Below I have laid out what I desperately needed to know when I started my teaching career.
Read this guide to discover how to get started, and how to control the class (this 5-second technique rescued many a class for me!).
Learn the number one thing for effective teaching – if you don’t do this teaching can quickly become a misery.
And most importantly, find out how to make you and your students truly shine in the classroom.
My First Day
She threw me the kids’ puppet called “Dizzy”, then handed me the textbook, and said, “Good luck Ben!”.
33 curious 6-year-olds, looking at me waiting to be taught.
After 5 minutes I realised the puppet, the book, and the qualifications were all IRRELEVANT.
The most important factor is maintaining control of the classroom.
If the class is out of control NO TEACHING can ever happen.
It’s important we get this right.
If we kill this subject for them early it could dramatically alter their future course in life.
For example, a study by Cornell showed learning a second language can bestow a cognitive advantage that can progress into academia.
In other words, “Cognitive advantages follow from becoming bilingual,” Lust says.
“These cognitive advantages can contribute to a child’s future academic success.”
How do I manage a class of young kids?
Below I have outlined essential tips from personal experience on how to manage the classroom.
Over-prepare: I would plan the 1-hour class into 7 x 10-minute sections. Yes, every lesson would be practically over-planned.
This way if the activity isn’t resonating with the class you move straight on to the next activity.
Engagement is important and essential
A kid’s attention span is too meagre for you to learn the activity on the go. Therefore, review it thoroughly before the class starts.
Vary the activities
Calm reading, followed by basic grammar, followed by colouring in, and near the end of the class put the more fun activities.
Starting off with the fun games means an uphill battle for the rest of the class trying to calm them down.
Establish a routine: Once you have a procedure in place there is zero need to explain or orchestrate their actions.
They should just follow the routine you have established. This can save you considerable amounts of energy.
In one academy I taught at, the students knew how each class started and ended.
No explanation was ever given as to what we would be doing for the first 15 minutes.
Personally, I loved the routine and so did a lot of students. However, some tutors and students complained about the monotony.
I also found that this routine often magically settled the class, for example, I routinely managed to get a hyperactive bunch of ten-year-olds into an organised ambitious class.
Learn your students’ names
Learn every child’s name as soon as possible. Not only will you impress them but will have more control of the class and better relationships.
Almost every new teacher aims to be friends with the students at first, and eventually gets eaten alive by the kids.
Avoid this common mistake by being strict at first and then slowly relaxing, if they deserve it.
The respect students have for you will increase significantly. Also, after losing the respect of the students it’s almost impossible to regain it and each class can become a horrible uphill battle.
Reward good behaviour
I found praise, such as a loud happy “YES Laura!” would get the child beaming.
Set clear boundaries
The cold stare. If a child is becoming rowdy or loud, freeze and just stare at them in silence for about 5 seconds.
This usually gets them to calm down. If you shout or raise your voice, the overall class volume usually increases.
Learn their language
The more you know about their language the faster the class will go, you can explain concepts better, and your control of the classroom will increase.
What qualifications do you need to teach?
In countries where the demand for English tutors is high, just being a native English speaker can get you the job.
In Spain for example, some private English academies only required you to be a native English speaker.
However, to teach English in a state school in Valencia you needed to have a qualification in Valencian!
In other countries, the institution may expect university-level education or even a teaching qualification.
It varies wildly from country to country. My advice is to go to the country or research online in forums or Facebook groups first.
After researching, then consider the formal qualifications. Personally, I believe the best are the Cambridge courses such as CELTA and DELTA.
Requirements for the USA
Tutors who want to start in the US K-12 public school system need at least a state teacher qualification, and ideally a TEFL qualification/endorsement.
To work in the private sector at an academy or as a personal tutor then most places will insist on at least a degree-level education and/or a TEFL qualification.
Requirements for the UK
In the UK most public authorities require a Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training, after this you can start teacher training and eventually get qualified.
The English government will happily loan you the fees to get started, even if you already have your existing student debt.
For more information about getting financial help (debt), click here to go to the official UK government site.
A private academy will usually require a bachelor’s degree, ideally a TEFL qualification, and 6 months of experience.
My personal experience
From working in different countries and being in touch with the ESL community I can say that the requirements, especially in the private sector are largely market-dependent.
For example, if there is a shortage of tutors then obviously standards and criteria will drop.
Whereas, if there is an abundance of teaching talent the employers can be a little pickier. My advice is to go where you are special! (in demand).
During the financial crisis around 2008, Spain suffered unemployment of around 30%.
However, the demand for English classes exploded as workers and students realised English could get them out of the country.
Simultaneously, the UK media reported about Spain’s impending financial meltdown.
This deterred potential new tutors from entering. Less teachers entering the market, coupled with exploding demand, obviously pushed up wages.
Where will you teach?
Advantages of teaching online
- Teaching online is almost pandemic-proof and safer.
- You can start almost immediately. Most online platforms have rather low standards for new teachers. Although it sounds bad, the teachers that get positive reviews, hours, etc can quickly be filtered from the rest.
- By teaching online you can avoid social burnout. After being in a classroom all week I usually found I just wanted to be alone. Working online could mitigate this problem.
Advantages of teaching in an institution
- Financial security, professional network to rely on and consult with.
- Looks more professional than private freelancing.
- From a tax perspective, it is easier to set up, compared with becoming self-employed and making invoices.
- Possibly better career prospects, especially if you have a pension provision.
- It will be tall order to teach an entire class online. You are likely to need all the skills in this post (and more!) to control an entire class of children via zoom.
Interesting class activities
I remember one 12-year-old student heard a Britney Spears’ song and then asked me what a Maneater was.
Again, this is not for every tutor, I also feel this will depend on the culture of the children. If they have never sung in class before it will be a challenge.
