Stresses for new teachers

By Alan McGuire

I’m going to discuss the stresses of being a new teacher at International House Madrid and how I managed to make it through my initial years of teaching, as a new English language teacher, moving abroad with little language awareness and no teaching experience. Then I’m going to discuss how I managed the pressures so that they did not snowball into bigger problems.

Into the Wilderness

When I got to the IH academy at Alonso Martinez, the centre for teacher training, I saw a group of CELTA trainees slaving away over their laptops. They were probably adjusting their lesson plans for teaching practice four. The CELTA is a stressful month and you give a sigh of relief knowing you have passed. That is until you start your new job.

If you are in your first year of teaching, chances are you have other big life challenges too, things that cause you stress. So for me getting through the paperwork of living in a different country, in a different language, was a big confidence boost and a big headache at the same time.

Some people are lucky to get a good supportive environment in their first job and others have to work for a year, to get some experience, in both teaching and finding out where they do not want to work. Some experiences in the English language teaching world can be cringeworthy at best. However the stress does not stop after one year. After you have been in the wilderness for one year, you may get into a better language school. On way of siding this is taking advantage of all learning opportunities to improve your CPD. The better trained you are the more institutions will think of you.

The New Job

Upon arriving at IH in September of 2017, I was eager to get on in my shiny new job. IH is one of the better employers in Madrid and is also one of the biggest. When I started I was assigned a mentor, Matt, who would be explaining life at IH Madrid to me. At first I thought I wouldn’t need to talk to him much, as I’d been teaching a year, I mean how difficult could it be to fill in a register? Oh, how wrong was I…

My first two weeks were in company classes, 8 hours a week in the mornings, it was a pleasant start. I had previously worked in a disorganised agency the year before and I was used to having simple resources in my students’ offices and having students with different levels of motivation. Then, come October, I sat in an induction meeting with 30 other teachers, all with variable levels of experience, but one common denominator was that we were all new to IH. Language teaching has historically had a high turnover over teachers, due to the freedoms associated with traveling.

Being the New One

As a new teacher you soon find that the standard in the company can be overwhelming. PowerPoints, Kahoot, new shiny books, stand by, handbooks, codes of conduct, ABC assessments, parents’ evenings, registers, needs assessments and some teachers who have more experience than you can imagine. Then there are the course names: intensive, super intensive, extensive… was there a preventative? Levels B2.1yl, B2.2s, A2.1; ‘Are you a c4?’ I feel like asking. Finally, the abbreviations.. TEFL, DELTA, YL. One of my first mistakes was asking a DOS “are you an ADOS?”. I never made that mistake again. Funnily enough, students are the least stressful thing, it’s just everything else.

So what helps?

When it comes to teaching administration, I found that the assistant director of studies and other experienced teachers are helpful. However, some of the most helpful are the seasoned teachers who are new to IH but have been teaching for years. They have their stripes and they can help you earn yours. Chances are they have adapted to more language schools than the number of times you have taught conditionals. As we all know, it’s difficult for a while but it eventually gets easier.

That brings me on to grammar, something the CELTA does not prepare you for, if like me you have little experience. It’s difficult, that is no lie but it’s even more demanding teaching kids grammar. This is one of the many things that individual teachers may struggle with; this was and is my hurdle, grammar and managing kids. We all have strengths and weaknesses; no matter how confident teachers are, there will be something we find difficult. Sharing and remembering these obstacles, and when we overcome them, can help map our progress as teachers and can help improve our wellbeing when it is at its lowest.

Observations are nerve wracking, but as I have experienced, even bad observations can have good outcomes. My last two observations could have gone a lot better, but with support from fellow teachers and senior teachers, I have learnt to accept the outcomes and how I can use them to improve my teaching. This alone has improved my confidence and stopped me worrying about silly little things such as having to follow my lesson plan to the exact word and I have confidence to improvise when needed. Now I’m trying to make changes to my teaching approach. I want to normalise observations to myself and accept that they are necessary – even though a teacher recently told me he has been teaching for over 15 years and he still hates being observed.

Reflecting on bad classes is a way to learn by trial and error and reminding yourself of the good classes can help ease the storm after a stressful week. Not every class is going to be flawless, not every activity will be smooth but most students and teachers will like you; not all, but most. After all we are all human and teaching is a difficult job. So give yourself a break, then listen and share stories of dreadful classes and awesome teaching.

Author’s Bio: My name is Alan McGuire and I have been teaching English abroad for around two years, having previously worked as a mental health nurse. I have been teaching at IH Madrid since September 2017 and look forward to extending my career into teaching teenagers and adults.