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The ABC of ELT

5 Lessons from 5 Years of Teaching English as a Foreign Language

classroom in black and white

So at some point last year I passed the 5 year mark of teaching English as a foreign language. I didn’t blog about it at the time because I wasn’t really blogging at the time. However, now seemed like the perfect tine to look back and reflect on the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in the five years I’ve spent teaching English as a foreign language.

I certainly could write more than just five lessons as there have been many more but seeing as it’s been 5 years, why not make the blog post title work.

Honestly I didn’t know that I’d still be teaching today when I started five years ago. I originally started to have an adventure, learn a foreign language (Russian), live in another country, prove that I could do and see what happened next. Five years later and I’m still here and still love it. There have been ups and downs but I wouldn’t change them for the world.

You need to be challenged, but not too much

I’ve worked in a few places and at different times during their school “life”. Sometimes the work was relatively difficult, sometimes it was very easy (not relative). Sometimes my bosses were very demanding, sometimes (even the same boss) they weren’t. Overall I grew the most as a teacher (and I feel raised the standards of my lessons the most) when I was challenged a bit but not over stretched.

There were points when I had too many classes with a wide range of groups for new types of classes where I was just a stressed out mess, that was not so good. I basically looked for shortcuts and time savers. I had no opportunity to reflect on the class or group.

Likewise, there have been points where I have had too much free time and groups which I was very familiar with. That made me lazy and sometimes make stupid mistakes.

It’s easy to become stuck in habits

I want to be clear here, that doesn’t just mean bad habits (but of course includes them). It can be easy to notice bad habits because we know we should drop them, but good habits can be easily forgotten because we just do them.

Some of my habits have included typical lesson structures, a few go to lesson plans, ways of getting feedback, the way I dress and so on. Almost all of these have good and bad sides but I think the dependence and unthinking nature of some of these habits is probably not a good thing.

That’s why some of these teacher self-observation tasks and reflections are so useful, they help us to notice the habits we have built up and question them.

There is no ideal timetable (but I do have some preferences)

I’ve worked a variety of timetables with different advantages and disadvantages. Overall I can tell you that it’s basically impossible to get an ideal timetable (especially as if you do, probably all your co-teachers have terrible ones) but there are some things I’ve had which were really nice.

  • three day weekends are amazing
  • having Friday free of classes means you can bulk plan and think of the bigger picture, it’s a really nice way to end the week.
  • starting early is great for me (gets me going for the day)

That’s just me, I’m sure you are different and have probably learnt what you enjoy in a timetable. If you have managed to find a perfect one, then I envy you.

Never trust your students when they say “But we’ve learnt [grammar/vocab point] already”

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, beyond pre-intermediate this phrases seems to start getting uttered. In the past I made the mistake of taking this into consideration, now I usually ignore this the more adamantly the student says it. Sometimes giving a diagnostic exercise can help the student to realise that there might be some things they don’t know…but not always.

Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it is better or even good

I’ve fallen for this trap too many times (and probably will again). When someone presents a “cool” new idea that will “revolutionise” teaching. Sometimes there is some real depth to this idea, but then again, a lot of these ideas really seem to go against the evidence put towards them.

That’s not to say every new idea is rubbish (nor that old ideas are inherently true.) just that I need to stop myself from getting swept up with the new things.

Well there you have it, five things I’ve learnt in five years of teaching English as a foreign language.

What are some things you’ve learnt during your time teaching (I’d love it if you made your own blog post on the topic)

About Chris Wilson

I’m an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

3 Replies

  1. My lessons in (goodness) 13 years of teaching.

    1. Everybody else hides that they often don’t know why something worked (or not). Reflective practice can help with this.

    2. Companies/organizations care about bums on seats. They do not care about you unless you and your needs are congruent with the need to get bums on seats.

    3. Smaller companies aren’t better or more caring. Caring capitalism is a misnomer. In fact, in Business English, bigger agencies might even stand up to client companies’ silly requests whereas smaller agencies might not have developed a spine, especially if they have a lot of non-teaching staff.

    Great idea for a post. Cheers.

    1. I can certainly relate to some of those points. I think it is important for teachers to understand that companies are ultimately out for themselves and help teacher’s as far as it helps themselves. However, there is also a lot of mutual benefit that goes around. Such as sending the sick teacher home so they don’t infect others.

      1. Yep, definitely not going home unless it looks like an infectious disease.

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