Teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.
There’s nothing quite like watching your students succeed. When they pass their exams, get promotions at work or start studying abroad, it fills you with a sense of pride.
It’s also in the little things, like seeing a student grasp a grammar point they’ve been struggling with or watching a shy student come out of their shell and start speaking English.
Seeing your students progress can be incredibly satisfying, and it makes all the hours of lesson planning and preparation worth it.
Around 75% of teachers get into the profession because they want to make a difference. If you’re one of them, you’ll have to put your all into your teaching career, developing yourself into the best educator you can be. Then, you can enjoy watching even your shyest students become confident English speakers!
If you’re an ESL teacher, or even a first-language English teacher, this article will cover what you need in order to build your professional career.
The Difference Between Good Teachers and Great Teachers
Teaching English is a great way to see the world for anyone willing to relocate to another country.
Naturally, this means that many ESL teachers focus more on their travels than on their jobs.
Those who are teaching purely as a way to travel are only in it for a short amount of time, and in many cases, aren’t completely committed to their work. This is why some organizations try to avoid employing backpackers or gap-year teachers. Instead, they opt for career teachers. These are people who are passionate about teaching and are looking to progress in the field, seeking out opportunities for professional development.
This intention is just one of the things that separate good teachers from great ones. Great teachers go the extra mile in everything they do, from lesson planning to assessment.
But before you become a great teacher, you’ve got to optimize your educational approach. That’ll require a little bit of planning and skills development, especially if you didn’t get your bachelor’s degree in education. Fortunately, mapping out your career to becoming a professional English teacher isn’t as hard as you think. Read on to find out how.
Up Your Game: 6 Steps to Becoming a Professional English Teacher
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1. Get a TEFL/TESOL Certificate
If you’re not teaching ESL, you can skip this step. Or better yet, get yourself a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or teacher’s certification instead.
Otherwise, you might want to get a TEFL or TESOL certificate. That way, you’ll learn the basics of teaching English, like classroom management and lesson planning, as well as more specific skills related to teaching second-language students.
While it is possible to teach English without a TEFL certificate, it’s not advisable. This is because these courses are about much more than just getting a piece of paper. As well as giving you the certification you need to get a good job, they also expand your skill set as a teacher. Read our post on TEFL and TESOL teacher training to find out what you’ll learn and to get some recommendations for course providers.
So, what do you cover during your TEFL or TESOL course?
First of all, you’ll study grammar and phonics to make sure you understand the intricacies of the English language. Then, you’ll be given the tools you need to teach it. This includes curriculum development, student feedback and teaching practice. Skills you learn in this course will not only prepare you for your first teaching job, but also continue to serve you well into your career as an ESL teacher.
2. Download English Teaching Apps
No matter how good you are at teaching, you’ll need a little help from time to time. That’s where apps come in.
There is a wide range of apps for English teachers, which help them to plan lessons, manage classes, communicate with students, run games and find new teaching materials. With these applications, you can make your classes much more fun and interactive. This, in turn, will make them more effective. The more interested and engaged your students are, the more likely they are to learn.
If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.
You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!
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3. Get Teaching Experience
Even the best teachers have to start somewhere, and they’re not always good at it right from the get-go. It takes time and experience to forge yourself into a teaching professional.
When you first start out, you might be nervous and unsure of yourself. However, as time goes on, you’ll build the experience and confidence to handle any challenge that comes your way. Complicated grammar questions and rowdy students that once intimidated you will become a breeze as you become used to having problems thrown at you in the classroom. To get the most out of your experience, spend some time teaching different age groups, skill levels and subjects. You don’t have to do this by switching between full-time contracts every year.
You can take ESL summer jobs between semesters, or you can tutor English to grade school students over the summer—a great option for ESL and traditional English teachers!
If you’re a kindergarten teacher, try teaching business English to adults in the holidays. If you’re a high school teacher, try teaching TOEIC or IELTS exam preparation. If you’re used to teaching academic subjects, challenge yourself by trying your hand at teaching specialist classes, like public speaking, business investment and trading, or even creative writing. By going out of your comfort zone, you’ll familiarize yourself with lots of different student types and teaching methods. Then, you’ll be ready for anything.
4. Start Collecting Teacher Resources
Every great teacher has a proverbial bag of tricks. What’s in yours?
The internet is packed with resources for teachers. There are websites that provide free lesson plans, worksheets and cue cards, as well as interactive online games. This means that you don’t have to spend hours every week making, printing and cutting your own materials for your lessons. The hard work has been done for you!
English teaching resources aren’t just limited to lesson plans and activities. They also help you to become a better teacher by developing your skills and giving you access to the latest developments in the industry.
One of the best resources for this is English Teaching Professional. It’s a magazine that provides in-depth articles on teaching, testing and tips. It’s written by teachers for teachers, allowing people around the world to share their classroom experiences, exchange advice and develop themselves. It also includes reviews of textbooks, so you can use it to choose the best ones for your classes. Whether you’re a newbie teacher or a veteran teacher with years of experience under your belt, this magazine has something for you.
As well as websites and magazines, there are also ESL podcasts you can use to better yourself as a teacher. Dedicate some time outside of class to spend on resources like these, and you can develop yourself as a teaching professional.
5. Have a Great Personality
Personality is everything. It can make all the difference between a class that students slog through and one that they love.
A teacher with a great personality can make even the most mundane subject matter interesting. They’re exciting, engaging and inclusive. When students ask questions, they listen intently and explain clearly. They understand that every student learns and operates differently, and cater to the needs of everyone in their classroom. Their classes are also student-centered. This means spending less time talking and more time allowing students to engage and practice.
6. Sharpen Your Improvisation Skills
When you’re teaching, things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes, activities will run for much longer than you expected, forcing you to ditch other things you’d planned for the class. Other times, worksheets or games you’d spent hours preparing could fall flat and you may have to abandon them completely. Just one question from a student can change the direction of the entire class, derailing your plan and taking you on a detour. When things like these happen, you need to be able to think on your feet.
You can’t be too regimented when it comes to teaching. Planning is key, but you also need to be prepared to throw it all out the window if the situation calls for it. You need to be able to come up with an alternative game or activity at a moment’s notice, pulling things out of the bag off the top of your head.
If you’re a new teacher, don’t worry. This comes with experience.
If you spend enough time teaching different types of lessons, you’ll build up a huge memory bank of activities. To do that, make sure you force yourself to keep trying new things in the classroom. If you stick to the same format or subject matter too much, you won’t grow as a teacher and you’ll find it very difficult to deviate from your lesson plans.
Being a Better Teacher
If you want to expand your horizons as a teacher, create a list of objectives. Think about what kind of teacher you want to be and which skills you want to improve. Then, you can take steps towards achieving those objectives. Peer assessment is a great tool for this. Ask your coworkers to observe some of your classes and give you feedback. Then, you can observe some of theirs to see how they do things differently. This will help you to identify your weaknesses and pick up some new tips.
Emma Thomas is an ESL teacher in Bangkok with more than five years of experience in teaching students of all ages. You can read more about her experiences as a teacher in Thailand at Under the Ropes.
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