As a lot of you know, I’m a cliché, I’m an English teacher in Asia. You might also remember that I was a trained Waldorf teacher. I already wrote two articles about how my Waldorf experience has helped and hindered me as an EFL teacher. So I’m surprised I haven’t written about mistakes new teachers make yet. I mean, at this point, I’ve been a new Waldorf teacher and a new EFL teacher.
1. Talking too much. In general, I think we have a tendency to over-explain and not be choosy with our words. There is being economical with our speech and then there is carefully choosing what you want to say and how you want to say it. I suppose I’m splitting the hairs off a buffalo’s back here but you get the point.
When you talk too much, children, adults learning a new language, (and husbands) have a propensity to ‘blank out’, look confused and stupefied because they have no idea what is happening. Brevity is a blessing. Students are more likely to pay attention and understand what you are saying. So when you catch yourself rambling, just stop. Stop.
2. Talking too fast. Now that you are talking less, you need to speak s-l-o-w-l-y. Of course, you don’t want the students to think you are dense, so don’t overdo it. But I remember very clearly both talking too much and too fast and my first graders looking at me like I was an alien, and asking, “What?!” and even dear Christopher scratching his head.
‘Slow it down’ can be applied to many aspects in life 😉 so enjoy.
3. Forgetting body language goes a LONG way. I taught my Waldorf students sign language so they wouldn’t interrupt me when I was talking and so I wouldn’t have to talk when it wasn’t necessary. A child could silently let me know when he needed to go to the bathroom or get a glass of water.
In the EFL classroom, I don’t need to do this, but acting like a grade school teacher has its advantages. I use hand gestures to express myself and explain language they might not necessarily know. I’m attentive, as my Waldorf kids needed that, and I guess the habit stuck around.
My theatre background comes in handy too. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate or look silly. If you don’t feel confident, there is something to be said about ‘faking it’ cause it works. Remember your students are fairly keen, they know when you care because it shows with your body language.
4. Not asking for help. This one is tricky. Sometimes this can backfire, especially if you are in a dysfunctional or new school where help is not available. But generally asking for help is not a weakness but a strength because: a) everyone needs help sometimes, it’s humbling, b) folks love to help and give advice and c) it covers your ass, especially if it’s your students giving you a hard time.
Chances are you will open further communication and possibly make new friends/allies. You will also realize it’s not you, it’s the way it is, it’s normal and everyone has these or similar kinds of issues in the classroom. And these are all good things. And you might even just receive a simple answer, as opposed to you milling it around in your noggin and stressing out when it is not necessary.
The flip side of this workbook is, of course, asking for too much help. Don’t be afraid to experiment, take risks and fail. That’s part of teaching. People who haven’t a clue about teaching have no idea about the work, planning and ruminating that goes into it. Some of my best lesson plans were eh because of the class. Some of my silliest or lamest ideas, the students loved. Lesson planning is another bag of counters.
5. Working too much. The number one reason why new teachers leave the profession is BURN OUT. At least this was the reason the last time I looked. Now I think other things are competing like standardized testing and other bullshit that doesn’t necessarily apply to the EFL teacher. But overdoing it is common because I see new teachers do it all the time and because I did it too.
So do everyone a favor and give yourself some time to not think or talk or work on your teaching!