“Am I talking too much? … Or not enough? Is it OK to let students into my private life?”

When I did my TEFL preparatory course at International House in London, I had two tutors who were obsessed by TTT (teacher talking time). They preached that teachers should talk the minimal amount possible.

I would say this is true when the teacher is being a teacher so to speak, i.e. when giving instructions and explanations. Always get straight to the point. Be as clear as possible. And don’t provide too much detail. If you waffle, you are both wasting time and probably also confusing your students.

Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself

However, you are not always being a teacher. Sometimes your role is to be an example of a native English speaker talking about something interesting or relevant to your life and to the students’ lives. I don’t think there is anything wrong with recounting anecdotes, expressing opinions about your home country or the country where you are living now, etc. By doing so you are providing your students with an authentic listening exercise.

At the same time you are giving them insights into who you are – the more comfortable they feel with you the more likely they are to speak up and express themselves.

Also, students like the occasional surprise – they don’t want to always follow the same predictable format.

Deviate occasionally from your usual lesson structure

A teacher’s style of lesson is clearly very dependent on their personality. If you are reserved in your private life, you may be prone to being reserved in lessons too. In my experience, in any type of teaching / training (not just languages but music, Pilates, football) participants are likely to become more involved if

  1. the teacher / trainer seems willing to deviate from the normal course of events
  2. they know something about the personal life of their teacher

In the second case, this doesn’t mean you have to reveal intensely personal details about your family or love life, though there is nothing wrong in doing so with appropriate students. You can tell the students about where you come from, what education system you went through, why you studied a particular subject, what you did at university, what your favorite movie is, who your best friend is etc.

Value variety

It is claimed that students today do not have the concentration levels of those of 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. They thus expect a variety of stimuli and a frequent change of topic. They enjoy hearing interesting facts and figures, and through social media are often interested in each other’s lives (including that of the teacher).

I think these expectations are totally legitimate, irrespective of concentration levels.

So think about whether occasionally you need to change your style a bit, be a little more flexible and less textbook-teacher oriented. As a result you are likely to enjoy your lessons more, and be willing not just to take on exam classes but conversation classes too. It will also give you the chance to reinvent yourself, something which I believe all teachers need to do at regular intervals, otherwise they risk getting prematurely burnt out.

Adrian Wallwork

Categories: Methodology