Do you remember your high school years? For many of us, the events that stick out weren’t that important in the big scheme of things – just some kind of nonsense that went on every single day.
Even if you played no part in the drama, you wanted the inside scoop – who cheated, who was in a fight, who played the practical joke?
Whatever was going on, it was up to teachers to maintain control. A difficult thing to do when your job description is 50% juggler, 50% firefighter.
High School teachers usually get little to no credit when things are good but are often quickly blamed when something goes wrong, even when it’s obvious they have little to no responsibility or control.
So, many of the high school teachers we remember were by necessity combative, finding it very hard to even attempt to maintain a positive climate in the face of unruly unempathetic, even hostile students.
In building your career as a TESOL Teacher, you may be inclined to think about these kinds of high school memories and use them as a base and a guide for what you are going to do in your classroom.
One simple piece of advice? DON’T!
The ESL classroom is very different to a high school one. Generally speaking, ESL students need more emotional support. It’s tiring and stressful to have to constantly communicate and study in a second language.
Also, they are often more motivated learners – they believe they NEED to learn English and are therefore usually respectful towards instructors. Students who might normally like to test boundaries often don’t because they have no idea where the boundaries are.
All in all, the vast majority of ESL students are eager to be supportive of their teachers – and greatly appreciate any efforts a TESOL teacher makes to build a rapport with them.
So, what are the best ways for an English Language Teacher to build a rapport with their ESL students? Here are ten great tips.
Tip 1. Understand that it takes time
Even the most charismatic instructor teaching the most motivated students needs time to build a rapport – it can’t be done instantaneously.
The committed TESOL teacher maintains a proactive approach. They look for ways to build strong, ongoing relationships with students.
Tips 2. Show glimpses of yourself
ESL students need to get to know you before they can like and trust you. Incorporate personal anecdotes into your lessons. It humanises you as a teacher and the students hear about experiences that they can potentially relate to.
Tip 3. Be funny and friendly
Always walk into your classroom with a smile on your face and a friendly tone in your voice. Tell jokes, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Multiple studies have shown that enthusiasm and humour decrease stress – the constant issue that your students face having to communicate in a second language – and promote cooperation and good will.
Tip 4. Never berate a student in front of their peers
In many cultures, losing face can never be forgiven. If a student misbehaves or becomes confrontational, never escalate in front of the other students.
Ask the student to stop and if they acquiesce, talk to them after class. If a student continues to be confrontational, insist they wait outside and go and talk with them when it’s possible to do so.
Tip 5. Be fair and consistent
All students have memories like elephants when it comes to how you handled previous situations and are quick to complain about any perceived inequities regarding punishments and outcomes.
Establish procedures and expectations on the first day and then consistently follow and adhere to them.
Tip 6. Give your students a voice
ESL students feel appreciated when it’s possible for them to express their views. English Language Teachers should allow them to make decisions on what goes on their classroom when it’s appropriate. From time to time, you can even ask them to complete surveys.
Of course, it won’t be possible to incorporate all their ideas into your lesson plans. But there should be little difficulty in accommodating them to at least some degree.
Tip 7. Help your students set goals
Giving ESL students support in setting short-term and long-term goals shows them that you are taking a real interest in their lives. Provide them with the strategies and tools they need to achieve those goals. Look for opportunities to celebrate success.
One important goal is to set high expectations. When you show your students that you have high expectations for them, you teach them to have high expectations for themselves.
Tip 8. Talk to students outside the classroom
Stand in the hallway between classes and in break time. Be personable. Engage in casual conversation with students whenever you see them.
You can just ask how they are going – or if you know them well, enquire about their interests or upcoming events. The important thing for English Language Teachers is to make sure each student believes they are important to you and that they matter.
Tip 9. Go the extra mile when students need help
In some cases, you might be the ONLY person in their life that they can turn to when they have a serious problem. Take the time to listen and show you care. If you can’t help, hook them up with someone who can.
Tip 10. Make sure you always have ‘money in the bank’
I saved the most important tip for last. It’s inevitable that there will be moments when your students aren’t happy with something you say or with something you want them to do.
If you have built a good rapport with them over time, this is like having ‘money in the bank.’ The good will you have created means they will follow you even if they don’t really want to. You can make a ‘withdrawal’ and then look for ways to make further ‘deposits’ in the future.