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How to be a successful ESL teacher

The answer of ‘How to be a successful ESL teacher?’ is one that all teachers have asked themselves. A lot of people have come up to me and told me that I'm a good teacher because I have a lot of energy. This is a misconception; being energetic is a bonus, the most important aspect of becoming a successful ESL teacher is 'passion'. Yes! Passion. Having a great passion for English teaching and a continued interest in every one of your learners’ language development is crucial to being a great teacher. As Portuguese international football player, Cristiano Ronaldo says "I have no secrets, just my dedication and my passion.”

You need to be passionate to be a successful ESL teacher

Before I became an ESL teacher, I would always tell my high school students to choose a profession in which, even if they didn't get paid, they would still enjoy doing. Once you're passionate and dedicated to what you're doing, the negative portion of the workplace won’t affect you in such a big way. It will be easier to focus on the positives.

When you're passionate about what you're doing – this rubs off - the students are inspired, interested and excited about what they are learning. A passionate ESL teacher is what makes students decide to study more. Because I’m passionate about what I do, I’ve seen my students improve and I’ve seen unprecedented success everywhere I go to.

Good and exceptional ESL teachers need to be passionate. It requires a little more work, a little more imagination and a little acting ability. Passionate teachers are fiercely devoted and committed to their work and greatly inspire their students. Passion leads to creativity; therefore, passionate teachers have the ability to think and produce new notions in an easy way. This teacher-inspired motivation for learning helps you on the way to being a successful ESL teacher.

Be prepared to be versatile


Walking into class for the first time in a foreign country can be overwhelming. I vividly remember the first time I walked into class, students and parents gazed at me and whispered. I felt so anxious and nervous - my palms were sweaty. For most of them it was the first time they had seen a person of colour in real life. This was not easy for me and it was daunting. Being adaptable and versatile about my job and having an awesome team around me helped me jump this hurdle. You can become more versatile by learning the Chinese culture (or wherever in the world you are teaching). I learnt a lot about the Chinese culture by having a lot of local friends.

Love for the job and ESL teaching is essential

I decided to become a teacher because I love teaching. At present, the most people take the job as English teachers, just to earn money, which means they are likely to approach the job with a lack of passion. If you lack passion in your job, this results in your ESL classes being below-standard and the energy of your students dropping. You need passion and to take ownership of your ESL classes. If your students are unmotivated in class, then they won’t learn as much English. This will lead to them becoming further unmotivated and a cycle begins to form where their love in English is lost. Having a love for the job, a continued passion for teaching will make you a successful ESL teacher. You can read more about how your love for teaching can have dramatic effects on learning outcomes here.

High Level of Commitment is necessary

The strength of any profession depends on the degree of commitment of its members and teaching is no exception (Fox, 1964). It is widely accepted that a distinguishing feature that teachers have is their dedication and commitment to the development of student achievement. Fried (2001) supporting this idea states that there is connection between passionate teaching and the quality of student learning. As stated by Einstein 'every person is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to fly high, it will give its entire life believing that it is an inane'.

I wish you all the best in the classroom and remember, with passion and dedication you will see unprecedented success in your ESL career and pushing you on to being a successful ESL teacher.

by Simba Kapembeza

Simba Kapembeza has been teaching since 2015 and holds a BA Degree in Business Administration and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education. He has been living and working in China since the spring of 2018, working as an ESL teacher with EF English First.