Kaci Tokumoto completed seven months of our Developing Teacher with Spanish course and is now living and working in Barcelona as an English teacher thanks to our comprehensive visa and careers service. In this blog post, she offers her tips for new TEFL teachers to help them get started in the world of TEFL.
Teaching can be incredibly frightening when you first start. Most people don’t think about how stressful it can be at the beginning. Especially teaching English. It’s a complicated language to teach because there are so many grammar exceptions and strange pronunciations. I’ve only been teaching for 1.5 years. The first few months were as much of a learning experience for me as it was for my students! Luckily, I joined the Developing Teacher with Spanish course at Oxford TEFL and have been coached by experienced teachers since I started. This has allowed me to grow and learn so much faster than by myself with the monthly feedback from different teachers. My tips are aimed at new teachers so that I can share some of my experiences and maybe ease their minds a little.
1) Everyone is Nervous at First
Not everyone was born to be a public speaker or talk in front of a group of people. Each class is similar to doing a presentation about English. There are always different problems that might arise that you didn’t anticipate. Study your lesson plans and prepare the material, grammar topics, vocabulary, etc. Have a few examples and activities for the more complicated topics in case the students need more practice. Remember ESA: Engage Study Activate for each topic. Get the students interested in the topic, study session where they learn how to form or use the topic, and an activity to activate what they learned. Speaking and writing activities are great ways for the students to really understand and practice how to use the topics correctly.
Mistakes will happen, you’re only human. It’s good to avoid mistakes, but when they happen, correct yourself if you can and continue. Review your material to anticipate some of the difficulties your students might have to think of solutions before. After teaching your first few classes it gets easier! There are times when you have to tell the class that tomorrow you can answer their question because you might need to research and find a good explanation that isn’t confusing.
2) Backup Activities
Have backup activities in case the students are going through the material quickly or an activity isn’t working very well. There are times where you need a Plan B and you have to recognize when your students are struggling or it’s too easy. It takes a little bit of awareness and watching your students’ body language. You always want to challenge the students, but also make them feel confident about learning.
If the students don’t understand the topic, repeat the rules with more examples. If they need more of a challenge, add information from previous lessons. When learning you can always loop back to previous lessons for extra practice and help them really understand the concepts. There is only so much the students can retain.
In a situation where the students are going through the lesson very quickly, it’s good to have back up activities that will tie the current lesson together with past lessons. Encourage them to use the new vocabulary in the grammar lesson. You’re always giving your students building blocks to grow their knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with using those blocks again to create a stronger foundation.
3) Get to Know Your Students
For the first class it is always important to do a needs analysis. Everyone has different learning styles and it’s important to know a little background information about your students. They are your clients. Find out what they do, their hobbies, why they are studying English, and more.
4) Class Can Be Fun
One of the ways to keep students engaged is to have a little fun in class. They can laugh and feel comfortable about making mistakes, and you can give them a good learning environment. Often the students are nervous and afraid to make mistakes. Many of them feel they have a lower level than they have; they just need to be encouraged to practice more. Role-playing, mime/drawing activities, different speaking activities where they have to get creative, those are great to change the mood of a classroom.
We laugh a lot in my classes. When the students start to see you as a person and not someone who will lecture them for a couple hours and tell them what they are doing wrong, they will begin to be more accepting of corrections. I have had students who got nervous in class and when they were corrected they began to not want to participate. Those students need more encouragment and positive reinforcement – be their cheerleader!
5) Classroom Management: Kids vs Adults
Classroom management is a harder aspect of teaching to understand. Each class is different. You need to use a little bit of psychology when teaching. Watch your student’s body language. Are they getting bored? Staying engaged? Confused? You always have to be aware of their response. This also helps when you decide on future lessons. Rearrange table and chairs, post an agenda on the board, or how to get the student’s attention after a speaking activity.
6) Always Be Open To Suggestions
You can learn a lot from other teachers and your students. Especially when you are starting to teach. There are a lot of online forums where you can ask for help regarding an issue. Allowing the students to give you suggestions for what they want to learn to apply more to their needs is a great way to stay connected. Both you and your students will be able to see the improvement after the classes. As teachers, we are always learning and improving. Keep an open mind and remember, you will make mistakes sometimes and it’s okay.
7) Set Goals
Set weekly or monthly goals for your classes. You will have different age groups, levels, and needs. Goals will help to stay focused and make lesson planning easier. They can be simple such as increasing vocabulary, pronunciation, or anything you feel the student needs to improve their level and comfort with the language.
8) Utilize the 5 Learning Methods
Aural, visual, logical, verbal, and kinesthetic/physical are always important to use when teaching. Use as many of the methods as you want. Often you’ll find that miming some vocabulary, especially confusing verbs, will help the students retain the information. If you don’t have a white board, you can use a notebook to draw things for your students, even if your drawings are terrible like mine. Sometimes you forget about how helpful the 5 learning methods can be. And it keeps teaching interesting for you too.
For new teachers, it’s important to be open to suggestions and always challenge yourself. There are some new teachers who are afraid to teach different grammar topics because they haven’t done it before. It’s not beneficial for a teacher to avoid something they can easily study and teach to the class. Even though you are the teacher you can still be a learner.
For more tips from Kaci and to read her useful reflections on teaching, visit her blog here. If you would like extra support in the transition between trainee and teacher, or if you are looking for a way to obtain the long-term student visa to study and work in Barcelona, enrol in the Developing Teacher with Spanish course here or get in touch.