8 Ways to Improve Your Professionalism as an ESL Teacher

8 Ways to Improve Your Professionalism as an ESL Teacher

Every year new teachers arrive on campus overflowing with enthusiasm for their new craft, unable to wait to practice it.

They have new ideas, love for their students, good relationships with their colleagues. So why do they often seem disillusioned by the end of the semester? Or why don’t they stay and serve well but fail to advance within their careers? It may be that, although good teachers, they lack a certain professionalism, an awareness of themselves as professionals, beyond being teachers, and this might be because they see teaching as more a calling rather than a career, which is admirable, but may be ultimately self-defeating if the goal is to remain in the profession and serve. Following are some ways for teachers to develop their professionalism in order to advance within their careers.

8 Methods Teachers Can Use to Improve Professionalism

  1. 1

    Improve Punctuality

    Being on time may seem basic, but often the basics get forgotten. One basic is punctuality. Teachers are often overworked and overcommitted, but to always be flying in late for class or meetings lacks certain professionalism. Everyone is late occasionally, of course, but if a teacher can commit to being on time to class and to meetings every day for a week, then for the next, and the next, this will go a long way in improving her professional image.

  2. 2

    Meet Deadlines. Turn in Paperwork.

    Along with being on time goes meeting deadlines. If you make an effort to turn your attendance and other reports in on or before the deadline, this will get noticed and increase rapport with the administrative staff. It creates a certain amount of pride to hear, “Oh, yes, Mr. Rodriguez is always on top of things!” Also, the staff will then in turn support you on the days you need help because you are running late and need copies made and so forth.

  3. 3

    Pay Attention to and Meet Objectives

    In the course of teaching a class, it can be very easy to get bogged down or derailed by something relatively peripheral that we and the class are enthusiastic about—a particular holiday, current event, or movie. It’s at these times that it’s important to go back to the course objectives and remind yourself of what students really need to learn: the Star Wars movie trilogy, for example, although an important part of 20th century American popular culture, is hard to justify spending ten hours of class time on when students have academic vocabulary and American English pronunciation to practice. Review the course objectives on a weekly basis to make sure you are staying close to the course standards and not getting sidetracked—which again, is easy to do in the excitement of teaching particular content, even for experienced teachers.

  4. 4

    Improve Efficiency

    Outcomes are not measured as much in education, traditionally, as other fields—there is no end “product” which can be measured quantitatively or qualitatively. This is especially true in ESL instruction, where it is generally recognized that language learning takes a long time, especially in adults, and there is little or no expectation to produce fluent English speakers at the end of a term. However, there are some ways teachers can themselves improve efficiency: some mornings when I find myself stalling over the roll, for example, I recognize this is as a tactic to avoid getting to the real business of the day, which may be particularly difficult curriculum, such as working on clausal structure that confuses almost everyone. On these days I’ll force myself to just pass around a roll sheet for students to sign and immediately begin teaching. Then I’ll glance at it after it’s circulated to make sure it’s accurate and not falsified. These sign-in sheets also serve as a written record in the event of an attendance audit, which my department has been through at least once.

  5. 5

    Show Respect for Colleagues and Students

    This can be difficult, certainly, with the teacher who somehow develops a need to barge into your class “looking for” something whenever you begin teaching or the student who unfailing interrupts your lecture just as you begin; however, it is just these individuals to whom the most respect must be shown. If the teacher is unfailingly polite to them, while stating what she needs-- “Please wait until I’m finished, and then we’ll hear from you”—she not only sets boundaries but also models courtesy.

  6. 6

    Refrain from Negativity and Office Gossip

    Teachers sitting around the staff room gossiping is something of a tradition. Most of it is innocent—discussion of a recent movie, for example—but sometimes it can turn negative in the form of complaint sessions about colleagues, the school, and students. Such negativity can pull down your own mood and looks unprofessional. Work to avoid such conversations or change the subject.

  7. 7

    Volunteer for Extra Assignments and Committee Work

    Another way to increase professionalism is to volunteer for extra assignments and committee work. If you serve on a committee designing a new course or set of new course material such as rubrics, you not only show how you are serious about your work, but you also get a chance to work with higher-ups in the department. This increases your chances of getting noticed and hired permanently or promoted.

  8. 8

    Engage in Continuing Education

    Finally, the professional teacher should always engage in continuing education, whether at her school site itself, or at a conference, or at a local university. There are always ways the teacher can improve her knowledge of course content, teaching methods, innovative technology, and classroom management, and teachers as educators should be engaged in lifelong learning.

A lot of the measures here, you will note, involve “policing” ourselves—it’s been my experience that with teachers for adults, in particular, administrators don’t take much note of how punctual, efficient, or professional the teaching staff is, unless there is a glaring concern.

Therefore, it is up to teachers to maintain our own professionalism and create our own standards in how we develop ourselves professionally and how we treat our colleagues and students--which is really the very heart of professionalism.


What are your suggestions for teachers improving professionalism?

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