10 Teaching Tips For New Teachers

Even the most experienced teachers once had that deer in the headlights moment the first time they were in front of a classroom. Looking back, we can all identify a list of mistakes we made and things we wish we had known before we ever set foot in a classroom.  Here are 10 things I wish I’d known before starting ESL teaching. 

The first day is the most important

classroomWhen you first step into the classroom, you are a complete unknown to these kids.  Are you a push-over, or are you going to send them outside for sneezing?  Can they whisper and throw things at each other as soon as you turn around, or do you mysteriously have eyes in the back of your head?   They don’t know—but they’ll try to find out.  On the first day of class, kids will push you to see what they can get away with.

It’s tough to find a balance between being firm and being kind—especially on the first day, when you inevitably want the kids to like you.  As a new teacher, the most important thing you can do on day one is to be prepared for the kids to push boundaries.  Go into your first day of teaching with a  clear idea of what’s acceptable in your classroom and what isn’t, and stick to that no matter what.

Keep it simple

So your lesson for the day is on the simple past tense, and you’ve drawn an elaborate grid on the board with all of the main verb conjugations, added a list of irregular verbs, and given the students a dozen example sentences.

And when you turn around, you find that the class is either asleep, doodling, or giving you that dreaded glazed over look.  It’s information overload.  A lesson needs to have one, simple focus.  If you’re covering the simple past tense for beginners, maybe your focus is simply the past tense form of “to be.”  If it’s an intermediate lesson, maybe you simply want to focus on conjugating a few irregular verbs.

Either way, the students will take more away from a simple lesson that focuses on one or two concepts than if you try to cover it all.

Have fun

You probably didn’t travel half way around the world to be a taskmaster cracking the whip while kids drudge through worksheets.  Yes, you’ll have a lot of material to get through.  And yes, the kids might be misbehaving and giving you premature gray hairs.  It’s because they’ve been sitting in a desk since 7am that morning, and they’re restless.  Setting aside 5 or 10 minutes (or longer!) for a good ESL game can make all the difference in the world.

And it’s not just about killing time and burning off the students’ pent-up energy.   People learn things better when they are engaged and having fun.  Bring joy and life and fun to your teaching, and the rewards will be immense—for you and for the students.

Trust your co-teachers

If you have co-teachers, you’ll often find that they know the individual kids, their level, their family, and their quirks, far better than you do.  Ask them for advice, and trust their judgment.  If you show a co-teacher your seating arrangement, and she starts shuffling kids around, don’t be offended—she’s probably saving you from a lot of headaches. It’s important to get a long with your co-teacher.

Don’t try to do it all

Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself.  If you have a co-teacher, talk with them about how you want to manage the class, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  And if you have students of varying levels, work out a way that you can pair or group them together so that they can help each other out.  It takes a lot of the stress off of you, so that you can focus on the bigger picture instead of always getting bogged down helping one kid finish a worksheet.

Don’t try to completely control the classroom

As Princess Leia said to Grand Moff Tarkin, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Well, likewise with your students.  The harder you try to control them and force a set of arbitrary rules on them, the harder they will rebel against you.  A good teacher is like a good leader—someone who can motivate and inspire, instead of just enforce rules.  Have fun, do activities the kids enjoy, and earn their respect, and you’ll have no trouble controlling the classroom.

Don’t obsessively correct students

It’s hard not to wince when you hear one of your students say “You is so crazy!”  But, the reality is, when someone is correcting every third word you say, it’s impossible to even speak or communicate an idea.  Language is a tool for communication, and it’s more important that your students learn the critical thinking and creativity required to communicate their ideas in a foreign language than that their grammar is absolutely perfect from the get-go.

If you notice that your students are consistently messing up on grammar that they should know at their level, then plan a few lessons or daily drills/exercises to make the proper grammar feel natural to them.  Another thing that works well is to have a signal that you can make when you hear a mistake, so that they can catch it and correct themselves.

Encourage your students’ personalities and creativity

Don’t be so attached to your ideas of how a game, story, or activity should go that you stifle the kids’ creativity.  The activities that the kids enjoy the most are the ones that they feel some ownership over.  So, if your students seem bored to tears with your elaborately-planned activity and want to make up a story about a dinosaur instead; or if, instead of Team A vs. Team B, they decide they want to be Team Crazy, Purple Justin Bieber on a Bicycle vs. Team Evil Brain-Eating Poo-Poo Monkey…just go with it.  A good teacher knows how to adapt their lessons around the students’ personalities and energy.

It can be a fine line between letting the kids have fun and letting things get out of hand, but you’ll quickly get very good at walking that line.

Don’t be afraid to look stupid

Students absolutely love it when you make a fool out of yourself.  It’s hysterical, it makes you human to them, and it breaks the ice.  It also helps them understand what they are learning—you can spend five minutes trying to explain in basic English what “to fall” means, or you can just topple dramatically to the ground.

Plus, a lot of students are terrified of making a mistake and looking stupid.  When you can unabashedly make a fool of yourself in front of the class, it helps the kids relax and be less afraid that they might look foolish.

Keep trying new things

It can be amazing how quickly you get into a rut in the classroom, even if you’ve never taught before.  Once you get the classroom management running smoothly, and you know what games the kids like and what they respond to, it’s tempting to just stick with it.  But if you don’t keep challenging yourself and bringing new ideas into the classroom, you’ll burn out on teaching pretty fast.

This goes for students that you are struggling with, too.  Maybe you’re having a hard time keeping a student, or a whole class, under control.  Maybe you have an extremely quiet, shy student that you’re just not sure how to get through to.  Either way, keep trying different things, ask for advice, and challenge yourself to improve as a teacher.

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1 Comment
  1. I love what you said about being out and about as a teacher. I think the students need to see you with a positive and outgoing attitude. Without it, they will not be as comfortable connecting with you. I was unaware that students pay that much attention to what the teachers are doing. Thanks so much for the reminders!

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