Published 23rd April 2021

Children learning in class.

Expect the unexpected is definitely a piece of advice we’d give any of The TEFL Academy graduate students. Teaching is basically juggling a whole bunch of people and personalities while trying to accomplish a goal within a limited time period, so it’s understandable that sometimes things can happen in the classroom that you just, well, wouldn’t expect.

As teachers, we are trained to think on our feet, and you might find this is necessary not only when it comes to classwork. Let’s look at a few unexpected situations that you might encounter in English as a Foreign Language classroom and how you can handle them.

Read more: 3 Realities of Teaching in an EFL Classroom You May Not Expect

Emotional students

With Young Learners, you might expect a few tears or tantrums, but emotions play a very real part in adult EFL classrooms as well. Adult learners have their entire lives outside the classroom and sometimes a very small thing in the classroom can tip them over the edge. Stress might result in tears, a sensitive topic might lead to an emotional outburst, personality clashes can lead to heated words.

In these situations, it’s best to try and calm the situation as much as you can by diverting the topic, ending a discussion, or even asking a student if they would like a moment outside the classroom to compose themselves.

Outspoken students

No matter how hard we try we can never control what our students are going to say! You might have a student who has unsettling political opinions they are unafraid of advertising, or perhaps a student who enjoys playing devil’s advocate in discussions a little too much for everyone’s liking. Some students can’t seem to help themselves from dominating conversations during the lesson.

As the teacher, we need to take control of situations like these to make sure everyone is getting their fair turn in the class. Think of yourself as a traffic officer who is directing the traffic of conversation. Feel free to use hand gestures if they work!

Read more: 5 Common Problems in the EFL Classroom

A permanent mistake

We often consider that technology might give us problems in the classroom, but many times it’s the traditional apparatus that can give us headaches. When using a whiteboard, make sure you always double-check that you are using a whiteboard marker that can be erased, rather than a permanent marker that cannot!

This is a surprisingly common occurrence and thankfully we’ve discovered a hack to help us. If you find your whole board is covered in grammar and vocabulary and it won’t rub off, you can clean it by writing over it with a (real) whiteboard marker and rubbing it all out. Voila!

Children in class whispering.

Bodily fluids

Yip, we said it! Hopefully this is only an occurrence with Young Learners, but it can happen! If your students are very young, they might have toilet accidents in the classroom, or they might be sick on their desks. This often happens if they are excited or if they are not aware enough of their bodies to get to a bathroom in time.

Unfortunately, as the teacher, it might well be your responsibility to clean it and the child up. This will mean entertaining the other students while you take care of the situation. If you are lucky, you may have an assistant who will be able to help you or you could have access to cleaning staff.

Inappropriate materials

Now we know that you would never knowingly bring inappropriate teaching materials into your lessons. As TEFL teachers we pride ourselves on understanding the needs and interests of our learners. We get to know our learners so that we can make use of or adapt materials that will suit our particular learners. Sometimes, though, you might find you come across a text you didn’t read as thoroughly as you should have, or a video clip you didn’t watch right until the end (oops!). As you can imagine, this can lead to foul language, violence, substances or even nudity finding their way into your lessons for all to see and hear, often to your students’ amusement – and your embarrassment!

Luckily there is an easy fix for this problem: preparation. Make sure you have read every word of text and watched every second of any video you are going to using in your lesson. This is especially important if you are teaching Young Learners or teens.

Double trouble

Though many people may not realise this, teachers are not superheroes – we are normal people. We also get sick. Unfortunately, when this happens it can mean that another teacher has to fill in for us. What this means is that some days you might turn up at school and while you are getting ready for your class you’ll be told you need to teach two classes at the same time – yours and the class of your sick teacher. This is never a nice situation because you usually don’t have a long time to prepare for the lesson. Hopefully, you can still teach the lesson you were planning on teaching but it will no doubt be different in terms of classroom management because you will have twice as many students.

In this case, the best thing you can do is take a deep breath. Accept that your lesson might not go as well as planned, and try to think of ways you can make it easier for yourself. You should have a couple of no-prep activities up your sleeve which you can use with big classes that you can use in any situation.

Read more: TEFL Games for Large Classes

Last-minute woes

If you’re teaching in a classroom, it’s likely that you’ll need to commute to get to work. This could be a short bus ride or a long drive or even a walk. However you get to work, there is always the possibility of being delayed. This can mean then when you usually have twenty minutes to organise yourself for the lessons ahead of you, you might only have five. Or when you do eventually get to the school you might find the photocopier is being used by someone else or the computers are not working. In other words, you are walking into your lesson with a plan but few materials.

Again, don’t panic. If this lesson isn’t your best lesson, that’s okay. Use the activities that you know work in your classroom, even if that means you can’t do some of the activities that you had planned. Also, try to move towards more paperless lessons so that if this happens it’s not the end of the world!

We always say that teaching English as a Foreign Language is one of the most exciting jobs we know. It’s the nature of the job that each day is different and some days that isn’t necessarily a good thing! But don’t let that deter you, because no matter what the TEFL life can throw at you, we know you’ll be able to deal with it!

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