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Top English Teachers

There's infinitely more to being a Top English Teacher than teaching grammar rules and reciting famous quotes from antiquated authors. Being at the top of your game as an English Teacher means being a passionate, lifelong learner. It means leading your students and being prepared to make an emotional and intellectual impact on their minds. It means staying engaged with the professional teacher community and innovating to ensure your students learn as much as possible.


With that in mind, here is a list of qualities that are most representative of a top English teacher.


6 Things Top English Teachers Do

1. Top English Teachers are Passionate


Whether you're reaching out to a struggling student, researching while lesson planning, making sure that all students are engaged in class, creating an enjoyable learning environment, etc., passion is necessary. I've witnessed too many teachers who phone it in and simply have no business teaching. They're apathetic and lack commitment; this is evident in their lessons which lack pizzazz and thematic ideas that build interest and continuity. Don't forget that students sense your passion, or lack thereof. 


2. Top English Teachers are Lifelong Learners


Being a lifelong learner can certainly apply to formal education such as going for a TESOL/CELTA/M.Ed., M.A., etc. And while that can conventional path can provide good training and resources, I mean constantly thirsting for more knowledge about everything. Every day I strive to learn loads of new information by listening to my students and reacting to their needs, by researching topics that pique my students' interests or my own, by reading about current events and world news, and by engaging with professionals in the teaching field.

Additionally, I should note that of course this less 'formal' education 
is often free! For instance, on LinkedIn, I have learned some really interesting theories about ESL that have helped me to build on existing knowledge. I've also become aware of different educational materials that I can incorporate into my lessons.

This helps to drive your passion, to understand the challenges your students face, and it ensures that your
 remain up-to-date. 


3. Integrate Fun


Top English Teachers also understand that where there's no fun and no interest, there's no learning. The happier and more engaged your students are, the more potential they have to learn.


While teaching ESL, I've used countless games from Simon Says to Free Rice to strategy group games. These and other activities teach students that learning English isn't sitting down writing in a notebook and pretending to listen to their teacher.


But it needn't just be games that stimulate your students' interest. It can be anything that helps your learners to understand that instead of being a passive experience for them, they too should actively engage in the English language to find another exciting medium through which they can experience life.


4. Grammar


I know some of you will be shocked, but Top English Teachers (ESL in particular) stay away from focusing too much energy here. Lots of new research, some of which you can read about in The Atlantic's "The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar", shows that students learn grammar best not by learning in grammar classes, but by reading and writing consistently. It's also been my experience that ESL students learn grammar skills better by practicing conversational English with a teacher who knows what they're talking about. They start to hear what sounds right and begin to work out the construction without thinking of grammar as 1000's of rules with countless exceptions. I'm not saying teaching grammar is a complete waste of time, but the efficiency is poor.

In my own case, I learned grammar when I was growing up from my grammar guru father Theodore Shaman, and it has served me very well (check out my
editing services here!). But in the ESL or English classroom grammar can be rather dry and boring. The way it's taught by many teachers turns off a lot of students.


My students at YBM GATE in Korea had super grammar skills while only taking  2 grammar classes a week. They achieved success because they read constantly, and I do mean constantly, spoke only in English all day, and they wrote interesting, creative stories in class. On top of that, I inserted little 2-10 minute mini grammar lessons into other activities/lessons/games daily. 



5. Use English Near Exclusively (applies to ESL)


Allowing constant translations enables a crutch that isn't necessary (top teachers need to explain better, use synonyms, use images, use body language, make sounds, point to objects in the room, etc.). And of course enabling someone to translate your lessons into the students' native language eliminates the need for the students to listen to your English and to use English.


Top English teachers know that their students need to communicate in English as much/often as possible. If you've experienced full immersion as a student or teacher, than you certainly know what I'm talking about. Development is hastened dramatically.


The way most of us have been taught languages is just flat out ineffective for any level of spoken communication.  



6. Be Positive


As with teaching anything, when you teach English you need to inspire your students to feel positive about the work they are doing. Give them encouragement in class and cheer them on. Your English students should feel a serious sense of accomplishment. (This also means you need to give encouraging updates on progress! You can do so with a report - but I prefer to take 3-15 minutes to tell the student personally.)


And lastly, when your English students make mistakes, point out the mistakes without embarrassing them. You want your students to learn to love English to make their experience easier, more pleasant and more efficient.



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  • Josh (Monday, June 30 14 08:37 am EDT)

    Helen, thanks for the comment and questions. Please check your email for a response.

    Verna, that sounds interesting enough. As I don't know quite know what you're really working on, age level, specific content, etc., it's a bit hard to direct you.

  • Verna (Saturday, June 28 14 01:44 am EDT)

    Saw some of your comments on LinkedIn which lead me here. I have lived in Seoul and taught conversational English with an emphasis on pronunciation. I currently tutor at the local Jr. College and am
    getting my TESOL Certification. I have been researching and looking at designing an online class for a project that my cousin is working on that uses games and 3D in the 2nd life virtual world.
    Currently I am just writing the lesson plans, could you give some ideas for this type of classwork that an EFL student could use?

  • Helen Richards (Thursday, June 26 14 10:17 am EDT)

    Hi Josh, thanks for the great article and for sharing it! I am wanting to teach English online, having completed my Tefl course. Can you please advise me on approximately how long it would take for
    me to be up and running and financially viable? Difficult question, I know, but assuming I apply all the rules of a successful online teacher?

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