By Josh Butterworth. Josh is Impact Teaching’s Thailand Program Coordinator, and he lives in Thailand.


We all know what it’s like to be a student, physically present but your mind somewhere else completely. Now, you are about to step into the classroom as a teacher for the first time, and you can’t stop worrying about your students feeling just like you did all those years ago. But fear not, your best is good enough and you’re heading down a well-trodden path that many have explored before, most of whom have found great success and fulfilment. The good news, there’s nothing stopping you doing the same. In this post we will share a few tips that you can implement to increase your chances of engaging and motivating even the most uninterested students. Now, remember that one teacher who lit up the classroom and made you want to learn, let us show you how that can be you.


You don’t have to be perfect

English teacher in China with her studentsIt’s normal for new teachers to feel the pressure during their first few weeks or even months at school. But more often than not, that pressure is coming from within. Your local colleagues are not expecting the finished article to walk through the door, they’ll be very experienced and eager to support you as you grow into the job. As long as you have a positive and hard-working attitude, and always do your best, you won’t have any complaints. And although your students first impression of you is important, it will not define your relationships with them for the duration of the time you spend as their teacher. Focus on fun, making connections and bringing energy. The truth is that you may have students who you just cannot get through to, who simply don’t want to learn. All you can do is try your upmost to get them involved, but do not punish yourself if you don’t succeed straight away, or at all. If you can even get an extra five or ten percent from them, that’s a win. Now, let’s talk about just how you can do that.


Laugh it off

Students in China smiling and messing around in their classroom Completely unengaged or disruptive students are rare, but their reactions to negativity are always the same. Punishment and humiliation never work, it’s like fighting fire with fire. Patience is key, having a light-hearted attitude and using comedy to make your students feel more comfortable will increase the chances of them getting involved. Ensuring your classroom is a safe space is the first step, learning a new language is daunting, if your students feel vulnerable then there’s no chance the less motivated ones will contribute and put in any effort. Although you may not be able to communicate through speech, students are incredibly adept at reading body language. They can smell anxiety, fear and frustration from a mile away. Taking the pressure of your shoulders, trying to have fun, making jokes and being energetic will go a long way to engaging them. But at the same time it is crucial you set the bar of what is acceptable, and what is not. Be consistent, fair and don’t take things personally.


Connect on their level

English teacher at a kindergarten Suzhou, China Whether you’re teaching in a Polish kindergarten or a high school in Thailand, it’s unlikely your students will share the same interests as you. They may well be keen to learn about your home country and what you do in your free time, but they’re far more motivated by what excites them and their peers. It’s your job to find out what that is. Maybe they love K-POP, gaming, football or any manner of things. Identify these trends within your classes and do some homework on them. If you go in on Monday morning and impress with your knowledge of the latest gossip, your students eyes will light up and be far eager to talk to you. These small interactions at the beginning and end of class set the tone for the amount of effort your students will put in. This is especially important for those students who are unengaged or uninterested in learning, if you can find something that they’re interested in talking about, your stock as a teacher will increase tenfold. Better still, theme your classes around what your students love. You could get them to make a poster to present to the class about their favourite popstar, footballer or game, for example. Show them you’re interested in them and they will show an interest in you.


Teacher in Thailand handing a smiling student a microphone Always remember that you are not a miracle worker, and don’t beat yourself up if you cannot wave a magic wand that makes all of your students super motivated to learn. Your local colleagues are not expecting this so neither should you, trying your best and showing you care is more than enough. And you don’t know what’s going on in your students’ lives. We can all remember what it was like going into class after a bad day at home or an argument with friends, the last thing you want to do is put your hand up and risk making a mistake. What you can do is show empathy, patience and be kind. Bring fun and energy to the classroom and make sure all your students feel safe enough to speak up and get involved. Find things they are interested in, talk about them and incorporate them into your lessons as much as you can. But most of all, enjoy it. Take each class as it comes and make sure you try to have fun, your students will sense this and be far more inclined to do the same.


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