Everyone has been there: you’re confronted with a new class, a new job, a different type of course or age group… and the nerves kick in. Whether it’s your first teaching job or you’ve taught hundreds of classes, there are some simple things you can do to help yourself feel more confident standing in front of those students.
Every lesson you teach should have clear goals to achieve by the end. Lesson aims are not just for CELTA! It sounds too obvious, but planning your classes well can have a two-fold effect on your confidence. Firstly, knowing what you’re going to do next can help avoid those panicked ‘now what do I do?!’ moments. Secondly, planning carefully means that you can ensure you include a good balance of activities, and that they are relevant and interesting to your students. Engaged students = a more confident teacher.
2. Slow down and breathe.
A while ago I came across this wonderful Greek proverb: ‘When at a loss how to go on, cough.’ Don’t worry, you don’t need to start coughing in the middle of your lesson! However the essence of the advice still holds true. If a student asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, questions something you say or otherwise puts you on the spot, stop, slow down, and breathe. If you don’t know the answer to a students’ question, it’s better to admit that you’re not sure than to wade into a garbled explanation that’s going to simply get everyone (including you!) more confused. There’s no shame in telling a student that you aren’t sure and will get back to them – if you simply need a little more time to think your answer through you can return to the topic at the end of the lesson, otherwise tell them you’ll tell them next lesson. Just make sure you do! (You could even encourage learner autonomy by setting them a little research task and getting them to find out themselves for homework…)
3. Don’t be (too much of) a perfectionist.
Most teachers I know (myself included) are their own worst critic. Teaching as a profession in some ways encourages this – most other careers don’t entail at least annual observations! However, you don’t need to teach perfect lessons all the time in order to be a good teacher. Students will ask questions you didn’t expect, things will happen in the classroom that you didn’t anticipate – generally neither of these things are your fault, and they certainly don’t mean that you’re a terrible teacher. Remember this, and cut yourself some slack.
4. Focus on your strengths.
Are you your own worst critic, or your own best friend? Often our confidence depends on how we talk to ourselves. If a lesson goes badly, or you receive negative feedback from a student, parent or observer, don’t allow yourself to dwell on it for too long. Take negative feedback into account (if it’s relevant, helpful and accurate), but make sure you are taking the time to remind yourself of the good things that happen in your classroom too. Positive behaviour – happy, engaged students, is a good thing. So is any learning that is taking place. Give yourself credit for these.
5. Act confident!
I’ve left this until last because in all honesty, it’s always been the thing I’ve found hardest to put into practice. But simply subtly changing your body language or the way you use your voice can make you appear (and feel!) far more confident. You can find lots of tips online about confident body language – for example here, here and here. Don’t feel like you need to suddenly change everything about yourself and try to incorporate everything all at once! Rather, try to notice your typical unconfident mannerisms (are there any particular things you normally do when you’re feeling nervous in class?) and then work on one thing at a time.
I really hope these tips help you feel more confident the next time you stand in front of a class! What other things help you to feel more confident?