This wonderful blog post comes courtesy of Lindsay Clandfield, an English teacher, teacher trainer and author. He is the co-author of the award-winning Dealing with Difficulties (Delta Publishing), The Language Teacher’s Survival Handbook (iT’s magazines publishing) and lead author of Macmillan’s new course series for adults Global. Let’s find out the 6 worries TEFL teachers face and how to cope with them – guaranteed to have you raring to go and start your new job teaching English!
1. I am not a real teacher
This is very common, especially if you have taken a short course in becoming a TEFL teacher: it seems to be almost more common in English teachers, who in some cases are rather low down on the prestige scale of education. Entry into English teaching is quite accessible too, as compared to many other professions. This contributes to an impression that “anyone can do it.”
How to cope: keep teaching. Try to find a TEFL job with a supportive professional atmosphere and take advantage of further training you can do. After a couple of years, think about getting a higher qualification (a diploma in teaching English, or an MA).
2. I don’t know my grammar
This nagging worry is all the more common with native speaker English teachers, and also contributes to worry #1 above. It can result in either ignoring English grammar completely (and just doing “conversation classes”) or obsessing over tiny grammatical points with students and on one’s own – neither which is very beneficial in the long run.
How to cope: get a good grammar book for teachers and use it to bone up on grammar points that you will be teaching in your coursebook – don’t avoid a piece of grammar because you are afraid of it. On the contrary, the best way for you to improve your grammar is by teaching others; but you don’t want to “overteach” a point of grammar that you are particularly proud of learning yourself (like the author of this piece once did with conditionals!).
3. I can’t control the class
This is often the case of new teachers of young learners, or large classes. One can argue that the teacher is never 100% in control of the class, but the sense of feeling out of control is unnerving and very, very stressful.
How to cope: develop teaching routines. Give clear indications of when you are moving on from activity to another. Plan your lessons thoroughly, but leaving some room for adapting, and ask a supportive colleague or director of studies to come to observe your class and give you tips. It’s also worth seeing if you can sit in on another teacher’s class (preferably a teacher who has a reputation of very good class management skills).
4. There are too many levels in the class
This actually isn’t just a worry of new teachers, it’s pretty much a universal problem for language teachers everywhere at one point or another; and it’s virtually impossible to have a class that isn’t in some way mixed ability unless you are teaching a one-to-one class.
How to cope: vary your teaching style to include whole class as well as pair or small group work. Include “open-ended” activities in your teaching: these are activities that allow students to do more or less according to their ability (for example, “write as many sentences as you can during the time limit”). There have been whole books written on dealing with this difficulty (the author of this blogpost actually wrote one!) so it may be worth investigating further.
5. What am I going to do tomorrow?
New teachers tend to spend too much time planning, and when the number of teaching hours goes up there is not enough time to plan each and every lesson as you may have done in your practice teaching (if indeed you had any). This results often in a situation in which the teacher comes to class feeling rather unprepared.
How to cope: don’t just stick to the coursebook day in day out. Set aside a specific time during the week to plan your lessons, and get a hold of a few teacher resource books (like this free one here https://www.i-to-i.com/activities-book/) or find some good websites with lots of teaching activities. Start making a collection of favourite warmers and fillers to spice up your lessons.
6. My English isn’t good enough
This worry is often more common of the non-native speaker but can happen with native speakers. You may think your accent is not standard or “posh” enough, you may be worried about expressions that you use, or even your spelling.
How to cope: in terms of standard written English (spelling and grammar and so on) you should really be careful. Have a colleague check your written feedback, instructions or anything you will be giving to the students. Prepare things beforehand and check them. In terms of pronunciation, as long as you are comprehensible then don’t worry too much: in these days of global English, students should be getting exposure to lots of different accents in English, not just a prestige RP accent. If you have a non-native accent but are comprehensible in English then you are actually serving as a good and achievable model for students to emulate.