Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Guide to Being a Good Teacher

After I wrote my last post (about my *ahem* PORTUGUESE-TEACHING HUSBAND *ahem*), I obviously started thinking about ways I could help him optimize his teaching career.  I started thinking about teaching in general, and about what makes someone a 'good' teacher.

A lot of people assume that   
Moving to another country = Teaching *insert native language*.
A lot of speakers of said native language (let's be honest, the native language is often English) believe the following mathematical equation.
I speak English ∴ I can teach English. 

Many disgruntled, certified teachers of English would disagree with this, including myself to an extent.  Problem is that many people don't even like teaching and can't really teach!  But my latest epiphany might suggest otherwise (or at least suggest that you don't necessarily have to be certified to enjoy and be a good teacher).   

Ok, I agree that you need to have knowledge of your language (and it's certainly helpful to have knowledge of the student's native language, but not totally necessary).  English speakers united know that we didn't learn grammar in school in the same way that, let's say, Brazilians learned it.  That means that when you suddenly try to teach-up some English grammar to a non-English speaker, you're gonna get served.

Understanding your own language is key, but there are also other ways to be a great ESL teacher, even without the years of formacão, or even without a CELTA certificate (neither of which I have and my crappy 40 hour TESL Certificate was completed about 6 years before I started teaching).  P.S. I would consider myself a good teacher because a) I love teaching and b) My students told me I am.  That's proof enough for me!

So some tips, if I may.....

Tip #1:  PREPARE.  Research as much online about parts of a sentence, tenses and forms, conditionals, modals etc etc as you can.  You don't wanna look like a dummy.
**Side Note I knew none of these terms prior to teaching English.  At least I'd forgotten ALL of them, except for maybe adjective, adverb and noun, but that's because I used to play hella MadLibs as a kid. 

Tip #2:  NEEDS, GOALS, TIMEFRAME.  Always do a Needs Analysis with your students to find out why they need English, in what contexts they will use English, and what they are interested in.  Then follow through with subjects and topics that are interesting to them.

Tip #3:  STRUCTURE.  Ok, some people want conversation classes.  Great.  But I can guarantee they will learn less by ONLY having conversation classes than they would learn if they used a book.  Books are your friends.  Teachers (especially un-certified ones) are not lesson writers, they are not syllabus creators, and you are doing your students a disservice by not following an order in which they learn grammar.  A trained and qualified person has already created an awesome way to present a lesson, why not use it??  (I love Oxford books, Danielle uses Cambridge - you get to choose!)

Tip #4:  BE A PERSON.  This is a biggie - While I realize that being structured is important (your students pay you to learn English) they also don't want a classroom setting (or they'd go to Cultural Inglesa).  Be a person, people!  Be fun.  Be funny!  Talk about your weeks together.  Talk about your plans.  Share with them and let them share with you.  Care about your students.  Recent feedback from a couple of my students is that this is one of the best parts about learning private English.  

Tip #5: NOW BREAK THE STRUCTURE.  Break the structure once in a while (ooo que taboo!) and learn music and songs that THEY like (the temptation to give them music that YOU like is strong, but it's their class, not yours).  Here's a website to give you some ideas.  Have a conversation class that lets them vent about their boss or their job.  Make sure you always write down their mistakes, though, and give corrective feedback.  This is still a class.

Tip #6:  GIVE CORRECTIVE FEEDBACK.  Another reason they're paying you.  I divide a sheet of paper into three sections:  Vocabulary; Pronunciation; Grammar.  I use the phonemic chart to illustrate proper pronunciation.  You can download a super app to your iPhone called Sounds.  I write their mistake (the way they say it) and ask them to try to understand the mistake before correcting it for them.

Tip #7:  IF YOU DON'T KNOW, SAY THAT.  Don't give false information.  Just say you're not sure and that you'll find out.  And then do it and follow up.

