It’s official! Today November 2nd, 2010, 8:37am, I taught my very first private English lesson. I agreed to meet my student, Taeko, at a Starbucks that’s about a 20-minute bike-ride from my house. I was so excited that I pedaled as fast as my legs would allow me. Having completed the 20-minute bike ride in about 13 minutes, my legs were screaming! But there was no time to worry about that…I had a lesson to teach.
Before I say how the lesson went, let me tell you a bit of background info.
Where Did I Find My Student?
I am currently studying Kyokushin Karate, and one of the students there (a Hungarian man who’s been in Japan for quite some time) asked me if I was an English teacher. I told him that I was. His next question was “Do you teach private lessons at all?.” I was honest, I told him that I had never had private lesson students before (excluding the private lessons I have to teach for work). I said that I would be willing to teach, though. He mentioned me his wife’s friend was looking for a teacher and then he asked me what I charged…gulp! Luckily I had read a few months back about teachers charging anywhere from 1500 to 5000 yen. I decided to take the middle-of-the-road approach and charge 2500 yen because I thought it was reasonable. I did all of this expecting nothing to come of it. So I just went about my life as usual.
But around the middle of last week, I got a morning email message from Taeko, saying that she wanted to take my English lesson.
Preparing For the Lesson
I was EXTREMELY nervous about teaching my first English lesson on my own. I have taught hundreds of lessons, and even private lessons at the Eikaiwa I work for, but that didn’t make any difference. I didn’t get much sleep the night before because so many questions were running through my mind: “Is my lesson going to be too difficult? Too easy?” “What if she doesn’t like it?” “What kind of person is she?” “How good is her English?” After a while I realized that so many of these questions were things that were out of my control. I used Taeko’ intial emails to gauge her English grammar levels and how much English she actually knew. The reason I did it this way is because phone calls can be intimidating for a person who already lacks English-speaking confidence.
I decided to base my lesson around one theme. Taeko seemed to be a high beginner, so I structured my lesson as such. Since it would be our first time together, I would base my lesson on introductions. Introductions would be the basic skeleton of the lesson and I would segue into related topics to flesh-out the body of the lesson. I was confident with my plan and confidently went to sleep.
Well, How Did It Go?
In two words…VERY SMOOTHLY! Going into the lesson I considered four key things. Number 1: After some severely rocky business attempts, this could be my chance to change things. If can just be reasonably-priced and over-deliver lessons that students value, they will keep coming. Number 2: If I do a good job, the student may want to schedule ongoing lessons. Number 3: If I do a good job, she will tell my friend Thomas, and he may promote my lessons even more. Number 4: If she likes the lesson she could help me by doing positive word-of-mouth advertising (one of the most powerful types).
Everything went better than expected. I based my lesson around three main questions: How are you? Where are you from? What do you like to do in your free time (What are your hobbies?)? In my brain, I mind-mapped a bit. These questions would lead to other questions. For example, I asked “Where are you from?” She answered Japan. My next question was where in Japan are you from, and she said her city. I then asked what her city was famous for. Teaching this way made transitioning very easy, very smooth.
Anytime Taeko had trouble with a phrase, I would mark it in my mind as something to review throughout the hour. For example the question “Anything else?” was one I laced into the lesson because she had a hard time with the meaning at first, but by then end I think she both understood and remembered it.
At the end of the lesson she put ￥2500 yen on the table in front of me, and I was so grateful. I told her that she didn’t have to pay for the first lesson, but she did anyway. I think that means that she saw value in what I taught. She also asked me about my schedule and if she could take lessons on a weekly basis. I was more than willing. After hearing that, I asked her which aspects of English she was interested in working on: situational English (not in those words exactly; she’s a beginner mind you)? Vocabulary? etc. She said she was interested in the sitcom Friends, music lyrics for musicians like the Beatles, David Bowie, the Doors, etc. Keeping this in mind, I will try to go above and beyond her expectations.
A sigh of relief, for a nice student and naturally flowing, first lesson,