Academic qualifications and experience alone are not enough to establish whether someone will make a great EFL teacher. So what other things are important? Think back to your favourite teachers and you probably won’t go too far wrong.
1) A Love of Teaching
Number one on our list may sound obvious, but to be a great EFL teacher, you need to love being in the classroom. This doesn’t mean that you never get nervous or apprehensive before a lesson, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you will come out of every class on a high. You will have bad days and good days – and days when you will wish you’d taken that short course in bookkeeping and accounting! However, if someone asks you the question ‘Do you like your job?’ and you are able to answer honestly ‘I really love it!’, then you are probably already well on the way to being a fantastic EFL teacher.
2) A Love of the English Language
A genuine interest in the English language is a must. The more you learn about your subject, the more you will feel enthusiastic about it, and the more you will want to know. Also, you never know when it might come in handy with a class! Whether it’s learning about the origins of words, discovering a new phrase that is doing the rounds, or reading something that makes you go ‘Wow – I never knew that!’ For example: I once met a teacher who told me she’d fallen in love with the word ‘pedigree’, ever since she discovered that it came from the French ‘pied de grue’ (crane’s foot) – and because in genealogy, when you draw a family tree, this is what it looks like. Geeky and wonderful.
3) Energy and Enthusiasm
Enjoy what you do and show your enthusiasm and excitement in the classroom. Have fun working with your students and use your own dynamism to inspire them and help spark interest in learning the language. Use your enthusiasm as a motivational tool to boost their self-confidence and self-belief. You will also find that energy and passion in the classroom are infectious – so lead by example!
4) Getting to know your students
Get to know your students: their personalities, their learning styles and the things they love and hate. Who works well with whom, which activities will fly with a particular class and which are likely to end in disaster? Listening to, understanding and empathising with your student’s points of view will help to build trust and break down barriers. Engage with learners and be sensitive to their needs. Personalise learning activities and ask questions that make sense to them as individuals. Identify strengths and weaknesses and act upon them to get the best out of your students.
5) Cultural Appreciation
Culture and EFL teaching are intertwined. As well as making students aware of important aspects of the cultures of English-speaking countries, build an awareness and appreciation of students’ own cultures and cultural differences. It shows the students you care, can be a valuable resource for teaching – and will help inform your teaching by allowing you to choose and adapt materials and activities in a way that is sensitive to learners’ cultures. It will also help you make sense of certain student behaviours that might otherwise be attributed to other factors such as shyness, rudeness or lack of interest.
6) Teacher Roles
As a teacher you will find yourself taking on many roles in the classroom: lecturer, instruction-giver, facilitator, organiser, actor, coach, disciplinarian, mediator, confidante, diplomat, and therapist. If you have done more than a few weeks of teaching, you will probably recognise times when you have had to be all of these things – sometimes all within the same lesson! A great teacher learns over time how to move between these roles with skill and dexterity, signalling clearly to students through voice, gesture and body language the function they are fulfilling at that moment.
Expect the unexpected! A great EFL teacher must be able to think outside the box and respond to any unforeseen challenges both inside and outside of the classroom. Try to be flexible in your approach and don’t worry if things don’t go to plan – be prepared to think on your feet and change things when necessary. As a young teacher, I once took a class using an activity that I had done successfully a number of times with other classes. I was totally confident that it was a great activity, and when it bombed, and I was dying on my feet, rather than change my plans, I ploughed on regardless. One of the longest hours of my life – and a great lesson learnt!
Patience is a virtue. A reassuring and patient teacher gives students the confidence to have a go and not be afraid of making mistakes. Patience helps build a supportive atmosphere in the classroom and you can encourage students to help each other out when they encounter difficulties. Remember that all learners are different and something one learner finds easy, another may really struggle with.
It’s not enough to be friendly with people. Be respectful of co-workers and professional in the workplace. Professional teachers manifest their professionalism in many ways: dressing appropriately, being punctual, being polite and considerate, communicating effectively with co-teachers, returning homework promptly, and leaving their classroom tidy at the end of the day. All of these things show respect for your students and your colleagues. Remember that when you work as an EFL teacher, you are not only representing yourself and your employer but are also acting as an ambassador for your country.
And finally …
Remain positive, even in the face of adversity! Remember that TEFL can be the gateway to many wonderful experiences – and is a career unlike any other!