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What are the characteristics of a TEFL teacher?

TEFL teachers come from all backgrounds and all walks of life. They may be young, just out of college, or older with years of experience in teaching or, very often, other jobs. They are of all types.

Yet, here below are six character traits that will typically help a TEFL teacher be an exceptional TEFL teacher.

A great TEFL teacher is...


TEFL teachers may need to be adaptable on at least two fronts: careerwise and classwise. Those who teach abroad encounter new and unfamiliar situations, sometimes frequently. They need to adapt easily to differing circumstances and culture. And in class there will be times, many times, when things don't go as planned. Even the most carefully-crafted lesson plan may get bent out of shape by circumstances. All students and classes are different, and need different attention, none of which can be predicted with certainty. An ability to be flexible and not be stressed by the unexpected is golddust.

A good listener

Of course TEFL teachers have to speak to their classes, to give instructions, to model speech and pronunciation, to teach. But in many ways an inherent ability to listen is even more important. Students are learning to speak (English), and they benefit from a teacher who listens to what they have to say without interrupting and without constantly correcting. A listening teacher gives a student confidence.

Culturally aware

Many TEFL teachers are not teaching in their own country and culture. And many others may be teaching in their own country but to students from other countries and disparate cultures. In both situations, cultural awareness and sensitivity is a major benefit, letting the teacher empathize with the students and encouraging the students to learn more easily. Cultural insensitivity sets up roadblocks that inhibit progress.


Learning a language is easier for some students than others, and even the best students may sometimes be slow to take things in. A natural ability to wait, not to rush, to help and perhaps to coax. The impatient teacher will find teaching frustrating and will probably not last long.


In many ways, even when employed by a school, a TEFL teacher is effectively self-employed and responsible for the progress of students at various levels. Being organized definitely helps here. Whether dealing with a curriculum for a school year, lesson plans for specific lessons, keeping track of teaching materials and equipment, keeping records and writing reports, basic organizational skills are valuable, not to say essential.


Creative AND organized? That may seem like a tall order, but it's a hallmark of the best TEFL teachers. There are so many areas where creativity can help. Teachers often need to supplement a text book and invent their own teaching materials and resources. Or come up with an interesting activity to get a particular point across. And for TEFL teachers who don't speak their students' language, which is many of them, miming or acting a certain piece of vocabulary can demand extreme creativity.