One of the main points that were instilled in our brains during my TEFL certification course is: You never know who is going to actually show up in your classroom each day. And, that my friends, is the truth!
Being a TEFL or ESL or EFL teacher definitely keeps you on your toes! Each day brings something new and different to the classroom. I have had 30 students in my class one day, and the next day, just 2 or 3, in that same class!
In this article, we’ll talk about why this is the case and how to best plan for any scenario.
Why Attendance Varies So Much
So, why is it that attendance in the TEFL classroom is so variable? Always changing; new students daily, and old students disappearing for a week at a time. In my opinion, which comes from my 4 years of experiences as a TEFL teacher, there are a few reasons why this is.
- A lot of younger students have already gone to a full day of school. This reason was particularly true during my time in Central America. Since I taught TEFL to students in the afternoons and night time, students had already had a full day of learning under their belt before arriving in my classroom! Now, I remember being in elementary school and high school, and once that final bell rang at 2:26 PM, I was OUT! And by out, I mean, physically and mentally. My 17-year old self really didn’t want to learn anymore, and on the days that I was forced to go to tutoring or French lessons, my mind was barely retaining any information that was being thrown at me. So, for a lot of students coming from school to English school, they just don’t want to be there. Is there a way to fix this? I’m not sure. In my efforts, all I could do was try to engage them as best I could. Even try to entice them a little with some snacks and a good time. But, if they don’t show up, they don’t and there’s little to nothing I could do about that.
- The lives of many individuals trying to learn a new language are very fluid and unpredictable. You never know what people are going through at any given point in their life. It is through my observation, that many people trying to learn English as a foreign language, have lots of obstacles in life. Maybe they are trying to learn the language so they can provide a better life for their families? Or perhaps, in order to move to a more prosperous country. Whatever the reason is, there is one. So, for many, not showing up to class could be because something more important popped up all of a sudden, and we can’t blame anyone for that.
- They are forced to take the class. I have also found that many people who are in my class as a mandatory thing, tend to skip often. Why would someone have to be in class, you ask? There are a few reasons: some businesses require employees to take an Engish class, parents can make their children enroll in one or you may have a government-sanctioned reason why. But the point is, if you don’t want to voluntarily be somewhere, you’re going to do the bare minimum, AKA, not come very often.
So, those are the 3 main reasons why classroom populations can be so variable, in my opinion. Of course, I would love to hear any thoughts you have on this problem within the TEFL world, so please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
How to Prepare for Everything
For every class I teach, I have (at least) two lessons prepared. One for is attendance is high and the other for low-attendance days.
As a teacher, I think it is most beneficial to teach big grammar lessons on days when there are a lot of students in attendance. Why is this? Because these lessons are crucial to English language learning and they lay the basis for nearly everything else.
If I teach a big grammar lesson on a day that 4 students show up, there is no doubt that I will have to repeat majority of that lesson for an activity another day, when, let’s say, 18 students show up. So, in thinking of how to best utilize time, these lessons that lay the groundwork of the language, are always saved for a high attendance day.
So, what should teachers do on days when attendance is low?
Remember, a huge part in language learning in repetition, so there’s no issue is you do review lessons or reading, speaking and writing activity that combine several concepts that you have previously taught in order to create more complex thinking. You can have a class dedicated to an elaborate game, or to a group project.
With a small class, you are also able to ask the question: “What do you want to learn?” or “What do you need some extra help with?” And your students will let you know. In this case, you won’t so much have that extra lesson planned, but with experience, you’ll be able to whip something up fairly quickly to address that certain lesson.
I’ll admit, that sometimes I really enjoy the smaller classes for a few reasons. Firstly because it allows for an intimate relationship between you and your students. You are able to get to know them in a way that isn’t possible in a big group. You can learn their learning habits better and what works and what doesn’t work. You’re also able to give them more one-on-one attention. Secondly, students often feel more comfortable in a small group and they open up more and talk more. You are able to see a lot more of who they are. Lastly, you can personalize the lessons. Teach them exactly what they need.
On the contrary, I also love when my class is big and bustling! It feels as though the room comes to life when there are 20, 25 or 30 students in the class. The energy is buzzing and enthusiasm high. This is great for other reasons.
I really love both scenarios! You will no doubt run into these situations during your time as a TEFL teacher, so be prepared by having a few lessons in your back pocket!