Tag Archives: TEFL

“The fear” – My personal experiences with ‘teaching anxiety’

3 Sep


Fear of teaching?

Just like a fear of spiders, ‘a fear of teaching’ is common, completely normal and completely irrational.

One of my colleagues, who is very experienced and an excellent teacher, recently said something which hit home for several reasons.  As she was about to leave the coffee room to start her class, she said ‘I still get that little bit of fear before I go into class, every time. Do you get that?’

My answer was an honest one – ‘No, but I used to’, but this was the first time I that I had ever publicly confessed to the fact that I suffered from a fear of teaching.

This ‘fear of teaching’ is something which I think is very often felt, but very seldom discussed.  Why is this?

In fact, for my first two years of teaching, it wasn’t so much ‘a little bit of fear’, but a massive amount of dread which made me feel sick. It took me about 2 years to realize that I was suffering from some sort of social anxiety about going into class.  I’m not normally someone who suffers from social anxiety, it seemed to be unique to the teaching situation. 

For the three years or so I suffered from this, I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone. It seemed like a private fact.  Moreover, it seemed like something that I shouldn’t really admit to.  I didn’t want people to know that I felt under confident in the classroom. In fact, I think sometimes, I would wax lyrical about teaching, teaching theory, students and classroom activities in the teachers room as a way of avoiding or covering up the fact that I actually felt uncomfortable teaching.

The effects of this pre-class fear were numerous. It was very draining. It massively added to the stress of lessons and the fatigue caused by teaching. For me, the fear  would be before class and normally erode about 10 minutes into the lesson. But,if the lesson started going badly, it might have lasted for the whole class or even gotten worse. Or, if I started to run out of lesson plan, I realized that I’d forgotten a handout etc, it could easily resurface.

Physical Symptoms

Does any of this look familiar? This is how I felt before class.

What were the causes?  Well mainly, I was proud of my work as a teacher. I wanted to be a good teacher, and I hated the idea of classes not liking me. I was scared of student complaints, which I took as a slight on my professional ability, and I was scared of students thinking bad things about me. There was also a degree of potential social embarrassment from among my peers.  No wants their fellow teachers to see them as being a bad teacher.

 Like most social anxiety, it was probably rooted in my deep desire to be liked and appreciated, and an over-active imagination of what students might have been thinking about me.  In their faces I would read ‘what a useless teacher, why have I paid so much money for someone who is so unprofessional’.  In fact, what they were probably mainly sitting there thinking about what they would cook for dinner that night whilst patiently waiting for the teacher to set them a new activity.

My colleagues’ comment  about how she was feeling was probably the first public mention of ‘teaching anxiety’ which I have heard of, in the whole 5 years of teaching. For her, I think it was just more pre-class jitters. But I wonder how many people are more like I was when I started – walking around with a gut -wrenching fear before every class?

I know that not every teacher suffers from some for of anxiety.  But I also now know that I am not the only one.   Who else has, or has had, some sort of anxiety about teaching?  Did anyone find cures or coping techniques?  Any experiences that you are willing to share?  Has anyone else already blogged about this?





Photos that bear Witness to Modern slavery – CLIL lesson for advanced adult students

25 Aug

ImageDid you know that there are 27 million people in slavery today? That is three times more than the total amount of slaves transported during the entire transatlantic slave trade. Did you know that  between 100,00 and 300,000 American children are sold into sex slavery every year?

Neither did I, until I saw this last week:


And after seeing it, I thought I would make it into a lesson for my advanced class. If nothing else, I thought that it would help spread the message.

I designed this topic based lesson.  It’s fairly low-resource (no handouts) and mainly discussion based.

This is a tough lesson with adult topics, some very emotional scenes and images and some pretty advanced language too. In the end, I think they really appreciated the discussion about a serious topic, and the chance to learn about more than just English.

The material is, frankly, fascinating, and leads naturally into a very serious discussion. Artistic students should enjoy the conversation at the beginning about the photos, too. In my class, this lesson took about 1.45 hours as all of the discussions ran on and we got some very interesting language out of all of them (almost 30 words and phrases were on the board by the end of the lesson!).


DELTA Module 3 – Young Learners Book List

9 Jun

Just finished your exam?  Thinking of getting started on module 3?

I just finished my DELTA module 3 on Young Learners aged 13-17,  after reading extensively in the last 5 months.  One thing that slowed me down dramatically was not knowing exactly what to read.

