by Claudia Pesce
No ESL teacher is perfect, no matter if you’ve been teaching for 20 minutes or 20 years (present company included!) Anyone can make mistakes, most of which are the results of our trying too hard or being too impatient.
I’ve already covered some of these mistakes in another article, where I mention one of our classic blunders: too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). Of course, we don’t want to talk more than the students. But we find ourselves explaining and over explaining, or simply getting too chatty in our efforts to bond with students. Here are some more of the worst mistakes you can make in your ESL class:
Are You Making These Mistakes in Class?
You indulge in useless blabber
This is what I also call the “saying out loud things that you should just keep to yourself” syndrome. It goes something like this: you say to your class, “OK, so we’re going to play this game, but we’re going to use the board instead of these cute little photocopies I had planned to give you, but I can’t give you as the copier is broken. Sorry about that, but these things happen, and well, we need to adapt and adjust to what we have… OK…Oh, I’ll need another marker because this one is not working properly…” And it goes on and on and on…
Needless to say, students don’t need to hear all of this. Quite frankly, in some levels it can be quite confusing – they may not even understand half of it. Repeat after me: Silence is good. It’s OK for students to have some quiet time while you set up a game or activity. Moreover, keep any problems you may have had with the school’s equipment to yourself. It’s more professional, too.
You complete their sentences for them
Your student says, “Playing soccer is…” And you jump in and say, “fun?” Talk about eager beavers! Sometimes the teacher is the eager beaver in class and doesn’t give students enough time to come up with the right word or answer. Students need time. If you jump the gun and complete the answer for them, you’re taking away their opportunity to prove to you just how much they’ve learned. Also, consider that it could actually annoy the student. What if, in the situation above, the word the student was actually looking for is “boring”?
Completing students’ sentences is like cutting someone else’s food. You do it when they’re little, but at some point they have to start doing it for themselves.
You ask them if they understand
Imagine I am looking straight into your eyes, and I ask you “Do you understand?” Most students will feel compelled to squeak out a tentative “yes…” Who would actually face the teacher and say “no”? Who wants the rest of class to think that they are not the brightest bulb in the box? Don’t put your students in this position.
There are ways to check for comprehension without having to put students on the spot. Try asking them questions, instead, to make sure they’ve understood.
You echo their answers
A student says, “I work at Google.” You say, “You work at Google. Great! You work at Google.” First of all, there is absolutely no learning value in parroting your students. Second, if you do it immediately after they speak, you may be interrupting their train of thought and may even cut them off from whatever else they were going to say. What if your student was about to tell you what he did at Google?
After a student speaks, give him or her time to add something else. If you feel compelled to say something, simply reply with a “How interesting!” And pause to give them time to add a new piece of information.
You don’t check to see if they’ve understood your instructions
So, you rattle off a set of instructions in rapid-fire succession and say, “OK, let’s get started!” This is usually when students start whispering to each other things like, “What did she say?” or “What do we do now?”
Always check to see if they’ve gotten your instructions straight. Ask the class, “OK class so what do we do first? And then? Good! You may begin.” If it’s an exercise they must complete, it’s a great idea to do the first question with them as an example.
You give them unclear instructions
This mistake goes hand in hand with the previous one. Try to use words you know they will understand. Give them steps that are easy to follow, and if you can number them, so much the better. This is particularly true for special projects like crafts, where students are expected to follow a series of steps. If they are not familiar with any of the vocabulary make sure you explain it to them first; this includes words like “stapler”, “paper clips” or any other materials they may not be familiar with.
You worry about being liked
Well, generally, everyone wants people to like them. But, worrying too much about being liked can make you reluctant to say harsh words or be too negative about an issue. You need to be firm, fair, consistent, and a bit assertive or your students might begin to lose respect for you. Your students are not your friends, but it’s possible to have a positive relationship with them while keeping a respectful distance. In fact, as long as they sense that you like and respect them, they’ll probably like you even more.
As mentioned earlier, anyone can make mistakes. I am one of those teachers who complete students’ sentences. Guilty as charged!
After 20 years, I still need to stop myself every now and then, but this is something I tend to do when I’m running out of time for an activity. So, don’t be shy and speak up! Are you guilty of any of these blunders?
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