Do you teach with confidence or do you feel nervous before a lesson begins? More importantly, how do you overcome feeling nervous?
I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that question, the answer to that question is different for everyone.
When I started teaching, I didn’t like talking in front of people. I felt nervous, my heart would race and I would get the shakes. I sometimes even wondered if teaching was for me and if I was making a mistake.
Then one day I happened to see a video about presentation techniques and public speaking skills. They helped me so much because I could practice appearing confident until I felt confident.
I think it has changed me. When I tell students that I am quite a shy person, some laugh at me in disbelief. It’s true though. Outside of work and the people I know, I am a shy person, but at work I try to give my best performance as a teacher.
I remind myself that nervousness is energy in disguise and I whenever I feel nervous I don’t think of it as a bad thing, I try turn it into a positive experience and channel that energy into a performance.
So, I have suggested 12 tips and brought together a selection of TED talks and resources, so that you can decide for yourself what it takes to teach with confidence.
Even if you feel that the content of the videos aren’t useful, take the opportunity look at the different presenters and how they behave in front of an audience. Look at their body language, gestures and stage presence. Listen to the pace, pitch, rhythm and volume of their voices.
Ultimately, you are the only person that knows what will make you feel confident, but I hope some these resources will help you a little.
Tip: When playing the TED videos, click on the speech bubble icon in the lower right-hand corner and select subtitles in your chosen language.
- Plan Your Lessons
- Have a Positive Attitude
- Talk to Your Students
- Develop a Routine
- Take a Breath
- Body Language
- Use Your Voice
- Use the Space
- Involve Your Students
- Use Your Toolkit
#1 Plan Your Lessons
Personally, I write down as much information as I can think of (or as much as time allows) because once I have written it down, I am more likely to remember it. It also means that I will walk into the classroom having thought about the vocabulary and the grammar, and with an idea of what I wanted to do that I can either follow, build upon or adapt.
The idea being that the more prepared you are, the less nervous you will be.
However, It is important to not to over-prepare. If you are feeling nervous and your lesson plan was too long, you might start worrying about missing a section or start flicking through pages because you forgot where you were.
I prefer to write everything on one side of a piece of paper (regardless of its size), so that I can see everything from beginning to end.
Find what works best for you and stick with that.
#2 Have a Positive Attitude
“This is my body helping me rise to this challenge” – Kelly McGonigal
It may sound cliché, but a positive attitude really does make a difference.
If you feel nervous or stressed before a class – do you view that as a positive thing that helps you or a negative thing that you have to overcome?
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, did a talk called ‘How to make stress your friend‘. She says that rather than seeing stress, anxiety or nervousness as a negative effect you should see view it as your body being energised.
Your heart is beating faster, but it is pumping more blood around your body. You feel on edge, but you are more alert that you normally would be. You are shaking because adrenalin is surging around your body but it is giving you more energy, so why do you we try to contain it by standing in one place.
Try to enjoy the moment and think of it as teaching with passion and energy rather than teaching with nerves.
#3 Talk to Your Students
Talk to your students before class. Do this with new classes and one-off classes, but also with courses that have been running for a while.
Talking to individuals can seem easier than standing in front of a group and it means that you are no longer talking to a group of strangers but to people you have met. It will also help you to learn your students name’s faster.
Even if you only teach the students for one class, you’ll still leave the room with a better sense of who sat where, who worked with whom, and you’ll get a sense the students’ characters and language abilities.
Try introducing your students to a set of 3 small talk questions that you can use regularly.
“How was your week?”
“What did you do in your free time?”
“Do you have any plans for the weekend?”
Or introduce them to some questions (in the previous class have the opportunity) that are related to the lesson. If you are doing a lesson on movie and TV genres, you might set questions like these:
“What did you watch on TV last?”
“What was the last movie you watched?”
That way if you are feeling a little nervous you can fall back on something you have prepared and thought about.
You can find hundreds of useful conversation questions here.
#4 Develop a Routine
Establishing a classroom routine is beneficial for both the students and the teacher. The students know what they should be doing and what is expected of them.
As the teacher, a good classroom routine means that you can begin a class with confidence. When you have done the same routine a number of times, carrying it out becomes almost second nature and it allows you to settle into the lesson without feeling nervous.
For more information about developing class routines, check out these pages.
