15 ways to stay motivated to teach

Teaching English can be a very rewarding and enjoyable job, students continuously surprise you with their progress and every class seems to challenge you more and more.  But sometimes it can seem like your students don’t like you, your school demands more and more and each class feels like a marathon.

Alex Case, the author of TEFLtastic  gives you 15 ways to stay motivated to teach.

1. Set yourself goals
One of the things that can make teachers lose motivation is the whole thing becoming a grind of lesson after lesson with no clear final aim.

2. Bring in something you enjoy
Perhaps because it reminds them of more self-indulgent teachers, serious teachers often need to be told to do something in class that they enjoy like designing a worksheet to be used with their an extract from their favourite book or video. A well designed task and the enthusiasm of the teacher for the material usually make up for any lack of previous knowledge by the students.


3. Teach your students something important
Another great demotivator is the succession of minor language points and readings on amusing but trivial topics that don’t seem to add up to much compared with the subject matter of a biology, ethics or law teacher or lecturer. It can take some effort to tie it in with language presentations and skills development, but the fact that our subject is language means that it is actually easier for us to pick and choose the big, interesting topics than it is for teachers working their way through the philosophy syllabus.

4. Learn something about/ from your students
Another thing that can turn into a blurred sequence is the procession of new students coming in and out of your classroom. One way to stop this feeling is to find out as much about them as individuals as you can, but the thing that is more likely to stick with you over the years is if you manage to learn something new about the world from them, e.g. by asking them to do projects and/ or presentations on their hometowns or hobbies.


5. Read
As the aim is to read for inspiration rather than directly for a promotion or qualification, if you don’t have the time, energy or patience for an Applied Linguistics book, try dipping into a book with more practical ideas; a TEFL magazine, website or blog; a popular science linguistics book; a popular paperback on language like “Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson; or even a self-help book.


6. Write
Even writing a diary on how your teaching is going can make it more interesting and show you ways out of whatever hole you in, and if you can get yourself published that can give you a real buzz and a way of stretching yourself that has a clear progression from game ideas on the web to getting your name on the front page of the most popular TEFL magazines and publishing a book that can keep you going for years, if not forever…

7. Go to workshops
As useful, convenient and (sometimes) cheap as reading and writing are, if you want a sense of perspective and a little push, there is no substitute for hearing other people talk about having the same problems as you. If your temporary drop in motivation means you are likely to lack the energy for a full blown course, a workshop or two might just give you the pep you need.

8. Give workshops
As teachers, most of us learn more from teaching than studying and live off the attention of standing up there at the front and getting approval, so giving workshops can be an even better way of coming up with new ideas than going to someone else’s. An easy start is to give a 30 to 50 minute workshop on practical teaching ideas in your own school.

9. Take a break
Like sports training or anything else, sometimes a bit of a break is what you need to get the best out of yourself. If you can’t afford to take extra time off or think a break on your CV will set your career back, a little time in a management job, teacher training job, ELT publishing job or in a summer school can be almost as refreshing as a complete break from TEFL.


10. Use teaching to learn about the world
TEFL can get to seem like a small, incestuous world where the things you learn after the first couple of years take you further away from people who haven’t got a head full of specialist jargon. You can reverse this effect by using your reading and your classes to widen your horizons, e.g. by reading business and management books if you have Business English courses, expanding Applied Linguistics reading to include more general books on psychology, childhood development or neurology etc.

11. Take a qualification
Not only would I recommend taking a qualification like a Diploma or MA when you are feeling unmotivated, I would suggest leaving those qualifications until you are feeling stuck in a rut and so can really appreciate being told to do things differently. The only difficulty is getting your energy levels up, which the other tips here can help with.

12. Show yourself how far you have come
If you feel like you are treading water, it could be because you can’t see the river banks and so can’t notice how far you have come. You can show yourself this by re-reading a book you read during your teacher training or early in your career, watching a video of or observing beginner teachers, re-reading some of your old coursework or trying a lesson plan or worksheet you haven’t for ages and see how much better it goes now.


13. Peer observations
Although a good DoS or teacher trainer can sometimes give you the little pointer you need to shake your classes out of boredom for you and/ or your students, the whole build up to it, the paperwork and the fact that you might be judged on a lesson on a bad day, week, month or term for you can make you less than receptive to the whole process and the feedback. One way of getting the positives without sapping too much of your remaining energy is to swap observations with another teacher. Watching someone else’s lesson can be particularly motivating- it’s an effort-free way of picking up new ideas, and anything you see which is not so good is a great ego-booster for you.

