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Still more ways to boost your teaching confidence

By Alex Case
15 ways to give yourself a pep talk

1. Take a promotion
Although a time when you feel like you have no idea anymore what you are doing in the classroom might not seem like the best time to try telling other people what they should be doing, in fact for someone who got more confused the more experience they had it is a great way of finding out that you do in fact know what to do and are just overcomplicating things. People coming to you for advice, an excuse to wear a better suit, your own office etc are also great ego boosts even for
people who think they are immune to such effects.

2. Meet up with some ex-students
Ex-students are almost always more positive than present ones, and ones that want to meet up are self-selecting as people who will be even more encouraging than most. They may also be able to tell you something that contradicts your negative internal voice telling you that “They don’t even need this language anyway” or “They’ll just forget it the minute they leave the class”.

3. Meet up with some ex-colleagues or fellow trainees
Like twins separated at birth, it can be amazing how people who have been working in different countries and/ or different kinds of schools can be going through exactly the same kinds of problems as you at around the same point in their career.

4. Share your problems
There is a slight chance that telling the wrong kind of boss could just make them spot weaknesses in your teaching that they wouldn’t have spotted for themselves, and so just increase the kind of criticism and increased supervision that you least needed. Otherwise, I have met very few teachers and managers who didn’t at least make me feel better by listening to me whinge. Other possibilities include TEFL forums, where most cries for help get at least one person saying “That’s just what I wanted to ask”. You might also find that friends and family can give good advice on how to get a perspective on your difficulties due to actually being removed from the TEFL world.

5. Play games
Even if you know that some of the students have asked for more error correction rather than more games, their smiling faces while they are actually playing are bound to have a subconscious positive effect on your mood.

6. Give some more free classes
One shock that many people don’t expect when they move on from teaching CELTA practice classes is that suddenly you have paying customers and so they are not as forgiving as people who were getting their classes for free and knew that the teachers were just beginners. You can get back the positive feeling of your TEFL course by doing a conversation exchange or volunteering to teach refugees.

7. Back to basics
E.g. go back to PPP, even if you don’t believe in it anymore, as at least it gives you a feeling of control and getting smoothly through the lesson. When you have got your confidence back, you can then return to experimentation.

8. Try something completely new
This is the complete opposite of the tip above, but can be effective if you do it with an attitude of “It might work, and even if it doesn’t at least I know that it is because I am experimenting rather than yet another attempt at something I have failed at before.”

9. Stick to reading about practical ideas
Potential problems with reading more theoretical stuff are that it might make you lose confidence in how you are teaching, and that difficulty in understanding it or even just concentrating on it might hit your picture of yourself as a serious and professional teacher (even if it is the fault of the turgid academic writing style). Practical ideas also have more chance of having an instant positive impact on your classes.

10. Have realistic expectations
Meaning about both how fast your students can improve and how fast you can improve certain parts of your teaching skills. For example, ask teachers you observe how long it took them to get certain parts of their teaching up to a certain level.

11. Brainstorm other things that are holding up your students’ progress
This will both give you ideas on how to help them and take away the emphasis as the teacher as a main cause of progress or lack of.

12. Find a short cut to improvement
Meaning improvement in their English level and/ or improvement in how smoothly things go in class. Possibilities include starting to use L1 in class, giving them a worksheet with the language they never understand (such as classroom instructions) translated, a boss or receptionist explaining your classroom methods and reasons for them, and giving them self-study materials and tips.

13. Put off/take a break from the things you can’t do
If you still can’t explain the Past Continuous or phrasal verbs, skip it and come back to it later in the year when you are bit more experienced, are feeling more confident, and the students have a slightly higher language level and so can understand more.

14. Get the students doing what you usually do
E.g. get them to read the grammar explanations from the textbook, give out printed instructions for games, and get them to give presentations using the same whiteboard and/ or software as you use. You can observe how they do it (helping you to develop and giving you an ego boost), and they can put themselves in your shoes and so hopefully be a bit more forgiving.

15. Try a different level
Low levels tend to more forgiving and attached to their teacher and at higher levels at least you don’t have to worry about grading your speech too much. If the level is entirely new for you, it should also take away any false expectations that you should be an expert from day one.

Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET November 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Tefl.NET


  • daniel says:

    excellent one, really helpful and confidence-boosting. i ve added to my favorites for those tense and freaking moments. cheers

  • Andrea says:

    This couldn’t be more timely for me…. You’ve really nailed how losing confidence in one’s teaching abilities feels. Besides having great suggestions, this article helps me realize these feelings I’m having don’t mean I should just give up. If the topic is big enough for this an article to be written about it, then I guess this feeling must not be so unusual. I guess courage is a major requirement in teaching ESL. Thank you so much for this encouragement 🙂

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