Putting pressure on students to sing in the class will almost likely backfire too, and won’t contribute to the dynamic you ideally want.
If you are using songs, then choose wisely, go for more useful songs, Strawberry Fields by the Beatles would be far less useful than A Day In The Life Of.
I remember one 12-year-old student heard a Britney Spears’ song and then asked me what a Maneater was.
Also, decide before the class what the focus is. Is it fluency? Accuracy? Vocabulary? This will help you determine when to jump and correct students.
This scientific study conducted in Poland showed that students can be stimulated by songs and help students memorise new vocabulary.
CHOOSE YOUR MEDIA WISELY
If using online sources like Youtube, make sure to check suitability.
At the end of one Halloween class, I once showed this video to a group of 12-year-olds.
All of them loved it, but one screamed and cried.
His mum was mortified when she picked up her little boy with tears streaming down his face.
With boring games you manage to keep control of the class and introduce an element of play. If you go for an amazing game it’s quite possible you lose control of the class and then nothing gets accomplished.
Build up to these, if the children are well-behaved and deserve it. A few that worked well for me included Simon Says, Memory, Shopping lists, and the classic Last Man Standing. Pro tip, save these until the end of the class. Send them home hyperactive.
The benefits of using stories in the classroom include:
- The teacher can introduce new vocabulary and review it in context.
- Teaching a new subject, perhaps a Christmas tradition in the teacher’s country.
- Students can associate the sounds of new words with their spelling.
- They can improve their listening skills and increase their content knowledge.
- This is not for every teacher. Some tutors will shine when telling stories, others will kill the subject.
Personality is a big part of this. I found I was average at telling stories but eventually improved to the point of students asking for stories (massive personal achievement!).
Do not watch films in the class
Personally, I would be furious if my language tutor turned up and just switched on Youtube or streamed a film for the class.
Students can watch films and Youtube at home so what are you bringing to the table?
Without proper preparation, films can be seen as a cop-out.
Therefore, if you have to use films, at least try and send them the material before the class, and let the students watch it at home.
Then in class perhaps watch clips and work through the worksheets prepared.
Some tutors recommend re-enacting scenes, this would be perfect for a well-behaved class, but for a lively class it could easily descend into anarchy.
Methods to teach speaking
- Encourage new vocabulary use, and build confidence in your students by helping them overcome shyness.
- Praise any step or action towards the goal, even if the answer was incorrect, and still praise the student for participating.
- Prepare an environment that encourages talking, for example, Show and Tell could be allocated to the last 10 minutes of each class.
- My favourites were structured speaking activities rather than free-flowing dialog. This was largely because of the students’ age and discipline.
Methods to teach writing
Personally, I shied away from pushing writing, largely due to the large classes I was handling, and the potential loss of control for the class.
Also, I strongly believed it was a “home activity” and that the best use of the native English teacher in the classroom was communication.
My favourite activity was to assign students straightforward forward simple translation lists, either of phrases or word lists. All homework was derived from a class activity.
Some tutors encourage students to write a diary at home or to even write stories.
I think it largely depends on the class dynamic, what the parents are expecting and what you feel comfortable teaching.
The following resources served quite well to cover grammar points covered in the class.
At these sites you have free access to lesson plans, these are great if you are in a hurry, but don’t rely on them too much: eslkidstuff.com/ or english-4kids.com/
This post at Fluent-U has a more extensive list.
Another great resource is LittleVoices, providing lesson ideas and resources to incorporate in your classroom.
Where possible I would prefer to make my own grammar exercises that tightly reflected the same vocabulary we had used in class.
This is a tall order at first, but the next year you can probably re-use the material.
Methods to teach listening
Be careful with this.
I have heard horrendous stories of tutors wearing down the clock with “listening practice”, so as to avoid any real tutoring.
I preferred listening to be worked on at home so as to get full use of the tutor during class time.
When planning listening exercises then make sure to:
- Listen to the entire audio before the class. A flustered tutor can quickly lose control of the classroom.
- Set expectations of what they are to listen for. Is it colours? Numbers? This makes the exercise more effective and focused.
- Answer sheets help comprehension considerably. Review the answer sheets before starting the recording.
Dealing with parents
It’s your fault my child did not learn English!
I worked in an academy whereby the only report cards we could give to parents were positive ones. Even if their child was diabolical all year, the worst we could say was: “Jose gets distracted by other students easily”.
As a tutor, this was brutally demoralising, especially if you knew you’d have the same students next year.
Obviously, you need to be polite and professional, it also helps if you speak the parent’s language.
Secondly, take notes of classes and homework assigned.
Inevitably you will get a parent who blames you for their child failing their English language exam.
Your position vastly improves if you have a list of all the times their child failed to hand in homework or misbehaved.
I’d also inform your supervisor of the situation, ideally before the parent does.
Assuming you’ve performed well and kept records most supervisors will support their tutors.
What I found fascinating is that amazing kids often had amazing parents, unfortunately, the opposite was also true.
Effectiveness and results
I can not learn English for you.
Some tutors completely shirk the responsibility question with statements like: “I can’t learn English for you”.
However, I found that by assuming responsibility for their learning and improvement we could progress much faster.
Assuming Responsibility Included:
- Any new vocabulary covered would be covered again in the next two classes, and then scheduled again in a month’s time.
- Most of the class was reviewing material from previous classes. Although this was a little tedious and boring, my students learned.
- Organising everything. Using notifications and spreadsheets, the vocabulary we covered is automatically re-appearing in the calendar in a month.
Perhaps my experience with undisciplined kids made me a control freak. I heard in Asia it’s a vastly different environment.
The world is replete with mediocre tutors, especially English language tutors, with this guide hopefully I’ve steered you towards excellence.