If you’re new to teaching adults, it might seem scary. I’ve been teaching adults for the last 15 years, and over the years I have figured out what works and what doesn’t. Here are 5 rules that I always follow when teaching that age group:
#1 Treat them like adults
This is especially important if you’re new to teaching adults and have only so far been teaching kids. When you teach adults remember to treat them like grown-ups. Forget about grades, rewarding and punishing for not completing homework or other assignments. Some of them might have bad memories from their school times, so don’t make them feel like they’re back there again! In a way, you have to forget you are a teacher and become more of a guide. Even though you are still a teacher and you “direct” the lesson, you need to reduce that role and become your students’ companion on this journey.
Treating them like adults also involves giving them responsibility for their own learning. Explain that what they do in the lesson isn’t probably going to be enough and they need to do extra work after classes, which includes doing homework and any other activities you’ll recommend. And it’s up to them whether they’ll do it or not.
#2 Make sure what you teach is useful
Most adults don’t come to your classes because they have too much free time and nothing to do with it. They attend your classes because they have to. They need English for work, travel or everyday life. Respect their time and teach them what is really useful. But remember that ‘useful” means something completely different for someone at a lower level and someone who is preparing for an exam. So that’s why a thorough needs analysis at the beginning of the course is essential. Check out this post for more on that topic.
#3 Set a goal
Adults very quickly lose their motivation for studying. Their schedule is so busy that very often English is at the bottom of their list of priorities. A remedy for that would be setting language learning goals. Based on needs analysis, together with your students set an end-of-course goal. For example, “By the end of the course you will be able to communicate on holiday abroad.” For longer courses remember to set mini-goals or milestones throughout the duration of the course. Working towards one big goal might be tedious and demotivating.
If you’ve ever taught kids, you know that when they don’t like something, they will tell you straight away. With adults, it is the opposite. Very often, they would rather resign from the course than complain about something they don’t like. So talk to them and get their feedback regularly throughout the course. Depending on your group, it could be a talk or an anonymous survey.
#5 Accept that they won’t study outside of the classroom
In my 15 years of teaching I have only met a handful of students who had time to practise English outside the classroom. I used to stress about it a lot, but then I accepted that I won’t be able to do anything about it. And I recommend that you do the same 🙂 Accept it and stop stressing about the fact that your students once again didn’t do any homework. But it is important to still support them and give them guidance on what they can do to practise English outside after your classes. Help them develop good language learning habits. And believe me, they are as frustrated about their lack of time as we are.
And last, but not least, I will add one extra point that should be present in all classes – empathy. It is always good to put yourself in the place of your students and think about how you would feel if you were a student in your own class. Would you feel respected or rather humiliated? Would you be engaged or bored? Ask yourself this question regularly: What if I was my own student?