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3 basic yet effective ways to motivate your students in the long term.

During my time as a TEFL teacher in China, I have taught in nearly every kind of school, before finding my calling in a primary school. I like the kind of 'experience' it's given me, and believe that jotting around different schools and training centres has greatly benefited my ability as a teacher and overall conversation maker. 

However, it hasn’t been easy to constantly move into new classes and grab the attention of everyone in there. At times I’ve seriously considered leaving the class and taking the criticism and pay cut, but I didn’t. Now I’ve been through the thick of it and come out the other side, I’ve picked up a trick or two that I can now bring into my permanent classes.

The fine line between encouraging and patronising.

We all know that students need encouraging and at times they just don’t get enough of it. I’ve always found that when I’m trying to learn something, it helps me a lot when someone will praise me for something not particularly great. Yet when I feel like I have actually done something pretty good and no one notices, it makes me feel…well, under appreciated I guess. Or maybe i’m just too soft and need to grow up a bit. Either way, young learners most definitely need encouragement. 

So when does encouragement become patronisation? This indeed is a tricky question, students need guidance, not just encouragement. Someone once told me that the key to proper encouragement is like a sandwich. First, congratulate/reward, second criticise and give suggestions, finally reward and encourage one last time. This way, the students knows they’ve done well and also know how they can improve themselves. Children aren’t stupid, they know when they have/haven’t done well. If you constantly reward them for a poor performance without advice on how to improve, pretty soon they’ll lose respect for you, and will doubt your ability as a teacher.

So try to remember the encouragement sandwich next time your in class. 

2. Be understanding and forgiving on occasion, but be stern and tough most of the time.

Don’t get the wrong idea from the title. By all means be a friendly and caring teacher, I like to think of myself in this way. What I mean is homework. Sometimes it really gets to me that students look at other classes’ homework as homework, and english homework as ‘work to do if I get time.’ For me this is a big no no. If a student has a legitimate reason for not doing there homework I will take it into consideration and decide what the best course of action is. BUT, we all know which students are likely to use the same excuse more than once, and this doesn’t go without punishment. Homework is homework no matter the subject. 

Once the students see that English is the same as all the other classes they’ll soon add their English homework into their schedule. If you let it go unpunished, you’ll find yourself marking stuff that you can barely read and it gets irritating. Sometimes tough love builds the best working relationships.

It’s your job as a teacher to dish out the appropriate punishment when it comes to it, don’t always leave it to your native counter-part. 

3. Never leave a soldier behind.

When you starting teaching in a class, pop by their maths class or native language class and see if they have a seating plan. most of the time the plan goes out the window when English class begins. If this is the case make sure that when you begin class the tables/groups are evenly split up. Even number of boys and girls, good students with bad students etc. As the year goes on and you have a couple of tests, you’ll soon see that some students are falling behind. This is the time to take a look at your seating arrangements and decide who needs to be with who. I recently discovered a girl that had fallen behind, really far behind. She actually got 14/100 on her first test. I was shocked. Sure she was quiet, but I assumed shy, not lacking ability. Anyway, long story short I moved her close to a lovely girl named Lily, I didn’t give Lily any guidance or pressure as to whether or not she should help Leah, just hoped that from the goodness of her heart she would. And she did! I wish that I had lengthy enough classes to do it myself, but truth be told, when you have 40+ students in your class, you don’t have time for ‘special treatment.’ 

Anyway, I checked up on them from time to time, and made a conscious effort in class to get Leah to participate more, and it worked. Her next score was 35, then 54, then 67. My co-teacher informed me, after the mid-term tests were over, that he never thought that she’d score over 60. Just goes to show that if you pay a bit more attention to who needs help, they’re probably looking for someone to provide help. Here’s a pic of them two together. Lily is on the right, Leah on the left. 

So, there you have it, 3 long term ways to help with class management and to generally improve your classes. Just to be clear, these are not quick fixes and it may take some time to see the results. Please share what has worked for you, so that other teachers that lack experience can improve their classes! We’re all in this together!

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. Remember to share with your friends and fellow teachers. Do you have anything to share? If so, get in touch!

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