For anyone who’s known me long enough, you know that I’ve been working as an English Teacher in Spain for the past four years (and going on five!). It’s been an unbelievable experience, and I’m looking forward to another four years of helping TEFL students achieve their goals in my classroom. When I started learning, and further understanding the mechanics of the English language, I didn’t think that I would be able to handle its complexities. I know that this next sentence is going to sound a little cliché, but it was like being back at University. So much information was being taught. I had to learn quickly, and then use what I learned in the classroom to teach TEFL students who were actually learning English. It was pretty stressful. I’m happy to say that I was able to get through the course, and then go on to find the area in language learning that I could focus on (Exam Preparation, in my case), and provide a good service to Spanish speakers who were looking to learn English. Whenever I talk to other TEFL Teachers, I always ask myself if there are habits that are naturally and deeply ingrained to ensure a good class, and a happy bunch of students. I can’t say that I know all of them for sure, but I do know that there are a couple of things that I certainly picked up over the past few years that I felt were pretty successful. For those of you who are reading this, and thinking that this is absolutely not true, this is subjective. I’m sure that whatever you’ve learned as TEFL Teachers in Spain is more than helpful. In fact, if you read this and you have something to add, share it with me. I’m always open to new ideas. If you have the patience to read on, if you could be open to mine for a few minutes, that would be great.
- Be Punctual
I’m not exactly sure how often I have to say this, but I can’t stress it enough. You’re a professional delivering a service. Understand the concept of time, especially other people’s. They have lives outside the classroom, and while you do as well, it’s important to remember that your time now belongs to them (for one hour, two hours, or maybe even four hours at a time). Try to keep that in mind when you’re going to work giving English Classes. What can you do to ensure that you arrive to work on time? Set that alarm clock. Leave a few minutes early. Have your breakfast prepared from the night before. Have your clothes prepared beforehand so that you spend less time scrambling around your apartment doing all of these things at the last minute.
- Take an Extra Minute
We’ve all been here. There is less than five minutes left, and we’re looking at our watches or phones (or both), impatiently anticipating the moment when you don’t have to teach any more English Classes for the day, or possibly the weekend if it’s Friday. This is the moment that people might dread, but I always believe it’s a good idea to take an extra minute with your students to see if they have any other questions regarding the lesson. Personally, I don’t particularly see being a TEFL Teacher, (especially a TEFL Teacher in Spain) as a job. You may, but if you see every student as an individual, it will be easier to look at them and answer their questions. You won’t see it as a job. You’ll see it as an opportunity to help someone out. People get pleasure out of making someone else happy. When we share ourselves with other people, we enjoy our time, and maybe even our jobs.
- Be Prepared
Being an English Teacher in Spain means not only understanding the language, but also preparing yourself for the vast array of questions that could definitely come with each lesson. I always recommend that TEFL Teachers arm themselves with the material that they need, and go through the lesson itself. This way, you can anticipate what individual students will ask, and why, so that you answer it, applying the ‘how-to’ in your respond in a way that students will understand. After all, if your students are able to understand what they experience for the first time, they’ll be able to apply it in the real world when they leave your classroom. Be ready with your material. Anticipate any questions that students will ask beforehand, and regardless of your experience as a TEFL Teacher, you’ll certainly present yourself as an expert.
- Be Dynamic
If there’s one thing that I know that makes a student lose interest in a particular kind of class over time, it’s that lessons are too linear. This is a fact. A student could flip through the pages of their textbook to find out what they’re learning next in their TEFL Class. You, as the TEFL Teacher, have to be ready for this, and the reason for this should be simple: To hold your student’s interest. If they come into your class, only to have you suddenly go back to a lesson they completed, or possibly jumping over to another language point that compliments what was previously learned, they’ll compare it to a real world situation, as language is very dynamic in nature. Always remember to shake up the order in which lessons are delivered to keep things interesting. Use different references. Throw in a song every so often. Use it in a conversation. Whatever your method is, be as dynamic as the language you use every day.
- Assign Homework
Have you ever seen The Shawshank Redemption? “Prison time is slow time, so a man will do most anything to keep their mind occupied.” Not that we’re in a prison ourselves, but when TEFL students leave your classroom, they may want to, and in some cases, need to do some homework. For Exam Preparation classes, students are always worried that they won’t do well when they finally sit down to do their exam. Remember, the more they make mistakes in your classroom, the more they’ll understand how they can apply what they’ve learned in the real world. That’s the endgame. The more practice they receive, the more exposure to the language they will get. One of the things I like to do is assign a weekly essay for my students to do. I give them the structure they need to follow, the number of words required, and give them a situation to respond to, or give their opinion on.
- Be Accessible
Supply an academy-related e-mail address to have students submit their work. Depending on what you use, you’ll be able to access it from anywhere in the world. Also, it’s extremely cumbersome to go through so many hand-written essays. Check the company e-mail once or twice a day to see if there’s anything written for you by your students. This way, they can always assure themselves that they have you in their corner, rather than think of you as someone who’s just getting paid to Teach English in Spain.
- Infuse your personality into lessons
Don’t simply go through the lessons. Showcase your personality. Be creative. Be funny. Be opinionated about certain events. Make a comment about what happened between Real Madrid and Barcelona FC. It shows that you’re not only there as a TEFL Teacher, but you’re involved in what’s happening around you. This is something that I think is very important to getting TEFL students to open up to you. Think about it. Why were some teachers you had good, and why were they bad? Perhaps some of them weren’t able to teach a subject. Perhaps teaching a subject was all they did. Take a few minutes, and have a general discussion about something important or popular in the city you’re living in.
- Be Current
What do I mean by that? Content changes, technology changes, the exercises on basic English exams change. If you don’t have updated materials, it will be more difficult for you to deliver the class that students will need in the real world. For example, thirty years ago, beepers were very popular. How popular are they now that we’re living in the year 2020? Likewise, language tests change over time, and it’s up to TEFL Teachers that they have the most recent of teaching materials to give their students.
- Be Personable
Show this trait with your colleagues. Show this trait with your students. Always be ready to answer their questions with a smile. There is no such thing as a stupid question in a classroom, after all. It doesn’t matter how hard every other student laughs. It’s important to show them that their curiosity is welcome. If you respond to questions or comments empathetically, you’ll be someone that the students will certain respect, if not listen to.
You’re an English Teacher living in Spain. You give TEFL Classes. You have a lot of TEFL students. It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job. You deserve a little bit of R & R. Take yourself to a part of the world that you’ve been wanting to go to. You’ll return feeling that sense of life accomplishment as you continue handling students from another part of the world. I think that, regardless of whether or not you want to create a blog about it, this is something we should all, as teachers, give ourselves for taking that first step into a very different world.
So, that’s it. I think I said this earlier, but if you have a different list, by all means share it with me. If you disagree with me, say something. Maybe I missed something. These are some of the things that brought me joy since I became a TEFL Teacher in Madrid. My job is to help people achieve their goals, and in so doing, I’m achieving many of my own goals. It’s one of these things that always drives me out of bed first thing in the morning, and it helps me go to sleep every night.