What are the main constraints in the classroom facing TEFL teachers?

What are the main constraints in the classroom facing TEFL teachers (large multilevel classes, textbooks, curriculum, hours, motivation, special needs)?

Reflective Diary submitted by Mary, Madrid.

From my experience I have found there to be many challenges of a career in TEFL, and while it is incredibly rewarding and personally fulfilling work, there is no doubt that it comes with dilemmas. Such demands of the job differ depending on variable factors but there are several that are hard to avoid in any position.

The most frequent issue that I have noticed in TEFL teaching is a lack of motivation among students. Even while teaching one-to-one in a language academy, where students hand over hard-earned money to speak with a native speaker, there are still those who would rather be anywhere else than in the classroom. These are usually professionals who are required to learn English to improve their job prospects, but see no joy in doing so. Those who lack motivation from the outset will not prosper, as “motivation is the crucial force which determines whether a learner embarks in a task at all, how much energy he devotes to it, and how long he perseveres” (Littlewood, 1984, p. 53). Encouraging an unmotivated student to explore the English language when they have no desire to do so is one of the most exhausting aspects of the job and one of the most difficult to overcome.

Although I have usually been teaching advanced general English or exam classes in Madrid, I have occasionally taken lower levels and, since I speak only basic Spanish, there have been communication difficulties because of the language barrier. Teaching an A1 or even A2 student who has limited abilities to express themselves forced me to improvise with classes and explore English in a broader sense. Even some more advanced students struggled to understand my thick Irish accent and this awakened in me a greater ability to be self-aware of my pronunciation and use of the English language.

Although something unique to Spain, and therefore not representative of the TFEL industry as a whole, I struggled a great deal when I first arrived to adjust to the Spanish timetable. Working two shifts in the day, either side of a lunch break of more than three hours, and then not finishing until 9:20 pm was undoubtable the biggest challenge to face. The first month involved many late nights and, as a result, wearied mornings and it was not until I adjusted to sleeping during the siesta that I truly had the energy to enjoy myself.

Although this TEFL experience has of course brought with it some challenges, I think that they have all proved to be part of a learning curve, and have spurred me on to do even better than I would have had they not been present. I believe that the TEFL industry is no different to any other, in that it is made up of a balance of delights and challenges, and it is this diversity that I enjoy so much about this career.

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