Ways to boost your teaching confidence

1. Read or reread a teaching basics book For example, How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer (rather than The Practice of English Language Teaching, which has got rather complicated since my days on the CTEFLA) or the Oxford Basics Series. This will: give you a boost by showing you how much of that stuff […]

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

1. Read or reread a teaching basics book
For example, How to Teach English by Jeremy Harmer (rather than The Practice of English Language Teaching, which has got rather complicated since my days on the CTEFLA) or the Oxford Basics Series. This will: give you a boost by showing you how much of that stuff that you struggled with you can now cope with; help you get whatever fundamentals you are still working on right; and give you a sense of perspective on the things you are worrying about that are not even mentioned in a book for beginning teachers.

2. Peer observations
Watching another teacher at work will give you a sense of perspective about how much perfection you are asking from yourself in your own classes, and will help you pick up some teaching tips. To make sure you don’t just focus on the points in which the teacher you are watching is better than you, go into the class with a specific observation feedback sheet. This can even be specifically designed to give you an ego boost, having boxes to fill in such as “Things I also do”.

3. Observation with that aim
As well as or instead of any observations that usually take part in your school, there is no harm in telling the DoS or another teacher “I’m feeling about a bit down about my teaching, can you come into my class and give me a bit of encouragement?” Again, it can help to have a feedback task that is specifically designed for that purpose.

4. Ask the right student feedback questions
For example “Which activity/ game/ class/ part of the lesson did you like best?” rather than “What did you think of…?”

5. Do something easier
For example, use a back-to-basics textbook like Language to Go, teach Intermediate levels, take on a class that another teacher has already trained up to do pairwork etc, or get your DoS to give you a class that other teachers have said is a pleasure to teach.

6. Redo a favourite lesson
You’ll probably find that it is a favourite lesson with this class too, and perhaps better for them than all the experimental or ambitious stuff that you have been forcing yourself and them to use. If you can’t find any way of tying any of your favourite lessons in with the syllabus of your present classes or what you have identified as their main needs, try cutting that favourite activity down so you can use it as just a warmer, or use it as a treat or break after a test or similarly difficult lessons.

8. Rewrite your CV
You’ll be amazed at the things you couldn’t write on there before but now can. Things to put on it include levels taught, students who have passed EFL exams with your help, other responsibilities in the school, positive student or management feedback, contributions you have made to workshops (even if you weren’t the workshop leader), number of observations you have been put through, other CPD you have taken part in, TEFL books and magazines you have read, your teaching and other personality strengths etc. You can cut all this down to the usual one or two pages later when you really apply for a job, as the main aim at this point is just to brainstorm positive stuff. Even if you don’t find you can add many of the things mentioned here yet, seeing that your CV will consist of concrete stuff like this rather than things you are worrying about like how happy your students seem could also help you get a sense of perspective.

9. Write down all the things you couldn’t do
For example, things you had no idea about before you started your TEFL training or things that you still hadn’t managed to get the hang of during your TEFL course or that were new challenges once you started your job (e.g. teaching 25 hours a week or teaching beginners). Then mark all the things you can do now or have at least improved in.

10. Write down the things you can’t do
Then put a “but…” after each thing, e.g. “I can’t teach as well as the other teachers, but I do get on with all the teachers and have managed to stay out the factions” or “My students might not learn as much in my class as in the classes of the DELTA-qualified teachers’ lessons, but they might be making up for it with the extra practice they get because I socialize with them, unlike those grumpy old geezer teachers”

11. Write about a bad teacher, e.g. your school French teacher
If they were an English or foreign language teacher, all the better, but the main aim is to point out all the things you could be doing wrong but aren’t. If you find you do actually share some practices with that teacher (in a similar way to parenting, it is very difficult not to subconsciously copy teaching styles you are familiar with even when you have decided they are wrong), at least knowing what you need to work on rather than having a vague feeling of not doing things right should be an improvement.

12. A haircut
It could be that the lack of confidence comes at least partly from outside the classroom, and even if it doesn’t the effects of feeling better because you look better could start positive reinforcement of teaching better because you feel better and then feeling better about your teaching etc. Similar effects could come from a new suit, a tan, losing weight, a qualification (even if it isn’t connected to English or teaching), a new relationship, lots of friends, an active social life, doing something good for society etc.

13. A new start
It might be that the problems you have with your classes now is not so much because of your teaching now but because of them losing confidence in you or getting confused when you were going through a bad patch or when you were in your first few weeks of trying to cope with 25 classroom hours a week (rather than 8 hours in 4 weeks like a CELTA or Cert TESOL). If so, having a new class could be all you need to see how much your teaching has improved since that dodgy period.

14. A class that reading about really helps for/ that you can improve quickly
Some things in class really just take the passing of classroom time to improve, e.g. your speaking speed and level of speech, which few people have problems with after 3 years of teaching but few people really get the hang of in less than 500 classroom hours. For such things, reading a book about it will have an effect but certainly won’t even double your natural speed of improvement. There are some other kinds of classes, however, that book knowledge really helps for. Examples include exam classes (reading up on knowledge of the exam and what language and tactics can most help the students), high level classes (reading up on the complex and obscure grammar) and ESP classes (learning everything about Financial English etc).

15. Specializing
Similar to the point above, if you become the person in school who knows most about getting into UK universities, a new teaching methodology you went to a workshop on, teaching a nationality that doesn’t usually come to your school etc, that will boost your own confidence and hopefully lead to positive comments that do so even more.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
October 2008 | Filed under Teacher Technique
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.