How do I become a great ESL teacher?

During our own school days we probably all encountered more than one teacher who didn’t appear to be in the right job. Some might have been keen to dish out heavy punishments for minor offenses, some were probably extremely dull and uninteresting, while others simply failed to listen to the feedback of their students. Despite these negative influences, most of us will also have better memories of teachers who actually had a positive impact on our learning.

So what actually made these teachers stand out? We think there are several skills and traits that can be combined to ensure a teacher is remembered for positive and not negative reasons. If you can manage to develop most if not all of these yourself, you should find your future students will remember you as a great ESL teacher.


While all the points on this list are important, this is arguably the most crucial. A teacher can possess a whole cabinet full of qualifications and have all the experience in the world, but if they struggle to communicate they will also struggle to deliver effective and interesting lessons. Communication also becomes even more important when you are working in an environment where you have limited or no knowledge of your student's native language. In this situation non-verbal communication is a vital part of your armory. Things such as body language, hand gestures, and tone of voice are all vitally important when teaching a language to non-native speakers. Because of all these factors, it is essential to complete a good quality TESOL course before stepping into your first real classroom as it will teach you many of the best methods for communicating with your students.


This might seem quite obvious, but it needs to be pointed out as it is not always true of all teachers. If you want to be a great ESL teacher who can inspire their students to become the best they can be, then you need to be passionate about it. Teachers who just go through the motions between paychecks are not only making their own life more boring than it needs to be, they are also denying their students the chance of reaching their full potential. Right across the teaching spectrum it is important that all teachers actually care about their students' success if they want to be remembered fondly. If you do not display this basic quality from the very start of your teaching career, you will soon find that your day to day life in the classroom becomes dull and unfulfilling for both you and the people you teach.


Although every classroom around the world is different, there is one thing that they all have in common: All students learn at a different pace. In every class there are some students who pick up new concepts quickly, while others will find it much harder and continue to make mistakes. The job of the teacher is to ensure that every member of the class gets the attention and support they need to succeed and not just the few that are always at the top of the class. A great teacher never gets frustrated with a student because they are struggling to understand a new concept, they will always have the patience to find ways to make progress.


Many teachers learn how important organization is very early in their career by turning up for a lesson underprepared. A failure to plan ahead effectively and overlooking the need to organize materials and equipment can often lead to lessons spiraling into nothing short of chaos. As you become more experienced in the classroom the level of planning required will gradually be reduced, but it is wise to never underestimate the importance of organization when it comes to providing a positive learning experience for your students.


Even the most organized teachers will still find that things don’t always go to plan in the classroom, which is why adaptability is so important. It is quite common for a lesson to only fill part of the allotted time or for the end-of-lesson bell to ring long before you have got through all your planned material. In the modern classroom malfunctioning technology can cause all kinds of problems and any given activity can easily fail miserably, despite it working well on previous occasions. A truly great teacher will find ways to adapt to all of these common yet unexpected problems and come up with new strategies to get the job done.


It is very common for newly qualified teachers to feel nervous and a little anxious about making mistakes in the classroom. It is always possible that your lesson plan could fall apart or you might be faced with answering a tough grammar question, but this is all perfectly normal for the vast majority of teachers. Very few, if any, newly qualified ESL teachers are able to hit the ground running from the start and manage to avoid making any mistakes in their early lessons. The important thing to remember is that it takes time to develop your skills and knowledge and all good teachers will get better every time they step into the classroom. On your very first day in your very first teaching job just remember to keep faith with all that you learned during your TESOL training and have confidence in your own abilities as a professional educator.

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