Six Secrets of Successful Team Teaching

This post fits in the Things they forgot to teach you at your TEFL training school category of TEFL.

When new teachers of English as a foreign language imagine their first job posting, they may picture themselves teaching in all kinds of scenarios: Large university classes, one-to-one coaching sessions, and small groups. But they might not imagine that they’d have a partner teacher.

Many jobs that require native English teachers abroad (particularly in China, often in Thailand and Japan) are actually recruiting you to be the second half of a teaching team made up of a local teacher partnered with a native speaker.

When a team teaching situation is good, it creates a supportive, interesting environment for your students where they have not only one but two language experts to guide them to better English.

But, when the situation is not handled well, it creates a too-many-cooks situation that impacts the students negatively.

Here are my six tips for turning your team teaching experience into an educational powerhouse that will benefit your students, and your own career:

1. Communicate with your teammate. This is a simple step, but the easiest step to foul up. Your partner teacher may be extremely busy due to a larger class-load than yours or additional responsibilities within the school. The partner may be insecure about his or her English abilities or be worried that the students will like you more because you’re new and exotic. The partner may assume you already know what to do, when in fact you’re hoping they will train you. There could be a whole stewing pot of school office politics that you don’t know about when you start your new job. Because of all of these factors, I recommend that you, as the newcomer, be available and persistent about talking to your team teacher. If you can nail down nothing else, you especially need to be clear about how to divide classroom duties, such as homework assignments and discipline issues.

2. Cooperate with your teammate. If they ask you to take on additional responsibilities in the classes that you share or to help them in other ways, be receptive to their requests. Your students will notice if there is a strained relationship between the two of you and it can worsen the classroom dynamic. If your co-teacher asks you to do something that you absolutely will not do, try to negotiate and take cultural differences into account when you deny their request.

3. Plan Ahead. If lesson planning is important when you’re the sole teacher, it’s even more vital when you’re part of a team. The students will notice if you have not planned out how the two teachers will share responsibilities. Find time to sit down with your teammate and plan. Look ahead to special cases—holidays, testing periods—when you know that one or the other of you will need to shoulder more responsibility so that surprise duties don’t get thrust upon you unexpectedly.

4. Respect your teammate. Don’t change a pre-agreed plan at the spur of the moment. Don’t contradict him or her in front of students. Don’t forget that, even though they may not be a native speaker of English, they’ve probably earned all kinds of degrees and qualifications in their home country—ones that you haven’t. Don’t forget that you may be making more money, as a native speaker, for doing essentially the same job that they do.  Remember also that they were there before  you and will likely be there long after you have left.

5. Have a “Buddy” Mentality. If your partner can’t do something, it’s up to you to pick up the slack and keep up a friendly relationship. Create a dynamic where they will help you out as well when needed. Try not to let ego or cultural differences get in the way—you’re a team, you’re buddies, and you’ve got each other’s back.

6. Put the Students First. At the end of the day, the school or institution you work for hired you to educate students, not to get involved in a complicated dance of responsibilities with your team teacher. If all else fails, remember that you are there to serve the students. Rethink your problems with an eye to helping the students. What can you do, personally, to help the students achieve their goals of speaking better English, and how can you do that as part of the team?

Ted’s Tips #1: Put the students first. Your job is to help the students learn English. Do that above all else.

Ted’s Tips #2: Smile. Be warm and open to discussion with your team teacher. Working with a native speaker may be a nerve-wracking experience for him or her, and you should do your best to put them at ease and build a positive relationship.




Volunteer to Teach EFL/ESL in your Home Country

Give Back to go Forward.

On the fence about whether or not you dare teach English abroad? Or, maybe, you’re saving up money to make sure you have a nest egg you can hatch later when you’re overseas.

If, for whatever reason, you feel the desire to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) but can’t go abroad to do it right now, I’d like to offer you a great alternative for the meantime that will help you earn your chops as a teacher, become more confident in the classroom and do some good in your community. I recommend that you try volunteer teaching.

No matter what English-speaking country you call home, I can guarantee you there are opportunities for you to help people who have a genuine need to improve their English skills. They would be grateful of your services, even if only for a few hours per month.

Find a Place to Volunteer Near You

Each city will be different, of course, but here are some ideas of where to look for opportunities to volunteer:

  • Your local library.
  • Your local church or place of worship.
  • A neighborhood school.
  • A Youth Council or other community center for disadvantaged young people.
  • The student exchange office of your local university.
  • Any local support service for incoming immigrants, refugees and other new arrivals to your community.

If you really don’t have the face time to give to a volunteer position, there are also communities online which can benefit from your services as a teacher. Consider going to some sites set up for homework help, or tutoring, and make a promise to yourself to answer a few of the queries on there every day or week.

Now, spending your spare time tutoring children or helping immigrants is a lofty goal in itself. However, you will also benefit from this activity, beyond the feeling of having done something to help others. By putting yourself in environments where you’re around people who don’t speak English as a native language, you’ll be able to get a better feel for what it might be like in your target country abroad. By helping students acquire survival English, you’ll learn some common learner errors and develop some tricks to help get your message across to them. By assisting someone puzzle over the intricacies of English grammar and punctuation in a volunteer setting, you’ll be preparing yourself for explaining the same information to classes of students overseas.

If you’re at a point when you know you want to go overseas, and haven’t done a TEFL course yet, then you might consider volunteer teaching while studying for your TEFL Certification online with (my own) TEFL Bootcamp.  In fact, even if you’re not interested in doing a full-blown in-classroom TEFL course  yet, but know that you’d like to try out teaching by volunteering, looking through the plentiful free resources at will help you serve your new students all the better.

TED’s Tips™ #1: English teaching can start at home. Don’t overlook the many opportunities in your community to tutor someone in English or to teach to small groups.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you’re doing an online TEFL certification program, volunteer teaching can be a great way to put what you have learned into practice.