Teaching English as a foreign language is a challenging, yet rewarding career choice. As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, you must learn to constantly adapt to your students' needs. Many times, this means dealing with a variety of problems in the classroom, many of which are all too common occurrences. A good ESL teacher must be able to recognize these common problems, and work to find solutions. Even a small tweak in your teaching methods can help to create a more productive and casual environment for both you and your students. The following will outline 10 of the most common classroom problems faced when teaching English as a foreign language, and just how to solve them.
10 Common Classroom Problems
1. Students become overly dependent on the teacher.
Many times, students will automatically look to the teacher for correct answers instead of trying themselves. If the teacher obliges them with the answer each time, it can become a detrimental problem. Instead, focus on giving positive encouragement. This will help to make students more comfortable and more willing to answer (even if incorrectly).
2. Persistent use of first-language
When teaching English as a foreign language, this is possibly the most common problem. As an ESL teacher, it's important to encourage students to use English, and only English. However, if students begin conversing in their first language, move closer. Ask them direct questions like "do you have a question?" Another idea is to establish a set of class rules and develop a penalty system for when they use their first language. For example: if someone is caught using their first-language three times, have them recite a poem in front of the class (in English). Remember, for the 1-2 hours they are in English class, it must be English only.
3. Student is defiant, rowdy, or distracting of others.
This will happen, no matter what, in every classroom. If the entire class is acting up, it may be the fault of the teacher, i.e. boring material or poor classroom management. If it is one particular student, you should react swiftly to show dominance. In order to resolve the issue, an ESL teacher must be strict and institute discipline if needed. If it continues to happen, further disciplinary action through the school's director could be pursued.
4. Students "hijack lesson"—The lesson doesn't go where you want it to.
When teaching English as a foreign language, you can always count on students hijacking a lesson. To some extent, this can be a good thing. It shows that students interest, and as long as they are participating and conversing in English, it is a productive experience. However, if the lesson strays too far off topic, in a direction you don't want it to go, it's important to correct the problem by diverting the conversation.
5. Personalities clash.
Not everyone in an ESL classroom will become the best of friends. If drama arises between certain students, the easiest solution is to separate them from one another. If the tension persists, switching a student to another classroom may be your only option.
6. Students unclear what to do, or do the wrong thing.
This happens far too often when teaching English as a foreign language. The fact is, it's often the fault of the teacher. If your instructions to an assignment yield looks of confusion and soft whispers among students, don't worry: there is a solution. In order to avoid this problem, it's important to make sure your instruction are clear. Use gestures, mime, and short concise sentences. Speak clear and strong. Most importantly, use models and examples of the activity. You can use pictures, miming, gestures etc. to model the entire activity exactly how you want the students to do it.
7. Students are bored, inattentive, or unmotivated.
Many times, it is the teacher's fault that class is boring. Fortunately, with proper planning, this problem can be solved. Choose a juicy theme to the lesson; one that the students can relate to and one you know they will enjoy. This will automatically give them some motivation and interest. Get to know your pupils and identify their interests and needs, then design your course accordingly.
8. Strong student dominance
As an ESL teacher, you will encounter learners with different capabilities and language skills. While it is good to have some students who excel in the classroom, it is important that they don't take away from others. If certain students begin to constantly "steal the show," take care. Focus on calling on weaker students in the class to answer questions. Encourage, but gently deflect some answers from the strong students and give production time to other not-so-strong members of the class.
9. Students are unprepared.
The last thing you want as an ESL teacher is for learners to drop out simply because they felt lost and/or unprepared. Concentrate on a more shared learning experience. Make sure students are all on the same page before moving onto a new topic by concept checking multiple times, and encouraging individual participation.
Even I have a hard time arriving places on time. But the truth is, tardiness is not only rude, it can be distracting and disruptive to other students. If tardiness becomes a problem for members of your class, make sure they are disciplined. Set rules about tardiness and penalties for breaking them.