Whilst I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive, because there are a lot of benefits to selecting your own reading and coming up with your own ideas – I think a basic, critical guide  could be useful, especially for people who will have to buy the books.

Main Books / Chapters in Books for your own learning

  1. Teaching Languages to Young Learners (Cambridge Language Teaching Library)

I read this one cover to cover. At least read the first two chapters and the chapter on course design. Covers children 5-12, very interesting and good guide to relevant research on the age group.

2.  Children Learning English – Jayne Moon

Not much about course design and skint on terminology and usable quotes, but skim through for stuff on teaching methodology for the introduction / course plan. Essential reading if you haven’t done any other form of training for Young Learners or don’t have much experience, as it remains the best practical guide for teaching children. Otherwise probably non-essential for this essay.

   3. Assessing Young Learners (Cambridge Language Assessment) – Penny Mckay

This one is really important. The intro has a great general introduction to teaching young learners.  The rest is absolutely essential reading for your assessment section – I read about 40% of this book in total and quoted from it extensively.

4. Teaching Young Language Learners (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers)

Good general introduction to the age group, again. Also sections on assessment and materials assessment, if you are using a coursebook. Nothing on course design, though.

5. Teenagers (Resource Books for Teachers) by Gordon Lewis 

If you are writing about teenagers, the brief introduction to this book is about all that I could find which is specifically about Teenagers.  Essential! Good activities to form part of a course, too.

6. The Unschooled Mind – Howard Gardener

Gardener is responsible for the ‘multiple intelligences theory’. This book is in the Cambridge handbook’s bibliography, probably because of Cambridge’s infatuation with learning styles and multiple intelligences. I didn’t find much use for this book, though, as it isn’t about language teaching and there really was no space in my essay to go into the theory discussed here in detail.

– There’s also a few brief notes in The Practice of English Language Teaching by Jeremy Harmer on children and teenagers, good for grabbing a few quotes.

– If you want to put some projects, arts and crafts or drama into your course, look for ‘Projects with Children, ‘Arts and Crafts with Children’ and ‘Drama with Children’ in the Oxford Resource books for Teachers section for both activities, and quotes to justify what you are doing.

– There isn’t much written about teaching EFL to Teenagers, so take what you can from what is written about teaching children and try to think about how it applies to teenagers.

Using amazon market place, I was able to get hold of all of these books for under £10 each and some for under £5.  I spent, in total for module 3, about £60 on books.

If you are in London, St. Gile’s open-access ELT Library has most of the books that are listed here, free to use, and friendly staff to help you find them ( http://www.stgilesedtrust.org/elt-library/resources/ )

Good luck!  To follow, I’m going to post a guide to general reading for course design.

Classroom Management with Young Learners – 5 common mistakes

26 May


ImageAs someone who’s mainly been teaching young learners over my entire career, I’ve had a lot of experience with classroom management.  When I started, as a fresh CELTA graduate thrown ruthlessly into a kindergarten class, I was clueless.  From collegues and managers, I got tonnes of advice, but much of it was really quite bad.

Not until I did the CELTA Young Learners extension did I learn anything at all about classroom management.  Even then, it took three more years of careful practice before I felt comfortable in my ability to get the classroom I wanted.

Here are the top 5 mistakes that I made, and that I’ve seen people make, (and some of which I have been advised to do!), with classroom management.


1) A Negative Approach

‘If you don’t shut up, you are all losing your break’, ‘Do what I say or I’ll call your parents’

If you start a battle by trying to stamp your authority on them, its a battle that only you can lose.  If they don’t want to do what you want them to do, then they won’t.

Instead, start with the premise that all young learners really want is positive attention. Something as simple as ‘well done’ can make them feel great.  Say ‘well done Roberta for sitting so quietly’ when others aren’t doing so. Tell them that if they work hard, they can play a fun game later or relax a bit. Tell them their English is improving after they try hard.

2) Not using names


Don’t talk to to all of them.   Talking to everybody is like talking to no one. Use names.

3) Relying on gimmicks


“Well done everyone – the rocket is going forwards!!!”

There’s nothing wrong with ‘classroom management systems’ like this (I sometimes use them, especially with kindergarteners), but in themselves they aren’t going to get students to behave long term.  Use them, but don’t rely on them: their effect wears off.

Teens may also see them as patronizing, which might tell them that you lack respect for them.

4) Not being strict enough

If you aren’t strict, it isn’t fair on the students who are behaving well. Students who are sitting quietly listening to you will expect you to do something about the two students at the back who start talking over you.  If you don’t do something, they will quickly lose their respect and wonder why they bothered behaving well at all.

