I had my CELTA certificate securely packed away in my bag alongside a brand-new teaching contract. It had only been three months since the intensive teaching course, but already I could remember little that I had learnt during those frantic four weeks; everything had merged into one homogeneous lump that I was desperately trying to pick apart in my mind. There were only minutes to go before my first real class – a class of lively children.
I was nervous and could barely bring myself to look out of the door at the boisterous students outside the entrance to the small school. The noise they were making was an incomprehensible babble of Spanish laughter, shouts and what I took to be curses. I wondered if it might have been better to have studied Spanish more attentively rather than spending the summer at the beach.
I consoled myself that I had mastered lesson planning and for the first lesson I had a brilliant, comprehensive lesson plan. It was the type of lesson plan that I had used to great effect during the few hours of hands-on observed teaching practice I had endured during the CELTA course. The students then had followed the lesson plan to the letter and I had little doubt that the students I was about to face would do the same.
I confidently opened the classroom door and smiled. The smile turned to a frown as the expected file of students did not begin to enter the classroom. Small groups of girls and boys were standing chatting together oblivious of the time. I glanced at my watch. It was two minutes past the time. I raised a hand and waved. A couple of students looked at me, turned back to their friends and said something in Spanish that made the entire group giggle.
Looking at the first name on the list, I called a close approximation of the name out in an enquiring tone. This provoked even greater laughter from the groups. My pronunciation was worse than I feared. My heart was pounding and my throat was as dry as the sand on the beach I wished I was back on. When the Director of Studies came out of her office, frowned at me and tapped the face of her watch, I cringed and felt my cheeks blush.
The Director of Studies said something to the students and they turned obediently towards the classroom and filed past me through the doorway.
“Hello,” I said to each of the students as they squeezed past me. Some of them said “hola”, but most ignored me. I closed the door and turned round to face the class.
“Smile!” I said to myself. I tried. A grimace passed over my face to be replaced a moment later by a look of panic. The CELTA course now seemed inadequately brief. It was nothing more than a forgotten moment in history that could offer no source of solace at this critical moment of my fledgling teaching career.
The eyes of every child in the classroom seemed to be probing my mind, searching for weaknesses. Weaknesses there were, and I felt that each child was mentally noting down every single one of them for future exploitation. I began to wonder if I was wearing the right clothes. Perhaps the jeans were too tight, the shirt the wrong colour. I secretly longed for my uniform.
Then it struck me. This was a class of children not a mob of hooligans. They were not about to throw bottles at me – a rubber was the most likely projectile, though that seemed unlikely. I suddenly realised that I had a lifetime of experience that I could translate into dealing with everything that teaching could throw at me. I had just been so wrapped up in my inadequacies with the grammar of English and my ability to expound it that I had overlooked the fact that teaching a classroom of children is much like dealing with any other situation.
I smiled a broad and genuine smile that eclipsed the false grimace I had presented earlier. The first few seconds is all we normally have to make a lasting impression, but I wondered if there was still time to make the right impression with these kids. The bright smiles I received in return confirmed that there was.
“Hello. My name’s Richard,” I said, in clear, commanding tone.