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How to choose the best teacher for you!

There are thousands of English teachers in the world, probably hundreds of thousands! So how can you ensure that you choose the best teacher to support you on the way to your learning goals? In this post, I'm going to try and answer that question, but first here's a couple of examples to show you why it is so important that you take your time in finding the best teacher for you. Juan's* story Juan found me on Facebook and asked about IELTS tuition. We met up on Zoom for a chat and he told me that he had already taken the IELTS exam but had been very badly prepared. Juan had found a good and experienced Cambridge exam teacher…….. the problem was that this teacher had no IELTS experience! As a result, Juan went into the exam not understanding what to do and consequently scored very badly.

Juanita's* story Juanita was also looking for help with IELTS and, like Juan, had already had some lessons. Juanita's first teacher told her he was an IELTS expert but nevertheless, when the exam started, Juanita realised that she did not know what she was doing. Angry after not achieving her score despite paying for lessons, Juanita found another teacher. This teacher was better, but focussed a lot on feedback and language building rather than skills development and practising the challenging IELTS tasks. Again, Juanita did not get the score that she wanted.

So, how could Juan and Juanita have prevented wasting time and money in this way? How could they have found a better teacher the first time around?

Juan and Juanita could have done more 'due diligence' on their teachers. Due diligence is a term that comes from business and means "action that is considered reasonable for people to be expected to take in order to keep themselves safe." We don't usually use this term in connection to language learning, but it's a concept I believe more students should make use of! If you don't do your due diligence on a prospective teacher, how will you know what they are like? It's not enough to look at someone's photo and think that they look friendly, you need to back this feeling up with hard evidence! In other words, before you start working with a new teacher, you need to make sure that they can deliver what you want and need. Here are 6 things that you ought to do to check your prospective teacher will be a suitable match for you:

  1. check their qualifications Let's say you have seen a teacher you like, perhaps on Preply or Italki or maybe through their website. Have they put on their profile what teaching qualifications they have? If not, you need to find out! English teachers can have a bewildering range of qualifications which can be challenging to understand. Here is a brief explanation of some of the most common qualifications:

    1. CELTA / Trinity TESOL These two qualifications are of an equal standard and are approximately under-graduate degree level in difficulty. The CELTA is the most common but plenty of teachers, including me, have the Trinity TESOL. These are both 'entry-level' qualifications and are the minimum you should be looking for. A teacher with one of these qualifications will have a fundamental understanding of how to teach and will have completed a challenging course with a difficult exam at the end!

    2. DELTA / Trinity Dip. Again, these two are of an equal standard and are at a master's degree in difficulty. These are the qualifications that, in my opinion, you should be looking for in a teacher. A teacher who is qualified to this level will be highly skilled and trained and will have a good understanding of many aspects of language teaching and learning. Both of these qualifications place an emphasis on practical teaching rather than on theoretical understanding.

    3. Degree / Masters Degree / PhD in TESOL / TEFL A degree, master's degree or PhD in TESOL or TEFL is an excellent indicator that the teacher has a lot of knowledge and experience, depending on the level they have worked for! Bear in mind that their knowledge may be more based on theory than practical teaching application which may impact the way they teach! Some teachers have both a master's degree and a DELTA /Trinity Dip. This is an excellent indicator that this teacher knows their stuff!

    4. a TEFL qualification A TEFL 'qualification' can be done over a weekend. In my opinion, it does not indicate that the teacher can teach to a high standard and should be avoided unless the teacher has other qualifications as well. Make sure that you find out what qualifications your prospective teacher has before signing up for lessons with them! DELTA -level teachers will probably charge more, but they are definitely worth it!

  2. ask for references from previous students Don't be shy about asking a prospective teacher for a reference! A good teacher will have lots of happy students and will be delighted to pass on their details so that you can contact them and get their point of view. Simply contact the teacher, explain that you are thinking about working with them but would like to contact one or two of their students to get a testimonial. You can then email or call the students and find out what it's really like to learn with the teacher. If the teacher refuses to do this, walk away as this may indicate they do not have happy students and you probably don't want to work with them! If you're using an online platform such as Italki or Preply, you can check out the testimonials from previous students as well, though you should still try to contact the students in person. On these platforms you also can check the teacher's attendance rate to make sure they are reliable and will actually turn up for your class!

  3. meet the teacher for an informal chat or book a single lesson to try them out first Never, EVER, pay for a complete course without meeting the teacher first! Italki allows you to book a 'trial lesson' with teachers and most online teachers will offer you a 'consultation session'. Make sure you do this before committing to further lessons. In this trial lesson, ask lots of questions, it might help to make a list in advance. The trial lesson is your chance to check the teacher's experience and teaching style will be a good match for you and the best way to do this is by asking questions and seeing how the teacher responds.

  4. check that they have the specific teaching experience that matches your goals Even if the teacher you are meeting is totally lovely, if they have no experience at helping people reach the goal you want to reach, they are no good to you. If you are working for IELTS, you need a teacher with a proven track record at helping learners achieve their band score. If you are working for CPE, you need a teacher who is comfortable teaching at C2 (many aren't!). For help with business English, you need someone who has helped other working professionals. This is where your questions are important! Don't be mislead if a teacher says something like "oh, I've never taught IELTS but I expect it's the same as CAE! It'll be fine!". IELTS is tough - you need an expert!

  5. ask them about their teaching style and experience Just as important is learning about how they teach and what kind of background they have. Ask about how they give feedback to their students (all the time, at appropriate moments, never?) and about their expectations of homework. Ask how they give feedback on writing (especially important for exam students). Again, if you're working for an exam, how will they prepare you for the speaking part? How will they help you develop your skills? When it comes to their experience, it might be nice to learn where they have taught in the past. For example, have they worked in language schools, universities or only in 1-2-1 settings? All of this information will help you understand how your teacher might teach you!

  6. Trust your gut instinct So, you've got in touch with some of the teacher's students for their opinion. You've met the teacher and asked them lots of questions. Now, you need to make your decision. Hopefully, by now you will have a lot of information about the teacher and what they are like. You should know if they have helped other people to reach the goal that you want to reach. At this point, you need to trust your instinct. If you have any doubts, repeat the due diligence process with one or two other teachers to double check. This may be a little time-consuming, but in my opinion it is better to invest the time in finding the best teacher for you than to waste time and money on a bad teacher.

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