More ways to boost your teaching confidence

1. A priority
Setting a single priority for how to improve your lessons will make the job seem more manageable, make it easier to see improvements, and make it easier to ask for help from your boss and other teachers. Try to make it an aim that is very specific and where the results will be obvious, e.g. “Improve my boardwork during grammar presentations” rather than “Make my students learn grammar more quickly”.

2. A class with clear results
Another thing in which clear results can be important is in being able to see that you have actually taught them something. Perhaps the best kinds of classes for this are preparation courses for EFL exams, especially ones that have a clear pass/ fail like FCE. Business English and ESP classes where students can tell you they successfully used (or at least came across) the language at work can also be motivating in a similar way. You can reproduce this effect in other classes by getting them to check something they did months ago and see if they can spot any of their own errors, or by repeating a speaking task and seeing how much easier they find it now.

3. Hang round with the right kind of people
This could mean people who are positive about their teaching, but for some people hearing others speak as if they love each moment in the classroom can be quite depressing when compared to your own present feelings and a mutual bitching session would be much more therapeutic.

4. Qualifications
Even something unrelated to your present classes can boost your confidence just by being something you have passed and therefore succeeded in, and you might also be surprised by how seemingly unrelated courses can have a cross-pollination effect- I once published an article on teaching English to preschool kids based mainly on what I learnt on my LCCI Teaching English for Business course!

5. A kinder nationality, level or age range
Some nationalities, which I can’t name for obvious reasons, tend to have higher expectations and be more direct with their criticism than others and so sap their teachers of their confidence and enthusiasm, whereas others can be more forgiving or at least express their disapproval in ways the teacher can ignore when they are having a bad day. Some teachers also tend to blame themselves when teaching nationalities and individual students that are unresponsive, even when they know other teachers have the same problems. Teenagers and Advanced level students may show all of the negative feedback mentioned.

6. Feedback more often
Getting feedback every week instead of every term or year means it is easier to find something positive to focus on, shows your progress and shows that such things tend to fluctuate in unpredictable ways and so shows that the yearly feedback you had before could be meaningless because the students were having a bad day.

7. List the ways you have improved
E.g. since your CELTA. Avoid making this a list of things that have got better and got worse, but only brainstorm the positive things.

8. Change your body language
Standing up tall and keeping a smile even when you don’t feel like can have a positive effect on your students and so if they are happier you will genuinely become so too. You can learn good body language in dance and drama classes, and in sports such as yoga.

9. Go to workshops
One of the complaints I hear most often about TEFL workshops is that the people who attended didn’t learn anything new but just found out that they were already doing what they were supposed to. If you are suffering from a crisis of confidence, you could say exactly the same thing about a workshop without it being a negative thing!

10. Get a job with a school with basic training and/ or lots of support
The last thing a teacher who has begun doubting themselves needs is to be thrown in the deep end, so choose a school that is going to help you out- even if the help they offer is something you would consider patronising and obvious when you are back to your normal self.

11. Achieve something elsewhere
Like many other feelings, self-confidence and a lack of it are self-perpetuating feelings that often lose all connection to anything you are doing at that time. If you can get used to feeling self-confidence in your achievements in making pottery, teaching first aid, learning to swim etc, this should spread at least partly into your working life too. Particularly good things are ones that have an obvious finished product, have a certificate or other reward, or clearly show your progress (e.g. doing weights and the pieces of metal getting bigger). Confronting and overcoming your fears with things like bungee jumping and amateur dramatics is also great.

12. Tackle your confidence sapping things outside
In a similar way to Achieve Something Elsewhere above, if something is sapping your confidence elsewhere it is likely to have an effect on how comfortable you feel in the classroom. Possible areas to look at include your relationships and being overambitious in other areas of your life such as diets or savings plans.

13. Be happy and healthy
Eating healthily and getting lots of exercise might not have an instant effect on the way you teach your classes, but knowing that you are doing what you know to be right in at least one area of your life can’t hurt.

14. Avoid criticism
This could be changing jobs to avoid a critical boss, asking for a lesson observation to put off for a while until you have got a handle on your problems or changing the people you hang around with.

15. Improve something you are already good at
If you are giving up on ever being able to master the phonemic chart but find that you have a good ear for music and so can mark intonation on sentences (something I certainly cannot), then polish up that skill and use it when you would otherwise be stuck confusing yourself and your students with strange pseudo-alphabetic symbols again. The same thing could work for grammar explanations/ drawing time lines, explaining games/ demonstrating them, organising groupwork/ leading whole class discussions, explaining/ eliciting, or changing the complexity of the language you use/ changing your speaking speed.

Written by Alex Case for November 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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