Top 5 dos and don’ts for an English Language Teacher

Many of these points reinforce best practice shared by ELT trainers, as well as those shared by fellow teachers during continual professional development.


  • Keep the lessons light-hearted and relevant to the age group of each class. If you’re teaching young learners outside of regular school hours, there’s every chance your students may not always be bursting with enthusiasm if they are coming to you on a Friday evening or Saturday morning. Research interactive exercises that differ from traditional teaching styles, and frequently reinforce the benefits of learning another language.
  • Take lots of deep breaths and smile. It can be frustrating repeating the same information on multiple occasions, and being asked questions to which you have given detailed answers earlier in the same lesson. Deep breaths and smiling before reacting to frustrations gives you those extra seconds to compose your thoughts, and will further your reputation as an approachable teacher.
  • Sit in on lessons of your fellow teachers. This is mandatory during training for all ELT qualifications, but continuing to observe how colleagues interact with students and deal with tricky situations will help to develop your skills and keep your lessons fresh and dynamic.
  • Try learning another language yourself. Putting yourself in the same position as those to whom you are teaching will add a level of empathy to your teaching style only obtainable by being immersed in similar circumstances.
  • Love your job. Remember why you chose this profession. Even on days when nothing is going right, and your efforts seem unappreciated, try and remind yourself that your skills and experience are instrumental in shaping the lives of everyone you teach. You may not always see the end result, but the gift of communication is a powerful tool that we should be proud to help others achieve.


  • Talk down to students. The struggle to communicate faced by non native speakers is a serious disadvantage in daily life, and is made even worse by being patronised. Those in such circumstances may be more sensitive to being treated in this manner, so using the appropriate tone when explaining ideas will make a big difference.
  • Ask students if they understand – this is especially unadvisable when teaching to children or teenagers. It might be necessary to bite your tongue as this feels like the most natural question to ask, but remember that those to whom you are teaching may not feel confident admitting in front of their classmates that they don’t understand. Despite the sea of nodding heads, always try to elicit understanding from students rather than asking directly.
  • Take it personally. Sometimes students may not click with you – that’s ok! It’s possible that many younger students will not grasp the benefits of the classes, and would rather be doing something else rather than learning a strange language spoken by people hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. Taking it personally whenever a student looks fed up will only have a negative effect on your confidence, and ultimately on your teaching ability.
  • Expect one size to fit all. There have been times I’ve prepared a killer lesson and students have loved the material and given glowing feedback. On other occasions I’ve used the same material and been met with blank faces or criticism. Subsequently, I’ve realised the ability to adapt to different learning styles makes a huge difference between a good class and an average class.
  • Talk too much. Students want to learn, which is more likely to occur through actively using the language, rather than passively assimilating it by listening to their teacher – no matter how knowledgeable we are! Check in with yourself regularly just in case you are waffling on.

    Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at

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