Sometimes being a TEFL teacher sucks. Times when you've got an incredible workload, endless admin, and no energy.
Sometimes though, you're not tired because of the amount of work, but the kind of work you're doing. You're stuck in a rut, repeating yourself, and can't get the impetus to kick yourself out of it.
Then there's yet other times when TEFL teachers find that it’s the little things which are bleeding their enthusiasm reserves dry. You can't find those materials you prepared specifically for that class, or your attendance sheet has gone missing again. You know what I mean.
What's the solution? Unfortunately, there is no universal panacea that will solve all your problems. Bummer.
I can help you out with a few suggestions that can make your life that little bit easier. So grab a cup of tea, sit back and have a read. Pick one or two suggestions, and do as soon as you get to work tomorrow. Rinse and repeat.
Ten Top Tips
Tidy your cupboard
What the hell? I thought you said that this was going to make my life easier, not harder? Trust me, it will. Block off 30 minutes of time, and just clean that sucker out. Be ruthless, throw away or recycle all that accumulated junk, and get rid of all the dust and gunk that has shamefully built up in the corners. Now, how good do you feel? Not to mention that you can now put your hand on anything you want to in two seconds flat. You own that cupboard. Next time you want to procrastinate by looking at Facebook, do this instead.
Review Your Admin Routines
Now you've got a sparkling clean cupboard, let's keep it that way. What tiny little habits can you add to your routine that will keep stuff tidy and organised? Example: I always take three minutes after every class to put everything back in its place. Attendance list, lesson plan in the right folder, materials in folder / box, etc. I also take another two minutes (or less) to write on my old lesson plan ideas and notes for the next class, so when I come the plan the lesson, I remember the last one clearly. Stuff like 'didn’t quite get the past continuous, review more', ‘don't sit Bob next to Lisa, they'll fight', etc.
Remember, Make it Student Centred
When you're planning, have a look at how much each student is going to be speaking in the lesson. Imagine you're a student in your own class and visualise how many minutes (roughly) that you'll get to speak. Is there any way you can increase that amount of time? Why? One, it’s better for student learning. Two, the more work they do, the less you have to. :-)
Review your Behaviour Management System
Hopefully you've created your own behaviour management system by now. If you haven't, why not? Do it now! If you have, but have a 'problem' class that doesn't respond very well, time to sort it out. Pick the brains of your academic manager, even ask them to observe a class and make some suggestions. Problem classes can be a huge pain in the bum. It's a real energy-sapper to have a class that you dread all week long. How much happier would you be if you could fix it?
Observe an Experienced Colleague Teach
Getting a fresh perspective on teaching always helps. The best way to do that is to observe a willing colleague. I remember when I first started teaching, of all the things I did – reading teaching books, getting mentored, talking to my academic manager – the one that helped me the most was observing my colleagues. So beg or borrow time and permission, and get yourself in the classroom to observe your most experienced colleagues. Take a notebook and scribble all lesson – what do they do that's different to you, what routines do they use, how do they control the class, what activities do they use? It'll be worth its weight in gold.
Brainstorm Fresh Activities
I hope that you've also made an activity grid so you've already got a ton of great activities? If not why not? Outrageous behaviour. If you have though, and are getting tired of it (although it will take a while), then I suggest you take a couple of colleagues out for coffee and go through the same brainstorming process. You'll come up with some great new ideas to freshen up your classroom – your students and your brain will thank you for it.
Swap Materials with Colleagues.
Similar to the one above, but with lesson or topic specific materials you've created. Think about it. Most of your colleagues are likely teaching from the same coursebook as you. If they're not, they're almost definitely covering the same topics as you. Yet you're all busy creating your own materials which you just file away in your (now sparkling clean) cupboard. What do you mean you aren't already sharing that stuff? Are you crazy? There's no point being a hoarder, sharing is caring, and more to the point, sharing saves you a shed load of time, too. (Yes, I know your materials are the best, but it wouldn't hurt to try someone else's, would it? Especially if it saves you a truckload of time).
Try a New Methodology
Set yourself a challenge – try a new methodology. Dogme is great if you have a little experience under your belt. It's great to challenge yourself to respond to your students on whole different level. Without a lesson plan or materials, go into class and be your authentic self. Sound scary? Good. It'll force you to put the students first, and use what you know about them to build relationships, focus on what you know that they find interesting to sustain both interest and conversation. Another one to try is Task Based Learning for Young Learners. They said it can't be done... that young learners don't possess the self-discipline or autonomy to be able to interact without guidance from the teacher. Rubbish. It is a challenge, I'll grant you that, and it has to be highly structured and set up correctly, but once it works, you'll be over the moon. I've had three year olds role-playing, using target language to negotiate to complete a set of cards in a whole class mingling activity. Damn, it felt good, especially as it was an ‘open class’ when the parents were observing. Push yourself to push your students, and raise your expectations of what they're able to achieve.
Ask your Academic Manager for a Workshop or Coaching
Don't be a hero! If you're having trouble with anything, from class control, to a lack of ideas, to a specific teaching skill, just ask (or read this blog :-)). After all, that's what your academic manager is for. Plus they like to feel useful from time to time as well.
Hold a Class Survey.
Ask your students what they like most about your classes. What kinds of activities? What do they find most difficult? What do they find most difficult about learning English. The more information that you have, the better you know your class, the better you can relate and plan, and the better your classes will be. Good luck and good teaching!