What are the skills and personal qualities required for a good TEFL teacher?

If you are contemplating a career change or gap year qualifications then TEFL might be on your wish list.  If you have no previous connection with the teaching industry then one of the things that might cross your mind is what are the qualities required to make a good TEFL teacher.

When most people think about teaching and teachers, they hark back to their school days and remember those teachers who inspired them and those who were the complete opposite.  There are certain characteristics that make a good teacher and generally if you think about it, the teachers that stick in your mind for the right reasons are those who inspired you, who created an interest and enthusiasm in their subject and who helped you really get the most out of your leaning.

Being a successful teacher is about much more than a teaching certificate; good teaching is vocational and so what are the skills that make a good TEFL teacher?

Communication

Communication is important for any teacher but how much more crucial is it for a TEFL teacher who may be in a country where there is no shared language and little English speaking.  A good TEFL course will help you learn the skills and methods needed for engaging your students and creating effective lesson plans.  Communication comes in many different forms and there are lots of online tools to help you develop a library of techniques so you can reach out and connect with your pupils.

Empathy

Empathy is an important one, it’s about connecting with others whilst maintaining that all-important pupil/teacher relationship.  Understanding the challenges and difficulties your students face will make you a better and more relevant teacher and help you to identify appropriate methods of communication to make your teaching effective and inspirational.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Not every student learns in the same way or at the same speed so teachers always have to be prepared to adapt their methods and be flexible in how they approach learning in order to achieve that end result.  If you have a serious TEFL career then you may find yourself in many different situations around the world teaching different ages and abilities and this will require a great range of versatility and adaptability.

Resourcefulness

Being able to think on your feet is a prerequisite for any teacher but particularly in a foreign country where you may be moving from one employer to another or different schools with varying standards of organisation and classroom provision.  Being able to improvise or make use of what is available to you and think on your feet will really help you as a TEFL teacher.  You might be in a country where your lessons are interrupted by technology failures or weather events.  Add to that the challenges of living and working in a new place and you really will need to embrace the spirit of adventure.

Organisation

Whilst it is important to adapt lesson plans and structures to respond to the needs of individual students this is not a justification for busking your way through tutorials and teaching sessions with no pre-planning or organisation.  Teaching can become very messy if you are not working to some sort of defined timetable both holistically and also on a lesson by lesson basis.  Chaotic and disorganised teachers never receive a very good response from their pupils who will lack confidence in their ability to help them.

Patience and tolerance

Teachers need to be prepared for students to not understand what they are saying and keep their patience with slower learners or those who keep making mistakes.  This can be frustrating but we all encounter things in life that we just don’t ‘get’ first time or even second time around so be patient and alter the message if you think that a different method of communication might work.

Enthusiasm

A teacher who is disinterested in their subject is the biggest discouragement to most pupils so you need to have an interest in if not a love of the English language to be able to teach it effectively.  And this passion may surprise you!  It could be quite hidden and many people discover a real love of language teaching that they never knew they had much later in life.

Confidence

Confidence is infectious and a confident teacher will inspire and motivate pupils just by their self-assurance and enthusiasm.  Sure, every teacher lacks confidence on occasion, even experienced teachers and certainly TEFL first-timers will always feel a little intrepid.  The key is to be prepared particularly for those awkward grammar questions which you worry you won’t have an answer for.  Think through how you will respond to questions to which you don’t know the answer – if you have a strategy then this will make you feel a lot more confident.  Experience will also help build confidence, just remember, you are still learning as you go along too.

Enjoy learning

Good teachers enjoy broadening their horizons and carrying on learning so don’t forget your own self-development.  There are lots more courses and skills you can acquire once you have your foundation TEFL accreditation including subject specialisms and targeted teacher training aimed at certain age groups.

The majority of good qualities and skills which make a successful teacher will also apply to a good TEFL teacher and then some because TEFL teachers face the added challenge of a language barrier to one degree or another.  Being able to connect to and communicate with people with whom you do not share a common language is a real art.  For transferable skills, you really can’t beat TEFL if you want a solid and positive addition to your CV just because it demonstrates the requirement for so many different abilities which will stand you in good stead in many other careers as well. 

So as a short term career move or just a filler, TEFL will always enhance your job prospects with solid transferable skills no matter which field you are looking for work in.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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