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Home / Common TEFL teaching mistakes to avoid
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Even if you’ve been TEFL teaching for a number of years, you are bound to make mistakes every now and again in your classroom as no one teacher is perfect.  However, if you are relatively new to TEFL, you might be more prone to starting off with a few shaky lessons that you feel could have gone a bit better.

Your first year of TEFL teaching will be full of learning curves and (hopefully) anecdotes to tell future TEFL teachers as pearls of wisdom. As a new teacher, it’s important not to worry if your class doesn’t go well, the next class is a brand new day and a brand new opportunity! However, there are some common mistakes that we can try and avoid when starting out to make our classes run more efficiently and make our teaching go more smoothly. Remember, you can always refer to TEFL teaching materials from your TEFL course. 

  1. Being your students’ best friend

The classic “I want them to like me” dilemma. This is even more tempting when teaching young learners (especially teenagers) as you really want them to like you and be able to relate to you as their teacher. Often teachers walk into the classroom to teach this group of learners as if they were one of them, big mistake! How you teach your first class sets the tone for the rest of the academic year so it’s important to establish rules from the get-go. This doesn’t mean you have to walk in with a scary stare and be unapproachable for the rest of the year, but you should make it clear there are expectations when it comes to behaviour and work ethic in your classroom. A class contract is a great first-class project to do to set some rules for the term.

Have the class come up with some rules for the classroom (speak English in class, don’t shout out, etc). If the students are younger you can get them to make some posters and sign them. If they are teenagers, you can type it up yourself and get them to sign it and put it on the wall. Then you can refer back to this and remind them how they “agreed” to these rules at the start of the year. It’s also better to start off stricter and then soften up once you build up more trust with your students than starting off being too relaxed and then finding your students don’t respect or listen to you when you need to discipline them later on.

  1. Underplanning vs overplanning 

Let’s start with under-planning. If you’re new to TEFL teaching or have a job in a new school, it can be nerve-wracking starting new classes or being in a new place. A big mistake new teachers make is not paying attention to planning. Even if you’re an experienced teacher, it’s better to plan when starting a new position so you feel more confident in front of a class with new students. You have no idea how they will work and what their true level is so it’s best to take the time in the first few weeks to plan, plan and plan! Having backup activities and fillers is essential so you won’t get caught out in the middle of your lesson and create a bad first impression with your new class if they see you as unprepared.

On the other hand, once you do feel more confident and experienced, planning for hours and hours isn’t productive of your time. If you take twice as long to plan the lesson than to teach it, you will burn out pretty quickly. When you feel more comfortable with your classes, try to create shorter plans in note form and rely on your repertoire of ideas when teaching. Planning classes should be efficient- remember you often don’t get paid to do this so you don’t want to take up too much of your free time writing long lesson plans. In reality, teachers only use long, formal lesson plans for observations or professional courses. In day-to-day teaching, a short but understandable plan is more than sufficient.

  1. Not grading your language properly 

This is normally an issue when teachers start beginner-level classes. It’s a special skill to teach this level as it requires a lot of patience and good, clear explanations. It also requires you to grade your language appropriately. You’ll have learned all about grading language in your TEFL course! You can’t speak to a beginner class the way you would with a more advanced class. If you do this, they won’t be able to understand a word you’re saying and will feel demotivated. They might end up dropping out of the course very quickly.

Remember to monitor how you are speaking to the class. Use simple language and speak clearly- gestures are also a big help along with notes on the board! If you speak at a level that is more realistic for the class to understand you. They will feel great after class that they have understood a native English speaker even at a lower level.

  1. Panicking if you don’t know something 

So you’ve studied an online TEFL course and that means you know absolutely everything about grammar now right? Wrong! It’s normal for teachers, no matter how long they’ve been teaching, to not know everything about grammar. The important thing is not to panic if you get asked a question you’re not sure of the answer to.

The key is to know how to handle it and stay cool so your students don’t lose confidence in you. Sometimes a simple “we’ll look at that next lesson” or “I’ll get back to you on that” is fine. Teachers aren’t the god of knowledge, they have to keep learning too! 

  1. Talking too much 

You will have learned about the importance of keeping teaching talk time (TTT) to a minimum. Instead, choose to let your students talk more. A big mistake many teachers make is talking too much. You may think that listening is still a practice of the language. But your students will not become competent learners (and more importantly speakers) if you don’t give them maximum speaking time.

Learning a language is about communication and they need time to work on this. Prepare lots of communicative activities for your learners so that they are practicing the language point and their speaking skills. You might have some great stories to tell them about your work or home country. Try to keep this to a minimum or your students will end up suffering (and possibly bored!).

  1. Using too much L1 in the classroom

Should you use a student’s native language with them or should the class be 100% in English? While there are certainly benefits to both and it’s up to you to decide. It’s important to take care with the amount of their native language you use if that’s what you decide. It can be easy to dip into the L1 for simple things because it saves time explaining things.

However, in the long run, this isn’t good for the learners. It can be the case that your students will speak very little English and you’ll get frustrated later on. If they’re not “trained” to respond to you in English then you can’t expect them to when you decide. Set the limits from day one and ensure that for reasonable things, they are using English at all times.

With a beginner class, it’s crucial to put some effort into teaching them some basic phrases. Phrases such as “how do you say….?” and “what does….mean?”. This will instill good learning habits in your learners and they will make great progress with their spoken English. Encourage them to use the phrases before you respond to them in their own language. That’s not to say you can’t use their L1 if you absolutely have to. But it shouldn’t be an automatic response from the teacher. 

No TEFL teacher is perfect and you will learn what works for you as a teacher as you go. You can always refer to your TEFL teaching materials to refresh your teaching methods. Everyone has their own way of teaching and develops their own methods. A lot of these small mistakes can affect the class long-term (the amount of English spoken, setting the tone for behaviour in class, etc) and you may end up feeling annoyed and have to put in more work to reverse these issues later on.  Taking care to not fall into some classic mistakes can help you make a good start in your TEFL career. As well as get you on your way to teaching confidence! 

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