What are the most important skills you need to be a great TEFL teacher?
Have a think back to your school days: who were your favourite and least favourite teachers? What was it that made the good ones good and the bad ones bad?
Your favourite teacher was likely someone you made a personal connection with. Someone you looked up to, who inspired you, and who made learning enjoyable.
Being a great teacher is about more than just knowledge and qualifications. The best teachers are able to draw on a wide range of skills to help their students get the most out of learning. Let’s dive in and take a look at some of the most important ones needed to succeed in the big wide world of TEFL!
10 skills TEFL teachers need
The ability to communicate well is arguably the single most important skill any teacher needs to have. If you don’t have good communication skills it doesn’t matter if you have a PhD in teaching and know more about the English language than anyone else on earth – that knowledge is only useful to your students if you are able to communicate it effectively.
Strong communication skills are doubly important for TEFL teachers due to the language barrier. You might wonder how TEFL teachers work with students with very little English, but did you know that the vast majority of communication is actually done nonverbally? Even between speakers of the same language! Don’t underestimate the importance of tone of voice, body language and gestures.
Your TEFL course will help you understand and build these skills. By studying methods for engaging students and creating effective lesson plans, you’ll learn the best methods for communicating with language learners.
Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Technology fails, students don’t respond in the way you expected them to, your lesson plan doesn’t fill the whole lesson, or an exercise simply takes a lot more time than you expected. As a teacher you need to learn how to navigate the unexpected and keep control of a lesson.
Even more so in the world of TEFL, adaptability is key. If you’re a first-time teacher working abroad you’ll be faced with the challenges of a new job, new employer, and a new country and culture. There’s a lot of adapting involved in TEFLing! Check out our post about getting the most out of your TEFL adventure for some helpful tips.
Empathy is essential to building connections with others. This is a skill that should not be underestimated – the empathetic teacher understands their students and this helps to make them a better communicator.
If you’re teaching a class of students it’s unrealistic to expect all of them to learn in the same way and at the same speed. Some students face unseen challenges that can impact their ability to learn as well as their behaviour in the classroom, so it’s important for a teacher to make these students feel understood.
Lesson time is precious and you want to make sure you’re using it efficiently and effectively. Without great organisational skills it’s easy for a class to descend into chaos.
In the video below you’ll hear from some of our tutors about their first TEFL job. Helen talks about how her first class didn’t exactly go well because she didn’t have the resources for it. She had to scramble to get them together the following week!
Lots of our tutors have had similar experiences early in their TEFL careers. When a teacher turns up to class without being properly organised for the first time it’s usually enough of an ordeal to ensure they avoid doing it again in the future! Organisation leads to a better learning experience for students and a whole lot less stress for teachers.
Experience builds confidence. It’s completely normal to feel nervous and under-prepared going into your first TEFL lesson but these feelings will ease with time and practice.
Many newly-qualified TEFL teachers have a fear of grammar – what happens if a student asks a grammar question and you don’t know the answer? The reality is, this is very likely to happen – and it’s okay! Both your knowledge of English grammar and your ability to handle difficult questions will improve with experience.
Caroline, one of our wonderful tutors here at The TEFL Org, has this very wise bit of advice for new TEFL teachers:
”Remember that we are all learning as we go along. Lots of my students have said “I want to be really confident about the language before I start teaching” but guess what – the way you get to be confident is BY teaching! So just take it step by step.”
Listening to your students is essential to building a good relationship with them and being an effective teacher. Only through listening will you understand your students’ needs, what they enjoy and what they struggle with.
It’s also especially important as a TEFL teacher that your students are speaking more than you are. Language learners need to be active in the learning process, not just sitting listening to a lecture. Check out this article from the British Council for some helpful advice to help you consider ways of reducing teacher talking time.
Everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds. Some students will make the same mistakes over, and over, and over again and at times it might feel like it will never click with them.
Never show frustration – there are many reasons why a student might be struggling to learn something and they need to feel that they’re in a safe and supportive space in order to learn most effectively. Give them time to process information, the opportunities to practice, and remember that what comes easy to you can be a real challenge for someone else.
Passion about teaching as well as passion about the English language make for a good TEFL teacher. If you love what you do then you’re going to pass that enthusiasm on to your students and create a better learning environment for them.
It’s very common to hear from TEFL teachers who’ve been working for a long time that they initially started teaching because it was a means to travel and experience the world. They thought they’d do it for a year or two but soon discovered a passion for teaching and realised there are actually a lot of career paths in the industry.
Our tutor, Asif, never felt a calling to teaching, but once he started teaching English he fell in love with it. He’s now been teaching for 21 years and has taught all over the world, from the UAE to Ukraine, and many, many places in between. You won’t really know if something is your passion until you start doing it!
Good teachers know how to motivate their students and get the best out of them. This is closely linked to a number of other skills – the motivational teacher is a good communicator, is empathetic, has passion for what they do, and knows how to bring their subject to life.
Being able to motivate students involves paying attention to what motivates them, as well as an understanding of how they most effectively learn and what they enjoy. You want to inspire them to learn
A love of learning
The best teachers are always learning. It’s not a field where it’s possible to reach a point where you know it all and have completely mastered your craft. A good teacher knows there’s always room for improvement and strives towards that.
There are lots of different ways TEFL teachers can focus on their own self-development. There are options for further study, giving teachers more advanced qualifications and deepening their knowledge of the field. See our blog post for more information about further learning for TEFL teachers for ideas.
There’s a lot involved in being a great teacher and much of it is learned by doing, so don’t panic if you don’t feel like you have all these skills yet! Our advice is to first get TEFL qualified, which will provide you with a good foundation, and then to get out there and start teaching!
Not TEFL qualified yet and unsure what course is right for you? Take our quick quiz!