Becoming a TEFL teacher is really exciting. You look forward to traveling to exotic places, learning new cultures, sharing your culture and experiences, presenting your knowledge and changing lives — your own and your students’. With that excitement can come doubt and fear. Will I be able to do this job well? Will the students like me? Will I be an effective teacher for them? These questions don’t necessarily go away with experience. New classes, levels or ages can bring back that new teacher anxiety.
Every teacher is different, and every class is unique. There’s no one-size-fits all strategy to being a great teacher. And there’s no way to completely eradicate the new class jitters. There are some key characteristics that most great teachers share though.
Skills for Becoming a Great TEFL Teacher
Our first tip is to be enthusiastic. This goes a very long way in the classroom. The classroom is your place to shine. You are in charge there and you can make it feel however you want. You set the tone for your students so make sure you exude your enthusiasm and passion for English. A great TEFL teacher will be excited everyday about the new opportunities that are available for students. Your enthusiasm will show up in your teaching, activities and interaction with your students. If you keep it strong, then you will no doubt be a great TEFL teacher.
Think back to your own time in school. Which teachers were your favorites? The ones who loved their subject and their students? Or the ones who were going through the motions each day? Obviously, you preferred the teachers who were enthusiastic. And so will your students. Enthusiasm is contagious and making your classroom a fun place will make learning English a fun activity.
Next, remember to always keep an open mind. You are most likely going to be teaching in another country, which means you’ll be exposed to different cultures and customs. Do not close your mind off to these other ways of life just because they are different from your own. Think of it as an opportunity to learn and experience someone else’s way of life for a little while. If you accept the customs of the country you are in, you will be a far greater teacher – and person – than if you do not.
This is important in adjusting to your new life abroad, but it’s also important in the classroom. Knowing, for example, the local grading system will make your classroom comfortable for your students. Your 4.0 perfect score might not translate well in a classroom where a 7.0 is the highest score. It also helps in creating your class culture, which should be designed to make you and the students as happy and as comfortable as possible. Ask your local colleagues and teachers who have experience in your location for help. They’ll know how you can adjust your expectations to maximize the experience for everyone.
That said, feel free to teach your students a little bit about your culture so they can get to know you! This will allow for a strong relationship between you and your students. Language learners need to know more than lists of vocabulary and verb tenses. Regardless of their reason for learning the language, they also need to learn about cultures. It will help them to understand the slang they hear on television. It will prevent them from being offended that their new work colleague doesn’t give them a cheek kiss before a meeting. It will show them what is normal in the sitcoms they watch and what is exaggerated for effect. In short, in order to understand language in use, you need to know more than just the words and how to put them together. You need to know the cultural context as well.
Tip number three: be creative. Students love to learn through creative ways. Students also learn best when their brains are being stimulated, so being a great TEFL teacher requires you to keep those learning minds stimulated and interested. You can do this by using your imagination to create games and learning exercises that are fun learning experiences. Always remember to plan more activities than you think you need just in case you have some extra time. Students don’t do well with not having anything to do and they become bored or agitated and lose the stamina necessary for learning English.
It’s okay if you’re not a naturally creative person; you can still do creative things. Ask your coworkers how they’ve taught your target language and adapt their ideas to fit your class. If that doesn’t work check the internet. There are great resources on this and other blogs and forums. No one has to know that your creative activity wasn’t created by you. Another thing to keep in mind is how the students will use the target language and plan activities based around that. Drawing decontextualized pictures of prepositions of place is probably not a common activity. But describing locations is an incredibly common activity so those words are important. In what context would they need to describe a location? How can you bring that into the classroom and keep it realistic, fun and in context?
Our final tip is to never stop learning. Great teachers know that getting your TEFL certification is only the beginning. Keep educating yourself on grammatical structures and metalanguage. Read up on new theories related to teaching and learning, then try to apply them in your classroom. Different teaching methods work for different learning styles, target language and teachers. Try them all so you don’t get stuck in a rut. And you never know when a student will come into class and ask you what a noun clause is. Continuing your own English language learning will ensure that you can confidently answer those questions.
You should also realize that everything you do in life is learning. You might be watching a television series when you see a brilliant scene full of examples of a particular grammar point. You might hear a song that you could use to teach a vocabulary set. Or you might find yourself buying a train ticket and realize that your classroom full of students learning English to travel would benefit from being able to do the same.
This list is, of course, just the beginning. There is a big world full of great teachers and they all have tips that can keep you on the right track. Share your tips in the comments!