Thursday, July 23, 2009

Think you've got what it takes?

I'm currently sitting at my desk. It's break time and my students are about to write a timed essay for me: 'a letter to the editor'. I'll hand out the lined paper and ask the students to start writing the letter based on the previous hour that we spent going through how to write it. Hopefully I'll receive some really good pieces of work which will massage my ego as an EFL teacher. This brings me the subject of this you have the ideal characteristics to become a good EFL instructor. I'm not claiming to be a guru here, I just want to pass on some of my experience and thoughts on the desirable characteristics of a TESOL instructor.

1) Thick-skin!

Particularly when teaching lower ability groups, expressions such as 'teacher fat' or 'do you want a cock (coke)' are common. Don't take it personally! If you don't you'll be going home crying more often than not. Always remember that it's that they have a low English level and they are just trying to express themselves with the limited language that they have available to them. You'll also be asked about your salary and other such personal questions. Just remember that you're no longer playing by western rules and it's probably a standard question in your new environment.

2) Patience!

If you teach adults, remember that they've probably been learning English for many years and that the mistakes they make are ingrained into their speech. You will be correcting the same mistakes over and over again. Bare in mind that if you learn something correctly the first time, you'll probably use it and apply it correctly for life. Many of our students, unfortunately, have been taught English erroneously. Their pronunciation, use of plurals and prepositions may be completely off, but never forget that they probably speak a damn site more English than we do their mother tongue! If you can't get over the fact that people won't apply what you teach them first, second or even twentieth time, this isn't the job for you!

3) Honesty!

If you don't know a grammar rule, a spelling or an Americanism, just own up to it and say. Don't be arrogant and assume you know. Our students probably have a far better grasp of the grammar rules than we do and unless you are really clued up on our grammar, it's best not to get involved in a discussion about the uses of the passive past progressive and when it should be used! What we can do best is educate our students about natural English. A grammar book can't teach you the many idioms and peculiar uses of our beautiful language and that's where we come in. Most of the time we don't know why we use language in the way we do, I just reply 'because we do!' and reiterate that if they want to be understood at home, this is the language they need to be using.

4) Flexibility!

And I don't mean being able to put your legs behind your head, although that would be cool! I'm not sure about the EFL scene in Europe, but, unless you're extremely lucky, if you're teaching in Asia you'll probably find yourself working all sorts of weird and wonderful hours! In Korea I started work at 6:45a.m! It's also common to work split shifts with a crazy long break in the middle, so be prepared! You'll probably not get the average 9-5 Monday through Friday gig so you need to be willing to eat at all hours of the day. For the past 2 years my main meal has come at 9:30/10:00p.m. due to my's just the way it is!

5) Understanding!

I know this is completely the wrong word for what I'm about to say but it's eluding me at the moment. Our students are generally studying English for a reason. Whether that be for promotion, future studies, relocation abroad or simply to improve a skill as one might with any hobby. We always need to bare their goal in mind and provide them with stepping stones to reach their target. Also, we can become frustrated with a perceived lack of progress and improvement of some our students. However, how must they be feeling? They're trying so hard to correct habits they've had for years and must be infinity more frustrated than we are. I've finally stopped biting my fingernails after 20 years of trying!

So all being you think you've got what it takes?!!?!?!!


  1. Great post, couldn't agree more.

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  3. thank you for understanding
    you are a good EFL teacher