Staying Positive: Tips and Tricks to Keep That Smile on Your Face
Teaching ESL or anything else for that matter can be a challenge.
Classes do not always go as planned, students may not behave well, and planning, teaching, and grading is a lot of work. In spite of everything, since your attitude affects your students, it is important to remain positive in the classroom. There are a number of simple ways you can make your life easier and deal with teaching related issues.
How to Stay Positive No Matter What
Doing sufficient preparation before class will make lessons run more smoothly and cause you much less stress than walking into a lesson without a clear plan. Create organized lesson plans and make copies of materials well in advance. When creating a plan, keep in mind that another teacher should be able to pick it up and teach your class without any difficulties. You do not need to include every single warm up question but having some examples will help you get started especially if you teach many different levels and classes every day. While making lesson plans can be time consuming, they will help you maximize class time and you can save all your teaching materials for future use too.
Mistakes are Fun
Do not be afraid to laugh at yourself especially when you make mistakes. People make mistakes; it happens to us all so it is alright to highlight your mistakes. You can use a mistake as a learning opportunity by giving students the chance to correct you as if it were an intentional comprehension check. You can also just say “Oops, that’s not right.” and fix your mistake too. Owning your mistakes and deciding what to do with them yourself is definitely better than having a student point something out that you were trying to gloss over or confusing students by modeling something incorrectly.
Even if students are struggling, be sure to provide lots of encouragement. Getting upset when students are unable to understand new things is not productive. You can explain key points again using simplified language and sneak in some simple comprehension checks. Really basic questions can help pinpoint where exactly students are having difficulties and go a long way towards building student confidence. If your students are confident and have positive attitudes, you will too.
Be a Good Actor
You will undoubtedly have plenty of opportunities to act in the classroom. Being the teacher all the time is boring for both you and students so take advantage of opportunities to be someone else. This will make your lessons more interesting and break away from your routine. For instance, use different voices for each character when demonstrating model dialogues or a role play. See our article on how to teach using gestures and mime. Try to give your students more opportunities to act too. Some classes have one or two blossoming comedians and as long as they are practicing English and not a huge distraction, they can really improve the atmosphere in the classroom. Acting also gives students practice using different tones which is really important. You wouldn’t say “Oh, that’s too bad.” the same way you’d say “That’s such great news!” so make some practice activities revolve around acting and tones. Your students may both amaze and amuse you with their performances.
Have a Backup Plan
When students are not responding well to the course material or when things just are not working out the way you want them to, be prepared to do something else. Stumbling through an exercise that students do not understand, cannot do, or dislike is only going to prolong everyone’s suffering. Be prepared to change activities when necessary. Having a few reliable activities to fall back on will save you when things are not going well. You can use these same activities at the end of class if you have extra time.
Simple Things That Matter
Even something as simple as your morning coffee or afternoon snack can help you stay positive. These may be small comforts but they also give you energy and make you more alert during difficult times of the day. If you realize that your energy hits bottom at a certain point of the day, schedule a pick me up before that period. It will help you and your students remain focused and engaged in class.
If you are not in a positive state of mind before walking into the classroom, remember to take deep breaths and leave it at the door.
Going into a class in a negative state of mind is certainly not going to improve your day and your students will suffer from your lack of energy, involvement, and cheerfulness.
Tara has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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