First sessions are nerve wracking- even after teaching for many years, the first session with a new student is always a little scary because you often have no idea what to expect. Whether this is your first Fluentify session ever or just a brand new student, we wanted to go through some of the common fears expressed by tutors and how to manage or prepare for them. We have broken down the list into two parts, so we’ll go through the first 5 in this article.
1. How should I open the session?
Even for experienced tutors, we’ve all been in that situation where the session starts and there is a moment of silence as we wait for the other person to say something… it happens so don’t panic! Once you connect to the session, give the page a second to load completely, make sure that you can see the student clearly, and then say “Hi! Nice to meet you! My name is ____.” This is a great way to start because this will be a very familiar phrase for your student and they know exactly how to respond (sometimes robotically), but it will put them at ease.
TIP: Avoid colloquial phrases at the start of a session such as “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” as they can put your new student into panic mode – keep it simple until you have a better idea of the student’s English level.
2. What if the student doesn’t understand me?
Some students are so nervous during their first session that they completely freak themselves out– you will notice this by the looks of sheer terror or completely blank expressions on their faces. For many, this is the first one-on-one conversation that they have ever had with a native speaker that has lasted more than a minute. If at the beginning of a session a minute has passed and the student is still looking at you like they haven’t understood anything, it’s time to take a step back. Start your introduction over- at a painfully slow pace- and make sure to articulate each word clearly. Use simple phrases and questions that they should know how to respond to (How old are you? Where are you from? etc.). These warm up questions will usually help them feel a little more relaxed and they will slowly start becoming less panicked and more engaged in the session.
TIP: Keep your body language positive! If the student is struggling, make sure to keep smiling, nodding, and using simple phrases such as “No problem! Don’t worry”.
3. I am having a hard time understanding my student.
Watch your facial expressions too- just like when a student is totally lost you might be showing that pretty clearly. However, it is your job as the tutor to make the student feel comfortable, so try to check yourself and make sure that you are smiling and welcoming. If you are having trouble understanding the student then simply ask “can you repeat that?” or you tell your student to write the word or phrase in the chat.
You can guide the student by asking simple questions and getting the answers so that you start to understand the student’s accent and where he/she is making mistakes which will help you as the session proceeds. If the student’s level is very low, you know that you are going to have to start with a basic grammar and vocabulary review for the following sessions.
TIP: Don’t use negative words when asking the student to repeat something such as ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand you.’ Continue to use positive words such as ‘Can you repeat that last thing you said?’ -or- you can blame the connection to not make him/her feel self conscious! ‘I lost you for a second, what did you say?’
4. What if my student won’t talk?
There are absolutely cases when you are going to have a student that is silent, a clear sign that he/she is really nervous or scared about speaking. When this happens you can do two simple things- First, take time to do your introduction simply and slowly. This will give the student time to adjust to your speed and accent while giving him/her time to think about what to say. Second, have a list of questions to ask with a mix of closed (yes/no answers) and open questions. Make sure to ask them in a simple, clear way so that the student doesn’t feel caught off guard.
If you go through all of your questions and the student still isn’t warming up, just take the rest of the session to talk about how you envision structuring the sessions, what kind of activities you can do, and what kind of exercises you will send the student to do. You can also go through a list of other English activities the student can do to improve on his/her own such as starting an English TV series, downloading a language app, or reading an English newspaper.
TIP: Type up or write down this list of questions and extra topics before the session so that you can refer to it if needed!
5. Student doesn’t have clear goals
Sometimes you’ll have a student that tells you that they don’t really need English for any specific reason, they just really like it and want to improve. That’s totally fine! In fact, this can even be an advantage for you. This allows you to really design a plan and select topics that you think will be interesting for the student and fun for you to teach! Figure out if the student would like to do grammar review, speaking topics, or both!
TIP: Make sure to ask the student about their interests/ hobbies so that you can incorporate things that they are interested in into the sessions and really keep them engaged!
What other concerns do you guys usually have when working with a new student? Let us know!