confidence while you start on the path of earning confidence of your own. And before you realize it, you will become it.
Don’t Fake It ‘Til You Make It… Fake It Until You Become It
If you haven’t yet seen Amy Cuddy’s enormously popular Ted Talk, I highly recommend you do. A social psychologist from Harvard, Cuddy has been researching how our body language can actually change our thoughts and even change our behaviors.
The major discovery that Cuddy has made is that if you hold your body in a stance that projects confidence (what she calls a power stance) for at least two minutes, you can actually influence your body chemistry — particularly your hormones associated with confidence and stress. Your testosterone goes up, giving you confidence, while your cortisol, the stress hormone, goes down, making you feel more calm. Cuddy’s research has found that effective leadership in both males and females is linked to these hormones.
So by acting as if you are powerful and calm, you actually tell your body to become more powerful and calm.
The next time you are faced with a stressful situation, try it! Hold a power stance for two minutes, and see if you notice the change.
The part of Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk I found most poignant was the last part about faking confidence. We’ve all heard the advice, “fake it ‘til you make it.” But what Cuddy is suggesting is more powerful than that. By projecting confidence and sending your body the signals that you are confident, you can actually “fake it until you become it.”
That’s what a good curriculum can do. With the right words and activities laid out for you, you can “walk the walk” of a professional teacher with 15 years experience, until it becomes second nature to you.
And if you are the owner or director of a language immersion program, you can give the teachers you hire this same gift of confidence. By providing them with a road map, you aren’t stifling their creativity — you are giving them a framework within which they can explore their own creativity!
Confidence will open the doors to more creativity and higher caliber teaching.
Does knowing what to do help you confront a new situation with confidence? I’d love to hear about your experiences – just post a comment below.
Are you looking for good Spanish immersion curriculum? I welcome you to try my First Day Spanish Lesson Plans. It’s the perfect way to try out my curriculum without having to purchase a whole curriculum set. And if you like it and want to keep going, you can get the whole set — you only need to pay the difference. Start out teaching like a pro!
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