It’s also about consistency. If you let them talk over you once, then from then on, whether they can talk over you or not will not be clear to them. 

If this doesn’t come naturally to you, it can help to have clear classroom rules written on the board, and to refer the students back to these rules when they break them (‘Daniel, what’s the first rule?’).  Make sure that rules are positively worded, though (‘Speak English in Class’, not ‘Don’t speak Italian).

5) Trying to win them over by being their ‘friend’

Using silly voices, cracking silly jokes, doing silly little actions to make them laugh: all sure fire ways to create long term discipline problems.

Think of the teachers you respected and behaved for at school – were they like this? No, they probably weren’t!

You should be firm, stern and professional, at least until you have them in the routine of behaving well.  In the long term, you can loosen up, but first work on building respect.  If you are worried about feedback forms, don’t be.  When it comes to who students ‘like’ as a teacher, respect always trumps.


Is a TEFL career worth it?

21 Apr


I’m trying to find a full time TEFL position in London, but actual jobs seem thin on the ground. I have hours, and classes, but no permanent contract that guarantees the hours will continue. Apparently, a great deal of people are in this situation, indeed, it is a norm in the industry.

In many ways, it is a travesty that teachers are expected to bear the brunt of their school’s problems.  My father owns a business, and when business is not good, it is the business’ accounts that suffer, not his employees’.  In TEFL, when business is bad, it is expected that teachers will simply work less hours and get paid less, effectively bearing a large part of the financial burden. Teachers are treated like contractors, even when we perform a central part of the business.  I’ve met teachers who have been in the business for three times longer than me who are in no better position.  A general lack of work and surplus of teachers mean schools can keep up this model of business.

A highlight: being invited for dinner with students in Vietnam.


Teaching countries in Cambodia. TEFL can be rewarding as it can be infuriating.






It is what it is. And there are a lot of great things about TEFL teaching.  It’s fun and it’s truly rewarding.  Moreover, its low pressure: you are rarely observed doing your job and as long as your students are happy, your bosses will normally let you do whatever you please. It’s academic an practical, and constantly challenging. You rarely have a boring day at work in TEFL, as each class presents a new challenge. I’ve had some fantastic experiences over the last four years: I have helped students to pass life changing exams, I have fascinated four year olds with stories and helped them to learn to read, I have trained fourteen year olds to use a dictionary and fourty year olds to ask for what they want in a shop.  Moreover, I have listened to people of all ages and many different nationalities tell their stories, give their opinions and interact with each other and learned no end about the world around me.

The job is incredible, in many ways, but infuriating in others. With no stable full time hours, there’s no way to get a mortgage, the bank doesn’t even want to give me a credit card, and planning for the future is impossible. I can’t even book a holiday in four months time because I can’t guarantee that I will be able to afford to go anywhere.

And, in terms of the career, where is there to go?  Managing is pointless: you get several times the amount of stress for half the salary that McDonalds pay their managers (who are often younger than I am).  Teacher training is possible (and attractive), but you have to work your way in to it, and even then its often not full time.

I am at point where I have no idea where to go.  Should I leave the industry? Apply for jobs in something completely different?  


An unexpected party: part of a life only TEFL can offer?

Every part of me wants to think that I can turn my passion for teaching into a viable career, but right now there’s a reality-check panic alarm in the back of my mind which is saying that its time to jump ship, before I find a thirty five year old me with no house, no pension, no savings and a contract that’s only valuable for as long as the school I am am working for has customers.

Space: The Eternal Frontier

17 Apr

A lesson about writing magazine articles using a text from science magazine Cosmos. This is an FCE or CAE exam lesson, although it could also be useful to higher level general English classes

C50_cover_LR_RGB-149x179I’ve been set a new challenge recently: my main class is now an exam class. Difficult, because the exam itself (FCE) does not use authentic texts, but instead uses contrived, graded texts. How, then, can studying authentic texts be useful? Surely, I need to be preparing my students for the graded language they will encounter during the exam, rather than preparing them to read real life texts?

Well, yes, I do. And I have subsequently returned to relying a lot more on example texts in coursebooks, regrettably. I could, right here, start my trademark rant about the massive negative effect of using graded texts for exams, but instead I’ll try and focus on the positive!  I have made a conscious effort to smuggle some authentic texts in to the exam classroom, so that what they are learning might benefit their general lives as well as their exam score.  So, here is an example of how I’m doing this.

