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ESL Philosophy of Teaching Statement: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?

ESL philosophy of teaching statement

If you’re teaching English, you’ll eventually come across an important question. Someone — a student, a colleague, an interviewer — will ask you, “What’s your ESL philosophy of teaching statement?” In order to best answer this common question, you’ll need to formulate and reflect on an ESL teaching philosophy of your own. This article will help you discover and develop your personal ESL teaching philosophy and know how to talk about it with others.

What is an ESL teaching philosophy statement?

An ESL teaching philosophy statement is a summary of why you teach ESL and how. It’s basically that simple! The details you choose to include in your teaching statement are very important.

Are you interested in communication above all? Are you happy to be flexible, or do you hope to bring discipline to your learners? Where do you think learning English should fit into a student’s life? How important are test results to you? Do you strive for immersion by not using any translation in the classroom, or do you promote a bilingual environment? All of these questions can be answered succinctly if you formulate an ESL teaching philosophy statement.

A statement will also help guide your teaching, keep you positive when a lesson goes wrong (because lessons will inevitably go wrong at times), and make you a more reflective teacher overall.

Why is it important to have an ESL teaching philosophy statement?

We listed some of the reasons above, but there are lots of ways that having an ESL philosophy of teaching statement will benefit you. Let’s drill down.

It makes your teaching consistent

You need to have some consistency in your teaching. Language learning (and teaching) can be tough at times. If you’ve got a headache after a grueling grammar lesson or your learners lose it over the fifteenth exception to the rule, a statement of your teaching approach in ESL can remind you why you’re teaching and what you want your learners to get out of every lesson. It will help you to maintain consistent goals, discipline, and lesson-to-lesson continuity of character.

Take a look at some popular ESL teaching methods that all teachers should know.

Mohammed Hashiru From Ghana Teaching in Turkey

Mohammed Hashiru, from Ghana, teaching in Turkey

It helps you become a reflective teacher

By formulating your own ESL philosophy, you’ll be reflecting on how you want to teach and also the more important question of why you want to teach. If you want to become good at anything, structured self-reflection on a regular basis is crucial. Without a guiding philosophy, you will possibly be tempted to label lessons as simply “good” or “bad” and move on, missing out on both the details and the big picture at the same time. Having a guiding philosophy for your teaching will make your self-reflection sessions more specific and goal-oriented.

Check out these 10 powerful goals for English teachers.

It provides context for what you’re doing

More people are now attempting to learn English than have ever tried to learn any language in history. But learning English does not exist in a historical vacuum; the context of imperialism and colonialism do play a role in English becoming the lingua franca it is today. Without an ESL philosophy, you may not reflect on how you came to teach English to those who want to learn it. You could stumble into problematic ways of thinking that are descended from the imperial and colonial history of English teaching. Being aware of your own motivations for teaching English can help you to react to the world more compassionately and with less bias.

As a global language, English has many different dialects and accents. Here’s why teachers should incorporate them into the classroom!

It leads to self-understanding

You need to start defining yourself as a teacher even before you begin teaching. Understanding yourself as a teacher will help guide your career path and ensure that you’re always improving as an ESL instructor.

Taking a TEFL course like the graduate-level IDELTOnline™ TEFL/TESOL certification program will help you formulate and define your teaching, as it’ll give you an in-depth look at how to form a teaching philosophy, cover the principles of language acquisition, help you set learning objectives for your students, and more.

“What I always tell the trainees to do is take what they’ve learned, including the research that they’ve done, and translate it into how they would be in the classroom — and give a portrait of themselves as a teacher,” says Katrina Schmidt, an instructor for Bridge’s IDELTOnline™ course.

What exactly is the IDELTOnline™ TEFL/TESOL course? Find out!

It establishes your credibility as a professional

Professionals are guided by their principles and make decisions based on them. If you don’t have a strong center, you’ll be easily pulled in directions that may eventually hurt your career prospects or lead to teaching burnout. Establishing a clear, personal teaching philosophy will help keep you on the right professional path.

Check out 8 strategies to avoid burnout when teaching English online.

You will be asked about it by employers

When you interview for an English teaching job, there’s a good chance that you’ll be asked to explain your personal education philosophy. Being able to easily discuss your ESL philosophy of teaching statement is one of the main reasons you should put the effort in now to develop a clear statement.

