Published 24th March 2016

Being a teacher is about so much more than teaching. Being a teacher means you need to prepare lessons, carry out lessons, assess your students and just generally try to create the best learning environment for our learners. While this usually means doing a lot of paperwork, it also means that we need to be very aware of the human side of learning.

With regards to our learners, this means feeling good about the whole learning experience. In order to learn, students need to be in the right mental space. They need to be willing and open to learning. Stephen Krashen refers to this as the need for a low affective filter.

Basically, the affective filter is the range of emotional and motivational factors which affect a student’s ability to learn. If a student is anxious, self-conscious, bored, annoyed or any other negative emotion, the learning process will be inhibited. This is when the affective filter is high.

It follows that we need to ensure the affective filter is low to encourage an effective learning environment. In other words, we need to make sure our students are relaxed and happy in our classrooms and we need to deal with stressful situations quickly and appropriately so they don’t affect our students’ motivation or learning ability.

A relaxed classroom environment, with a students and teacher relationship

How can we do this?

Firstly, by creating a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. Encourage your students to speak their mind and ask questions, so that they are not afraid to speak. At the same time, don’t force students to speak or participate when they are not ready. Students should never feel pressured to do something.

Maintain a friendly and open relationship with your students while still maintaining your authority as teacher. This will mean that your students will feel comfortable asking for help or admitting that they don’t understand.

Also, try to use authentic materials as much as possible. It makes sense that using authentic materials will interest and engage your students more than the usual coursebook because authentic materials are more likely to be relevant to your students. If the materials are relevant it follows that your students will find them interesting and so will be more willing to engage with them and the language.

Reducing anxiety in the classroom and creating a comfortable, stress-free environment is one of the most important aspects of being a TEFL teacher. If you find your students are struggling or misbehaving, consider the environment and perhaps there is a way you can deal with the issue by focussing on the learning situation rather than the students.