7 Mistakes That Make You Look Unprofessional


Claudia Pesce

by Claudia Pesce

There are teachers who are new to this ESL teaching gig and there are those who’ve been doing it for years.

But no matter if you’re a novice or an old-timer, nobody wants to look unprofessional. You might think only inexperienced teachers risk looking incompetent – after all they lack experience, but those who have been teaching for years may make the occasional blunder, too. So, when it comes to looking and acting like a pro, we’re all in the same boat. Here are the 7 mistakes you’ll want to avoid, if you wish to be taken seriously as an ESL teacher.

Although there is no such thing as a perfect teacher, commitment to improvement counts.

Avoid 7 Mistakes that Make You Look Unprofessional

  1. 1

    Not Being Prepared

    This one’s fairly obvious and a mistake most teachers try to avoid making. But there are different levels of preparedness. You have a solid lesson plan and the right materials – but are you prepared for the unexpected? What will you do if your Internet connection fails, your laptop starts acting up or the website you wanted to see is temporarily unavailable? And that’s just in terms of technology, where lots of things can go wrong. But suppose technology is not an issue. Have you really checked the materials you’ll be using? Is there anything you’re not sure about, perhaps a very technical term in the reading or a grammar point you’re not confident teaching? Being prepared involves expecting the unexpected (in terms of things that could go wrong) but also anticipating students’ needs and doubts.

  2. 2

    Being Disorganized

    Preparedness and organization go hand in hand, and there’s no better way to lose credibility than being in a constant state of disorganization. Do you know where all of your materials are? How do you keep track of assignments or grades? When you want to use a piece of realia, tool or toy, can you get it within a few seconds, or do you need to search through several boxes, closets and drawers? The problem with being disorganized is that it not only makes you look unprofessional, it also wastes precious minutes of your students’ time.

  3. 3

    Taking Things Personally

    A student drops out of the course, and you feel devastated. Or they’re not motivated, and they don’t participate in class. Every now and then a student may even confess they “hate learning English”. Do not automatically assume it’s your fault. Although there’s a lot you can do to help students overcome certain barriers to learning, there are things that are simply beyond your control. And their love/hate of the English language is one of them. A real pro offers to help, sets realistic goals for the student and tries to encourage and motivate them. But a real pro can’t get emotional over the fact that a student hates English or does not want to continue learning. If you feel confident you’ve given your best, then just let it go.

  4. 4

    Not Delivering What You Promised

    This one’s a biggie, folks. If you start the school year by promising results, you’d better deliver them (and if you promise realistic results that should not be a problem). If you say you’ll start each class by establishing a learning goal, then that’s what you should do. If you say to a group of young learners they’ll get stickers for completing an activity, then you’d better whip them out at the end of class. If you’re in doubt about what you’ll deliver, don’t make any promises. But being inconsistent, i.e. saying you’ll do one thing and then doing something else, or worse yet, completely forgetting, is very unprofessional.

  5. 5

    Confessing You’re a Newbie

    We’ve all been there. We’ve all had a first day on the job. We’ve all been newbie teachers. But even if you’re a newbie, there’s no need to give your class full disclosure. If they ask, don’t lie to them. But don’t start a class by saying, “I’m new. In fact, this is the very first lesson I’ll be teaching. Please bear with me if I make some mistakes.” In the words of the famous sports brand, just do it. Start teaching and do the best you can. Chances are your students won’t notice minor mistakes if you seem to be confident and act like you know what you’re doing.

  6. 6

    Underestimating Your Students

    Quite often we come across students who have more initiative than most. And on the other hand, teachers who underestimate them. Messages like, “This is too hard for you”, will not only squash their natural curiosity and motivation, it will make you look bad because you’re supposed to encourage them and support them in their efforts. It does not mean that you can’t give them realistic expectations. Students we most often underestimate are children. You’d be surprised at what they can understand and accomplish. So, resist the urge to make a game, exercise or test “easier” because “they’re just kids.” See if they’re up to a challenge instead! Learn the difference between a lazy student who claims something is “too hard” and a student who is motivated and enjoys the challenge of the concept. Have high expectations, but adjust them accordingly.

  7. 7

    Forgetting Important Facts about Your Students

    Needless to say, you should learn your students’ names as fast as you can. But not only that. Getting their professions, nationalities, or personal details mixed up is not cool. You give the impression that you’re simply not interested when you should be doing the opposite: you should take the time to get to know them and their interests.

Do’s and Don’ts to Up Your Game

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Admit when you make mistakes then correct them. Students can see that it’s OK to make a mistake, but mistakes need to be corrected.

Don’t try to cover everything

A curriculum might be extensive, which makes it impossible to cover everything. Rather concentrate on meeting standards.

Don’t avoid dealing with parents

An effective teacher communicates not only with parents (they can be of great help as they also want their child to do well) but with other staff members at the school.

Don’t wait until students are failing to intervene

Be proactive and take notice of each student’s performance. Rather intervene while the problem is small.

Do include simple procedures and expectations

For effective classroom management, this is a must.

Do demonstrate commitment by

Encourage your students to be committed by showing you are motivated. One way is to always be on time for class.

Do vary your teaching methods

Find creative ways to present material that is relevant to keep students interested and help them remember what they have learned.

  • Nobody’s perfect and everybody makes mistakes.

    But some are costlier than others. Impressions count, and a great deal of your success as an ESL teacher depends on how professional you seem to be. You can have one year or ten years of experience – you should always act like a pro.

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