Teaching is a profession which attracts passionate, enthusiastic individuals.
Those who choose to embark on a journey in the education sector usually recognise how rewarding it is to help others achieve their goals, improve themselves and find their place in the world. Although talented TEFL teachers obviously differ from one another, they all seem to share a few characteristics which make them uniquely good at their job.
People in the TEFL industry usually have an open mind and are willing to be active learners just as much as teachers. They love life, like to experiment, meet new people and explore even when they are not travelling. They are curious about the world around them. If they are living and working in another country, they are generally eager to know more about their new home. They might decide to organise lessons on the differences and similarities between their own culture and the one which has welcomed them. When it is students who visit their country, good teachers introduce them to their customs and traditions while helping them navigate cultural differences.
Being around people of other nationalities give teachers a chance to see their familiar surroundings from an unusual perspective.
Apart from being curious about places, people in the TEFL industry need to be good listeners and have a genuine interest in their students. To make them feel at ease and comfortable around them, skilled teachers are happy to hear about their passions and hobbies, reasons for wanting to improve their English, favourite learning strategies and sometimes even their life stories.
Curiosity is also helpful to get better at teaching. Asking colleagues and mentors for ideas and suggestions on how to cover a particular topic, manage a challenging class and/or talk to a student who is misbehaving can prove to be an excellent way to move forward in teaching as well as in life.
2) Sense of Humour
People tend to learn more when they are enjoying themselves (Willis, 2007, The Neuroscience of Joyful Education). A good sense of humour can really come in handy for a career in TEFL because teaching is similar to acting. Teachers are always in the spotlight: they have to stand up in front of the class and conduct a lesson even when it is early in the morning and they have not slept well the night before. Being able to take themselves less seriously from time to time, tease students good-naturedly and surprise them with a self-deprecating sense of humour can grant teachers a better rapport with their classes.
A teacher who laughs and jokes looks more approachable and less intimidating than the dated stereotype students might still think of when it comes to people in the education industry (e.g. serious and strict creatures vaguely resembling human beings).
Knowing which jokes would make someone crack up and which others would not put someone at ease is a talent and requires a certain sensitivity. Teachers need to see students first of all as individuals. Content should come before form: it is important to really listen to what students are talking about before correcting them.
Understanding when and how often to correct a class comes with practice and experience. If a student is sharing something intimate or bad which has happened to him or her (such as a family death), error correction should be put aside. Also, some students are not confident about their English and have trouble speaking in front of a group.
Correcting them too frequently would be counter-productive. Recognising students’ needs and empathising with them give TEFL teachers the opportunity to win the trust of their class. Just like teachers with a sense of humour, sensitive teachers are capable of building rapport quite quickly with any age group. Consequently, they can manage their classes more effectively and create an atmosphere in which students feel free to be themselves, express their opinion and make mistakes.
ESL teachers are often creative. Some of them are good with their hands and exploit this skill by decorating their classrooms with materials such as posters, useful language signs and weather charts, organising arts and crafts for their young learner classes and making their own learning tools and resources (such as flashcards, behaviour charts, worksheets, teacher’s assistant badges etc.). Other teachers show their creativity in their lesson planning. They are able to add a light tweak to their lessons and therefore make any topic, even the driest ones, sound more fascinating.
Other teachers use their imagination for creating new courses or events which are aimed at shifting the way people learn a foreign language: from drama classes to reading groups, from movie clubs to cooking lessons. Even when they do not feel creative, good teachers normally are, since this profession requires them to think on their feet and come up with solutions to different, unexpected problems.
Teachers find themselves in a variety of new situations on a regular basis. They teach classes of different sizes, age composition and levels. They might finish a lesson with a group of four-year-olds and immediately after start a one-on-one session with a retired student. On the same day, they might teach Business English to managers, an exam preparation course to university students and a project lesson to teenagers. TEFL teachers often work at different locations and times depending on the day.
They tend to change schedule more frequently than people doing other jobs. They work in teams as well as on their own. Being flexible is essential to grow as a teacher, as it makes catering lessons and teaching style to students’ needs easier and more natural.
Everybody learns and memorises in a different way. What works with a class might not work with another. As teachers, we need to be open to the challenges which come our way and understand that not all lessons can turn out exactly the way we wanted or planned them to be. Luckily, we have a lot of opportunities to go out there and try again, with another class or another lesson.
If this describes you, and you want to work with people like this, start your TEFL career today with a CELTA!