Published 21st July 2021

TEFL teacher in class

Don’t get us wrong, being a TEFL teacher is one of the best jobs we can think of, but that doesn’t mean it’s all roses and butterflies. It’s a job, after all, and jobs have good moments and bad moments. 

Yes, we spend our working hours basically chatting to people and having a good time, but sometimes we need to work hard for our money. You see, the issues that you have as a TEFL teacher are not the same as the ones you have in other jobs. You know, that one colleague who always finishes the milk, or the photocopier that never seems to work, or the hour-long meetings that could’ve been an email…okay so maybe we have the same problems, with a few added extras you might not expect!

Let’s look at some of the weird and wonderful challenges you might face as a TEFL teacher and what you can do about them.

1. What if I don’t like my students?

Yip, this is a real thing. We can teach a lot of students and we might not get along with all of them. We are dealing with different personalities every day. If you find that you don’t particularly enjoy a certain student, there’s, unfortunately, nothing you can do. At the same time, you cannot show that you prefer other students. 

You need to remain professional and neutral – and pretend you don’t have favourites!

Read more: To Be (Friends) or Not To Be (Friends)? That is the Question

2. What if my students don’t like each other?

When you think about it, you’re putting probably around 30 random people in the same room. You can’t expect everyone to get along all the time. It’s not like you always liked everyone in your office, did you? Or your class at school? With teens and adults alike you’re bound to have moments when your students disagree with each other or bring their personal and emotional baggage into the classroom. 

If it becomes problematic, you need to stay aware of their relationships and separate your students where necessary. This means asking them to sit in different spots and making sure they don’t do pairwork or group work together.

3. What if my students don’t do their homework?

There are two sides to this. If you are teaching schoolchildren, then you need to have rules in place with regard to homework. With adults, there is nothing really you can do – it’s up to them. Homework is extra time for your learners to dedicate to improving their English. Because they don’t spend a lot of time in the classroom homework is necessary for them to up their exposure to the language. 

But, in both cases what you need to do as the teacher is motivate your learners to do their homework. If you can motivate your students and assign them homework they want to do, you’ll be helping their language learning immensely.

teacher teaching online

4. What if I have a lot of students? 

Unfortunately, you don’t get a say in how many students you will have in your class. If you’re lucky there will be a maximum number but that number varies from place to place. Language schools often cap their class sizes at 12 to 14, and private schools at 25 to 30. If you are teaching in a public school you might have classes of 40 to 50 students, or even more. 

When this is the case, you need to plan accordingly. Use the seating arrangements in the classroom to your advantage. Plan your groupings so that you can maximise individual participation while at the same time making classroom management as easy as possible. You will need to accept that some activities are just not possible with a large class.

Read more: Top Tips for Dealing with Large EFL Classes

5. What if my students are different levels?

English learners are identified as having a certain level of English according to the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR). This is how in language schools students are allocated a class such as Beginner or Intermediate or Advanced. A similar thing might happen in schools too, where students of similar levels are placed in the same class. Of course, what can happen is that within one level some students can be stronger than others. Or, some might be stronger at certain skills but weaker at others. 

In this situation, you really need to be on the ball. You need to know which students are weaker and which are stronger in your class. You might need to have extra worksheets at hand for your fast finishers, or extra explanations for your weaker students. 

6. What if I don’t speak the local language?

Many people worry that they won’t be able to teach English to people who can’t speak English if they themselves do not speak the language of their students. However, not having the language at your disposal is actually a blessing in disguise, because it means you won’t rely on a translation during your lessons. 

So there is nothing you need to do. Learning the local language is important if you are in a foreign country as a way to integrate into the community – and upskill yourself at the same time – but there is no need to learn the language simply for the teaching.

Read more: How Can I Teach English Abroad Without Speaking the Local Language?

Students trying to guess the English word their teacher keeps in mind while giving a hint
Students trying to guess the English word their teacher keeps in mind while giving a hint

7. What if my school has no resources?

Sometimes we are lucky and we find jobs at schools with a big staff room with lots of bookshelves filled with photocopiable resource books, grammar reference books, dictionaries and activity ideas books. You are given a coursebook for each of your students and a teacher’s book for yourself. Other times you might not be so lucky and you are given a syllabus with not many materials to support it. You might even be given total free rein with very few guidelines. 

No teacher should be without their own stash of resources. It’s no longer necessary to lug around heavy books these days. Instead, you can have a USB drive with all of the resources you have collected during your career which you can utilise whenever necessary. 

Read more: 5 No-Prep Activities for the EFL Classroom

8. What if I don’t like my job?

Call us old-fashioned but we’re big believers in following through on a contract. After all, you’ve signed your name to it and it’s a legal document. If you find you don’t really enjoy your job, try talking to other teachers or your Director to see if you change your working environment. If that’s not possible, stick it out until the end of your contract. If you’re really, really unhappy, your school might let you out of your contract early, if they are able to find a replacement. Just remember, it’s not cool to leave your students in the middle of a semester without a teacher. 

Are there any other questions you’d like to ask? Give us a shout and we’ll do our best to answer them for you.

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