Common Mistakes TEFL Teachers Make And How To Avoid Them

Jun 10 2024

Learning to teach is not an on-off button. It’s not a skill which you are suddenly able to do after ages of struggling, like tying your shoelaces or riding a bike. Teaching is a skill which improves with time, with training, and with experience.

Besides, teachers are humans too – and we all make mistakes sometimes.

But knowledge is power! Let’s look at the common mistakes of new TEFL teachers so that you can try your best to avoid making them!

What are common mistakes new TEFL teachers make?

As English teachers you might think that our biggest mistakes are language mistakes. It’s true that sometimes even we get our second and third conditionals mixed up but those are not the only mistakes we’re talking about. 

Read more: How To Find The TEFL Job Of Your Dreams

What are the most common mistakes of teacher trainees in the classroom?

Let’s start with the obvious: lesson preparation.

Lesson preparation is essential for the smooth running of your classroom, especially for rookie TEFL teachers. Lesson planning is a delicate balance. You don’t want to over-plan. You don’t want to under-plan. You want to plan just right!

There are a few ways lesson preparation can go wrong. 

Too little lesson preparation can mean you don’t have enough activities to fill your lesson and accomplish your goals, or even that you don’t have enough photocopies or materials for your students.

Too little preparation can result in an over-reliance on the coursebook. Coursebooks are just one tool teachers use to carry out a lesson. They are not the be-all and end-all of a lesson. Too little preparation can mean following the coursebook so closely that it’s not a suitable use of the time. 

Too few activities can mean awkward dead time at the end of your lesson when you’ll have to scramble to find a filler activity.

Too little preparation can mean that you’re not prepared enough to teach the language point effectively. You need to not only know how to use the language structure but also how to explain it to your learners. 

This can lead to over-complicating things, in both instructions and language. Instructions should be short and sweet. They shouldn’t require too much mental effort for your learners. 

When it comes to vocabulary and grammar, the simpler, the better too. There might be 42 different meanings for “set” but your students don’t need to know that. Only focus on what they need to know for the task at hand.

Part of your lesson planning process should include consideration of anticipated problems in the classroom. In other words, what questions might your students ask you or what challenges might they face to produce the language? These questions give you time to think of suitable answers you can give at a moment’s notice in the classroom.

Alternatively, too much preparation can be detrimental too. 

If you spend too much time planning your lesson you might be trying to cram too much into your lessons. You might not be utilising your materials effectively. It’s a better investment of your time to find suitable materials and think of ways to utlilise them in more than one way, than to find four resources to do the same that one can.

One very important part of an EFL lesson is repetition. English language learners need a boatload of repetition to ensure learning. This repetition can come in the form of revision activities and games throughout the lesson. Overplanning activities means less time for revision exercises.

Plus, spending too much time planning also affects your energy levels. Teachers with a full schedule don’t have the luxury to spend hours planning for each lesson. If you do that, you’ll be lesson planning from sunrise to sunset!

Inside the classroom, new TEFL teachers often come into problems with discipline.

Teachers who want to come across as the friendly teacher can be too lenient with their students. This is especially a concern in the EFL classroom where teachers might be younger than their students!

Remember, it’s always possible to become more lenient as your students get to know you and feel more comfortable with you. But it’s reallly hard to get stricter. Start your relationship with your students with clear expectations and aims – and you can enjoy organised chaos, rather than chaos chaos.

But there’s one mistake which even the most natural teachers make again and again when they step into the classroom.

What’s the most common mistake an ESL teacher makes in the classroom?

By far the most common an ESL teacher makes in the classroom is *drum roll, please* talking too much.

New teachers are often nervous, and that’s understandable. Many people over-compensate for their nerves by talking a lot, or talking too quickly. 

As you can imagine, neither is a good scenario for your learners. 

Too much teacher-talk-time is a cognitive burden for English language learners. Remember, they are trying to understand every word you say. You want to make sure you communicate only the important information, so their focus can be on the language they are learning.

Too much talking from the teacher results in a lecture. Because of this, your students don’t get a chance to speak themselves or contribute meaningfully to the lesson. In these scenarios teachers often ask and answer their own questions, which is not helpful to anyone!

Teachers need to be mindful of how much and how quickly they speak, and how and where they speak. 

Don’t under-estimate the power of body language and facial expressions in conveying meaning. These are important to help your students understand what you are communicating. Be careful not to speak with your back to the students

Grading your language is important so that you’re not speaking at a level too high above your students’ or too low below. Your students need to feel comfortable listening to you in order to respond appropriately.

If you think all this sounds like a lot to remember, you’re right! Being a teacher in an EFL classroom is a careful juggling act. But your TEFL qualification should prepare you to juggle as best you can. And you’ll only get better with experience.

Read more: Can You Make A Career Out Of TEFL?

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