Without exaggeration, having to teach six consecutive lessons with 5 or 10-minute breaks in between may sometimes be a real ordeal. In my context, it is the maximum you can reach because then you REALLY need a lunch break. If you wanted to sound overly optimistic, you could say that there is a lot of variety. Indeed. We’re talking about a lot of variables here, such as six different groups, ages, mixes of genders, coursebooks, sets of additional materials, classrooms, numbers of students, seating arrangements, vibes, levels of motivation, etc.
Now, if you are good at maths, you know that these variables provide an awful lot of combinations. Let’s say you start with a group of fifteen 12-year-olds (odd number is never ideal) which consists of three boys and twelve girls (not perfect either), you need to grab a specific coursebook (which you may or may not know like the back of your hand), you teach in a small classroom on the top floor (while your office is on the ground floor), the seats are arranged in a horseshoe (good… if it’s your preferred arrangement), the students are eager to learn (excellent!) but are a bit too noisy sometimes (you need to take this into consideration when planning the lesson). Then you go on to teach a group of fourteen 16-year-olds (6 students are missing, 7 haven’t done their homework), the classroom is in the adjacent building, you are using a brand new coursebook you are not quite familiar with yet, etc. If this marathon happens on a Monday (which will be my case from September on), you have the whole weekend to prepare for it. But even with thorough lesson plans, you have to be perfectly fit on that day (no mild colds, headaches, hangovers or other types of sores). And if you are like me, you may even need a lot of coffee all along.
Most of all, be prepared to cut corners in order to survive. In no particular order, these are some of the tips that have worked for me.
- Don’t feel guilty if you come to the classroom a few minutes later. You don’t have a jetpack after all. Explain, apologize and start the lesson as if nothing happened.
- Do not overrun a lesson. If possible, finish a minute earlier rather than a minute later.
- If you are preparing some additional fun materials (warmers, games), do not hesitate to use the same activity in two or more lessons (with all the necessary adjustments).
- In the morning, put your coursebooks in a pile in the order you are going to need them – with the first one on the top of the pile. The same applies to the additional materials and the equipment you’ll need, such as your CD player. Have everything at hand.
- In advance, ask a student from each group to meet you at your office to help you carry all the stuff. Your transfer to the classroom will happen much faster.
- To save your vocal cords, include a lot of group/pair work and/or writing/reading practice (or tests). Speak as little as possible. Let the students do the work.
- ‘Lay low’, i.e. do not experiment or take too many risks in the form of brand new, untested activities. You don’t really need to spike up your cortison levels.
- You may feel tired towards the end of the day. This is when caffeine stops working and your energy levels drop. Thus conflicts may arise (at least in my case). Be careful. Do not be harsh on you or your students.
- Do not rely on technology too much. The internet may not be working properly on that day so if you have planned the whole lesson around a YouTube video, you may feel bitter. Also, it may take some time to connect all the cables laying around before you are able to turn on the damn smart TV. In fact, I try to avoid technology completely on such a busy day.
- Finally, remember that your students have had six lessons in a row too, so it’s not just you who feels tired (and possibly bored to death). Be patient, especially towards the end of the day.
Most importantly, and this is where you can’t cut corners, you really need some sort of a plan, no matter how experienced and good at improvisation you are. I always look forward to my upcoming lessons, even when there are six consecutive classes ahead of me, but I do have to know that I am well-prepared for each and every one to a certain extent.