I dread teaching this class - any ideas/help?

Help, tips and advice in teaching English

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I dread teaching this class - any ideas/help?

Unread post by Chocmonster »

Dear Angony Aunt Lucy,

I already posted this article, but got no meaningful replies.

Someone suggest I speak to you - so below is my issue (doubts in ability after exposure to difficult class) and I am dying for some meaningful feedback.


NB: Apologies for length, I couldn't make the time to shorten it!


The class in question:

15 Students between 19 and 50.
Students' level ungraded; the course has a mixture from absolute beginner (CEF A0?) (never had English in school, school was 30+ years ago) to those who passed their English Tertiary education leaving exam with top grades (CEF B2)
Studying a course to become qualified business people (Eastern Germany, Private training/FE college)
Students are to complete a ca. 1,000 word written project (in English, on some business topic of their choosing) for submission to the regional chamber of commerce
Students are studying a whole course (ca. 300 hours in a year, approx.80 hours is English alongside a full-time job - lessons are weekday evenings and Saturdays
No materials, course book provided (is there anything suitable for a class with such a range of levels?)
Very irregular timetable and attendance - after ca. 40 hours I still don't know all the student's names- most embarrassing

About me:

Trinity qualified (1 month course) June '07
Freelance in Germany from Sept '07 - Sept '08 (Technical college)
Full time employee at FE Vocational college since Sept '08
Modern language department of 1 (me)
2nd year of teaching Business English

What happens in class:

Attendance issues (today 5 / 15 students, last lesson only eight)
Frequent departure of students during lesson time (I have mixed feelings about this, sometimes it is best for us all)
Extensive use of German by all
Written exercises typically started by 2/3 of students present, completed by 1/3 if lucky.
Some of the oldest students have yet to write, speak or read anything, even when placed in small groups of 'friendly' peers
Grumblings (though the grapevine) that my teaching style is unsound (emphasis on speaking and listening during the lesson, writing as a production task and reading for homework)
Listlessness, evident low motivation issues
English compulsory part of the course, entirely possible to avoid it in their everyday (and future working) lives if they so wish

I'd like to have my lessons engaging, motivating and well attended, with full participation by all.

I've had my greatest successes with the class in small groups (mix of abilities) to create a text-based business-themed presentation.

My greatest failures are any lesson with talking or listening (4 walked out on my lesson 'role-play on an aeroplane - introduce yourself to the neighbour seated next to you); and although some might think they need it, I cannot bring myself to just issue list after list of vocabulary and test it the following lesson; likewise drilling grammar by rote.

If you've had similar situations in your careers, how did you overcome the issues?

All advice gratefully considered.


P.s. I teach a total of 13 courses, after we've improved this one, I'd like to pick your brains to help me improve the lessons I have to give 6 Mechanical technicians aged between 18 and 55…
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Re: I dread teaching this class - any ideas/help?

Unread post by Lucy »

Dear Edd,

I'm sorry that you didn't get any meaningful replies to your previous question. It's a shame because I like these boards to be a place where our members can ask any question and get a helpful answer.

The first thing I would say is that you have no reason to doubt your ability or expertise. I think that very experienced teachers would also find this class challenging.

I suggest that you start by using extreme measures, the situation warrants it. For a short time, give up on everything that you know as an EFL teacher, everything that you know works. Give the students a test to do, written exercises, anything that will keep them working or quiet. Whilst the students are doing this, talk to each of them one-on-one. Take them to a corner of the classroom, away from their classmates and talk with them quietly. Just make sure that you can see what the rest of the class are doing while you're talking. Speak to the students in English or in their mother tongue. Find out their reasons for learning English and ask them what they hope to achieve in their classes. Take the time as well to tell them what you expect from them: full participation in class, arriving on time, doing homework or whatever else is relevant.

You need to address discipline issues. Letting students leave the class may be good in the short term but not in the long term. They need to know that they have to be present. You also have to insist on the use of English. Look through this forum for ideas on how to do that, I've written many posts on the topic.

It seems to me that you are using a sound teaching style. It might be an idea to give in to students' expectations for a while. You could give them lists to learn, use drills etc. for half of the lesson. Then you can spend the second half of the lesson on a speaking activity that practises the language they've been learning, or any other relevant activity.

You asked a lot of questions in your post. If you want more ideas, please write in again.


It is absolutely essential to learn the students' names. You can annotate your register to help you with this. Alternatively you can use name cards which students place on their desks. It may be too late to instigate this now; you are the best judge of that.
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