For this lesson, I needed to teach them to write an article (a common FCE/CAE task) (At the beginning of the lesson my student joked that he already knew how to write an article, and proceeded to write ‘the’ on the board, a joke which I found much funnier than the other students!). The coursebooks seem to be full of very badly written ‘example’ articles. I give my students more credit than those coursebook authors do – I think my students are capable of producing genuinely newspaper worthy articles, if they are given newspaper worthy models to look at. So, I found an example of what I thought was a rather finely written article, and we focused on the author’s style and technique before students wrote their own article copying the features of the original.  You might call this a genre based approach to writing: students are looking at a model to inform them how to write in that genre themselves.

I should point out that I chose this text because I liked the style of writing.  The content (its about Space) wasn’t a deciding factor, apart from that I wanted something general.

I only post lessons here which I have tried, and which worked well for my class: when the homework for this lesson came in, I had some really good examples of articles which were written in a really good style (essential for FCE – where answers are graded partly on the suitability of the style and effect on the reader).  They produced articles which were engaging and interesting – in fact, in terms of style,  their final articles were far better than the example answers in the textbook!

A final point here: I post these lessons as an example of how I’m using authentic texts, not necessarily as ‘copy and paste’ lessons for people to copy.  I don’t recommend ever ‘copying and pasting’ lessons off the internet, personally, as there is no such thing as a one size fits all lesson plan.  But, feel free to use the ‘text’ part of the lesson and the questions especially, and if you think of any other questions for the text or adaptations, or you use something similar, please let me know!


Text: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/opinion/eternal-frontier/


1) Show students this clip: ‘The Wonders of the Solar System, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKH_WLcuBVk. After givi


ng their initial reaction, guide students towards a discussion of the pros and cons of space travel (using the opporunity to pre-teach some of the vocabulary from the reading, e.g. harness resources, ecosystems, dystopian, sustain (us) etc.)

2) Students read the abridged version of the article (below), skimming with the questions ‘Is she for or against Space travel? and ‘What are her main reasons?’.

3) Students do the (very difficult) task of putting the missing sentences back in to the article: task one on the worksheet below. (This is a similar task to part two of the FCE reading paper).

4) Students have five-ten minutes to check the meaning of any unknown vocabulary (in an English English dictionary, of course!)

5) Students discuss their reactions to the text and any interesting arguments, or anything they disagreed with.

6) Students are then given an example of an FCE question in which they are asked to write an article (from FCE paper 2 part 2, there are pleanty of examples in the textbooks, past paper books and online!).

7) Ask students to think about what Students go back through the article and answer Task Two on the worksheet. The aim of this task is to make students aware of how the author creates an effective ‘article’ style: the level of formailty and the aspects of genre that make her article stand out and appeal to the reader. Students, of course, should be explicilty aware of the aim of this task whilst they are doing it!

8) Students then return to the FCE question they were given earlier. They are given 10 minutes to plan their answer with a partner.

9) They then go back to the Task Two sheet, looking at question 1 (find examples of…). They write one sentence for their own article which exemplifies each feature. For example, for ‘1) The author speaking directly to the reader.’ They write a sentence where they speak directly to the reader (e.g. ‘Can you imagine a world without mobile phones?’). Encourage them to copy language features from the original text where possible. Correct their sentences as they go!

10) At home, they write their articles including their key sentences.



How this lesson went

If I judge the lesson by its intended outcome: that it would enable students to write a short article in the correct style, then it was successful.  I got 6/6 good attempts at writing an article.

However, this may be a misleading assessment as there were significant bumps along the way. The task where they put sentences back into the text was very, very difficult for them.  I was really stretching myself to provide as much support as possible!  I did take care to only remove sentences which were linked to the text around them (by containing synonmys, for example, like ‘web of life’ and ‘ecosystem’, or by discourse markers like ‘And yet,’), but there was still some ambiguity in the answers.  Still, the feedback produced some interesting discussion about levels of discourse.

More than anything, this lesson is an example of how using authentic texts can be really easy.  It took me, in total,  about 30 minutes to find this text and write the questions.  However, the lesson lasted about  3 hours, and the rest of the lesson plan came was a simple case of building the lesson around the text, which only took a few minutes of scribbling notes.