14. Do the opposite
Humans being what they are, it can sometimes be when everything is going exactly to plan, e.g. you have finally got that all Business English schedule you’ve been asking for, is when you start to get bored. If so, what you need is a bit of cross pollination, in the form of seeing what complete beginners can teach you about teaching Advanced, what monolingual classes can teach you about pairwork in multilingual classes etc.

15. Do something you hate
If touchy-feely Humanistic language teaching (for example) is something that makes your skin creep just to think about it, make yourself try it. You’ve got nothing to lose- if it is as pants as you expect, you can feel better about what you usually do in class, and if it is okay you have another whole area of teaching to explore.

This article first appeared https://www.tefl.net/elt/ideas/teaching/stay-motivated-to-teach/ in March 2008.


The slippery grammar of spoken vs written English


My grammar checker and I are on a break. Due to irreconcilable differences, we are no longer on speaking terms.

It all started when it became dead set on putting commas before every single “which”. Despite all the angry underlining, “this is a habit which seems prevalent” does not need a comma before “which”. Take it from me, I am a linguist.

This is just one of many challenging cases where grammar is slippery and hard to pin down. To make matters worse, it appears that the grammar we use while speaking is slightly different to the grammar we use while writing. Speech and writing seem similar enough – so much so that for centuries, people (linguists included) were blind to the differences.

There’s issues to consider

Let me give you an example. Take sentences like “there is X” and “there are X”. You may have been taught that “there is” occurs with singular entities because “is” is the present singular form of “to be” – as in “there is milk in the fridge” or “there is a storm coming”.

Conversely, “there are” is used with plural entities: “there are twelve months in a year” or “there are lots of idiots on the road”.

What about “there’s X”? Well, “there’s” is the abbreviated version of “there is”. That makes it the verb form of choice when followed by singular entities.

Nice theory. It works for standard, written language, formal academic writing, and legal documents. But in speech, things are very different.

It turns out that spoken English favours “there is” and “there’s” over “there are”, regardless of what follows the verb: “there is five bucks on the counter” or “there’s five cars all fighting for that Number 10 spot”.

A question of planning

This is not because English is going to hell in a hand basket, nor because young people can’t speak “proper” English anymore.

Linguists Jen Hay and Daniel Schreier scrutinised examples of old recordings of New Zealand English to see what happens in cases where you might expect “there” followed by plural, (or “there are” or “there were” for past events) but where you find “there” followed by singular (“there is”, “there’s”, “there was”).

They found that the contracted form “there’s” is a go-to form which seems prevalent with both singular and plural entities. But there’s more. The greater the distance between “be” and the entity following it, the more likely speakers are to ignore the plural rule.

“There is great vast fields of corn” is likely to be produced because the plural entity “fields” comes so far down the expression, that speakers do not plan for it in advance with a plural form “are”.

Even more surprisingly, the use of the singular may not always necessarily have much to do with what follows “there is/are”. It can simply be about the timing of the event described. With past events, the singular form is even more acceptable. “There was dogs in the yard” seems to raise fewer eyebrows than “there is dogs in the yard”.

Nothing new here

The disregard for the plural form is not a new thing (darn, we can’t even blame it on texting). According to an article published last year by Norwegian linguist Dania Bonneess, the change towards the singular form “there is” has been with us in New Zealand English ever since the 19th century. Its history can be traced at least as far back as the second generation of the Ulster family of Irish emigrants.

Editors, language commissions and prescriptivists aside, everyday New Zealand speech has a life of its own, governed not so much by style guides and grammar rules, but by living and breathing individuals.

It should be no surprise that spoken language is different to written language. The most spoken-like form of speech (conversation) is very unlike the most written-like version of language (academic or other formal or technical writing) for good reason.


Speech and writing

In conversation, there is no time for planning. Expressions come out more or less off the cuff (depending on the individual), with no ability to edit, and with immediate need for processing. We hear a chunk of language and at the same time as parsing it, we are already putting together a response to it – in real time.

This speed has consequences for the kind of language we use and hear. When speaking, we rely on recycled expressions, formulae we use over and over again, and less complex structures.

For example, we are happy enough writing and reading a sentence like:

That the human brain can use language is amazing.

But in speech, we prefer:

It is amazing that the human brain can use language.

Both are grammatical, yet one is simpler and quicker for the brain to decode.

