If you have been teaching for a number of years, you'll know that looking forward to all your classes is a pretty tall order, perhaps even an unthinkable one. However much you love what you do and give thanks every day that you stumbled into TEFL, there are always those few lessons that you could really do without. Sound familiar?
You see, I have been there. I've been that teacher who has nightmares about students, the one who prays for a snowstorm to prevent the troublemakers coming to class, and the one who moans about various learners over a beer.
Not only are these habits fruitless (hoping for a snowstorm in Spain wasn't ever going to pan out!) but they are also unhealthy and not conducive to a happy working life.
With a little positive thinking, and no small amount of effort, it really is possible to like every single class you teach.
Here are my case studies of classes I have grown to like over the years:
1. The Little Monsters
No, not Lady Gaga fans, children.
I always found, and this may be a personal thing, that teaching children wore me out a lot more than teaching adults did. A few hours with kids can sometimes have teachers racing to the coffee machine to get through the day.
On top of that, badly behaved children or 'Little Monsters' will inevitably have you dreading the lesson.
But just as they need to feel motivated to learn English, you need to enjoy teaching them.
This can be achieved by accepting help from the experts and by trying to understand your learners better.
By helping the children to open up and talk about their feelings and their frustrations when they act out, you take all of the ammo out of their bad behaviour and they become much easier to deal with.
Also, add some structure to your lessons. Instead of feeling like you always need to shake it up and do something different with them, try to stick to a routine in all the classes. Half an hour of an activity, followed by ten minutes of reflection, then free time for them to suggest what you do. That's just an example, but research shows that when children know what to expect, they are much easier to manage.
Finally, don't feel like you need to spend half of your precious lesson time on dealing with one or two problem students. Rely on the help that you have available in the form of other teachers and supervisors. Make sure younger learners know that there are consequences for bad behaviour and if you warn of a possible visit to the headteacher or a call to the parents, always follow through.
Implementing these techniques helped me turn my young learner classes from a complete nightmare, into teaching time with lovely groups of kids which I now thoroughly enjoy!
2. The Never-Talkers
Classes of learners who don't interact with you or with each other can be very frustrating to teach. Not least because it makes the time pass incredibly slowly, and can feel like talking to a brick wall.
On one occasion, I was regularly teaching a group of advanced adult learners who wouldn't speak more than to answer my questions with a simple yes or no.
As anyone who has taught at this level will know, it's vital for students to open up and practise their speaking skills as well as their interaction and communication abilities. I often felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall and used to dislike doing the lesson enormously.
It's so important not to give up in these situations. Just because they don't talk now doesn't mean that they never will. You need to be resilient to the frustration and accept that your job is also to make them feel comfortable enough to talk to you and to their peers.
Dedicate some time every lesson to speaking skills, come prepared with some interesting topics and put them to the group. Even if they don't actively participate, keep going until the allotted time is up every day. If they come to class expecting to have to speak, they will do so eventually.
Celebrate the small victories. If in the first month of class all they said was 'yes' or 'no', but then in the second they have moved on to slightly more elaborate answers, make sure to feel proud of yourself. Even if they still aren't producing what you would like them to.
Be receptive to the topics that interest the group. Be careful not to make the mistake of many EFL teachers and focus on topics that you find interesting. Be flexible with the conversation and allow it to meander into things that they want to speak about.
If there is one chatterbox, try not to let them dominate. It's very easy for students to get shy and keep their mouths shut if faced with someone who communicates better than they do.
Over time, you'll see that they start to come out of their shells and open up to you, and you'll be stuck with a room full of noise and conversation that it will be hard not to enjoy!
3. The Complete Nightmare
A few years ago, I was asked to do a class which I thereafter referred to as 'my waking nightmare'. In short, I had to spend a total of six hours every week teaching a class that only needed English skills to pass a very specific exam. As a result, they didn't need to speak, only listen. I explained the finer points of English grammar to a room full of 25 adults at a time, completely in Spanish.The only anxiety attack that I have ever had came when preparing myself for one of these lessons, and it was because I absolutely hated it. It made me nervous and unsure of myself.
Nowadays, when it falls on me to do the same class, I can actually look forward to it. How the hell did that happen?
Well, I began to look at the class differently. How would I feel in their position, how can I explain this language in a way that makes it easy for them, how can I find positivity in a room full of people who have no interest in what I'm teaching?
I started to realise that I had misunderstood the depressed facial expressions and lack of enthusiasm, which were in fact looks of 'I don't understand'
I figured out that if I changed my approach to teaching them, they would understand the material, do the exercises properly, make progress and leave happy.
So I stopped spouting grammatical explanations from textbooks and instead began to provide examples they could relate to and remember.
It's very unlikely that you'll need to do a class like this, but you will have lessons that you don't look forward to because you feel like you don't connect with students. Changing how you look at the learners and the subject material can be the best weapon in your arsenal.
4. Everything Else
There are a million reasons to dislike a class, and it can be dispiriting to get up in the morning knowing that the day brings some lessons that you would rather not teach. But with a few little tricks, your load could get a lot lighter.
Here are my final tips for loving every minute you spend in the classroom;
- Approach everything with a positive attitude. One day, that class will surprise you by being not so bad, so look forward to that day.
- Don't clock watch. Instead of seeing how the minutes tick by, make sure you are over prepared. Having lots of things to get done in a lesson will make the time go quicker.
- Remember that you don't learn as much from your teaching successes as you do from your failures. All these lessons that you don't like are making you a better educator.
- Make a connection with each and every student. You don't have to be their friend, but knowing who they are and a little bit about them makes it easier to relate to them and find common ground.
- If the subject matter is boring, don't be afraid to spice it up with an activity or game.
- Forget what happened during the last class, try to approach the day with a clean slate.
- Take advice from fellow teachers, especially if they have relevant experience.
- Make sure to notice every little shred of progress – that's all because of you!