How to Use Hard Data to be a Better TEFL Teacher (and Manager)


Data is not a dirty word.

Data can improve your school, your students’ experience and your teaching performance.

Data identifies longer term trends about you and your students which you can use to inform your teaching and managing, and become a better TEFL teacher.

Which are the most important figures to look at?

  1. Dropouts

  2. Retention

  3. Referral

Or, as I like to call them, the ‘Hate You, Like You, Love You’ students.

‘Hate You’ Students (Dropouts)

No, I don’t actually mean they hate you. Well, not always anyway :-).

Dropout students, as the name suggests, are students who stop coming to your class while they’ve still got money invested in the course.

These are the students who feel strongly enough to talk with their feet – that’s a very powerful action to take. That’s why it’s so important to find out the reasons why they’ve dropped out.

Ask your manager to find out why. If you are the academic manager, and your school doesn’t track that data, ask your service team or centre manager to start. This will definitely help you, and your team, be better TEFL teachers.

Usual reasons for dropouts:

  • Other commitments (the class time sucks)

  • Class issues (student was placed in inappropriate level)

  • Methodology issues (“we don’t like the way your school teachers communicatively, we want Grammar-Translation teaching!”)

  • Teacher issues (we don’t like the way this teacher teaches)

  • Other issues (moving to Timbuktu)

Divide these into two camps – ones you can do something about, and ones you can’t.

‘Like You’ Students (Retention)

It’s definitely a teaching highlight – taking over a ‘difficult’ class, turning them around and getting 100% student retention. You rock.

Retention is the percentage of students that sign up for a new course after finishing their current one (usually – your school may have a different way of calculating it). Getting 100% retention for a class is a fantastic feeling.

Again, ask your manager for the information about your classes. Also ask if they track the reasons that students give for not re-signing. Typically they’re the same as for dropouts.

‘Love You’ Students (Referrals)

These are the best.

These are your evangelists. These students (and their parents) are the ones that sing your praises to their friends, who then become your customers and students.

Note to managers: I’m sure your school tracks how many new customers are referral customers, but wouldn’t it be nice to know which class / teacher the referrals came from? Imagine if 80% of all referrals came from the same teacher’s class… wouldn’t you like to know what that teacher is doing so well, and see if you could model it? Oh, and there's lots of other data you can track too...

6 Tips on How to Use the Data

  1. Manage people, not data. If you care about people, then the data will take care of itself.

  2. Be data informed, not data driven. Don’t go nuts and use data to schedule when teachers can have bathroom breaks, for example :-)

  3. Be aware that fluctuations are normal in the short term, but if problems keep happening in the long term then there’s an issue.

  4. Just because one class all re-sign doesn’t mean you’re best thing since sliced bread.

  5. No knee jerk reactions. Wait until you’ve got enough data to make a decision.

  6. Decide what the data means. What’s the underlying problem here?

  7. How can you fix the problem as a teacher? As a manager?

Being a Better TEFL Teacher

How have you used data to improve yourself? Or your school? Or what are your strategies you'd recommend to become a better TEFL teacher?