And sometimes, in speech we use grammatical crutches to help the brain get the message quicker. A phrase like “the boxes I put the files into” is readily encountered in writing, but in speech we often say and hear “the boxes I put the files into them”.

We call these seemingly unnecessary pronouns (“them” in the previous example) “shadow pronouns”. Even linguistics professors use these latter expressions no matter how much they might deny it.

Speech: a faster ride

There is another interesting difference between speech and writing: speech is not held up on the same rigid prescriptive pedestal as writing, nor is it as heavily regulated in the same way that writing is scrutinised by editors, critics, examiners and teachers.

This allows room in speech for more creativity and more language play, and with it, faster change. Speech is known to evolve faster than writing, even though writing will eventually catch up (at least for some changes).

I would guess that by now, most editors are happy enough to let the old “whom” form rest and “who” take over (“who did you give that book to?”).

This article was written by  and first appeared at https://theconversation.com/the-slippery-grammar-of-spoken-vs-written-english-92912 on March 14, 2018



Being intelligible means that you are understood by the person you are talking to. World Englishes scholars Larry Smith and Cecil Nelson (1985) have suggested that intelligibility is made up of the following three components:

  • intelligibility, the ability of the listener to recognise individual words or utterances
  • comprehensibility, the listener’s ability to understand the meaning of the word or utterance in its given context
  • interpretability, the ability of the listener to understand the speaker’s intentions behind the word or utterance.


Most English language teachers probably assume that intelligibility is the responsibility of their learners. In contrast, the Smith and Nelson (1985) model focuses on the relative nature of intelligibility, suggesting that it is interactional between speaker and hearer, and that being intelligible means being understood by a particular listener at a particular time in a particular situation. What this means is that English users’ familiarity with any speaker’s way of talking is as important as how they are talking. In other words, the intelligibility of the English of Cormack and Bernadette you read and listened to earlier depends on how used you are to hearing their voices. Listen to them for any length of time, and they will become more intelligible (to you). The interactive nature of intelligibility is, regrettably, something so-called ‘international’ English tests ignore. How can speaking tests be valid and reliable when the examiner is (or is not) used to the test-taker’s variety of English?


Most English language teachers probably assume that ‘interference’ from their students’ first language is a major source of any communication problems. But, as Jenkins’ (2002) research on pronunciation suggests, effective international communicators use many features that differ from those of native speakers without causing communication problems. In addition to pronunciation features, there are also many grammatical and lexical features which have been shown not to hinder communication. For example:

  • non-use of the third person present tense –s: she look very sad
  • omission and addition of definite and indefinite articles
  • use of an all-purpose question tag: isn’t it? no?
  • increase in redundancy: we have to study about, black colour, how long time?
  • pluralization of nouns: informations, staffs, advices

(Seidlhofer 2004, p. 220)

(You can confirm the findings of this research yourself by looking again at the Ban Ki Moon interview used in the first unit, Thinking about English.)

Research into intelligibility by World Englishes and ELF scholars has demonstrated that, contrary to the assumptions of many English language teachers, there is no causal relationship between being a native speaker of English and being intelligible in an international context. Instead, they have suggested, it is vitally important for all speakers of English to practise listening to a wide range of varieties of English and to adjust their speech in order to be intelligible to listeners from a wide range of language backgrounds. In the words of Suresh Canagarajah (2007, pp. 923 – 924), successful English language users ‘are able to monitor each other’s language proficiency to determine mutually the appropriate grammar, lexical range and pragmatic conventions that would ensure intelligibility’.


ELF in your part of the world

How do (or might, in the future) your students use English to communicate with speakers of other languages? How important will their ability to use the forms of ‘Standard English’ be in these contexts?


Your answer will depend on your students’ age, location, access to the internet, hobbies, job, where they take their holidays, what other language(s) they speak, etc.

For example, if they have unblocked access to the internet, they may use some English on social networking sites and special interest discussion boards (like the bloggers we saw in the first unit of this course). They may use English at work for international commercial negotiations and transactions. Perhaps they sometimes holiday in a resort popular with international tourists. Or maybe they communicate in English with people from part of their own county where a different language from their own is spoken.

Only in some of these contexts will adherence to the norms of ‘Standard English’ facilitate communication, or be expected for reasons of social convention. And even where ‘Standard English’ might give users some interactional advantage or be expected from them (e.g. in formal writing), most users (NS as well as NNS) will be unable to perform with 100% accuracy.

This article first appeared at https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/changing-englishes/unit-2-using-english/intelligibility/