My first class as an EFL teacher wasn’t what you would call a breeze. More like a trial by fire!
Here I was, standing in front of a room full of adults, shaking, wondering what the hell had possessed me to answer the job posting. Which, incidentally, I had answered because I had been sick of my old job. Now I thought I was ready for this?
I think that the material was something truly idiot proof to teach, like comparatives or something, water off a duck’s back these days. Back then though, rocket science.
So anyway, over the thousands of classes since then I have gone from pathetic, quaking in my boots mess, to confident teacher. Sounds braggy right? Wrong. Never underestimate yourself, that’s tip one.
“By failing to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin.
It sounds obvious right, I know. But after saying goodbye to your own studies, who really wants to pick up the books again? I have experienced first hand the pure discomfort of improper or frankly non existent planning. Both for myself in the early days, and also for other teachers I have supervised. Very embarrassing for everyone involved.
Being a native speaker makes one drift under the misguided impression that “Hey, I’m it’s my language, how hard can it be?” Always make sure that you appreciate the value of burying your head in a book for a while to learn even the inside leg measurement of the material. Knowing the answer to all the questions you’re asked makes you feel authoritative, confident, and at home in front of your white board. Put yourself in your students’ position, “What questions would I have?” If you explained it to your mother, would she understand?
You’ll always have one student that is constantly asking why, look out for them, they are the ones that will make you a better teacher. Worrying about them not making you look like an idiot, not being able to explain something, can be powerful motivation to teach it better, and teach it smarter.
At the same time, don’t be a chump if you don’t know the answer. With the exception maybe of those pesky collocations, there is always a reason for the answer. Don’t say “Because it is”. That is never right, and they will smell it a mile away. Don’t undersell yourself like that. If you don’t know, be honest and say you’d would rather review it and explain it next time. Nobody expects you to know everything.
“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject but short enough to create interest.” – Winston Churchill
Never be afraid of letting your class do the talking. Just like eating their greens, leaving them to their own devices is for their own good. It is sometimes very tempting to fill the silence with an extra explanation or a conversation starter, but be wary of liking your own voice too much. It’s the sign of a nervous teacher.
If your explanation has knocked their doubts out of the park, and now they need to practice, give them a little nudge and see how it plays out. If it’s a talkative class, they will be grateful for the opportunity to practice and all you have to do is correct them when they mess up.
If nobody in your class rises to the challenge, be authoritative, but not forceful. Guide the conversation with some pre prepared questions and encourage them to strike out on their own, to develop their answers and to ask other students what they think about it. Come exam time, they will thank you.
“He who mocked and laughed at correction should blame nobody for his shame and doom.” – Bamigboye Olurotimi
I’ll tell you two stories;
Number one. A couple of years ago a fresh faced student walked into my class, nice guy, motivated and talkative. But it really used to get me that he always made the same mistakes when he spoke. You know the type, ‘people is’ instead of ‘people are’, the same mistakes they always make. Lovely as he was, he never listened when he was told the correct way to say things, so I stopped correcting him as often, and he kept doing it. What was my excuse for this? Well, it’s a little disappointing to see that somebody isn’t listening to you, he’s a big boy, he can listen to me or get it wrong. Basically, a cop out excuse.
Number two. I used to have a student who was petrified of her speaking being substandard when she came to take the exam. So she used to chew my ear off and hope that if she practised enough, she would get everything right on the big day. At the start it was the same, the same silly mistakes. So I changed tack. Instead of wearing myself out correcting her all the time, I gave the responsibility to her. The first few times she made the same mistake, I would correct her. After that, a raised eyebrow or a carefully timed cough was often enough for her to realise and correct herself. Worked a treat, she aced her exam.
Which scenario do you want? I still feel guilty about the first guy.
It can often be exhausting and disheartening to always correct the same mistakes student after student, but remember that they don’t do it on purpose. Try not to waste your time correcting an error in vain and try a smarter approach, tailored to the student. Always be consistent, never let an error go unnoticed. It will only serve to confuse them or make them complacent about their speaking skills. The majority of your students are studying to pass some form of exam, but also to improve their English to talk in the future to people like you. Help them achieve this by making them more self aware and attentive.
“I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” – Maya Angelou
Always create a good rapport with your class, from the very first moment. On the first day, crack a joke at your own expense. Telling the occasional task related anecdote will make the students more likely to tell you stories of their own. Encouraging them to both engage with the topic and open up to the class. For example; When I teach interview skills, I usually tell the one about me falling into my first grown up interview, a result of my lovely but ridiculous shoes. It makes them laugh and endears you to your group. I’ve told that and other assorted stories so many times I get worried it’ll stop being funny. But the image of you with your face down in the carpet smelling the gum is a crowd pleaser. Find a few of your own. Students that are happy to come back to your classroom and have some fun are people that will respect you as a teacher, as a person and as someone who they can trust to get them through their English journey. It also means that you will enjoy yourself. This is so important, you must enjoy walking into your classroom, look forward to whatever the subject is and be excited at the prospect of seeing them improve.
Got any more tips? Let me know and I’ll include it in my next post!