What I know now but didn’t then

fab-tree-hab-growthTeaching a language isn’t as easy as it sounds – to do it well. Just showing up to a class and speaking (we call this modeling language) is only half the job. And that other half is an art form that one acquires over the years.

My own growth as a teacher has been on many levels: my beliefs as a teacher, my own classroom management skills, my knowledge of resources, my ability to design materials, my knowledge of the subject, my understanding of the process of learning particularly, language learning and much more….

I remember being a “pup” just out of teacher’s college. I was thrown into classes with multiple levels, multiple age groups and just a piece of chalk. I had to learn as I went along. It was a sharp learning curve. I wish I had known then, what I know now. Fortunately, I had a reflectiveness, some creativity and a love of teaching that allowed me to swim and survive.

What do I know now that I didn’t know then? How have I grown as a language teacher? Here’s 10 nuggets of the things that I’ve learned along the way.

1. Teach students not the subject. Find the key to motivate/help each student when possible. Personalize all content and get the students to have a personal connection to the language point/material. Further, if a lesson isn’t going well, chuck it. The most important thing is student happiness and not the knowledge they acquire. Promote happiness, you’ll make a lifelong learner not a temporary one.

2. Give students responsibility. My mother puts it, “there is a big difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul”. Figure out that difference. Get students learning autonomously, discovering their own mistakes and taking responsibility for their own learning and the classroom.

3. Disappearing. The best teacher is an unnoticed teacher. Truly. Teachers organize the learning environment and then step away. Teaching isn’t a spectacle with the teacher in the spotlight.

4. Reception before production. When I first started teaching, I thought the aim (for all) was to get students yakking. I didn’t realize the power of comprehensible input and extensive reading/listening – for preparing students to communicate and be ready for fluency.

5. It’s not “My Way” but “Our Way”. Listen to your students. They should have a say and voice in the curriculum. Same with colleagues and staff. Listen to them, learn from them. The classroom door may shut but you are not alone.

6. Slow down. Pause often and allow students to process the language you uttered. Be deliberate. I used to teach at a hundred miles an hour and never finish anything. Now I teach at 10 mph, we finish everything and we learn much more.

7. We teach for those who need help. I always used to teach to the top 5% and damn the rest. They’d have to be satisfied with the morsels that fell off our table. Usually those top 5% were in the front row. Now, I use the whole classroom and am there for the bottom students – the other ones will learn in any case. Not the ones that really need help.

8. Learning words is not learning language. Words are only one piece of the puzzle. There are many more pieces. I used to think I was a good teacher if my students remembered words. Now I think I’m successful if my students can use those words in real situations, to communicate real needs. Word play, word searches are sometimes useful but more often then not, just for a breather in the classroom.

9. Find your place. There aren’t really any bad teachers out there. Just teachers that haven’t yet found “their place”. I think anyone can teach. But what’s crucial is that the teacher put themselves in an environment that makes “good teaching” happen – one that suits their own personality and teaching style and belief set. I realize many teachers don’t have the choice but we should try if we can – to really figure out what is the best teaching “place” for our own talents. I just went through this – leaving probably the best teaching job in the country. Money, top school, brilliant students, low hours, status. However, I knew it wasn’t for me, for the benefit of my own teaching talents. Be true to thy own teaching self.

10. There is a difference between “busy work” and “busy working’. Years ago, I just wanted the students to be busy. I thought that was an indication they were learning. I didn’t understand something fundamental about learning – it must be a process of emotional engagement. Students can do things in class and not learn a drop – mostly because they don’t have an emotional commitment to that activity. Create and foster this through the provision of motivating content and context, giving students material / assignments where they can succeed and making the classroom a place they want to be.

If you liked this post – you might like, “Then and Now”

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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15 Responses

  1. Dasha says:

    Thank you for the post

    I should hang the nuggets on the wall and reread them …or probably on the wall in the Teacher’s room ๐Ÿ™‚

    All the best

  2. David says:


    UR welcome and great idea! Maybe I should whip up a poster! It would give me a chance to highlight a great poster maker I know!

  3. Cara says:

    #5 is great! No matter what I purchase at the teacher supply stores, I need to be thinking about “my class” as “our class.” The classroom community is a collaborative environment.

  4. Mike Marzio says:

    This is so well said, David, that I immeditealy linked to it on my blog and Facebook fan page.

    Your reminders of good practice for even the most experienced teachers are truly invaluable.

  5. ddeubel says:

    Thanks Mike. Invaluable for myself also! Even with experience, you need reminding so you can look at what you actually do and keep yourself on track. The car is always out of alignment and in need of “checking”.

    A list like this just makes it clear that being a good/competent teacher is about doing so many little things right – in the before, during and after.

  6. Oh what a great list! So fundamental and succinct! Good advice for starting-out-teachers but interestingly, also reassuring remminders for old hands.

  7. Ann says:

    Like what you said a lot so I’ve just posted a link to it on the TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil if you’d like to check there for comments.

    Please feel free to post there directly whenever you want to share.



  8. ozsolmaz says:

    That’s a great post and reminds me that i still have much time to grow up as a teacher. I’m glad to see I have already been doing some of them in my 3rd teaching year. But it is amazing to learn new things every single day. Thanks for the post. and thanks to BC facebook group where I found the link ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. ddeubel says:


    Always great when you drop by and really appreciate the remarks. Yes, old dogs need reminders too!

    Ann – thanks so much. Good that others share what they think is quality. See my previous post about BC – http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2011/02/15/the-1-efl-prof-development-site/

    Ozsolmaz – the 3rd year is usually around the time you can come up for air, breathe and start to reflect and work on some of these things. Great that it was helpful – you’ll probably enjoy the ebook of my more focused writings, get the pdf at the link in the sidebar. Cheers,


  10. kylie says:

    Thanks so much! This was a really encouraging article. I’m only in my first year, and sometimes forget to give myself time to grow and learn. Thanks for sharing these tidbits and reminding me to go slow and actually become a better teacher.
    One thing I’ve learned over this last year is that “If they aren’t learning, I’m not teaching.” This makes me really stop and evaluate if my students are getting anything. If they already know the material, then even my best activities are not teaching them.

  11. ddeubel says:


    That’s so crucial and could be added – it’s about the learning and not the teaching. That makes for a big shift in a teacher, a big one.

    If there is any one strain running through my blog – it is that one. Concentrating on the learning and not the teaching. Thanks for bringing that up.

    Ozsolmaz – what a coincidence! Just chose the winners for the EnglishCentral tweet to win contest and you were one of them!, just after I commented to you. Small world!

  12. Marisa Pavan says:

    Hello David,

    What a reflective post! I’ve felt so identified with you if I compare my first steps into teaching and my present teaching practice. I’ve also become aware of my students’ motivation and I’m able to make the necessary changes on the spot according to my students’ mood and reaction. I’ve also slowed down my teaching rythm and give students time to digest what they’re learning.
    It’s been a fruitful analysis.
    Hugs from Argentina!

  13. ddeubel says:


    Hugs returned! Thanks for the compliments and glad you see a lot reflected in your own development. I agree with the point of an experienced teacher being able to handle a lot of the “noise” of the classroom and focus in on student needs and change things quickly to keep them on task, learning.


  14. Christine R says:

    Fantastic nuggets! I’m a beginner in this relm of teaching EFL and happy to have been pointed in your direction. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience. I will be following your site!!

  15. ddeubel says:


    Very welcome and yeah, when you have a coffee browse around. A lot more “practical nuggets” within the blog… Appreciate the comment!

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