8 Tips for New ESL Teachers

Happy New Year! In today’s post I will talk about advice for newbie ESL teachers. I’ll try and share a bit of the wisdom I’ve acquired in the last ten years doing this job.

In no particular order, here are my tips:

Keep Calm

It’s really important that you don’t lose your temper in the classroom. Sure, many of us will remember our own childhoods and seeing teachers shout and scream… but it’s no longer acceptable. You simply alienate your students at best, and at worst you may cause them to lose interest in the subject. You might even get yourself fired. Teaching can be incredibly frustrating at times, but like anything else in life you have to be able to take a deep breath and continue. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Find the Line Between Permissive and Strict

In many cultures, teachers are very strict people who harshly enforce the rules. This does not, however, contribute to a positive learning environment. You certainly don’t want to be too lenient, but avoid creating an oppressive environment by finding that ideal line. Students should feel free to express themselves and explore their new language, yet there must also be boundaries in place to ensure things don’t get too out of hand. This is obviously easier with adults than children.

Demonstrate

It may sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re the one standing at the front of the room, telling everyone what to do. Leaders show the way rather than telling others what to do. When teaching something new, demonstrate how it should be done. Give examples. Only when your students have seen how it should be done can they realistically be expected to follow. If using new grammar, give plenty of examples and make it abundantly clear exactly what you mean before expecting the students to produce.

Empathize with Language Learners

Learning a new language is difficult and scary. Once you understand this, you are in a better position to help your students. Look back to your own experiences, or else go out and learn a new language. Imagine being in an immersive environment where you can’t simply revert back to your mother tongue… It’s embarrassing and exhausting. Yet once you understand this, you can help your students a lot.

Input -> Output

Again, this sounds so obvious but if the students haven’t learned something, they can’t be expected to use it! Lessons should be structured carefully so students can learn a piece of grammar or vocabulary from a text, then get its pronunciation and form, then practice using it in a limited context, before finally doing some freer practice. They must see it being used and then learn how to use it before they can actually use it themselves.

Smile… but don’t be a Clown

A lot of new teachers tend to go overboard making the students like them. Yes, you should build a rapport by being friendly. However, you are a teacher, not a clown. Act professional and take yourself seriously. Prepare solid lesson plans and don’t rely on jokes and funny videos to get by. It’s tempting to want the students to really love your classes because they are easy and funny, but sometimes you have to get serious.

Feedback is Essential

Sometimes you need to teach fluency, and that means letting students talk without correcting them too much. However, all students require some level of feedback. They need to know what they are doing right and wrong in order to improve. This is true of speaking and writing. Make sure you don’t only encourage their fluency or else they will soon hit a dead-end.

Talk Less than you’d Expect

For my first few years’ teaching, I tried to speak as much as possible. It was what my students expected and what most teachers here in China do. However, eventually I learned that it’s a really bad method of teaching. The teacher should carefully guide students to their own understanding, and let them practice using the language. You are there to guide and model, not to endlessly explain. It will seem strange and awkward at first, but keep your words minimal, and you will see improvements.
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I'm the founder and editor of Beatdom Literary Journal, author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. I'm also a teacher and operate the popular website, TED-IELTS.

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