The Emotional Roller Coaster That is Your First Day Teaching Abroad

by Published

You only get one first day of teaching abroad. As you battle jetlag and the inevitable urge to hop on a plane to head back home, the sleep in your eyes only magnifies your creeping feelings of doubt. Once you tighten your belt and slip on your shoes though— you know you’re ready. After months of scouring reviews of different teaching programs, bolstering your resume with a TEFL certification, and interviewing for a number of ESL jobs, you’re now at the precipice of your grand international adventure and to fully own your new job title: “ESL Teacher.” Time to McGona-GO and live up to all your favorite TV and movie teacher heroes!

Even with your self-assurance in tow, that first day of school will unfold at an exhilarating (and sometimes alarming) rate. Whether you plan on teaching English to children or prefer to tackle teaching ESL to adults, these feelings transcend the shared experience of entering a non-native speaking classroom as a native English speaker. They won’t be reciting “O Captain, My Captain” that first day, but you need something to build to anyway.

Turn your language into currency, kemosabe. Here are our best ESL teaching tips for the first day of school for teachers—enjoy the ride, starting from day one:

1. Bliss!

Liz Lemon running in excitement

Your new fabulous life as a *paid* international jetsetter starts now. You’ve picked out your best power tie or skirt, walked into the school with an air of confidence even you didn’t know you could muster, and are ready to knock on the door of the principal’s office to shake their hand and get those nouns and verbs shaking. THIS teacher’s first day of school starts with a bang!

2. Random Unrest

Simone Raven chewing gum frantically

Your new boss needs to finish up a few things, leaving you to sit in their office. The initial meeting didn’t go as smooth as you’d hoped (language barriers are fo’ REAL) and you accidentally forgot to bow your head as a form of respect. You start to tap your fingers and try to make sense of your initial HR training and tour of the school. Wait, where were the bathrooms again? This is not something Mr. Feeny prepared you for in “Boy Meets World.”

3. Highball Nerves

Sheldon breathing into paper bag

Your boss is leading you to your new classroom. As you slowly reach for the door handle, you feel as if your stomach (or its contents) will make the first impression for you...

4. Excitement

Andy from the Office dancing in the elevator

You have official work to do. Yay! Twenty pairs of shining, smiley eyeballs are looking at you and you’re ready. They’re the sweetest little angels, aren’t they? You prepared an awesome ESL lesson plan (including some back up activities if some don’t go well #pro) and have reviewed the present-past-participle rules over and over. You’re ready to get this English learning party started!

5. Baby Panic

Girl from Jurassic Park with jello on spoon

Wait, how do I say my teaching assistant’s name again? They’re so friendly and helpful—the least I can do is remember their name?! As you juggle all of these new names and constant improvisations (thanks, lack of chalkboards!), anxiety starts to set in.

6. Overwhelmed

Oprah overwhelmed

Where am I again? Where’s the teacher’s lounge? What time is it back home? What time is it here? Do these kids get recess? Lunch? Do I get a lunch break? Where’s the nearest pub?

7. Major Panic

Spongebob and Patrick AAAH!

You’re feeling a little Ms. Frizzle’d, but you don’t have a magic school bus to help you out. Your USB drive isn’t compatible with your new classroom technology and your entire presentation on adjective order has now gone to waste—how will the kiddos know they should be listed by opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, and then material?! How will they survive?! Your TEFL certification was helpful, but why wasn’t there a module called “MELT DOWN?”

8. Re-Focused

Obama putting on sunglasses in mirror

YOU GOT THIS. That sacrifice you made to the teaching gods is finally kicking in. You whip out some papers and get the kids drawing photos of their families for you. You take a second to reconvene with your TA (whose name you now remember) and come up with a few more activities to keep your students engaged and learning for the afternoon. Now to power through your “teacher’s first day of school roller coaster.”

9. Woozy

Kitty waving at the camera

The bell rings and your students rush out in a haze of pinks, blues, greens, and browns. One little boy hangs back to say “Thank you, teacher” and your TA gives you a pat on the back. Your first day of school as an ESL teacher is a total blur of new faces and hallways, and strange cafeteria options, but you made it through, and tomorrow you’ll do even better. 

10. Thirsty 

Betty White with a giant wine glass

It has been a “Jessica Day.” Phew. Time for clinks with your new friends and a feast to celebrate. The second day is always so much better than the first day of school for teachers. BRING IT!

Want some more ESL teaching tips to get through the first day of school for teachers? Ready to teach abroad? Here are the articles you need to make it happen!

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