It’s not difficult to become n ESL teacher. Almost any English speaker can find work somewhere teaching English, even without a degree or other qualifications. However, becoming a great teacher is much harder.
No problem, in this post here are eight things you need to do if you want to be a superstar teacher.
1. Know what students need
The first thing that anyone should learn about language teaching, in my opinion, is the three conditions that students need to learn a language. They are not a rocket science and they even make a nice little mnemonic “EMU“. They are Exposure to the language, Motivation to learn and opportunities to Use the language. Nothing else. Students do not need technology and they don’t need a teacher.
Students do not need technology and they don’t need a teacher.
Good teachers know that they are not necessary to the process of learning. Instead, they know how to maximise these three conditions in their lessons. They know how to keep their students’ interest, how to give the right level of input and how to get their students to talk as much as possible. Most of the time, teachers need to be careful that they are not the ones getting in the way of learning!
2. Nail instructions
It doesn’t really matter what approach you take to teaching if you don’t get the instructions right. In fact, in some cases, students might be better off if the teacher doesn’t show up! This might be going a little far, but the message should be clear that instructions are critical to the success of a lesson. They are the cement that holds the selection of activities and tasks together.
Good instructions are concise, comprehensible and supported through visuals such as pictures or demonstrations. They are also checked for understanding. Some teachers seem to think it’s okay to give flimsy instructions with high levels. No, just because students understand poor instructions doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for great instructions.
This is a matter of effective communication, in which we are a model for our students. Make your instructions as clear as possible.
3. Make lessons fun
I have honestly met some teachers who believe that learning should be hard. I’ve also met teachers that believe it should be fun, but don’t always show the evidence of that in class. Absolutely, 150% learning should be made fun where possible.
A good time in class is likely to keep students coming back, although naturally, it is equally important that the good time was achieved while some learning was going on.
Absolutely, 150% learning should be made fun where possible.
Admittedly some things are inherently less fun than others – students often moan at the mention of writing, and exam classes can feel incredibly dry. Even still, it’s not hard to ensure that at least some moments in the class are fun.
It would be impossible to make every moment the best – peaks and troughs are natural and to be expected – but make sure your lesson isn’t a two-hour trough!
4. Keep students busy
The devil makes work for idle thumbs, so they say. It’s absolutely true in a young learner class and a sure-fire way to have kids misbehaving. Even in adult classes, the students might tolerate it, but only for a while.
Ensure that students always have something to keep them occupied: whether it’s an extra question, colouring (for kids, I hope that was obvious!) or finding difficult words in a text. Keep ’em busy.
Equally, don’t allow the strongest students to dominate any whole class activities. This means that some students are not being involved as much and again these students could cause problems for you.
If students are being quiet, try to include them in the conversation. If their level is low, look for opportunities to build their confidence by asking them questions to which you know they have the right answer.
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5. Try out new things
For new teachers, this isn’t usually a problem as it’s all new! But teachers do face a danger of slipping into always doing things the same way. When this happens they become less willing to adapt and perhaps start to get frustrated as they notice the problems in their teaching but simultaneously refuse to change.
There are no perfect teachers, no perfect lessons, students, techniques, approaches or activities. If we’re lucky, something might occasionally work so well it feels perfect, but it’s unrealistic that this will happen all the time.
However, the more we tweak our methods and our lessons, the more frequently we can enjoy these moments where we seemed to get everything completely spot on. Experimentation is key.
6. Forget a bad day at the office
The first piece of advice I got given as a teacher was that it’s not surgery. If we give a bad lesson, no-one is going to die (or it would have to be a very bad lesson!). When you realise that the worst thing you have done after a bad lesson is waste some peoples’ money and time it makes it a bit easier to get over it. Okay so that’s still not great, and it’s a horrible feeling, and one you will hopefully not want to repeat.
If we give a bad lesson, no-one is going to die.
However, before you forget the bad lesson try to reflect on what was bad about it. What could you change if you did this lesson again? Then take the learning points and forget the lesson – you can’t change it!
And go into the next lesson as confidently as you can and give the best lesson you know how. As Samuel Beckett once said, “Try again, fail again, fail better.”
As with the previous point, good teachers reflect on their lessons. Even after good lessons, it is important (and more pleasant) to reflect on what worked and what didn’t and the reasons why that was. Teaching is a never-ending cycle of improvement, so long as we keep the wheel turning by reflecting.
Reflecting can take many forms. It can be sitting on the bus or metro thinking to yourself, it could be keeping a journal, meditation or recording your thoughts with a digital recorder.
8. Seek out feedback
To help with reflection, good teachers seek out feedback from their students and other professionals. Mediocre and bad teachers are afraid to be told how mediocre and bad they are. Good teachers are not afraid because they will generally be told they are good, or they will turn it into good feedback next time.
There are many ways to collect feedback besides the standard evaluation forms. Many can be incorporated into classroom routines. Collecting feedback from colleagues and bosses generally tends to involve observations, but could equally come from discussion, sharing resources and lesson plans or perhaps even demonstrating techniques to each other.
To summarise, being a teacher is easy. Being a good teacher is hard but far more rewarding. It’s not about being able to use Youtube videos in the classroom although these might be motivating.
A good teacher becomes a master of the basics and a student of the finer points of methodology. A good teacher never says I know enough, never gives up finding out more, never settles for the best they can do. A good teacher doesn’t even want to be a good teacher, they are already working on being a great teacher, a perfect teacher, the best teacher they can be!