TEFL Tip Tuesday: What Makes a Good TEFL Teacher?

Teaching English can be a your ticket to travel the world but it can also be a challenging experience and it’s not for everyone. It is very common for people to sign up to a TEFL programme expecting it to be one big holiday, this is not the reality. Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a real job that requires you to show up every day and give it your all! So what makes a good TEFL teacher? The answer can vary depending on who you ask but I believe there are some key features that every teacher should possess in order to be successful in the classroom.

English Camp in Thailand, I take pie chart drawing very seriously!

1. Dedication

As I mentioned above, teaching English can be hard work. It can be challenging, things always go wrong and some days you will get home and all you will want to do is go straight to bed. Even with all that it is, in my opinion, the best job in the world. Teaching English as a foreign language is the most exciting job you will ever do, it just requires a little bit of dedication. The students can tell if you really care about the job or not, if you go in with a haphazard lesson plan they will not take you seriously and the class will quickly descend into chaos. Commit yourself to fun and engaging lesson plans that get your students up and talking with each other. When things go wrong, don’t give up, rethink! Dedication to your work will reward you with students who are excited for your lesson and happy to participate in class.

2. Communication

This is important with both your fellow teachers and your students. Talk to your local teachers and find out about your school. Ask them as many questions as you can because they might not think to tell you themselves. There is often an assumption that foreign teachers already know everything they need to know (this can include everything from what topics to teach to where the toilet is) so important information can slip through the cracks. This is why you need to be proactive in your communication, make the first move and ask a local teacher or staff member if you need help with something. 

When it comes to communicating with your class, depending on their proficiency level, you might find yourself needing more than words to get your point across. You’ll need to communicate the meaning of vocabulary words and sometimes a flashcard just won’t cut it. This is where good communication skills are really important, you have to make yourself understood by the class!

Flashcards are useful but sometimes body language is just as important!

3. Flexibility

I think 2020 has shown just how adaptable we can be when it comes to our work. My experience this year has just put in to practice everything TEFL has taught me about flexibility and being ready for anything. In TEFL no two days, weeks, classes or jobs are the same. What works in one class might not work in another and the way you work in one school might be the complete opposite of how things were done at another. You have to be adaptable and willing to take each day as it comes because you never know what TEFL is going to throw at you.

I had 20 different classes in China and even though I did the same lesson plan with them all, each and every one of them was different. And why wouldn’t they be, every class had 40 students each with different personalities, likes and dislikes. They are all going to react differently to my lesson plan. That doesn’t mean I have 20 different lesson plans but it does mean that I adapt the lesson and classroom management to suit each class as I go.

You might find yourself with classes cancelled at the last minute, you might be teaching 40 students or you might be teaching 3 students. You might even go a long to an “English Department Meeting” and find yourself up on stage giving your opinion on an open class that you didn’t even know was happening 20 minute before! At the end of the day as long as you are flexible and ready to adapt then the unpredictability of TEFL might just be what you love about the job.

One of many surprise appearances on a stage in China…

4. Multitasking

As I have already mentioned TEFL definitely keeps you on your toes. Being able to multitask will help you with classroom management and keep you sane. The expression “eyes on the back of your head” springs to mind whenever I think about my teaching experiences; while you’re trying to get the computer to work and the video on the big screen one of your students might be about to launch a rubber across the classroom! Your focus is almost always split between two or more things… Now more than ever I have found the ability to multitask to be one of my biggest advantages in the (virtual) classroom. Working online I find myself simultaneously directing students in a task while loading the next activity and answering questions in the chat box on Zoom. If you can dance, sing and give the “teacher look” all at the same time then you’re on to a winner!

5. Humility and Confidence

Ok so I know these two words mean almost exactly the opposite of each other but hear me out! As an ESL teacher you will be placed in situations that require both of these traits separately, that is almost guaranteed, but the reason I have put them as one point is that I want to stress the importance of using these two ways of thinking together. It is true that without confidence (real or false) you cannot expect to command a classroom and earn the respect of your students but at the same time too much confidence can be detrimental to your ability to teach English as a foreign language. Being able to confidently admit when you make a mistake is something I will always believe to be a valuable trait in a teacher. Students need to learn that it is ok to mess up sometimes and if they have a strong role model in you as their teacher then that is the best way for them to learn. There is nothing worse than a teacher who is afraid to admit they are wrong, don’t let pride get in the way of your relationship with your students!

The last day of term, saying goodbye is never easy!

If you are considering becoming an ESL teacher the most important thing to remember is to have fun with your students. Don’t take yourself too seriously but do take the job and your role as an educator seriously! Not only will possessing the qualities listed above allow you to connect with your students but it will show the local staff that you are there for the right reasons and that will not be overlooked. If you’re in it for the right reasons even the bad days will have a silver lining!

For more TEFL Tips check out one of these posts:

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