Across the world there are millions of people working as teachers in a wide variety of environments, all of which require certain knowledge, skills, and personal qualities to be successful. This is certainly the case when it comes to teaching English to non-native speakers. Many teachers fail to provide the high level of instruction that their students deserve for a wide range of different reasons, such as not listening to feedback, being overly strict, or simply not having the enthusiasm required. But what are the qualities that are most important for an ESL teacher if we want to produce the best results for all our students?
Good communication skills
Communication is certainly key in any teaching environment, but when teaching a foreign language it is even more crucial as the teacher often doesn’t speak much or any of their students' language. Even if the teacher does have a good grasp of the main language of their students’, communication is still highly important if you want to get the finer details of vocabulary and grammar across to every member of the class. Some of us are naturally gifted when it comes to this important personal quality, however, it is also something that can be learned and worked on as you gain experience in the classroom.
When teaching a second language, non-verbal communication is also a vital skill to learn as it can be highly effective when employed correctly. By using hand gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and adjusting our tone of voice, we can have a very strong impact on the quality of the lessons we deliver, even when we do not speak the first language of our students. Once again, it is possible to learn the best ways to employ these techniques and much of what is required should be covered during your initial TESOL course.
Good organization and planning skills are obviously important when teaching any subject, but it is even more critical when teaching a second language. For many new teachers this lesson is learned early on in their career by turning up for a lesson without having put in the necessary effort. By failing to prepare properly chaos can quickly break out and the lesson can end up being far from what we hoped it would be. Luckily, as you progress through your career the level of necessary planning is gradually reduced, but in the early days it is vital not to overlook the importance of organization when it comes to providing the best learning environment for each and every student.
Every ESL classroom throughout the world is unique, but there is one thing that is common to them all: Every language learner picks up the language at their own pace. Some students find it easy to grasp new concepts and ideas, while others find it hard and regularly make mistakes. One of the main roles of any teacher is to ensure that every member of the class, not just the more gifted ones, receive the exact amount of attention and support they need to reach their full potential. No matter how difficult it might be, a good teacher will never show their frustration towards a struggling student. Instead, they will remain calm and find a way to keep the whole class moving in the right direction.
While many of the qualities on this list can be learned and improved on with continued practice, passion is one that you either have or you do not. The bottom line is, a teacher who is not passionate about the subject they teach is a teacher who is unlikely to inspire a great deal of commitment in return. If you go into teaching as a way to make a few bucks while moving from place to place, or you simply go through the motions between paychecks, then the chances of success are few and far between. Actually caring strongly about the success of your students is something that your class members, colleagues, and bosses will see clearly on a daily basis. It will be equally obvious to everyone when this passion is not felt or displayed. Without passion your lessons can quickly become stale and unfulfilling for everyone concerned.
As any teacher will tell you, the best laid plans can quickly unravel in any classroom at any time, no matter how organized you are. Because of this potential chaos that can strike without warning, it is important that you are very adaptable when teaching ESL. During any given lesson there are a multitude of things that can potentially derail your plans. Timing is certainly one, as the whole lesson can be completed in half the time expected or the bell could ring for the end of class with only a fraction of the intended material covered.
Technology in the classroom is another common source of problems in an ESL classroom. Computers can crash, video equipment can break down, the power can go out, the list is endless. Probably every teacher has also been caught out when a tried and tested activity that has previously been successful simply fails to work for no apparent reason. Whatever the problems you come up against in an ESL classroom, a good teacher should be ready to deal with them by adapting their plans in order to get the job done.
As teaching requires us to stand in front of relative strangers and explain difficult subjects, it is no surprise that nerves are a common issue in the classroom. Many teachers also live with ongoing anxiety about making mistakes or being unable to answer difficult questions asked by the class. This kind of issue is commonplace and perfectly normal during the early stages of any teaching career. However, just bear in mind that teaching is no different to any other job in that you get better at it the more you do it. Anxieties we might have during our first few weeks and months in the classroom typically fade over time as we learn the best ways to navigate through the curriculum. The best advice during the difficult early stages of your teaching career is to simply put your faith in all the skills and knowledge you learned during your TESOL training. Having confidence in your abilities as an educator will rub off on the students and hopefully lead to better lessons and better results throughout the class.