Do This, Not That: 5 Mistakes to Avoid as a New ESL Teacher

Do This, Not That
5 Mistakes to Avoid as a New ESL Teacher

Jessica Madsen
by Jessica Madsen 44,501 views

We’ve all been there.

Every ESL teacher has to start somewhere, and there are usually a few bumps in the road before the path becomes smooth. Most of us, despite our best intentions at the beginning, do things very differently now that we have a little experience under our belts. If you’re a new teacher, you’ll need to learn some things through experience, but here are some things to do your best to avoid when you set foot in the classroom for the first time.

Avoid the Most Typical Errors in Your Teaching Career

  1. 1

    Keep it Student-Centered

    Many a nervous teacher has found herself talking too much in front of the class.

    Novice teachers may find themselves prone to lecturing even if that is not what they have set out to do. Most of us come across the term “student-centered” in our preparation as teachers, and of course, we try to design activities that will foster this approach to learning. When a new teacher finds himself or herself in the classroom for the first time, however, it can be difficult to put into practice what we know in theory to be best for students. Many a nervous teacher has found herself talking too much in front of the class. Sometimes, as new teachers, because of our sense of responsibility to control the learning that is taking place, it can feel odd to allow students to work together in groups or independently while we sit back and observe, ready to help if needed. Sometimes, instead of giving students the space they need to work through a task, well-meaning new teachers will “hover” and interfere with group work because they believe they should be directly involved with what students are doing at all times. The truth is, our role as an instructor is to facilitate, and that includes setting up well-designed learning activities that are experiential and somewhat independent. Knowing when to let go and let things happen is a skill, and it’s one that takes practice.

  2. 2

    Avoid Complicated Lessons

    We’ve all heard the saying, “less is more”. This applies to teaching, as well. Eager teachers will often try to cram as much as possible into a lesson, wanting to be as thorough and as comprehensive as possible. While we do want to maximize our often limited classroom time, it’s important to remember that concepts need to be easy for students to digest. We can make this possible by breaking things into pieces. In other words, we want to avoid overwhelming students by trying to teach too many different concepts at once. Experienced teachers know that students benefit most from a clear step-by-step approach to learning. Our job as teachers is to make things as uncomplicated as possible for students.

  3. 3

    Don’t Try to Reinvent the Wheel

    Most of us spent many late nights planning lessons and creating materials when we first started teaching. Some of this was necessary; after all, planning a class is a lot of work, and teachers are usually very dedicated to making sure they are prepared to deliver quality instruction. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that the best teachers know how to use their time and available resources efficiently. It is okay to use the Internet to get ideas for how to approach teaching points, and it is okay to share materials. In fact, savvy teachers aren’t afraid to find something that is already created and tweak it to suit the needs of a particular class. Likewise, they are open to sharing what they’ve created with other teachers in the profession. In actuality, this strategy will usually benefit students, as it brings together the ideas of many instructors instead of just one.

  4. 4

    You Are Not There to Be Friends with Your Students

    There is a difference between being a friend and being friendly. Many beginning teachers, especially young ones who may only be a few years older than their students (or in some cases the same age or younger), fall into the trap of becoming overly relaxed with students. It’s possible to be warm and open to students while still maintaining a position of authority. Regardless of age or gender, in order to maintain control of the class and to keep students focused on learning, the instructor has to be mindful of his or her role as leader. This can be tricky to navigate at first, but it becomes easier over time.

  5. 5

    Realizing You Will Fail Sometimes

    Teaching is a never-ending exercise in improvisation. Of course we want to go into the classroom with a well-thought out plan, but it’s inevitable that sometimes things will not go as planned. There are times that motivating students can feel like an uphill battle, and there will be days that no matter how much preparation and careful planning went into it, a lesson just won’t work the way the teacher had envisioned that it would. These are challenges that can be frustrating and disappointing to a new teacher, but they are also great learning experiences. Diving in and trying things out in the classroom is really the only way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

While some teachers seems to have a natural aptitude for managing a classroom, most of us will need to hone our abilities as instructors through experience and over time.

Confidence is key, and knowing that nothing will ever go perfectly as planned is a must for new and experienced teachers alike. In the early stages of teaching ESL, some days will feel overwhelming. Stick with it; it gets easier in time!

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