Whether you have been teaching for years or are new to the TEFL game, there are so many things to think about when you have a job teaching English. From the moment you step into the classroom (or before) to the moment the class ends (or after) there are dozens of little things you need to be thinking about and doing on a daily basis. No wonder they can sometimes slip our minds! This list is a little refresher of obvious teaching tips – things which you’ll read and think ‘oh yeah, I knew that… so why wasn’t I doing it?’ See if there are any tiny tips you can pick up on to improve your teaching experience.
You know what it’s like – your coffee doesn’t quite do the trick, it starts raining and you forgot your umbrella, and you’re hit with all the little ‘life things’ that happen in the minutes leading up to your lesson – then the alarm goes off and you think, ‘Oh God, here we go…’ We can’t be all-singing-all-dancing all of the time, but the least we can do is smile. For your students, every lesson is a clean slate – a new chance to learn, whether you’re in the mood to teach them or not! Make a point of looking in the mirror before you leave the house and reminding yourself to smile. Perhaps pin a sticky-note on the door to read on your way out. It’s such a small thing, but it can make a big difference to how your lesson goes.
Praise… A Lot
Students like to do well, and they like to be told when they’re doing a good job. Receiving well-deserved praise at the right time can inspire students to go on and keep up the good work. However, as a busy teacher it can be hard to remember how important every little thing is to your students. Say you’ve got one student who usually scores about 60% on their spelling test, and one day they score 65%. They’re elated – and they know they’ve done well and are expecting praise – but what if their teacher is too busy thinking about the other fifty spelling tests they’ll have to mark that day? Teachers should always be looking for opportunities to praise and encourage their students. Don’t go over the top (praise should always be deserved and proportional), but ever underestimate the power of praise.
Be On Time
Just like any other job, as a TEFL teacher you should strive to be on time. Scratch that – you should be early. Most schools have it written into the contract that teachers should arrive fifteen or thirty minutes before their first class, but if possible, you should aim for that as the minimum. Give yourself time to get all your things together, remind yourself what’s in the lesson plan and what your goals are. If you come rushing into the building minutes before you’re supposed to be teaching, you’ll hardly be in the right frame of mind to deliver a top-notch lesson.
The old phrase rings true – Keep Calm and Carry On. You’re a teacher – you’re not a doctor. If things go wrong, chances are that no-one will actually die. Bad lessons happen. Bad days happen. That’s the way it goes sometimes. The important thing is not to panic – if a lesson doesn’t go so well, if a class isn’t doing as well as you hoped, evaluate why and what you can do about it. If a lesson is going badly, just try to remain calm and get through it. Don’t be afraid to change your plans to fix something which isn’t working. If you need help, speak to your colleagues or managers to get tips. The problem isn’t your main concern – it’s what you do about it that counts.
Everyone had bad days (even teachers!) but it’s important to remember not to let your mood take over your classes. When you’re feeling tired, irritable, overwhelmed or stressed, it’s easy to ‘snap’ at your students at the smallest things. If you’re feeling cranky, remind yourself to breathe, and be patient. Don’t get snarky with students for not answering your question straight away – if you think it should take them about five seconds to respond, give them five seconds, breathe, and give them another five. For all you know, your students are having a bad day, too. Don’t stress yourself out even further – be patient with your students, and with yourself.
This may seem super obvious, even to newbie teachers fresh off their TEFL course, but in the heat of the moment, with paperwork stacking up and students bickering or fighting or not listening to you, you’d be surprised how many good teachers end up raising their voices. We’re all human – we make mistakes – but if you constantly, quietly, remind yourself not to shout at students, this easily-made mistake can be easily avoided. Situations in which a teacher needs to shout are very rare indeed – such as when a student is doing something obviously dangerous which needs to be stopped immediately, like throwing a pair of scissors. But in most situations, a calm, assertive voice will achieve much more than shouting.
If you are a new teacher, you may have read this list thinking ‘well duh, oh course‘. However, in reality it is all too easy to forget the little things, to start your teaching career with the best intentions and three months down the line find yourself shouting at pre-preschoolers and running into class as the bell rings. Whatever stage you’re at in your teaching career, keep yourself in check, because sometimes it’s the little things which are easiest to forget. If you find it helpful, make a note of these quick tips (and others that you find useful) to keep pinned above your desk or glued into your notebook. A quick reminder every now and again can save you from getting into bad habits in the long run.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is an EFL educator and freelance writer based in Japan.