Top 20 TEFL teacher  mistakes


1- Lecturing

The students need to be able to do things in English, that’s how they are measured these days (in exams) – and that’s what they want. Knowledge of English isn’t enough. A good proportion of lessons need to be spent with students practising what you taught them.

2- Planning the lesson around «what I'm going to do» as teacher, rather than what they are going to do

It’s a real pleasure hearing experienced teachers in the staff room saying «they’re going to learn the 2nd conditional and then do a board game, and then maybe a rôle play» Rather than «oh, I’ve got to teach them the 2nd conditional ».

3- Interrupting

Student: «is the past continuous used for….?»
Teacher: «No no, it’s used to talk about the past….».
When our students are speaking it’s the teacher who needs to stop talking. In this case the student was going to ask if it was used to give background information, which is correct. Also (student) «I went to…» (teacher) « Oh yes you went to Paris didn’t you, great place with all the culture, I love it there. I used to teach there you know… »

4- Getting too close to the student who is talking while trying to keep the whole class involved

If you get too close to the person talking, you are shutting out the rest of the group who are obviously no longer involved in the classroom proceedings. This is the quickest way to class mananagement problems and frustration among the group who are wondering why you have entered into a one to one conversation during « whole class time ». Stand well back to keep everyone involved. If they speak quietly, walk away, not towards them.

5- Incomprehensible teacher language

Teacher: «You probably know this already, it’s a bit redundant really and maybe a bit too personal, but what might you have done if you hadn’t come to class today – I mean what do you normally do on a typical weekday afternoon ? »
Better to say «OK, today you are here in class, but imagine it’s a holiday. What are you doing?

6- Incomprehensible instructions

Teacher: «OK so fill this in, hang on Christophe. I haven’t finished yet… yeah, fill this in cos in a minute you’re…. Jean Pierre listen… .you’re gonna go round and chat to each other…no, don’t move yet…I haven’t finished.. »
Better to hold up the worksheet and say «Individually, please write answers in column one. For example (show on the board). 2 minutes, go» Good TEFL courses show you how to give impeccable instructions to groups.

7- Technology not ready

Teacher: «ok, so let’s play a kahoot! Let’s just login..hang on a minute while I….. oh no, windows update…erm… erm.. well hopefully tomorrow…»
Get the tech ready before the lesson and make alternative plans for in case it doesn’t work even then.

8- Not listening to students, echoing what they say

Teacher: «What did you do at the weekend?»
Student: (excited to share her weekend story) «I went to Malaga!»
Teacher: «Malaga, good.. and you Angelique?»
You wouldn’t show such a lack of interest when in the cafe so don’t do it in class.  «Tell us all about it» is much better, and much easier!

9- Welcoming late students while addressing the group

Teacher: «… so the auxiliary verb goes……..oh hi Jaques.. .don’t worry, let me tell you what we’re all doing, hang on I’ll get you another photocopy…»
Rest of class roll eyes. Why does the late person get star treatment while we – who all made the effort to arrive on time –  get ignored and have to wait ? Ignore latecomers, or just smile and point to where they should sit.

10- Pairing up with one student to do a roleplay, when you have an odd number of students

No, your job is to float around, monitor, correct, note errors…. If you have an odd number of students then Stephanie and Delphine can both be Mrs Smith, while Daniel is Mr Jones.

11- Not setting or not checking homework

No matter how good your lessons are, your students won’t progress if they do nothing between lessons. Check it too, they do need to know there is some obligation and that you are on top of things.
Give a variety of «homework» tasks, sometimes recapping what you did, sometimes preparing for the next lesson (note that the latter is harder to check)

12- Waiting for everyone to arrive before starting

That will just mean people will stop arriving on time, knowing that you won’t start until everyone is there.
Start bang on time even if only one student is in the room.

13- Getting exasperated as they - still don't understand

If they don’t understand, that is fine. You were probably being unclear. Why not get them started on the next activity anyway, and see how they get on? They’d rather have a go at it and have the lesson dynamic renewed, than watch you getting cross and frustrated. You can always explain better the next lesson. Lenthly explanations in a language they don’t understand just make students progressively more confused.

14- Not correcting high level students' errors

At high levels, the students’ learning curve has levelled off. They often just want correction to smooth over a few rough edges.
Eg «I collected reluctantly my papers and headed off»… don’t be fooled into thinking that their English is perfect because they’re using long words. Wouldn’t “reluctantly collected” be better?  They’re employing you to make them better so correct consistently (using techniques learnt on your TEFL course).

15- Not trying new things

Don’t stick to the same routine and the same games. It doesn’t matter if you do a game or try a new teaching approach and it backfires. You’ve learnt something. And if it does work then you have one more activity to impress your students.

16- Not having filler activities

It’s crucial to have «too much» in all lessons, so that if everything ends too quickly, or if something goes wrong, you have other things for them to do. It’s a nice feeling going into a class knowing that whatever happens, they’ll be busy for the hour.

17- Not keeping everyone busy

This may be number 17, but it’s one of the biggest reasons for students starting to mess around. Students all do activities at different speeds and there will always be some students who have finished when others have just started. You need to give the early finishers something extra to do, or at the very least go over and talk to them. Everyone needs to be busy all the time.
«that’s very good, can you write two more sentences?»
Or even «that’s very good, by the way, did you see the match yesterday?» Be careful not to get «stuck» with a pair of students though, and not notice that other’s have now finished.

18- Not nipping problems in the bud

Whatever the problem is, you need to address it right away. This isn’t just for young learners’ lessons.
Is a student unmotivated? Is someone else being sexist? Is someone always answering all the questions? Did someone arrive 10 minutes late today as well as last time? Does someone keep glancing down at their phone?
Have a little chat with each invidual at the end of the class before things get serious. Never in public. Unadressed problems always get worse. Addressing problems early shows you have high standards, shows you care and want them to learn and improve. Just end the lesson 4 minutes early to have the little chat with the student?
Eg «Don’t worry, it’s nothing too serious, but you did arrive 10 minutes late. Will you be able to arrive on time in future?»

19- Not having the teacher's book for the coursebook you are using

You don’t want to have to work out the answers to all the exercises you get the students to do, only for students to disagree with you. You need to know the answers and have “going through the answers” as a low stress part of the lesson.

20- Not giving enough information about the words you're teaching

It’s not enough to teach the students «remember» ,they need to know it’s «remember to do» or «remember doing» (whichever you are teaching that day)something. Likewise we say «some» or «a piece of» advice «about» something. The word «advice» isn’t enough. What information would you give about the word “paper”?

21- Sorry, 21....Worrying that you're not a very good teacher, and not sharing your problems

If you’re TEFL qualified with an onsite externally accredited course with 6 hours’ observed teaching practice, then you are good enough, especially if you are keen on improving.
You know how many genuinely awful teachers there are out there, because you’ve had them at school, in further education, and evening classes. We all have bad days and difficult situations.
Share your problems with your director of studies and colleagues, and hey presto, it’s no longer your problem.

Jonathan Davies, Director, TEFL Toulouse, 2023.

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