We have to be prepared for our classes, and that’s just as true for an experienced veteran teacher as it is for a fresh tutor looking to get their foot in the educational door. Being prepared and organised is the most effective and simple way to come across as professional and authoritative, both to your employers and to your students. As such, here are some tips on how to take your organisation to the next level.
It may seem like a trivial or self-evident thing, but an organised planning stage naturally leads to a lesson that feels smooth, and it’s sometimes eye-opening to know how many teachers lack a thorough organisation in their planning stage. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours preparing and organising a single lesson – it’s a case of “working smart”, not “working hard”.
Hopefully you have access to a wide variety of teaching materials through your library or a personal collection. Invest some time in exploring what you have available to you, and perhaps even leaving notes about each one somewhere. For example, “This one would be better for a class of 6-8 students”, or “this one’s probably good for really talkative and energetic students”. Just because one has taught a unit or grammar topic many times before doesn’t mean the class will be the same – students are different, and it’s great if you can cater to different classes with different activities.
Sometimes investing a dozen or so hours into setting up an efficient workspace can save you loads of time in the future. If you’re planning a lot of your lesson on a computer or laptop, how are your folders and files organised? Are they a chaotic and jumbled mess, or have you neatly organised it all? All the materials, games, activities, and tools you use for your lesson – can you access it at a moment’s notice?
With exceptional organisation and knowing where everything you need is, it’s possible to reduce lesson planning time down by a significant degree, giving you more time for that essential pre-lesson plan review to ensure you have an effective lesson.
This is especially important if or when you are presenting grammar. Writing or drawing on the whiteboard takes time and attention, so it’s important to use the whiteboard as efficiently as possible, and only where the benefit is clear. Diagrams can be a great way to help learners understand a grammar principle, and example sentences are good at helping students to internalise concepts, but you definitely don’t want to come up with these on the spot when at the whiteboard!
Despite all this organisation, a lesson doesn’t need to be fixed with no room for flexibility or change. Sometimes you realise halfway through a lesson that there is something far more important to discuss, or an activity that you didn’t anticipate becomes necessary. It’s a good idea to “over-prepare” a little – some additional communicative tasks in case the original one doesn’t work out, or secondary activities and games.
You may not need a pair of scissors in class 95% of the time, but when you suddenly do, having a pair on hand is obviously a great thing, and it doesn’t require a lot of time or money to invest in. A rubber, pencil sharpener, scissors, a ruler, stickers, and perhaps even a stick of glue are all useful things to have in a class!
It’s not necessary to be an encyclopaedia of grammar and language to teach English well, and generally students don’t expect their teachers to be perfect computers of knowledge either. It can take years of teaching ESL to gradually build a full knowledge of English, and even then, things can still surprise you after ten years of experience!
Having said that, it’s reasonable for students to expect their teacher to be ready for the topic of the day, so if the lesson is about Present Perfect and Past Simple tenses for example, make sure you’ve got a checklist of tasks covered:
Obviously, you can’t anticipate every conceivable question, but being able to answer the predictable ones with confidence and clarity goes a very long way to creating a professional and experienced image, and your students will feel like they are in safe hands.
It happens from time to time that you get students who like to ask difficult or unreasonable questions. Maybe they want to show off to the other students, or push the teacher’s buttons, or maybe they just put too much focus on trivial things. This can be unsettling, so here are some things you can keep in mind when you get students like this:
Being a good teacher is as much about the image you present as the quality of your teaching skills. Someone may have a vast knowledge of grammar or a great personality, but what students really admire is the fact that you can answer questions quickly and easily, and illustrate an idea on the whiteboard effortlessly, and that you’ve got the perfect speaking activity for a difficult situation that arose during the lesson. The latter requires adequate preparation so ensure that you invest time in your plan.