Adjusting to a new environment as a teacher

If you’re considering teaching in the UK but are currently teaching abroad, it can feel like an exciting – but daunting – new move. While some nerves are healthy and completely expected, there’s no need to be too worried. You’ll be absolutely fine; it’ll be a decision you won’t regret once you’ve settled in and got started. So what can you do to prepare and to help you adjust to your new environment?

1. First-day nerves

Just remember that, even though you’ll be in a new country, chances are your students will be just as nervous about their first day back at school or the fact they have a new teacher. It’s important for you to take the lead and show them that, while change may feel daunting, it needn’t be of concern. As soon as you instil in your students this confidence, they’ll soon settle in. In them becoming relaxed, it will also help you to shake off any jitters and you’ll soon realise it’s all okay.

2. Brush up on the different curriculum and exams

Each country will have its own way of teaching and will expect different standards of pupils depending on their age group. To really get ahead and feel comfortable, putting in some research and preparation can help. Make sure you know what is expected of you, and also what your new pupils will realistically be able to achieve. It is good to push them, but if they’re working beyond their abilities or they’re bored because they’re covering old ground, it will affect how positive their studies are – and in turn, how your classroom feels.

3. Understand cultural nuances

In every country, there will be slight changes in the way we understand and deal with situations, what different times of year mean to us, how historical events have impacted moments in time, and what different words in our language mean. For example, ‘pants’ in US English mean trousers, but in England mean ‘underwear’. Likewise, ‘thongs’ in US English mean flip-flops, but in England also mean ‘underwear’. And ‘tea’ in England can mean both a meal and a drink, whereas elsewhere is often just referred to as being the beverage.

4. Get to know your local area

This can really help you start to feel at home in your new environment. Keep your eyes peeled for new opportunities to explore. For many of your pupils, they will be familiar with the local environment. As such, you can show them what it feels like to see it all with fresh eyes. You might spot new places that they’ve never heard of, or you may learn new information by asking questions that they wouldn’t think to ask. Use all of this to your advantage and integrate as much of this curiosity as possible into your teaching.

5. Get involved

One way of starting to feel more settled in your new teaching environment will come through being involved. Whether it’s through teaching extra-curricular activities, like French or music classes, or through helping to run clubs such as breakfast club, film club, after-school club, crafts club, or baking club. It will help you to become more familiar with your pupils and what they like to do. Understanding how they learn, what they enjoy, and what interests them will all serve you well in putting together useful, valuable and informative lessons that they feel engaged in.

6. Remember your heritage

It is a great learning curve for your pupils that they have a teacher who has lived and worked abroad previously. They will be getting first-hand insight into a culture that they may never have known about. Don’t feel as though you need to lose any of this when you start teaching in the UK. Use your background to influence your lessons and the way your pupils learn. Depending on their age, perhaps you can teach them about the local foods that are native to your country or people of influence. Maybe you can explain to them how your government works and the way people vote, or what the different areas of interest are. Chances are they’ll be fascinated.

7. Be flexible

If you find yourself struggling to adjust to a new environment, don’t worry. It may not happen instantly and, sometimes, just giving yourself the time and freedom to do this in your own way is all that’s needed. Stay open-minded and simply re-set your expectations. This is real life for you, not something in books or television shows; as such, it may not be perfect straight away and you may find yourself getting homesick from time to time. That’s normal too. Although you don’t want to show this vulnerability to your students all the time, it can also be positive for older students to see that sometimes you may feel uncomfortable, especially when you’re not in your comfort zone, but that this can be a positive way of learning about life as well.

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