Why You DON’T Suck At Teaching English Conversation

Why You DON’T Suck At Teaching English Conversation

You might think you suck at teaching English conversation. Whether you're new to the job or you're a 10 year veteran, that nagging thought is enough to warrant a pre-class freak out. "What if I suck at teaching!?!?!?!" "What if all of my students quit, and sign up with that super dapper tutor from "Insert Random Academy Here."... "What if I'm a complete and utter failure"

The good news is... you more-than-likely aren't a failure. More than that, you're probably NOT a bad teacher. You're just having a bad day.

But this thought, the infectious virus that it is, tends to swell up from time to time. Even a veteran of the industry will find him or herself susceptible to a bit of self doubt. So, I'm here to tell you why you're not a bad teacher. Why you're not a God-awful instructor, ruining the potential of your students. Why, in fact, you're probably pretty good at your job. And I wish more people told you.

1) You care about your students.

I know this can be hard to realize, especially for some of you more cynical, country-hopping ESL teachers out there... but I know that you actually care about your students. There's no point in denying it. Shhh, shhh... just admit that you're a mushy, soft-hearted mentor.

As long as you care about your students, their growth, and their success as English conversationalists, then you DON'T suck at teaching.

And caring can be especially hard, given the academy work grind that so many of us English teachers find ourselves in. Just talk to any number of your friends teaching in Korea or China, and you'll find a litany of horror stories. Principals who are surely descended from a long line of anal retentive assholes. Co-workers who do all but shovel alcohol down your gullet in an effort to breed camaraderie. Snot-nosed kids who deem it all too appropriate to shout and rabble-rouse in class, and especially your class, since they under no societal obligation to respect you (you're a foreigner after all).

But you still care. You want to be a good teacher. You want your students to do well. That's pretty awesome, if you ask me.

2) But you don't really care for the bureaucracy

Sometimes the school bureaucracy sucks. They've got their own set of mandates and goals to achieve, and however unrealistic they may be, you become responsible for achieving them. Often times, they'll send you completely illogical requests. Stuff that has no good reason to be on your work docket, and certainly does nothing to improve your students' education, winds up on your overcrowded desk.

Good teachers ignore these. Not because they're lazy, but because they have better things to do. They have a mission to improve their students' ability, and filling out some nonsensical progress reports or preparing for an completely irrelevant "teacher's dinner and conference" is not part of it.

I have a buddy teaching at a private academy in Korea (Hagwon's, for you folks in the know). He's responsible for filling out monthly reports, which detail in full the English competency progression of each of his students. He's got around 150 students in total. And about 20 minutes of free time every day. Now, in between lesson planning, answering individual questions outside of class, and (god forbid) eating lunch... how is he supposed to fill out those 150 progress reports? He can't. But that doesn't stop his school bureaucracy from hammering down his door on the 31st every month.

3) You make personal connections

You're not a robot. Whenever you enter the classroom, you don't immediately set your self to cruise control. You talk to the students. You open the class platform for some casual conversation before class begins. And you certainly don't dogmatically follow you school's curriculum. Lessons are great... but discovering your students interests and using English conversation to elaborate on them is far more important.

Let your students know about your inner-geek with a few passing comments about the new Superman movie. Rile them up with a passionate debate about K-Pop and Classic Rock. These moments, however brief or long-winded, are often times more important than the lesson you'll be teaching. You want them to be great at English Conversation, after all. One of the best ways is to connect on a personal level.

4) You're innovative

You don't teach the same lesson everyday. You don't teach the same style everyday. You're not a slave to a style of instruction that leaves no room for improvement.

You try. You try different lessons, different activities, and different rhetorical techniques to engage your students. As long as you're trying, you're engaging with your students in a meaningful way.

I've recently discovered that my adult English conversation students love video games. I had absolutely no idea. So, outside of class, or even during it, I'll turn on ye olde XBOX, and go a round or two with some of my bright eyed proteges. I'll even let them win a round or two. That type of engagement, which is a new environment for them to converse in English, opens them up to completely new situations.

5) You think on your feet

It's Tuesday. Just an ordinary Tuesday. You've laid out your day's lessons in a nice orderly fashion and you're ready to fill some noggins with your English expertise. And then... your department head walks into your classroom. "Hi Steve Teacher. Maybe, today you should do something different. We have an open class and students' parents will attend. You should do a different lesson and make it special." Wow, thanks for the heads up!

This is an all too common scenario for ESL teachers, and it sucks! But you can deal with it. Like we said, this isn't some anomaly of your industry. Last minute changes come with your job's territory. You figure out how to change your lessons. Since their parents are showing up, maybe you showcase some of the English conversation phrases you've been utilizing over the past few weeks. Or, if you want your pupil's parents to expand their expectations of what an English class should be, you can show them some of your new lessons (maybe one of ours!).

It's all in the day of being Mr. So-and-So or Ms. So-and-So, the resident English teacher. And you do a pretty awesome job at it.

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