#5 Take a Breath
“We depend upon [our mind] to be focused, creative, spontaneous and to perform at our very best in everything that we do. And yet, we don’t take any time out to look after it.” – Andy Puddicome
Andy Puddicome, a mindfulness expert and a former Buddhist monk, did a talk called ‘All it takes is 10 mindful minutes‘. He points out that:
Why do some people feel nervous before they speak in front of others? How much time do they spend thinking about their talk and how much time do they spend relaxing before their talk?
Andy Puddicome recommends finding 10 minutes a day to switch off. To find some time to resist the urge of input from TV, tablets, computers, newspapers, books and even thinking about the day ahead.
If you have back-to-back lessons, you may not be able find 10 minutes, but you always have the time in the space of a breath.
When you are feeling nervous it is tempting to talk as soon as you are in front of your students. Don’t. Take a breath. It’s a lesson to be enjoyed, not something to be endure, overcome or rushed. Set the pace so that you feel comfortable.
#6 Body Language
“Do our non-verbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves?” – Amy Cuddy
Body Language is important because when you feel nervous you become hyper-aware of your body. It can feel like you have just discovered hands. What did you use to do with your hands?
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, did a talk called ‘Your body language shapes who you are’.
She questioned if our body language can affect our confidence. It turns out that it can.
By doing strong, open and confident poses for a few minutes before any stressful event can change our behaviour and how we react to stress. We can feel calmer and more empowered.
“Don’t fake it ’til you make it. Fake it ’til you become it” – Amy Cuddy
If you feel nervous, give yourself a few minutes to stand or sit in a confident way. Fake the confidence until you become confident.
Body language and gestures are also and important aspects of teaching in class. Classroom Management Techniques by Jim Scrivener discusses the classroom, the teachers, the learners and the different types of interactions and work in the classroom.
From page 57 to page 63, there are series of recommended gestures and body language to use in the classroom. Whatever gestures you use, use them consistently.
Avoid gestures that make you look small or nervous. Use big open gestures like a stage actor. They give you confidence and they are easily seen by all the students in the class.
#7 Use Your Voice
“The human voice. It’s the instrument we all play. It’s the most powerful sound in the world probably. It’s the only one that can start a war or say I love you. And yet, many people have the experience that when they speak, people don’t listen.” – Julian Treasure
Being able to control your voice and use it effectively in the classroom is a useful tool for a teacher.
Julian Treasure, a sound consultant, did a talk called ‘How to speak so that people want to listen’.
During this talk he identifies six tools of our voice, the tools we can use to engage an audience. They include: Register, Timbre, Prosody, Pace, Pitch and Volume.
Most people will change the pace, pitch, intonation and volume of their voice depending on their circumstances. The most common example being a person’s ‘telephone voice’ but also how we speak to our families is often very different to how we speak to a colleague.
We also have the ability to pick up on how someone is feeling if the sound of their voice doesn’t match the words they are saying.
Is the way you’re speaking in class projecting confidence or nervousness?
#8 Use the Space
Mottainai is a Japanese word used when there is a waste of something – A waste of food, a waste of money or a waste of space.
In the classroom if you need to move, move. Moving around can burn off some nervous energy. You don’t need to pace up and down but strong deliberate movements around the classroom can help.
Adam Simpson wrote a post about dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom at teachthemenglish.com, in which he describes several classroom layouts.
Classroom layouts and seating arrangements are also covered in Classroom Management Techniques by Jim Scrivener (page 8).
Think of actors on a stage, they don’t stand in one place for the whole performance, they don’t move about constantly, but they do take direction and move around the stage. Moving around the stage creates a sense of ownership of the performance space and that can instil confidence.
Moving around a stage can also provide a sense of emphasis. An actor may move towards the front of the stage to address an audience, but move back to the center of the stage to interact with the characters.
Is this so very different from a teacher who steps forward to listen to a question but steps back to address the entire class? Or a teacher who moves around and elicits language from different groups of students?
#9 Involve Your Students
“Right now, there is also a person who has an entire audience rapt with attention” – Christopher Emdin
Christopher Emdin, an educator who believes teachers can learn from hip-hop concerts and churches, points out that the person who has an entire audience rapt with attention isn’t a teacher. In his talk ‘Teach teachers how to create magic‘, he highlights how performers engage their audience by involving them in the performance and creating an atmosphere with them.
