ESL Teaching Strategies
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There is nothing terribly difficult or unique about English teaching.

Strategies and skills directly transferable to English teaching could be coaching a team, directing a school play, if you've had any kind of leadership experience, or ever taught anything before. Even if you've never had any such experience you never know what you can do until you try.

With desire, persistence and a true caring nature a teacher can create a winning classroom environment that students will appreciate and very much enjoy.


Being The Excellent Teacher

Everyone has had at least one experience of having an excellent teacher. It's the kind of person that makes you feel good to be in their classroom, you look forward to being there, and you learn a lot.

Of course, there are as many ESL teaching strategies and styles as there are ESL teachers. But there are certain qualities that go into making a really good teacher (some I've listed below) and I try in my own way to live up to them.

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Your Mission Statement

I think it's really important for you to know what your mission is in teaching ESL, I mean, exactly why are you doing it and what do you hope to accomplish in your life and the lives of your students.

Writing a mission statement is a valuable first step in keeping you on top of your game and focused on your goals. Click Here to get some suggestions on how to do that.
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Perhaps inspiring your students and they in turn inspiring you is a critical element to being an excellent ESL teacher.

I've heard stories of some teachers whose particular teaching strategy is that of being ruthless with their students, appearing mean and unfair, constantly pushing their students beyond their limits and are sometimes being hated.

But when they come right down to it their pupils realize in the end they learned a lot. And they probably learned more from the teacher who ruthlessly pushed them to go where they had never gone before than from the teacher who was nice but didn't challenge them.

We hear that a lot about certain coaches, the ones who never give in, who never let their charges be any less than they know they can be. One such coach who comes to mind is the guy who coached the USA hockey team to win the Olympics against the much better and experienced Russian team.

His teaching strategy was to be ruthless, stern, worked his players hard sometimes to the breaking point and had them accomplish the impossible, something they would remember the rest of their lives: winning the gold at the Olympics. Check out the movie Miracle with Kurt Russell as the coach. It may inspire you.


Teaching ESL -- A Fine Line

So can you teach ESL ruthlessly? Can you use some coaching tactics to get your students to go beyond their perceived limitations? I say yes. But ruthless doesn't mean "mean." It just means unwavering, not giving up.

I'm not saying that you can necessarily do what the Kurt Russell character did in your particular ESL teaching strategy. What's important though is his commitment to his team and his commitment to his work.

Teaching ESL can to be like walking a fine line between being persistent with the student and pushing them too hard until they get frustrated. But sometimes frustration is good because for some people it only makes them try harder.

One thing I've learned to nip in the bud is when students get exasperated and whiny (yes, adults can get whiny) especially when I am trying to have them pronounce a word that's difficult for them. They stop and cry "Oh, teacher..." and throw their heads back in frustration and basically want to stop my pushing them.

They are paying me to have me teach them English, and my goal is to have them learn it well. So when they give me that "Oh, teacher" they're telling themselves "I can't do this", but are usually right on the brink of getting what I am trying to have them learn.

So one of my ESL teaching strategies is to just calmly say, "Stop that! Come on, say it again." And they always stop their whining and continue. Then I will switch gears and work on something else and then a few minutes later come back to what we were working on.

It's important to be straight with them and not pull any punches. Even though they might hate being pushed I know they appreciate it deep down. And I believe in them. I know they can accomplish even when they might not think they can.


It's Important to Gently Maintain Control

As the teacher you have to be in control of the class at all times, but not a control freak. I don't care if a cell phone rings and the student has to step out of class. I don't care about whispered conversations as long as it's not disturbing anyone.

It's important to be flexible. Sometimes I'll go into class with something planned but we'll get into an interesting discussion about something else and my lesson goes out the window.

Also, I think it's important to have a friendly, calm and relaxed demeanor. And to always be encouraging. When the student does something right acknowledge him for it.You want to be relaxed but not slack, enthusiastic but not hyped up. Genuine but not wearing your heart on your sleeve.

It also helps to match your energy level to that of your class. If you've taught for a while you can begin to get attuned to where the class is at for the day.

And each class has its own personality. If you walk in and the mood of the class is a bit lethargic match yourself at first to their lethargy. This helps to establish rapport. Then you can gradually, with a little enthusiasm and persistence, bring them to a level above "lethargy" which may be "mild interest."

For an example of a really great teaching style check out the French instruction CDs by Michel Thomas. His teaching strategy is to be firm and forceful in his style yet very encouraging and supportive of his students. It's a very effective technique honed by 50 years of teaching. I recommend it.


Black Hole, Anyone?

Then you have the phenomenon of the kind of class I call The Black Hole. This is a group that has one or more introverted persons that seem to create a vortex of introversion into which the entire class gets sucked.

Click Here to read more about this phenomenom.


The Qualities of a Really Good Teacher Are...

Here's a list of what I think are some of the worthwhile qualities to develop as a teacher. If I had to pick the one of the utmost importance it would be "patience." Patience with the students, patience with yourself.

A good teacher is:

  • well-read
  • a good listener
  • willing to admit he doesn't know
  • willing to admit that he is wrong
  • continually engaged in ongoing training and development
  • loves teaching
  • doesn't complain to his students about problems at the school or in his life
  • tries to hold his students in the best possible light
  • entertaining
  • inspiring
  • doesn't take personal problems into the classroom
  • open-minded
  • lighthearted
  • always wondering if he is doing a good job or not (this keeps you from being complacent)
  • flexible
  • spontaneous
  • always in control of the classroom without being too strict or controlling
  • creative
  • professional
  • very, very patient
  • loves people
  • challenges the student
  • always willing to learn new things
  • alert and energized
  • in good health
  • willing to go beyond his petty feelings of being down or tired and deliver the lesson
  • walks into class enthusiastically and with gentle authority and maintains it
  • genuine
  • open-hearted
  • keeps his political and religious views to a minimum. After all the class is about the students not about you.
  • willing to listen to suggestions from his students about how the class can be better

I want to add to this that whenever a student complains about another teacher or about the school, it's unprofessional and simply looks bad to take sides and agree or argue with him.

It's OK to have the class have a discussion along these lines but it's not OK to take sides. Encourage them to speak (for this is part of English, too) because they might feel better after they vent.

Then invite them to direct any complaints they have with the management. It's good to remember that no school is perfect and it might be useful to remind them of that.

If you can think of any more qualities, send it to me in an email. If I like it I'll add it.

Being flexible, well-read, open-minded, interested in and a real love of people are the important qualities an ESL teacher must have. These traits make English teaching not particularly difficult and if you really love what you do it's not really work.

Teaching ESL can be lot of fun and very rewarding. Your own ESL teaching strategies are developed with time and experience.

But it doesn't hurt to read some books and pick the brains of experienced ESL teachers to help speed up the process.

When it's all said and done I believe the best of the ESL teaching strategies is to absolutely love teaching English.