Be sure to read part one: Top 10 Teach Abroad Fails
Teaching English abroad is a common way to live extensively in another country while earning an income and being immersed in a different culture. It is a popular decision for career breakers and retirees alike. There is more to teaching English than meets the eye, with more challenges than you might initially think – especially for first-timers. These are some common mistakes that TEFL teachers make and how to avoid them yourself.
1. Being their friend
One of the most common mistakes that new English teachers make is not setting the appropriate boundary between teacher and student. New teachers may try to act as a friend or simply as a “cool teacher,” especially when there is a small age difference between the teacher and students. This is not to say that you should not be friendly and kind. Rather, it is important to know where to draw the line. Behave professionally to earn the respect of your students and demonstrate that you are an authority figure.
2. Not following the TTT rule
The TTT rule stands for teacher talking time, or the ratio of time the teacher spends talking compared to student talking time (STT). The more time you spend talking, the less time your students will have to process the information, think over questions, and learn by speaking themselves. TTT will depend on the level of your students and the particular lesson or activity, but a useful rule of thumb is that you should speak for maximum of 30% of the lesson.
3. Managing the classroom inconsistently
When students no longer take consequences seriously, teachers lose control of their classroom. This results from inconsistent consequences or empty threats (not following through with discipline). It is difficult to regain full control once you have lost it. To prevent this, decide before you arrive what classroom procedures, routines, and rules you want to implement. In the beginning of the year, go over your expectations with the students and explain the consequences of not following them. You should be firm, consistent, and fair when enforcing the consequences of misbehavior.
4. Preparing inadequately
You might be tempted to think, “I already speak English fluently; how hard can this job be?” Teaching English is more than speaking to students and correcting their pronunciation. When you arrive without any lesson plans, you’ll be forced to create some on the spot which wastes time and causes more stress. This can easily be avoided by preparing beforehand, which will allow time to gather teaching and learning materials. When creating a lesson plan, you should consider what you want to teach and how you’ll teach it (through vocabulary, games, songs, etc.). Adequate preparation will result in more organized, efficient, and effective teaching.
5. Allowing students to use their native language
Students tend to fall back on using their native language because it’s easier and faster to communicate and ask questions amongst peers. However, when they do this they take away from valuable opportunities to practice English. Encourage your students to use English as much as possible while class is in session. If you notice students talking together in their first language, do not be afraid to ask them, in English, if they have a question.
6. Speaking too slowly
When you speak too slowly, it is hard for beginning students to understand you. Don’t speak so slowly that your speech sounds unnatural! Remember to adjust your speed to match the level of your students. You should find out the background of your students and how long they have been studying English from the school or the students themselves, but also speak to them in a speed that will adequately prepare them to use their language skills in everyday life. Knowing the skill level of your students will help you adjust your speaking speed, lesson plans, activities, and attention to students who may not be as strong.
7. Overly correcting
It is perfectly okay if your students make mistakes as they go along. Constantly correcting all mistakes interrupts the flow of the lesson and takes time away from teaching, speaking, and practicing. Additionally, over-correcting a student may affect their confidence, causing more hesitation when using English. To avoid this problem, only correct students in certain instances. Simple mistakes or slip-ups, especially if a student accidentally says the wrong thing but knows the correct answer, are not as critical to correct. Errors - when the student does not know the right answer - need to be corrected before they become a habit. Give your students time to realize their mistakes and correct themselves. You can also hold correction sessions at the end of activities to allow students to identify and revise their mistakes together.
8. Not adapting to cultural differences
It’s important to adapt to the local culture and customs in your daily life while abroad, and it’s equally important to adapt to these differences when in the classroom. Teaching and learning styles vary across countries, reflecting the cultural background. To teach effectively, you should adapt your materials to the learning style and characteristics of your students. Do the appropriate research beforehand and keep these cultural differences in mind as you create the lesson plans. Also, exercise caution when using hand gestures because some common hand signals in the US, such as giving a thumbs-up, are considered rude elsewhere.
There is more to teaching English than meets the eye, with more challenges than you might initially think - especially for first-timers.
Being a great teacher comes with practice and experience. Don’t be too hard on yourself if your first year isn’t perfect, as the teaching is a learning experience for you too. With these common mistakes in mind and tips on how to avoid them, it looks like you’ll be off to a great start!