When you start on your TEFL journey, there are many things that you should remind and reassure yourself. You will have fantastic lessons, and you will have more challenging lessons. And this will actually happen whether you have been teaching for one month, one year, or ten years.
At all times remember that there are many ways to teach a successful lesson, and many types of students. Education fads will come and go but your students will always remain the main focus in your classroom.
Here are 10 things you should constantly remind yourself about.
1. You must always be prepared for anything: Students will jump up and go to the windows in the middle of a class to look at snow they have never seen before; the swish lesson you have prepared with TED talks will be scuppered because the internet crashes; your activity planned using the smartboard won’t work because you are moved to a classroom with only a whiteboard. As long as you have something else up your sleeve to keep the students engaged you’ll be able to easily recover the situation.
2. Every class and every lesson are different. Even if you teach the same lesson back to back, it may be completely different during the second class because the students interact differently. But remember that even though you may feel it did not go quite the same, the students may benefit and learn nonetheless.
3. Some students may not want to work in groups or teams. They may be used to working alone and may feel very uncomfortable when they are forced to work with other people. There may also be cultural factors to consider. When setting up pair or group work, consider what you know of the students and the dynamics of the situation, don’t force something that is ultimately detrimental.
4. You should find out about the culture and beliefs of the nationalities you teach, so you do not offend anyone, e.g. by giving something to an Arab student with your left hand or touching a Thai on the head.
5. Don’t assume that the quietest student in a class knows the least about English. You will have many types of personality in your classes, and the quiet ones might just be naturally reticent. Find techniques that work with different students. Although somebody may be reticent, you still need to reassure yourself that they are learning, not sitting quietly because they are being left behind. And although some people may grasp the skills of writing before speaking, your role as a teacher is to develop all skills with all your students.
6. Although your class should be all a similar level, inevitably there will be students who are more advanced and some who are less, or some who finish tasks quicker than others. You must make sure that you give extra, more challenging material to those that need it, and spend more time explaining points or giving different examples to others. Make sure that the materials you use are always suitable for everyone.
7. You will find yourself working in lots of different classrooms. Some will be perfect, set up exactly as you want, with ideal learning conditions at all times. But sometimes you be somewhere where it’s too hot, while others will be cold. At times there will not be enough room for all the students and the chairs and tables may not easily fit. This is just the life of a teacher that you need to adapt to.
8. There are many reasons why students find themselves in an English classroom. Some want to improve to progress in their careers, and for some it’s a requirement of their employer. Some students have to learn English because it is a requirement of their Ministries of Education or universities. There are also many who have a specific goal, e.g. if they are sitting IELTS exam. Some young learners will be in a class because their parents made the decision, and there are some that just love the process of learning a language and are interested and enthused by the linguistic challenge. As a teacher you have to remind yourself that motivations will vary – your task is to engage and motivate so all your learners achieve their goals to the best of their ability.
9. Sometimes when students are using their first language in class, it may be because they do not understand something you said. Sometimes it is faster to allow them to use their L1 (their first language) instead of re-explaining the same point in English.
10. The last and most important thing to remind yourself about is always be kind, patient and considerate in class. There is no point in getting angry with your students about anything – you will only alienate them needlessly. Keep calm and keep smiling, even in the most trying situations.