What To Do For Your First Lesson

by EmilyEsposito

Grading my students’ quizzes. This photo was taken in the middle of winter. Note that I am wearing two sweaters

Isn’t it funny how memories work? I feel like I remember all about my time in France two years ago, but then I read my journal and am blown away with how much I had forgotten. Or, sometimes I will see or smell something that brings back a powerful memory that had previously been hidden away. Or, I’ll catch up with an old friend and remember a joke we laughed about for hours. I’m on that nostalgic path right now, after just finishing my e-book about teaching English in France. I had forgotten about how hard it was to come up with lesson plans, how rewarding it was when the students ran up to me at recess and told me how much they loved my classes, or how much they laughed when I sang to them. I also remembered how amazingly flakey those croissants were, and how strong the coffees. And how fresh the figs were, and how Nutella tastes so much better….Oh sorry, back to the teaching stuff. After daydreaming about the French pastries, I remembered my first ever lesson, and how scary, fun, and successful it was. Here’s what I did. (If you like this idea, you can repay me in croissants):

The First Lesson: 

In theory, when you are accepted into the “Teaching Assistant in France Program (TAPIF),” you work as a teaching assistant. Well, I worked in three elementary schools and I was the sole teacher. No one helped me and I was left alone with the students for 50 minutes each week, with 11 different classes. Needless to say, the first lesson can be quite daunting. But, somehow, the kids loved it. My secret to success? Bring as many American items and artifacts as possible. I had no contact with my schools before the first lesson, so I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I was going to be a traditional “assistant,” or the teacher. So, I looked at this first lesson as a way to introduce myself and my culture to the students. I brought a ton of American “stuff” the represented me and my hometown. Here were two of the biggest hits:

  • American money was the biggest hit. I brought some bills and coins, and passed it around the classroom. Everyone wanted to touch the money and they were fascinated with its appearance. I took advantage of their interest by asking them to point out all the differences between dollars and Euros.
  • Bring photos of your hometown: I compiled some photos of Seattle and made a little slideshow. I chose scenic photos (ones of the mountains, the water, the greenery) and others of my house and my favorite places to go. With elementary school students, it can be hard to share your culture with them, but having a visual is entertaining and easy to understand. I talked about the environment (how it “rains all the time), asked them to tell me what they knew about Seattle, and talked about my journey to France (they were literally shocked that it took 9 hours to fly to France).

You should definitely have fun with this lesson, but don’t forget that this is also the first impression the kids have of you as a teacher. I was happy and excited for them to know more about me, but I also wanted to establish boundaries and expectations. Don’t be afraid to be on the stricter side – it’ll set up your experience for the rest of the school year. The first lesson can definitely be scary, but think of it like this- remember when you had a foreign exchange student in high school? You were probably fascinated with how they lived their life, what they ate, and what they did for fun. Your students will feel the same way about you.

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