Being a good English language teacher starts with passion – a passion for the importance of learning, and being enthusiastic about sharing that passion in the classroom. It’s about having a sense of achievement when you can help your students achieve their English language goals. It’s about going to work happy every day because your students enjoy learning and that puts a smile on your face.
As an English language teacher, I have this passion and I have felt an invigorating and soul nourishing sense of achievement many, many times over the years seeing my students succeed. But I believe it’s also about wanting to hone your skills and improve your craft.
And if you’re reading this, we’re definitely on the same page because you’re also motivated to improve. I’d like to share my passion with you – to give you some tips about things I’ve learned that have been really useful in my teaching experience.
Tip 1. Ensure your English language proficiency is at a sufficient level
When you walk into a classroom, your students are looking to you to be the expert. You’ll quickly lose the room if they can see that there are deficiencies in your ability to discuss concepts and you constantly have to refer to the textbook for guidance. You must demonstrate familiarity and confidence about any topic you are teaching.
A lot of English language teachers are comfortable teaching about reading, writing, listening and speaking – but are not quite as confident when it comes to grammar. Many western high schools teach little or no grammar in English classes – and I have seen many situations where high level students can recite grammar rules faster than their teacher can.
If grammar is not your strong suit, make sure you’re familiar with any grammar exercises you need to teach before you teach them. Make a lesson plan even if you don’t usually do so. Try teaching the concepts in front of a mirror or another teacher. Do a deep dive into the grammar rules that inform the exercises and focus on their practical application rather than merely being able to recite rules.
There’s an extra component to a teacher’s language proficiency if you’re teaching adults. Time and money is being spent and therefore students will view joining your class as a business transaction.
If they feel like they’re not getting their money’s worth because you demonstrate a lack of knowledge or a lack of preparation, they’ll either want an exchange (a new teacher) or a refund (money back from your employer). Both of these outcomes are obviously not good for your employment prospects.
Tip 2. Build strong relationships with your students
Yes – of course, language knowledge is essential. But it’s not enough to merely have the knowledge. You also have to be able to explain that knowledge in a way that’s clear and interesting. This is the way that you can start to build relationships from Day 1 in your classroom.
Remember back to the teachers you’ve had in the past. Which ones would you rate as really good? I bet their level of knowledge wasn’t the thing that made them truly memorable. To be recognised for excellence, you need to make a connection, create a rapport and build relationships based on the students knowing, liking and trusting you.
This means that you need to be interested in their lives, even when you have your own problems to deal with. It means walking into the classroom with a smile, even if you feel sick or hungover.
Tune in to what the students are talking about. Look for opportunities to have discussions outside the classroom – but make sure you give equal attention to both genders!
Building strong relationships, by connecting on a personal level, is crucial for students’ academic development. Students feel motivated to learn when they feel respected and are studying in a comfortable environment. If they believe the teacher cares, they’ll follow your instructions in the classroom, even if they sometimes don’t really want to.
Tip 3. Be risk averse
There’s an old saying – ‘Trust is a hard thing to win and an easy thing to lose.’ Let’s face it, trust can be a fragile thing. And it would be disastrous to build up a great rapport with your class over time, only to have it come crashing down or severely compromised in an instant.
Of course, there’ll be times when you have to confront a difficult situation. The question is, how will you handle yourself in a crisis?
The smart teacher looks at being risk averse proactively. They listen carefully in teacher conversations and staff meetings when classroom issues come up and take mental note of successful solutions. They have a plan of action ready for any conceivable classroom scenario that might occur.
Let’s look at an example. The most common type of difficult situation that teachers face is the tricky question scenario – a question that you don’t know the answer to, or you’re not sure about the answer.
The last thing you want to happen is to look like ‘a deer in the headlights.’ If you’re asked a tricky question, there are two sure fire ways to avoid embarrassment.
One is to say, ‘I have an excellent resource in the staffroom that covers that point. I’ll bring it after the break / to our next lesson’. The other way to go is, ‘You have asked a great question and I want to address it – but we need to finish this other point first and we can look at that after the break / in our next lesson’.
By giving yourself time to find an answer, you’ve acknowledged the importance of what your student is asking without compromising the connection you have with the class.
One last thing
If you’d like to learn more about becoming an excellent English language teacher, check out our other articles on our TESOL Advantage website.