Pre-course emails – not just an ice-breaker
Even after years of EFL teaching, first-day nerves are still there; both teacher and students alike use those initial first minutes to create first impressions. Homestay teaching is exactly the same, except it happens when you open your front door and not when you step into the classroom. It would really help to have a little information about students beforehand.
As a homestay teacher it’s vital you get as much information about your student before they actually arrive, and an email exchange provide the perfect opportunity. Sending your future student an email a couple of weeks before their arrival isn’t just common courtesy and an ice-breaker, although it’s importance as just that shouldn't be underestimated. Making a student feel welcome in your home shouldn't start when they walk into your hallway. It should have happened already – via email.
How can you get your pre-course email to work to your advantage? Here are just a few ideas:
Getting to know each other
Your student will seldom ask you questions about yourself. An email is an opportunity for you to introduce yourself (and your family). You don't need to go into too much detail or be too personal, but knowing who they’ll be sharing the home with during their course is reassuring.
Make sure you know when and how your student is arriving; make a clear plan with the student about their arrival- where you will meet, how you are going to recognise each other; exchange contact numbers.
Normally, the first day’s lesson is taken-up with finding out about the student’s needs. Having an idea of the student’s needs before they arrive can help that process go more smoothly. 1:1 courses are all about the individual student's needs. Start by asking a couple of questions regarding their work/studies, what they need English for, what their top goal for the course is. (You can always find out about their other objectives on day one
Although it isn’t imperative to slap a level band on a student immediately, knowing roughly what level they are in terms of writing can help you pitch the resources and level for day one. You may indeed find that after a couple of days your initial estimate of the student’s level will change. They may have a jagged profile and be different levels in the different skills.
Some teachers place a great deal of importance on establishing a student’s level and give them grammar and vocabulary tests on the first day of lessons to this end. These tests don't actually give you any useful information about that particular student’s needs, they just give you a score. Knowing roughly what level a student is can help you select your materials for those first few days and help pitch your own speaking style but little else.
This area is probably greatly overlooked or viewed only in the context of what to do with students during trips out. In fact, along with knowing about a student’s work/studies, interests are fundamental in helping you prepare a course programme which is not only linguistically appropriate but also motivating, interesting and relevant to the student’s everyday reality. It will also help you research possible outings in your local area- these can be made together or you can encourage your student to go out exploring independently.
Knowing about any likes/dislikes/allergies will help you plan well in advance. You might want to plan weekly menus to take the pressure off when the course is in full flow.
Maybe your friend/neighbour/son/daughter are in the same line of work/study; maybe they have similar interests? Knowing the above information about your student can help you organise trips, interviews or social events beforehand.
There’s a lot of information to be gleaned from emails with students. Just a cautionary note to end on – please don't feel you need to do all of the above in your first email. Having a long list of questions sent to you in your first email exchange can feel a little intrusive and daunting especially if your writing skills are weak. Ease the student in gently, perhaps split the above suggestions over a couple of emails.
The bottom line is, all pre-course communication between homestay student and teacher will help build rapport and offers you, the teacher, a valuable tool for beginning your preparations for your time together.