when teaching gets nerve-wracking

Every time I was too self-assure, I did something foolish. A good colleague of mine talked about sky-diving.

I felt a little bit like sky-diving last week. Careless summer days had come to a close and I had to take that leap again. Strangely enough I was far from feeling self-assure. One would expect that now, after all these years, after all the students.  But instead my knees were weak and the haphazardly moving red laser dot on the board betrayed my trembling hands. I guess a certain amount of stress is healthy. I believe we should never let our guards down and walk into a classroom as if it were yet another casual encounter with some cool people, and then do something foolish as a consequence. But this year’s alarmingly high stress level still made me wonder whether this annually reappearing state of nervousness will ever stop.

This nervousness is the inevitable side-effect of the curious nature of being a teacher. The turnover of the students, the continuous flow, the eternal change would never let us get too comfortable. Each new year brings with it new challenges on so many levels. It is simply not enough to know that I did alright last year. Those “medals” don’t count any more.  A new race has begun and I better prove myself again!

This year I have 51 new students. And I met them all last Friday, during three consecutive lessons. That’s a lot of new names and faces to take in and make some sense of. As our students come from quite different walks of life, their level of English varies significantly. There is no placement test to kick off the year, and anyway, the groups are the way they are. There would be no splitting up or rearranging classes according to their English level. This means that when I walk into a classroom at the beginning of the new term I have no way of knowing how good or poor all these young people in front of me are in English. They might be bilingual ( it has happened more than once). But they  might just as well be complete beginners hearing my seemingly endless babble and having no idea what is being said.

For the above reason, the first lessons, the first weeks are extremely exciting and adventurous, but in equal measure, awfully nerve-wracking and stressful. Not only should names be remembered, rapport built and first steps towards creating good atmosphere  taken. I need to figure out more or less where they are in their language journey and how to fit these incredibly different travellers on the same train.

This situation reoccurs at every fresh beginning. Yet after the long summer break, after the idle hours spent reading and dreaming and contemplating, the professional reality bites and leaves me in awe of what my students and I achieved together the previous year. Will I be up to it once again? How to live up to the challenge? Especially with someone new yawning on my desk and simply enjoying existence 😉



What about you? How do you feel at the beginning of a new term? How do you deal with stress? Do you have some tips to share?



10 thoughts on “when teaching gets nerve-wracking

  1. Dear Sirja, I’m with you! This week I started at a new after school English academy. The students there also started their new schedules. Mixed levels, shared books, confusion. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. To cope, I am trying to focus first on getting to know the students as people. I think the other things will fall into place and I can do a better job teaching them after I get to know them all. I hope other people have more tips to share! Good luck!

    • So we are in the same boat then … Yes, I agree that building rapport, getting to know your students, showing interest and taking steps towards them, is absolutely vital! Once you feel comfortable with one another it’s so much easier to overcome difficulties, voice your doubts and talk things over. And once they feel comfortable in your presence, in your class as a whole, they would not protest and act nasty, they would say if things bother them and then try to find a way out together with you.
      Keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  2. Dear Sirja, I also get nervous when I haven’t taught for a while, in fact this is true with many things for example I recently started driving and horse riding after a 2 year break from these and it took me a bit to get back into both! I find that the highs that come from settling in outweigh the stress and nerves previously felt and also make you appreciate what you achieved all the more, like you said. Things like yoga and meditation always help me and also just giving yourself a good talking too and reminding yourself of what you are capable of and what a great teacher you are 🙂

    • So true! I know that a big part of this nervousness is due to the long summer break. I need to brush up on the teaching a little, feel good in my teacher’s hat again, and it’ll all come back to me … little by little 🙂

      • Hi Sirja,
        In order to avoid the long summer break, what do you think about finding a few students, even one, to teach during the break? It might sound awkward to work during the break, but I have tried it and it always makes me ready to teach at the same level of proficiency anytime. You can find a neighbor, an online friend, your hair-dresser; anyone. Teaching for free for a couple of hours a week would help.

  3. Dear Sirja, I can understand u very well here..for me every new beginning – a new course, new people, etc is always challenging and feels like leaving my comfort zone, which is indeed quite nerve-wracking…but at the same time,when I have to start smth new, I knownit will be nice to remember in future, when the new students are not that new..) good luck!

    • Oh yeah, the nice and quiet comfort zone. Somehow it was particularly tough for me to leave it this time … hm, probably means I had extremely great holidays 😉 But no worries, the second week of teaching is almost over and I feel like climbing towards the peaks again!

  4. Hi Shaban, I have actually been thinking along the same lines. Or better still, enroll on a short summer course for teachers! I would prefer that. It would be a sort of nourishment for the teacher in me, keep me in shape.
    Thanks for stopping by, and leaving your thoughts here!

    • A brilliant idea! I’ve just been back home (Saudi Arabia) after doing the CELTA in Turkey. It was amazing to taste Turkey and meet and closely work with other teacher trainees. I loved it. A very good thing about it is that I tried my teaching interpersonal skills with students from another country and backgrounds.

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