It’s the start of a new school year all over the world. Students are nervous, but so are teachers. No one is more scared of the first day of school than a new teacher. Here are some tips for first-time teachers. You can do it!

So here you are – you’ve gone and acquired an official teaching qualification, flown yourself to some far-off location and are ready to go. Now what? Ah yes, the teaching part. Even if you’re qualified up to the eyeballs and excited about the journey ahead, a first-time teacher will always be at least a little nervous as they stand on the threshold of their first class. But with preparation and the right frame of mind, most of the issues that teachers face in the first days, weeks and months of their contract can easily be remedied or avoided altogether. Read through these top tips so you know what to expect from the challenges ahead.

Keep Calm and Carry On

It’s a cliché but it’s true – don’t panic. If you’re teaching English abroad for the first time, you may be located in some weird and wonderful foreign country, and as you enter the classroom for the first time you are probably exhausted already from all new experiences you’ve had. And you’re probably still getting over jet lag.

Even if you feel like your feet haven’t touched the ground yet, your first classes are important – you want to make a good impression. When preparing to meet your students for the first time, stay calm and keep things simple. Don’t plan complicated classroom games or extravagant activities just yet – there will be plenty of time to spread your wings. Keep it simple until you’re familiar with your students. Above all, smile. Even if you’re tired, nervous, and feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, the important thing is to appear like you’re a pro. Enter the class with this frame of mind and you soon will be.

Gauge Your Students’ Levels

Speak to your colleagues and find out what your students’ abilities are. It helps to be familiar with the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) and other grading systems that are used in your school. Once you understand the abilities of your students (and remembering that you might have mixed levels within one class), you will be able to plan lessons that are bang on the mark and challenging the students just the right amount.

Most first-time teachers know what it’s like to stand at the front of the classroom saying “Ummm… now what?” because you’ve underestimated the students level and they’ve finished everything, or you’ve planned something too difficult and they are getting frustrated. Avoid this in advance by doing everything possible to know your students level and plan accordingly.

Teach Engaging Lessons

English lessons don’t need to be all singing all dancing – you don’t need high-tech equipment or interactive whiteboards to teach a great lesson. One of the most important parts of your lesson planning is the staging and progression of activities. After a good warmer, you should be following the PPP method (presentation, practice, production) to ensure a structured curve throughout the lesson in which students can acquire language, use it in context and finally get creative with it.

In the presentation part of your lesson, you might introduce a new lexical set, review something from the last lesson or focus on an interesting grammar point (see here for more on this phase). During the practice, this is a chance for the students to use the language with plenty of guidance – a structured gap-fill or matching activity will encourage them to use language in context (click here for details). Finally, the production part of the lesson is where you step back and let the students demonstrate fluency in what they have just studied (we have activities for this, too). This arc may take place over the whole lesson, or it could be contained within one longer activity and repeated throughout the class – it depends on the level of the students and your aim for the lesson.

Get Some Solid Routines Down

Whether you’ll be seeing your students for just one hour a week or for five hours a day, one of the first things you want to do is establish classroom routines and rules. It’s good to have freedom in the classroom, but when it comes to classroom management, having set regulations will help the students know what to expect and be prepared as soon as the lesson starts.

When the students arrive, what is the first thing they do? Is there a place in the classroom where you’d like them to store their bags? If so, make it a routine – drill these things every lesson until the students do it without being told to. Are there particular classroom rules that are adhered to in your school? Creating a poster of classroom rules can be a fun and engaging way to remind students of the protocol.

How do you reward your students? Do you keep a star chart on the wall where good behaviour is rewarded, or give out stickers to the top performers each day? Remember that positive reinforcement is vital in creating a productive classroom and that losing your temper will never achieve anything. In terms of rewards and punishments, the most important thing is to treat everyone fairly. Even a ‘naughty student’ should start each lesson with a clean slate. Treating everyone the same will create a harmonious classroom and build respect between you and your students.


As a teacher, first time or otherwise, there will always be those days when things don’t quite go to plan. The important thing is to reflect on why the lesson didn’t turn out how you hoped it would, and learn from it to prepare better next time. Perhaps you planned something that wasn’t the right level for your students, or your lesson didn’t have the right mix of activities. Whatever the problem, reflecting on your less-than-perfect lessons and learning from mistakes will help you to become a better teacher, and there will always be opportunities to get support and feedback from your colleagues. Teaching is challenging, but it is also exciting, rewarding and with plenty of opportunities for growth. Good luck and have fun!

Let us know what you think! What’s your tip for first-time teachers? Click here to tweet!


Celia Jenkins has taught English in China, Japan, and the UK to students from all over the world. As well as teaching, she is also a professional writer and part-time knitting enthusiast.

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