FIVE mistakes TEFL teachers first make on the job

by Stuart Allen @Stu_RAYEnglish
Ray English TEFL Recruitment, China

FIVE mistakes TEFL teachers first make on the job

By D. Sharon Pruitt from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Five small things which will help you in the first weeks

It is both a little daunting and very exciting making the transition from being a CELTA or CertTESOL graduate to actually flying out to a new country to start a new life as a TEFL teacher. As a new teacher, one can often feel a little bit of apprehension and pressure going into the job. You might be asking yourself ‘what if I mess up my class?’, ‘what if the students don’t grasp what I’m trying to say?’, ‘yikes…what if the students don’t like my classes??’

Well, first of all, those fears are natural and we have all asked ourselves the same questions at some point. The more lessons you teach, then you will begin to become more familiar and at ease with your own teaching style and so will your students. However, if you follow these five pointers, then your progression from a new teacher, to an experienced member of the academic team will come much more smoothly.

1. Don’t rush your first class

The first class of a course is extremely important as a way making yourself and your students feel at ease with each other and setting a very comfortable learning environment for all. Don’t rush this first class!

This is your opportunity to get to know the students a little bit, learn their names and suss out who are the shy ones and who are the outgoing ones. In addition to helping your planning, you will set a mood in your classes of positive learning and respect. As a result, your classes will be easy to handle and everyone will feel comfortable speaking up or when making mistakes. Maybe bring in some photos of your hometown or family to show around. Get your students interested and understanding of you, the teacher.

2. Plan more

OK, so you are sitting in the teachers’ office and you have everything planned for your class. Activity A will last six minutes, Activity B should last 14 minutes and then Activity C will last 10 minutes. Perfect!

What actually happens is that your students will inevitably try to finish tasks as quickly as possible, will tell you that they’ve done it before or something else will throw a spanner in the works! What this can result in is you running out of material and ideas 10-15 minutes before the end of class. So what do you do? All the students are looking at you in silence waiting for the next thing, but you have no ideas and the clock is ticking! Let me tell you, that this happened to me in my first few days as a teacher (it was horrible!) and after that, I always told my teachers to plan extra stuff in the event of your timing not working out. Any extra material you photocopy or get ready in the event of you running out of teaching ideas (but don’t use) can always be used in the next class.

3. Make a big effort with the support staff

As a new teacher in a school, you’ll be eager after your classes or during the break to get back to the office to see the other teachers. You’ll be keen to tell them how your classes went, unwind and have a chinwag. What this often means is that you run past the front desk where the staff are working with barely a quick wave. You may find that some of the staff in your school don’t speak English very well, but let me tell you that having really nice working relationships with the support staff can make your job much more satisfying and easier. Especially if a conflict happens down the line.

4. Don’t try to be ‘the friend’ in classes

Many teachers have an idea going into the job for the first time that they will create a really energetic and fun vibe for their classes, where the students feel confident to speak up and practice. This is a really good idea, but it must be done in the right way, especially with Younger Learner classes.

I was speaking to a friend who said the biggest mistake was trying to ‘be a teacher/friend’ of a class of ten year-olds from the get-go. What actually happened was this teacher very quickly began to have behavioral problems in the class, students weren’t listening and he quickly lost the respect of the children. Young Learners need to have a strong leadership figure in the classroom. Once this has been established and a line has been made in the sand, where the students know what is acceptable and what is not, then you can begin to nurture these closer teacher/student learning relationships and you will see the progress of your students rocket!

5. Being Overambitious

For me, being creative in your lesson planning is one of the best skills an ESL teacher can have. Being able to create fun and interactive classes from a few pages in your text book makes both teaching and learning fun. However, don’t bite off more than you can chew!  I can’t tell you the number of teachers I’ve spoken to in the teachers’ office before the classes saying “This will be great! First we’ll do this, then we’ll try that, then I’ll play this song, then this will come down from the ceiling, dah, dah, dah”, and then seeing them come in dejected, annoyed and tired at break time after it all went horribly wrong! Be creative, but know your limits in regards to planning time needed, class time, level of the students and student dynamics.

Stuart Allen is the recruitment director at RAY English TEFL Recruitment, China. You can visit their site here.


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  1. Here a lot of people make the mistake of coming to class in flip-flops, hung over from the previous night. Sadly, management doesn’t care most of the time.

  2. Hello all,

    Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you found the article useful! I’ll pop back here in a week or so with a few more articles which I hope you’ll also find helpful.

    All the best,

    Stuart Allen

  3. Nice points, Stuart. This first class should not be rushed as you mentioned. It is difficult to plan it since the students may need time finding the room, the admin may need time to distribute materials and even check registrations, or any number of things can come up! I usually take my students for a quick tour of the facility somewhere in the middle of the first class, just to help them get comfortable with their surroundings – here’s the administration, the head teacher’s office, the bathroom, etc. So the point is then, you’ve got to be flexible with your plans on the first day. I would recommend planning for about an hour of actual class time for a two hour class on the first day only, while keeping some time-filling “introduce yourself” games and activities up your sleeve.

  4. I agree with point 2, planning and good time keeping are always things to keep on top of but it can be hard to design ‘extra activities’ and games that will be appropriate for each lesson.

  5. Sometimes it is necessary to share teaching resources too, and getting along with colleagues is crucial. Best to be super adaptable.

  6. Yes – being prepared but flexible is key! In college we had the added problem that we never knew exactly who would turn up on the first morning – if anybody!

  7. These are one of the most common problems that a teacher must keep in mind to give a good start very informative. Thanks.

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