8 Skills Every TEFL Teacher Needs

Teaching Abroad Direct

If you think back to the time when you were at school, you always remember who your good teachers were, and how they brought out the best in you. A good teacher is inspiring, makes learning fun and engages their students. They are someone to admire and look up to.

Being a good teacher is so much more than the subject being taught. You don't just need good qualifications, you also need several interchangeable soft skills that you can draw upon to ensure that your students get the most out of their learning experiences.

Of course, every TEFL teacher needs a good grounding in and command of the English language. As a requirement, you'll need a TEFL certification, which will give you the scope to earn more and take up more teaching positions across the world. But you also need key skills to draw upon in order to become the best teacher that you can be.

If you get comfortable with your own teaching style by using the following skills below, you'll discover how you prefer to teach vital concepts, and can plan your lessons more easily, too. Here are some of the important TEFL skills you'll need in your career.

1. Organisation

Working as a TEFL teacher will mean busy days, and it's likely that you'll need to plan and prepare for four or even five classes each day. Some teachers like to plan their classes on the same day so they're fresh in their mind, while others like to prepare the day before, so they have more time. Either way, being organised is one of the most important TEFL skills that you can have.

You'll need to attend your class well prepared and with confidence, with any materials such as worksheets and resources printed in advance so that you are ready to start. The last thing you want to do is put materials together without proper planning.

There will be times of the year where you'll need to be particularly organised, like during a teaching review (checking your performance), examinations, revision classes and so on. You'll have a stack of paperwork to do in terms of marking class books and writing performance reports for each student. Your organisational skills should reflect the love you have for what you do and your passion for teaching others.

2. Being adaptable

When it comes to the key skills of TEFL teachers, being adaptable is one of the most important. As a teacher, you need to stay on your toes, as things can change at any time. Students may get distracted, the learning outcomes of your lesson might not be achieved, a child may become sick or need medical attention, and you have to be prepared to act immediately.

Often, you'll have to switch up your teaching style with little notice. You'll need an open mind if you're living abroad in a different country, with a new culture to adapt to, and you'll also need to adjust to a different educational system.

Some are more strict and structured than others, so it may not be what you are used to back home. You may notice that the culture when working in China is much different from other countries like Switzerland or Germany. It’s just something to be aware of when choosing where you want to work.

Be able to react to changes at short notice

Your working day will no doubt be unpredictable, and each day will vary from the next. You may find that one day you have more or fewer students than you expected. You'll have to adapt your lessons to suit more or less students, and also accommodate learning to fit in with cultural festivities and school trips/study days.

If you are a TEFL moving from one school to another within a country, you will certainly need to think on your feet. Classes could be much bigger, much smaller, and students' English language skills can vary greatly, especially if you are teaching those in more rural communities. As a TEFL, you'll also need to put your students into groups in order to do speaking activities and to work together.

This may mean lots of people speaking at the same time, and you'll need to command their attention. Many students will need your help at the same time, and you'll need to be able to juggle this with listening to conversations very carefully, so you can pick up on language errors and make corrections. Being able to listen to multiple conversations simultaneously is a TEFL skill that you will definitely pick up quickly.

3. Communication

Being highly communicative is important to the teaching and learning process. You'll need to communicate instructions to your students, all while motivating and inspiring them. This can be difficult when English isn't your student's first language.

This means you'll have to carefully consider your soft skills in communication, and use tone and body language to clarify the message you are trying to get across. Having good communication skills will also help you build strong working relationships with your students.

Good communication skills are one of the most important aspects of being a TEFL. If you don't know how to communicate, you won't be able to get your knowledge across to your students effectively.

Because of the language barrier, TEFL teachers rely on communication skills to get through their working days. The majority of communicating you do will actually be non-verbal due to language barriers, so think about gestures you'll need to rely on to deliver effective and creative lessons.

4. Empathy and cultural understanding

Listening and understanding your students is also a crucial skill for TEFL teachers. With a language barrier to consider, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your students and show an understanding of their needs. This will give you an improved knowledge of how you can structure and approach your lessons.

Your students will be from a different country and culture, and that culture will likely influence your teaching methods. You'll need to take stock of and address any stereotypes and assumptions you make, as these may be hindering connections you have with your pupils. Ensure that you familiarise yourself with the customs in the country you're teaching in before you travel to it. This will help you to empathise better with all you meet.

5. Patience

All teachers need patience in order to get the most out of their students. However, as a TEFL teacher, you'll need more of it than most. It can prove trying and even frustrating when many students are vying for your attention, and you also have a large language barrier to contend with. Sometimes, students might not understand your explanations, and you'll have to reframe those explanations multiple times until they do, all while being empathetic and calm.

For some people, mastering a second language isn't easy, and teaching English as a foreign language comes with many challenges. Some of your students may pick things up quickly, but there will always be some who struggle more. You will also need the patience to deal with restless students, trouble-makers and those who are disengaged. This is especially in the case of very young children. Keeping calm and in control is key – try not to show any frustrations.

6. Enthusiasm

It's well known that engaging teachers who make lessons interesting and fun get the most out of their students. Their students want to work harder if they are presented with a great teacher who has plenty of enthusiasm. Having enthusiasm isn't just a personality trait. In teaching, it's a skill that is highly prized by employers.

If you truly love what you do, your work won't seem as challenging – even when it is! Students who are presented with an unenthusiastic teacher will soon zone out and become bored and disinterested in what they are trying to learn. If you are passionate and make learning fun, your students will feed off of your positive energy.

7. A love of all things learning

The best TEFL teachers out there don't rest on their laurels. They keep seeking out ways to improve their skill set, and they are always learning. When you are a teacher, you are constantly learning and having new experiences with your students. They will teach you a lot about yourself, and how you handle situations.

A brilliant teacher knows that there are always things that could be improved in terms of how they teach, and what they have to teach. TEFL teachers who focus on their own self-development through courses, career advancement and general knowledge of their field often have more successful and enjoyable careers. From the moment you obtain your TEFL qualification, you should always seek to learn more.

8. Motivation

If you are motivated to produce the best lessons for your students, you'll ensure that they have the tools they need to succeed in their learning. A motivated teacher knows how to bring language and their love of learning to life in the classroom.

They won't give up on their students, no matter how challenging the situation, and will always try to motivate their students to pay attention and realise their potential. Again, as a TEFL professional, motivation is so much more than a personality trait you can bring to the table – it's a life skill that both students and employers will appreciate.

If you think you have the skills for a career in teaching English as a foreign language, check out some of our current job opportunities.

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