TEFL is a unique profession. In little more than a month, a university graduate in biology could be transformed into a TEFL teacher. Likewise, someone who has never before left their hometown, could be teaching classes in the tropics not long after making the decision to begin their TEFL career. TEFL is unique in how easy it is to become qualified and find gainful employment in an exciting location. However, before anyone starts this voyage, they should ask themselves if they have qualities that will make them a good teacher.
Read on for what I think are the top 5 Qualities of an awesome TEFL teacher. There’s more to TEFL than just teaching, these qualities are all applicable to both the professional and social life of a TEFL teacher.
If you already are a teacher and looking to skill up. I encourage you to click the button below and I’ll send you my top 5 practical teaching posts.
- Be Adaptable
In my past nine years in the TEFL industry, I have worked for eight different companies. None of the teaching positions were the same as the others. Companies all have different ideologies and ways that they will want to do things. Instead of arguing about it with your new employer (not usually a great idea), try to use it as a learning experience. There is always room to improve one’s teaching skills.
Also, you are likely to be teaching very different types of classes throughout your TEFL career. Here’s a short list of some of the types of classes I’ve taught over the years: young learners, teens, general English for adults, academic English for undergraduates, IELTS test preparation, business English, pronunciation classes, TOEIC test preparation… I’ve had classes as large as sixty students and as small as one. I’ve had classes where the students are three years old, I’ve taught a room full of beginner grandparents.
One mistake that many teachers make when looking for a TEFL job is pigeon-holing themselves into a particular type of class. Most jobs will require you to teach many different levels and age groups. To be successful, keep an open mind about the types of classes you are willing to teach.
Likewise, you are likely going to teach in a foreign country. Adaptability is critical to living a happy life abroad. You are going to experience new ways of doing things, different values, opinions that might seem odd to you, food that you’ve never heard of and much more. Try to keep an open mind and try new things. For me, the best thing about travel is that it broadens your mind, but only if you let it.
- Be Friendly
Another default of the TEFL profession, which I definitely look at as a positive thing, is that you will constantly be meeting new people. Every new class that you are given, you will need to make a first impression. Every new job you take will lead you into a new group of expats from around the globe to meet.
One question that makes it on nearly all student feedback forms about their teachers is about the teacher’s demeanor. Is the teacher friendly and approachable? Does the teacher seem interested in what you have to say? Do you like your teacher?
These questions are there for good reason. Nobody, regardless of age, wants to spend their money and their free time having conversation practice with a grouch. A smile and genuine affection for one’s students goes a long way.
- Be Empathetic
Imagine that you are five years old. You’ve never seen a foreigner before except on TV. You don’t know any English. Suddenly, unbeknownst to you, there is a new teacher from somewhere you’ve never heard of. You can’t understand a word they are saying, but they are yelling at you and being very demanding.
Pretty scary, huh. I’ve watched a lot of new teachers getting frustrated with classes of children that aren’t doing exactly what they want. By in large, the problem is usually the same: a lack of empathy.
It’s important to look at things from the student’s perspective no matter what they age or level. This is why it is sometimes useful to do a needs analysis with new students to find out their motivations and goals in English. Looking at things from the perspective of the student will make you a better person.
- Be Observant
This is another skill that is useful in both a TEFL teacher’s professional and private life. Similar to empathy, being observant will help you be more sensitive to students’ needs. It will also help you to reflect after your classes when considering what activities did or didn’t work.
Also, any teacher of children will tell you that you need eyes in the back of your head to keep track of all the hijinx that young students will try to get up to. It’s important to be as truly present in a teaching moment as possible: to gauge students interest, to observe whether they understand the concept, to offer pivotal moments of encouragement, to use humor when necessary or earnestness as the situation may require.
In regards to travel and experiencing new cultures, the power of observation is likewise paramount. One of the many reasons is safety. A TEFL teacher’s new country of choice might either have a higher or lower rate of crime, but either way, rest assured that the threats will be different and not something a newcomer will be habitually aware of.
Also, day to day life will be different and offer new challenges. Here are some questions that you might not think of right away.
“How will I travel to work?”
“Where will I get food to cook?”
“Do people drive on the left or right side of the road?”
“What are some cultural taboos? I don’t want to offend anyone.”
“Can I get clothes that will fit me?”
“What do local people do in their free time?”
“Are public displays of affection appropriate?”
Upon arrival in a new country, your head will be full of questions. One method of finding answers is research, but quite often, a more effective method is merely being observant. See how others behave and try to fit in.
- Be Creative
(Source: Steph Wood)
In both a TEFL teacher’s personal and professional life, creativity will make a better you. In the classroom, many teachers are given some simple lesson aims and expected to come up with an hour and a half of fun activities. Yes, you can find some game ideas on-line, but it takes creativity to make them work in your particular classroom.
TEFL teaching also lends itself to a lot of crafts, singing and acting moments. Don’t shy away from these; let your creativity shine and your students will take your lead.
Likewise, as stated in section four, your new life in a different country will be full of fun challenges that may require unorthodox solutions. The best travelers I know are people who can adapt to new situations in creative and fun ways. Don’t look at them as problems, look at them as fun challenges.
If you’ve read this and feel that you have what it takes to be an awesome TEFL teacher, I encourage you to click on the button below and I’ll send you my top five practical teaching posts. Also, if you are ready to join a TEFL course, you can check out some offers from TEFL express here. There are many different types of courses, and I’m not just trying to sell our course. Do your research and find a course that’s right for you.