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10 Confessions of an EFL teacher

by Paul Finnerty

Most things published by wannabe journalist-teachers like me focus on what we do well. Much of what we write is idealistic and makes us out to be squeaky-clean professional beings, but no one is perfect, including teachers.

So here are 10 confessions of an EFL teacher. Enjoy!

  1. If we like students, we spend more time preparing their classes. After all, we are human. They show us some love (and respect) and we’ll take that extra bit of time to make sure their class runs as absolutely smoothly as possible.
  2. The later the class is in the week, the less time we spend preparing it. The truth is that many of us have upwards of 15 lessons to plan a week, as well as marking and other administrative tasks. Our week generally starts on a Monday, so naturally we plan from this point onwards. If a class is one of our first in the week, we’ll have it nailed. Friday or Saturday, although we’ll do our best, things get in the way, and time restraints might mean we have to rush it.
  3. We hoard pens. Inspect most teachers’ pencil cases and you’ll find a whole load of pencils, pens and markers of all colours. We’re like vacuum cleaners and suck them up without even realising we’re doing so. Probably because we’re afraid of them running out. And don’t forget we totally need not just black and blue pens, but green and red ones too.
  4. We do play ‘Who’s your favourite student?’ in the staff room and we do moan about annoying pupils. It’s human nature to rank and classify. After all, students are the putty that we want to mould. We can also get uber-competitive about our students’ marks and pass rates. We all want to be the best.
  5. We give the more difficult questions to stronger students. We are fully aware that this goes completely against what countless methodologists tell us, but we can’t help it. If we know a certain student can’t deal with a question, we prefer not to ask them it. Otherwise the rhythm of the class completely grinds to a halt. But, now and again we go against this grain as if to be a theoretically sound teacher, then immediately regret it.
  6. We don’t like being strict. But we feel the need to be so in our opening few classes with teenagers. The more they hate us in the first class, the more they’ll grow to like (and respect) us in the end.
  7. Covering other teachers’ classes is a chance to show how good we are. Because we’ll only see them once or twice, we can usually get out one of our ‘power’ lessons and show them why we’re better than their regular teacher. Even if we’re given a boring topic to do, we’ll find a way of sprucing it up and making it exciting.
  8. If we’ve spent time making fab materials or making a great lesson plan, we want to use them as much as possible. There’s nothing better than the set of materials that work across the board and can be endlessly recycled. If it has involved lots of typing, cutting and paper-clipping then we have to get our money’s worth.
  9. We spend more time on planning if there is a clear objective. That might be a Cambridge exam, a need for business vocabulary, or an explicit desire to learn survival holiday English. If students simply give us a meh and say they want to just ‘learn English’ we give them what’s closest to hand, and often copy and paste from other courses.
  10. The red pen is a choice. We almost all have access to green pens, or failing that, we can find a pen (or pencil) different to the colour the student has used. Red is not a coincidence and it’s in our pencil case for a reason. Maybe we’re having a bad day or week. Perhaps we don’t like the student in question. We could be sick of giving the same feedback over and over again in green pen and it not being noticed.

Well, that’s all in terms of my confessions!

Would any other teachers admit to any of those listed above?

What other ones would you add in?

I look forward to hearing your ideas!

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