Tip #8:  BE ORGANIZED AND PROFESSIONAL.  Decide on your goals.  I give everyone a FREE experimental class to talk about information and rates.  I give them a copy of the information and rates.
Do you care about a consistent income and schedule?  I do.  I schedule my students at a regular time.  They have the chance to reschedule (not cancel) only one class per month.  I charge a monthly price (depending on # of hours per week).  I calculate # of hours/week x 52 weeks/year ÷ 12 months/year = avg monthly price.  My students pay their monthly rates up in their first class of the month.  

I will stop there, because those are what I consider to be the basics.  Everyone has a different teaching style, and you'll definitely learn through trial and error.  You'll look back at when you started and realize how little you knew.  That's ok.  Everyone has to learn somewhere.  

Not everyone is certified, or a linguistics master, or even loves the language.  Sometimes it's your best option in a foreign country.  The point of this post was to encourage people who are teaching, or thinking about teaching, to give English the respect it deserves by being a responsible teacher.  We are lucky to have our language and are in powerful positions to share it!  

Now I know you will all have some additional tips to offer, so post them in the comments!  If you're a student of English, post your ideas about great teachers too!  The other beauty of teaching is the sharing.  Everyone has something different that works for them, and I'm always looking for new innovative ways to do what I do!

Happy Teaching and Peace Out!


  1. Congrats for the patience in teaching. I would kill myself, because I don't even understand English so it would be impossible for me to try and teach it to an innocent person who just wants to learn.

    Nice tips, maybe one day when I actually LEARN ENGLISH I'll use them! HHHAA!!

    1. Haha, One day Alex, you could do it if you did a little self-teaching.
      What do you plan to do here when you come?

    2. Maybe....but I'm realllllyyy impatient. We'll see! HAHA

      When I get there I want to try and get a job set up with a multinational somewhere. Whether that's Rio or SP or Cutitiba, I don't know. I'm currently networking =).

  2. I agree with your's excellent! I, too, believe that quality materials can make ALL the difference. A lot of thought, time and research has gone into the production of texts...we might as well make good use of it. ( I love TOP NOTCH- they are very current and high quality with lots of add-ons that make classes fun like karaoke and a Friends'like sitcom)

    I've also seen some arrogance from Native English Speakers.....teaching is actually pretty hard, and if you have demanding students (like I did in Istanbul) you have to really know your stuff and put effort into planning.

    I have a CELTA- which was a VERY demanding program over 4 crazy weeks. It was a break-neck pace. I think the folks that did it over a year were better off, but alas I was in a hurry.

    1. Jen, I'm shocked you did your CELTA in a month - I know it's super intensive. Was it worth it, do you think?

  3. Great post! I would add one thing to your Tip #5 - use games. This is a little easier with group classes because you can pit one team against the other, but with individual students I've used memory games with vocabulary (turn over two cards, see if the word matches the definition), race-yourself-against-the-clock-to-correct-grammar-errors games, etc.

    One of my favorites - since it involves both speaking and listening - is to bring 40 blank cards and have the student write words on 20 of them and I write words on 20 of them (you can also give a little more direction - like 5 food items, 5 verbs you do at work, 5 professions, and so on). Mix all the cards together and then the student draws one and has to describe the word on it for me to guess. Then vice versa.

    Every time I've used this, my students have loved it since they feel so accomplished that they can describe a word in English WITHOUT using that word, and successfully communicate their message.

    Would you mind sending me an e-mail (if you don't want to post it publicly) with what you generally charge for private classes? I'm toying with the idea of cutting down my school hours and working with private students, but I'd like to have a baseline on what the going hourly rate is. Thanks!

    1. Games are great and the description game works so well! It's also super practical for those moments when they won't know a word and their listening won't speak Portuguese, so they'll have to use other descriptive words!

      Great ideas!

      I don't mind telling you what I charge. I charge R$60/hour and I recommend at least 90 minutes per week, when it's possible. I started out charging R$45 but increased because I was more experienced and also teaching in a different area of the city.

      Good luck making the switch! It's a little scary without an anchor but much more satisfying, in my opinion!

  4. I challenge my students to write essays using idioms and phrasal verbs - as homework. Not many do it, but those that do get a LOT more feedback from me.

    Also - we play Srabble when we´re looking to change things up.

    Nice post.


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