No English language teacher gets into this profession for the money. Every language teacher I’ve ever met gets job satisfaction from seeing their students succeed, rather than through fancy perks and golden parachutes. But even the most dedicated and empathetic teacher can make mistakes, especially when they’re new to the job.
Below, we discuss four of the most common mistakes that English language teachers make and how to correct them.
1. Teacher Talk
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of talking too much in the classroom. Sometimes it’s because you can feel a lack of control if you’re not talking. But more often, it’s to meet what would appear to be a totally justifiable objective – making sure the students understand by providing additional information.
While obviously this is sometimes necessary, it can become a habit to provide lengthy explanations and a large number of examples which end up being counter-productive – students aren’t given enough of an opportunity to digest what they’re learning.
It’s important to understand English language students need more time to think and prepare their responses than students studying in their native language. Embracing silence as an educator is a good thing. Remember, you don’t need to practice your English – your students do – so give them as much time as possible to do that.
2. Thinking You Can Just ‘Wing it’
From time to time in my teaching career, I’ve come across the supremely confident, high popular ‘I don’t need to prepare anything’ teacher. A common argument for ‘winging it’ goes as follows:
‘The number one thing my students enjoy is having conversations. They’re always pushing for more free talking time, so I give them what they want. I also get what I want – I don’t need to spend my free time doing something boring like preparing unnecessary lesson plans.’
This lackadaisical approach is most often followed by teachers who did not complete a 3 or 4 year teaching qualification like a primary or high school degree, and therefore had not been drilled over an extended period on the necessity of class preparation.
Don’t get me wrong – some of the best and most gifted English language teachers I’ve ever seen ‘only’ had a short course TESOL or TEFL certificate. However, when I was a Director of Studies (Academic Manager), one of my hardest jobs was to convince teachers who didn’t like preparing lesson plans to do just that.
Here, in a nutshell, is why class preparation is so important:
A) If you don’t spend some time preparing resources like newspaper clippings, pictures, online articles or worksheets, you’re short-changing your students. They don’t get the breadth of learning that’s required to face communicating in the outside world.
B) Good teaching is all about time management. In Class A, you may need to spend 30 minutes on a particular exercise. However, in Class B which is supposed to be at the same level, you may find they already know that material well, so you only need to spend 15 minutes.
Because each student cohort is different, a good teacher observes what the strengths and weaknesses of a specific class are and prepares their lessons accordingly to allow for efficient use of class time.
C) Even if your school doesn’t have tests and exams, or doesn’t take assessment very seriously, all courses still have educational goals or aims. It’s part of your job to make sure your students achieve these objectives.
A consistent focus on educational goals is only possible through consistent class preparation and you’re then able to keep lessons on track regardless of distractions.
3. Not Taking Into Account The Stressors Your Students Face
It’s amazing how easy it is, especially if your students are at a high level, to forget that English is their second language. They constantly have to deal with an unlevel playing field. They are ALWAYS at a disadvantage when they’re talking to you – you’re in a more powerful position both with regard to your classroom role as well as the means of communication.
The stressors students face are even more significant when they’re learning English in a foreign country. Being a million miles from home, often with money/homesickness/culture shock accommodation/boyfriend or girlfriend/job issues to deal with, means that they often bring a lot of emotional baggage to the classroom.
This can negatively affect their concentration and motivation even before the class begins.
Students need to believe that you’re on their side, and that you have their best interests at heart. Allow me to tell you a story about how I sometimes share a thought that really resonates with my students and shows them I care. One student I was teaching in Australia confided in me that some locals had made fun of his accent and he was very angry about it.
I said, ‘When it comes to language ability, who is smarter, them or you?’
He answered, ‘They were much better at English than me.’
My response was, ‘That’s not what I mean. When it comes to speaking languages, how many can you speak?’
‘And how many can they speak?’
As my student thought about it, his expression changed and I was so happy to see a big smile appear on his face.
4. Treating Your Students Like Students
If your learners are adults and they are paying to join your course, they will view themselves as consumers rather than students. This is a view many teachers find it hard to get their heads around, especially if they have taught in a primary or high school.
In most traditional institutions of learning, the school and teacher set the curriculum and students are expected to follow the program without question. Because language school learners believe they are consumers that have bought a product, they will often feel they have every right to question that product if there’s something they’re dissatisfied with.
If your students complain about your teaching style or the exercises you’re preparing, try to see things from their point of view. Rather than being offended, respectfully discuss their concerns and work on finding a solution that everyone can agree on.
One last thing
If you’d like to learn more about English language teaching, check out our other articles on our TESOL Advantage website.