Being a Great ESL Teacher-Do you Have What it Takes?

How to be a great ESL teacher

So you think you want to be a great ESL teacher-the person who excels above the rest and makes classes awesome for their students and keeps them coming back for more. The one whose students actually learn English and improve their skills. Do you have what it takes? Keep reading and find out:

You’re a “Cool” Person

I’ve worked with a few people over the years who were not cool people. Most of the other staff hated them because they had some sort of fatal flaw, you know, they were crazy in the head, had terrible BO, were extremely negative and critical, were sexist/racist/homophobic, talked way too much or way too loudly. Every single time I encountered them, I would not make eye contact, slowly back away and extract myself from their company as fast as possible. I always had pity on their students because they quite literally had no escape-they were forced to be in their class.

So, if you want to be an excellent ESL teacher, the first step is to just be a cool, chilled out kind of person that people like to be around. If not, hopefully you’re at least the person that others don’t actively avoid. If the latter, there’s hope for you. If the former, not so much and you should perhaps consider a career that doesn’t involve people, and lots of them.

Do you Care about People?

Students are people, not little English learning robots. You can be the most technically proficient teacher anywhere, but if you don’t give a S#&@, it’s not going to matter. A little empathy can go a long way towards making you an excellent ESL teacher, or teacher of any kind for that matter.

Now, not to be all judgey on this one, because over the past year or so I’ve found myself caring less and less about my students. This is a really, really bad sign and I took it as a signal that it was time to take a break from teaching for a while to get some patience and empathy back (I’m heading to Canada in March). Perhaps you could consider the same if you’re in a similar situation.

Professional Development

The best teachers are those who are constantly striving to get better through engaging in professional development. This can involve lots of stuff such as presenting at and attending conferences, starting a blog (See: Starting a Blog for Professional Development Purposes), joining an online discussion community (check out the forums at ESL 101-it’s a nice alternative to ESL Cafe with far kinder people), seeking out opportunities for observed teaching practice or observation or taking a course such as the CELTA or DELTA.

Solid Teaching Skills

By teaching skills, I’m talking about all the intangibles. Things like being organized with grading, exams and attendance. Keeping track of time in class. Technologically able. A loud enough voice. Ability to organize people. The flexibility to change something if it’s not working. All of the small stuff that actually matters when teaching ESL.

Knowledge of English Grammar

Whenever I see ESL teachers misuse their/they’re/there, or too/two/to, I cringe and question their life and career choices. How could they possibly be providing solid examples to their students and teach any sort of grammar, if they don’t have a grasp of the most basic stuff themselves? It mystifies me. But, I really am not one to judge because I taught for about 5 years with only a basic knowledge of English grammar and it wasn’t until I did the CELTA and DELTA, especially DELTA module 1 that I leveled up to professional grammar queen. Figuring out grammar, and how to explain it was one of the best things I ever did because now I can give my students real answers instead of saying, “It’s just how it is.”

Whatever you do, don’t be that foreign teacher who can’t teach grammar or anything of substance.

Want to Bone Up?

I used Grammar for English Language Teachers while doing the DELTA and found it extremely useful. I recommend that every single ESL teacher on the planet go through it line by line and do all the practice exercises.

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