Published 25th April 2016

to be friends or not to be friends

Being an English as a Foreign Language teacher can seem like a really fun job: chatting with students from all over the world, watching cool movie clips, listening to songs, discussing interesting topics – it all actually sounds too good to be true.

But it’s not. It really is as fun as it sounds. Who wouldn’t want to go to a job every day that requires you to talk all day and encourage others to speak as well? You certainly won’t find any TEFL teachers sitting behind a computer all day, that’s for sure.

The thing is, creating a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere conducive to conversation and communication takes hard work. Not everyone wants to speak their mind or contribute their two cents and it’s the job of the teacher to help every student participate equally. In order to do this, we need to convey a friendly persona in the classroom, one that’s interested in the students and their lives and is not just there for the paycheque.

So we need to become friends with our students, which begs the question: how friendly should we be? Should we go to the pub with our adult students after work? Hang out with our students on the weekends? Ask them about their personal lives? Or should we restrict pleasantries to the first five minutes of class and be strict and aloof thereafter?

Truth be told, it’s a difficult question because it’s a fine line between being cold as ice and being a little too warm and friendly. If you don’t get this balance right, you might find your EFL students don’t feel comfortable contributing in class, or they feel so comfortable they don’t feel the need to do any work.

The best tip we can give you to navigate this tricky issue, is to start strict. It’s very easy to become more relaxed and lenient as the term goes by but it is very difficult to become stricter. At the beginning of the term or when you first meet a class, make sure the rules of the classroom are clear and be strict about sticking to them.

As you get to know each other better, you will be able to be a bit more relaxed about homework and other things, but to start with get your students into the habit of doing what they are told. Of course this should not mean that there isn’t any time for fun and games but rather that there is a time and place for work and a time and place for fun.