How to be a better ESL teacher

ByRob C

How to be a better ESL teacher

My university classes typically have 60-90 students in a class.  So with that in mind here are my tips on how to be a better ESL teacher.

Rule 1: Make sure the students enjoy your class.

This is the most important rule for me on how to be a better ESL teacher.  I find it natural while I’m in the class to soak up the atmosphere and as I look around to automatically ask myself questions such as:

    • How many students are engaged?
    • How many students are playing on their phone?
    • Do any students look bored?
    • How many students are smiling?
    • Am I only teaching one student here? Are the rest switched off?

If there are too many students looking bored or playing on their phones – I know I need to switch it up a little bit. How to switch it up? Simply move on the the next exercise or if I’m feeling devious point to a random bored student and ask them to read something or ask a question.  Chances are they won’t have a clue – so point to another student and ask the same question.  Now all the students are on notice that a question might be coming their way.  Most of them will start to re-engage with the class!

Rule 2: Be yourself

There’s a common misconception among teachers that you need to perform for your students.  Perhaps this is the case for young learners – and that’s fine.  But for university students I prefer not to treat them as an audience that needs to be entertained. Teachers that start out performing for their students are acting. It’s just an act and this can be an additional burden to the teacher – Your focus should be on what will I teach not how will I entertain them.  Over time it will get harder and harder to keep your entertainment act up until one day you arrive in class a worn out pale version of yourself.  The act is over and the students are mystified – what happened to my fun teacher?  Therefore you really need to start out being as authentically ‘you’ as much as possible – learn what works for you and what doesn’t.  Keep the things that work, and do more of them.  Let go of the things that don’t work.

Rule 3: Be democratic not autocratic

Again, this is very important if you want to know how to be a better ESL teacher.  I want my students to feel relaxed and confident enough to speak in class.  Some teachers can get angry with their students.  I know of an outstanding academic teacher that produced excellent teaching materials but lost the good will of his students by becoming visibly angry and frustrated in class.  If this is you read rule number one again!

Students have peaks and troughs in attention while they’re learning.  If a student is generally a good student but is spending too much time on their phone this lesson – that’s fine.  Don’t berate them just expect that they will re-engage later or next lesson.

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