Watch his use of repetitions, how he uses his voice and uses gestures to convey and emphasize his point.
It’s a skill, right? Not something I think I could emulate but it does highlight as useful skill. The hook. Something catchy like a phrase, a word, a sound or even a rhythm or repetition that we can use to help students learn and to see if they are engaged with us.
Jazz chants and rounds can use hooks. Watch this British Council video on stress timing as an example.
Hooks can also be used when chorusing and drilling new language. I have a hook to replace missing words in stems and gap fills. I can also tell how involved the students are feeling by how enthusiastically they respond to the hook.
Teachers and learners are working together to learn and perform and you can build up your confidence together.
“But attention is what steers your perceptions, it’s what controls your reality.” – Apollo Robbins
Apollo Robbins is a pickpocket and in his talk ‘The art of misdirection‘ he shows us how our perception is heavily influenced by our attention.
I include this video because it is a pretty incredible performance and I do believe that there are plenty of things that we can learn from it.
I won’t give too much away, but if you watch the video a few times, you can see how he primes the audience with the deliberate use of certain key words. He tells them things he wants them to notice like his shirt and tie, or he uses related language like discussing the timing of his act when he wants someone to look at a watch.
And if you watch it a few more times you may notice that he says one thing to hide the fact of another. Or uses the movement of his hand to guide where he wants us to look.
The performance in itself is a lie to illustrate a truth.
As teachers we can perform and our performances can be a lie as long as that lie illustrates a truth. You may not feel confident but you can perform in a way that appear confident. You may feel tired but you can still perform in a way where you appear energetic.
It’s a teaching face. A performance for the classroom that instils the confidence to teach.
#11 Use Your Toolkit
A teacher’s toolkit consists of the activities, tip & tricks and materials you need to teach for those unexpected moments. Moments when you original lesson plan just won’t work and you have to adapt it or when you have to cover a lesson but are short on preparation time. This is why a good teacher toolkit is invaluable.
A well-prepared toolkit can give you the confidence to finish a lesson when things aren’t going the way you expected them to.
A teacher’s toolkit isn’t just an abstract concept though. Mine is in fact a little black bag where I keep a number of things such as:
- Story Dice
- A Coin
- Playing Cards
- Blank Index Cards
- Scrap Paper
And for each of those objects, I have a few activities that I can do with them that involve low to zero preparation and I know them well enough that I can do them on the spot.
If you are feeling nervous and your lesson plan isn’t going the way you expected, fall back on what you know.
“Just the words “yet” or “not yet,” we’re finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence.” – Carol Dweck
Carol Dweck, a psychologist, did a talk called ‘The power of believing that you can improve‘. In her talk she discusses the effect of ‘not yet.’ If you haven’t done as well as you expected, it doesn’t mean you failed, it just means that you are not there yet.
Knowing that you can improve gives you hope and confidence. This applies to both students and teachers.
So, if a lesson hasn’t gone the way you expected, reflect on it. What worked well? What could have be better? What skills do you need to improve on? And don’t forget to remind yourself what you were good at.
If by this point you haven’t taken anything away, watch this inspiring presentation by a gifted performer. Megan Washington is an Australian singer who has a speech impediment, a stutter, and she lives in mortal dread of speaking.
I had never heard of Megan before seeing this presentation but she comes across as speaking honestly and seems very authentic. She performs for herself as much as she does for others and as a result the entire audience applauses.
So, if you take anything away from her presentation, let it be this. You can always build upon your strengths, be yourself and still be a truly great performer.
If you have any suggestions for speaking in front of classes or for teaching confidently, please write a comment and share them with us.
Alternatively, you can send me a message by visiting the contact page, leaving me a message on my Facebook page or by following me on Twitter.
Thanks for reading and take care!
You may also like to read:
A TED speaker coach also shares 11 tips before you go on stage.
Get ideas and suggestions by reading blogs from other teachers.
Adam Simpson • Elt Planning • Joanna Malefaki • Ken Wilson • Leo Selivan • Lesson Plan Digger • Lizzie Pinard • Mike Astbury • Sandy Millin • Scott Thornbury • Svetlana Kandybovich • Tim’s Free Lesson Plans • Vicky Loras
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