Abridged Text (This version has some sentences removed, its the version I gave to students)

Eternal frontier
I LOVE OUR PLANET. I love its trees, its mountains, its oceans, its big beautiful skies and its extraordinary diversity of life. What we have on this world is precious — it’s worth cherishing and nurturing.
But that doesn’t mean I think that travelling beyond this planet is a waste of time or resources; or that I think we should instead focus on getting our world right before venturing into space. Did we perfect an idyllic nomadic society before leaving the African plains? Waiting to get our ‘house in order’ will achieve nothing but guarantee the demise and eventual destruction of our planet, our ecosystem and our species. Going into space is one of the best things we can do to save our world, and ourselves.
It’s in our nature to venture out: since the dawn of our species, we have explored, adapted and expanded. Like a teenager experiencing the first flushes of hormones, we have felt powerful and invincible — then slowly grown aware that our behavior and newfound strength can harm others.
It’s because of our extraordinary success, our ability to harness resources and bend them to our will, that we are encroaching on our neighbors. We live in a closed system — the planet Earth — but often behave recklessly as if its resources are limitless.
The solution is not to abandon modern industrial civilisation: we’re not going to give up our cities or technologies. In fact, without the large-scale mechanisation of industry, transport and agriculture, we would be unable to feed our massive and growing population. Going ‘back to nature’ may sound romantic, but would consign billions to starvation.
The first thing to do is reduce our impact on the planet: make technologies more efficient and our cities, transport systems and industrial processes less damaging to ecosystems.
Do we mandate population controls? Do we nominate an arbitrary age at which people need to ‘retire’, as in the dystopian fictional vision of Logan’s Run? Because populations will continue to grow, especially as child mortality falls and science finds ways of extending human lives. The logical thing to do is to expand beyond Earth: to build colonies on Mars, floating habitats in Earth’s Lagrange orbits, mines on the Moon and the asteroids, and expand deeper into our Solar System.
It may sound unappealing to some. But so was the prospect — just a few centuries ago — of a long and arduous journey across treacherous oceans in cramped conditions, only to arrive in a harsh and unforgiving wilderness where conditions were difficult and starvation was a real possibility.
We need to expand into space because Earth alone cannot sustain us. Space provides a pressure valve, but exploring it will also ensure our survival. Because one day, a massive calamity will befall our world — an asteroid strike, ice ages, supervolcanoes, solar bursts or nuclear war — and we may disappear, or our civilisation fall.
Some ask: so what if humans pass into history? It’s not just a tragedy for us, but also one for nature. Without us, there is no one to witness its infinite beauty; no one to marvel at a sunset, revel in a view, or thrill to the breaking of a wave on a beach. As the late astronomer and author Carl Sagan once said, “we are a way for the universe to know itself”.
But we also deserve to continue because we have created things greater than ourselves.
Think of the plays of Shakespeare, the concertos of Bach, the philosophy of Confucius, the epic poetry of Virgil, the suiboku ink painting of Shubun, the fado laments of Amália Rodrigues, the morality tales of Javanese wayang kulit shadow puppetry, the Islamic calligraphy of the Diwani Al Jali style, the novels of Cervantes, the harvest bhangra dances of Pakistan, the rhythms of the didgeridoo, and anything by Leonardo da Vinci.
Even if the cosmos is brimming with other advanced civilisations, we still deserve to be here. Nature in its diversity has made us as we are: we too are children of the universe, and have something to contribute.
Wilson da Silva is the Editor-in-Chief of COSMOS, and the past president of the World Federation of Science Journalists.

A) That’s just plain silly: did we fix Europe before embarking for the Far East and the Americas?
B) In doing so, we have become the most powerful creatures on Earth, capable of splitting the atom and affecting the climate.
C) In the past, we’ve overcome these constraints by expanding into new territories.
E) We rely on the web of life to sustain us: we need bees to pollinate, trees to make oxygen and worms to aerate the soil, or we would swiftly perish.
F) And after that?
G) And yet, tens of thousands of people set off for Australia and North America, among many other places, in search of a new life. Thousands perished. And yet, more came.
H) Not only scientific and engineering knowledge, valuable as this is — we have also created new and beautiful ways to see the world through art, music, literature and performance.

Task Two
1) Find Examples of:
a) The author speaking directly to the reader.

b) The author using slightly less formal language.

c) The author giving the reader an instruction

d) The author pre-empting a criticism

e) The author giving a conrete example

f) The author using an analogy (describing one thing by comparing it to another thing)

2) How often does the writer use ‘I think that’, ‘I feel’, ‘For me’ etc?

3) Overall, how effective do you think the article is?