12 June 2014 / by Radmila Gurkova

What makes a good ESL teacher. Preparation

What are the qualities that make a good ESL teacher? When asked at a job interview what makes a good ESL teachers, candidates often praise personal traits such as patience, creativity, knowledge, skills, empathy, experience… But what if you have just finished your TEFL course and are not that experienced yet. Does that mean you can't be a great teacher? The answer is that this is absolutely possible.

Great teachers praise themselves to be always well prepared for their ESL classes and to adapt well to each situation by reading students reactions.

Being well prepared substitutes the lack of experience. No one has been born a teacher, and in your first classes you’ll feel nervous, especially if you don’t know the students. This is normal. But good preparation can disguise that feeling, and after the first 5-10 minutes you will relax.

A good way to overcome nerves is to always start with the same activity. That way you will be creating a practice that the students would identify with you and will make you avoid wasting time in small talk. In OxbridgeTEFL, we've selected to start with some questions for short answers that we call Quick Questions. Their aim is not to provide direct practice of a vocabulary or a structure, but to indicate the start of the English class and focus the learners' attention on the target language.

Starting your ESL classes with the same type of activity gives learners a feeling of continuity and structure of the lesson. Even though you are new to them, you are not new to the system. No need to worry then.

Besides, while doing the QQ, you’ll calm and will start breathing normally. Instead of wasting time asking how the students are, you are doing the first effective activity in class: change the chip and the linguistic code into English.

Find something in the class you especially like. There is a suggested order but for sure, if there is an activity that you especially like and will enjoy doing with your students, they will get involved and will be participative. You will relax and break the ice.

Know your class by heart. Not every single word, but every single activity. That way you’ll be able to do fast links (natural or provoked) and the pace of the class will be smooth. Your students will enjoy and you’ll feel the success of the learning process. Remember: relaxed students learn better!!

Appearance is important! Whenever interaction occurs, appearance is of extreme importance. The ESL teacher has to manage interaction on a daily basis. Not only do teachers have to be well prepared, they also have to transmit they know what they are doing. Remember the old saying:

"Caesar's wife should not only be honest but also be seen to be honest"

Those were hard times! Caesar’s wife was supposed to be above any suspicion! So, not only did she have to be pure and honest, she also had to appear so, so that her behaviour wouldn’t be an offence for Caesar. As Caesar’s wife, we as ESL teachers not only have to be good teachers but also appear to be such. That is, seem confident, well trained, experienced and know that we represent our institution whenever we go and whoever we interact with. And the students have to feel that we know where we are taking them. Yes, appearance is important! Every time you decide what to say, what to put on, what perfume to use, what hair cut to choose, you transmit something. But let’s forget about clothes and fragrances and haircuts and focus on what you can tell your students.

Sometimes, the difference depends on the answers that you give to apparently simple questions. And sometimes these questions or comments are not as innocent as they appear. Your students probably love you, but they also test you.

Besides it’s good to know why the students ask or say something that apparently doesn’t have to do with our teaching system. They may feel uncertain and insecure about some aspects of our teaching practice and they want to be sure that they are getting the best that we can offer.

If you are aware of what the students mean when speaking, you’ll know what the best answer to that should be. You’ll appear confident and well prepared; you’ll be “above suspicion”.

My objective is a very simple one: avoid that the students think that you are not qualified enough to be English teachers. I know it’s a question of experience and practice to look self-confident but while you are acquiring this experience you may get nervous and appear less prepared than you are.

I’ve made a list of some “hidden meaning” in apparently simple and inoffensive questions. Please think of them. You may agree or not, but believe me, I know that when I’m angry and somebody asks me what’s wrong with me I say “nothing” and I mean “everything”! I’m one of those… So why not our students?



Also, learn to read your students’ body language. The way they appear to be may guide you in your decision whether to do one element (or activity) or another.


Remember to start always with something the students the students would identify. This is what they expect, so give it to them if you don’t want them to have any doubts about you from the beginning. Make sure you know how they go. Prepare the class, and let it go!!

You are good teachers! Prove to your students that not only is that so, but that nobody could possibly suggest that you seem unprepared! Never! Ever!



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