Our jobs, first, last, and always will be to help learners understand the English language. That will never change. How we do that will certainly undergo a change over time with trial and error and further education, which can be synonymous depending on what happens. One of the things that I want to talk about is the importance of that little thing called customer service. When we meet a student, how we interact with them determines whether or not they feel that they can count on us for our services. Do we ever stop, though? Maybe when we go home, but if there is one thing that can be said is that once we step outside of our homes, we should do our utmost to be helpful to the people around us. We never know who we’re talking to, and that can certainly impact whether or not people trust us as their teacher and service provider. For example, you might be in a rush to get to your academy one day, and running through people to get into a train. You might accidentally knock one or two of them over, and you might get an angry, cock-eyed stare. Maybe they might scream at you, saying things that are less than desirable when you’re commuting to work. You arrive at work, and you’re waiting to meet your student, when lo and behold, the student you’re working with happens to be one of the people you brazenly knocked over on your way to the academy. You might not think that this sort of thing happens, but on a planet with over seven billion people, anything is possible. Always pleasantly interact with the people around you, be prepared to help them if they ask you a question, and deliver a good service, and you’ll have the trust and respect of the people who need you to succeed.
Take that first example into account. When you’re late for work, you’re only thinking about the time. Suddenly, everything else takes a back seat. However, we know what happens when we don’t think about the people around us. So, there are several things to consider when you know you’re going to be late, and you’re rushing to get there to deliver your classes. The first thing is the train or the bus itself. Will running and pushing people out of the way make the bus or the train move faster? You’re still going to be late, and that won’t change anything. One of the things I like to do if I know that I’m going to be late is notify the academy where I’m working to let them know that I’m going to be late. I also apologize and thank the students for their patience. What does that do? It goes to show that you’re thinking about the students, rather than yourself. People do want to believe that a service provider, whether they are a teacher or a salesperson, has the student customer at the forefront. The worst-case scenario is that they’ll understand that you’re late because of problems with public transport, a situation that we’ve all experienced, at one point or another. I always make up some time afterwards by spending a few extra minutes with students. This is an effective solution, especially when thinking about time. After the class is finished, spend a couple of minutes and answer a few questions that the student in question may have about a phrase or a word or a preposition that they heard. Give another exercise, if necessary. The point is to think about the people around you, and how you can help them. There really is no other way to put it.
Life is full of opportunities to demonstrate your frustration or your quality. If unexpectedly pushing a person who could be your student is one, than unexpectedly coming across a fellow student or colleague is another. Imagine that, and when they see you, they have an important question about the course, or a question about the homework you may have given them. I don’t think I have to tell you how they will think if you decide to refuse them the service that they need. Sure, they could ask you something in an e-mail or a text message, but you’re physically there, and you can help them. What’s stopping you from taking a few minutes and answering their question? Right. Absolutely nothing. I always believe that those few minutes heighten or lower a person’s opinion of you. You always want to approach these situations with diplomacy and professionalism. You are the authority on the subject they’re asking you about, and so you should exemplify your status in said manner. Now, why is it important to show courtesy and establish trust, even when you’re not actively working? Two words: People talk. That’s right. They talk. Because they talk is the reason why you should always carry with you a professional attitude, especially on the subject of your work. It doesn’t matter what you do. You could be an English Teacher in Spain. You could be the Director of Studies at an English Academy. You could be in another industry altogether. It doesn’t matter. In a city like Madrid, it’s not uncommon for a large group of people to congregate into certain small neighborhoods like Malasaña, or Lavapies, or Huertas. These neighborhoods are very popular with tourists, and people who like to take a walk. Madrid is also, when one compares it in size to various other major cities in the world, pretty small, and when you look at the neighborhoods themselves, makes it smaller. Be ready to be professional.
You’re in the middle of a sales pitch, and you’re really showing prospective students why your English Academy is the best place to help them achieve their goals. The English academy is well-equipped. The TEFL teachers are professional. They get access to their computer system, so they can study whenever they want. Everything works out great, and they sign up for classes. The student in question leaves your academy all excited. Cut to the end of the first class. Those same students walk out of the classroom, scratching their head, wondering if anything was learned in that two-hour class. What happened there? There really is no other way to put it. You didn’t provide a good service, pure and simple. Those students came to you for help, and you promised to deliver. You didn’t. Going back to what I said earlier about what people do whether a service is good or not: People talk, even Spanish students about their English Teachers. In this case, when they talk, they’ll say that they were not happy with the service that you provided as an English Teacher in Spain. Word-of-mouth is, was, and always will be the most effective form of advertising, and if you don’t give them what you promise, they’ll be the first to tell people. There’s a certain phrase that’s often used in sales, and is certainly transferrable to other lines of work: “You don’t sell the steak. You sell the sizzle.” Quite true, to say the least. There is one thing that it doesn’t cover, and that’s this: What happens after the sizzle? After the sizzle, you have to give them the steak. If they don’t like the steak, will they come back for more? Don’t count on it. If you’re teaching a TEFL Course, and you’re not delivering a good TEFL class, don’t expect students to come back next month. They’ll find their ‘steak’ somewhere else.
All in all, these practices are common sense. Do students want to learn from an amateur? Do people want to be disrespected? Do people want their questions to be left unanswered? Those are the fundamental situations that people experience every single day, and what you, as a TEFL Teacher need to think about as you do your job or live your life. If you Teach English, and you don’t know how the language works, will you deliver a good service? If you represent a TEFL Academy that doesn’t live up to its expectations, will it be open for very long? In many of these cases, if your answer presents a relatively negative outlook on the future, I have some good news for you. All of these problems only need a simple tweak in order to be solved. Learn the material that you will be presenting, and you’ll be an effective teacher, running a good TEFL class. If you’re running late, let the people at your TEFL Academy know in advance, and make up the time with your students. If you’re the Director of Studies at a TEFL School in Madrid, make sure that your teachers are fully aware of what they’re teaching and how to effectively teach it, and that’s it. Be the expert. Be kind. Deliver a good service. That’s the beginning, middle, and end of your job as TEFL Teachers and Educators in Spain.