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What is my role as an ESL/EFL teacher?

Malcolm ATEFL Contributor
ESL Lesson Handouts - What is my role as a teacher
Photo by Max Fischer

As ESL teachers we have so many responsibilities and it would take more than this article to explain what our role as a teacher is. New and aspiring teachers often ask question things like “What makes a good teacher?” or“ Does my personality fit teaching?” There are certainly no simple answers!

Teachers are required to fill many roles; however, it is important to remember that it can be disadvantageous to take on too many tasks. Let’s focus on what your role as an ESL teacher is. An effective ESL teacher needs to fulfill three roles: a facilitator, an editor, and a motivator. Let’s take a brief look at what each role entails and how to perform effectively in these roles.

You are a Facilitator

What can you do to make teaching an ESL class effective and engaging for all students? The image of a teacher standing in front of the class, students in rapt attention as the teacher soliloquizes the important of whatever is being taught is one that is often portrayed in TV, media, and from our experience as children. It’s a nice image, but ask any experienced ESL teacher if standing at front of the class and presenting in this way is an effective way to teach. The truth is, ESL teachers have a much less glamorous role in the classroom. We aren’t there for epic speeches or grand lectures. We need to be facilitators.

A Facilitator helps students identify and set language learning goals and then achieve them. The ESL teacher should allow the student’s spirit of creativity and innovation to be involved and actively encouraged in discussions and teamwork activities.

A facilitator teaches lessons that give students plenty of practice in all aspects of the English language. Practice is key to learning a language and students won’t absorb that by simply listening to you explain something. You need to identify your students’ learning style and accommodate that in your lessons. A well-rounded lesson should take advantage of each of your student’s strengths while also targeting their weaknesses.

Let’s say you have a shy or quiet student, but their reading and listening ability is phenomenal. You know that they are smart, but perhaps they lack confidence. Encourage and promote group activities where no-one is singled out or put on the spot. A reading aloud activity could build the confidence of students who don’t like to speak up. A facilitator always understands how to keep the class focused, giving students the best opportunities to improve.

Here are some other ways to be an effective Facilitator:

  • Avoid only asking yes/no questions. Choose topics that relate to students’ lives and interests and allow students time to answer questions. Choose Handouts that encourage students to talk more than you, the facilitator.
  • Provide corrections only if asked for or if the language mistake leads to significant issues in comprehension.
  • Modeling or repeating is an effective way to correct students’ speech. For example, if a student says, “Yesterday, I eat sushi.” the facilitator might clarify by asking, “Yesterday, you ate sushi?”
  • Elicit ideas from students about topics they are interested in. Choose interesting topics that allow students to learn about each other and allow for personal and cultural exchange.
  • Begin each lesson with a warm up activity. These encourage students to speak about their experience and allows for group or one-on-one discussion. Luckily ESL Lesson Handouts provides warm up activities in each Handout to accomplish this.

You are an Editor

ESL learners face many challenges; they aren’t exposed to enough English; they are unable to participate in conversations with native English speakers; or they aren’t speaking English outside of the classroom setting and they probably don’t practice outside of the material you give them.

A challenge for ESL teachers can be the materials they teach with. English is a fluid language, with constant changes and adaptations to the lexicon thanks to pop culture and social media influencers. Many ESL curriculums and textbooks are outdated and most likely can’t keep up with all of these changes. That is why you should choose teaching materials like ESL Lesson Handouts. Textbooks use outdated words and phrases that many native English speakers don’t use anymore. Give your student better material.

Try teaching with a textbook from five years ago and a Handout from the ESL Lesson Handouts Library then get feedback from your students. Which did they prefer?

You are a Motivator

More than anything, a teacher needs to motivate students to want to learn. Having an exciting and engaging class is the best way to motivate your students. Have you tried motivating your students by demonstrating their own progress? Consider something your student has struggled with in the past and teach the same lesson again. If it has been some time since they studied that lesson/material, they will most likely have forgotten. Chances are students will complete it in half the time. Let them know this; the same lesson taught in half the time.

Of course as a motivator you must ask your students to set goals and expectations for their English language learning and revisit them periodically. Students, especially higher-level students, are going to ask themselves “Is this worth it?”. It’s up to you as their teacher to answer that question and what better way to say that than “We did this lesson before, but we did it in half the time — well done!”

Malcolm ATEFL Contributor
Malcolm has over seven years of TEFL and school management experience and is currently a teacher trainer in China. His credentials include a Cambridge TKT certification, TEFL certification, and a Bachelor's degree in English from Florida State University.

Disclaimer  We aim to provide useful ESL and EFL teaching resources and educational ideas. Our articles are written by educators with extension TEFL experience. They contain only general information about teaching English as a foreign language and are meant purely for informational purposes. We makes no representation as to the accuracy of this information and will not be liable for any errors or damages from the use of this information.

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