Find out how you should prepare for a TEFL/TESOL interview.

TEFL teacher

Lorena (center), an ESL business owner, offers insight into TEFL interviews in this article.

What should be included in an ESL philosophy of teaching statement?

When you craft your ESL philosophy statement, you’ll want to think about things from several perspectives. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to ask yourself open-ended questions, such as:

  • What is your reason for teaching in general?
  • How do you believe people learn best?
  • What is your professional background? (I.e., What education or training can you bring to your ESL teaching?)
  • What are your goals for English teaching in particular? What will you focus on in your classes? (E.g., Communicative competency? High scores on tests? Academic skills? Soft skills?)
  • What is your broader personal morality, and what are your ideas about learning? (I.e., What is acceptable for a teacher to do? How much do teachers need to put into their work? What is your definition of effective learning?)
  • What are your ideas about communication? (I.e., How much should you speak in the classroom? Are you a facilitator or an instructor?)

How do I write an ESL teaching philosophy?

There’s a sense of trepidation that some people get when actually crafting their personal or professional philosophies. Taking an online TEFL course like the 150-hour, graduate-level and university-affiliated IDELTOnline™ can help you immensely, as you will get feedback from an instructor about the writing process and your final statement.

If you want to go ahead and get started with your ESL teaching philosophy statement, you can follow these steps:

  • Set aside time to reflect on your own, removing any distractions.
  • Using a journal of your choosing (digital, paper, sketchbook, whatever!), reflect on and make notes about the following:

1. What are your academic goals for teaching English? Where does your class fit in on the path that your students will take toward fluency in English?

2. What is your philosophy about classroom management? What types of communication will you encourage in your classroom?

3. What is your goal for your students in terms of using English? Is it for them to ace an English proficiency test? Communicate with others in the world?

4. What kind of teacher do you want to be remembered as? Your students may remember you for their whole lives. How would you prefer to be seen as a teacher and what can you do to achieve that?

  • Use affirmative “I am” statements to communicate your philosophy, and keep yourself positive/focused on your role in teaching English.
  • Take your notes and aim to write a paragraph about 5-10 sentences long. Keep it simple. The easier it is to explain your personal ESL philosophy of teaching statement, the easier it will be to follow!

Please note that this is not a one-time process. You should regularly examine your personal ESL philosophy and change it as needed to keep it relevant, useful, and thoughtful.

IDELTOnline instructor, Terry McLean shared her “3 M’s” of creating a philosophy of teaching in a BridgeUniverse expert series webinar:

ESL teaching philosophy statement examples

Let’s look at some examples of personal ESL philosophy statements.

Example 1

I am a kind and compassionate teacher who prefers to work with the “difficult” students because, often, there are valid reasons that they are acting out in a class. I believe that anyone can learn a language given enough time and practice, and I’m willing to be creative and find ways and unusual learning styles to help all students benefit from my lessons. My goal is to expose English learners to more of the world and prepare them for intercultural communication. I teach using a variety of techniques because every class is different and has unique needs.

Example 2

In my classes, I work to create a genuine rapport with learners. This allows me to build on that connection and make them trust that I will not ask them to do something that wouldn’t benefit their learning, even if it’s hard. I think that English learners need to be able to trust themselves, their instructors, and their classmates above all. That way, in a safe environment, the mistakes that they will make as a learner don’t knock their confidence. I will intervene, early on and with dynamic classroom management skills, when I see bullying or other confidence-reducing behaviors to protect that trust in the classroom. I want the students to see my class as a refuge from normal life where they can practice English and thrive in a small community of learners.

Example 3

My personal ESL teaching philosophy is influenced by my academic background. I provide rigorous thinking opportunities and challenge students to be their very best, even if it’s difficult. For me, teaching is a lot like coaching a sport. I want to help the students learn the drills and practice the skills that make up a great academic mind so that eventually they will no longer need me to be able to learn. My goal is to put myself out of a job! In the classroom, I demand focus and precision, but I also provide a space for error correction and peer feedback. In this way, I hope to build resilient learners.

Example 4

When I am asked about my personal ESL philosophy, I’d like to tell people that I don’t even really believe I’m an “English teacher!” I’m not interested in old-fashioned ideas about teaching and being the center of attention in my classes. I see myself as a mostly quiet facilitator who sets up the discussions and provides materials for the learners to use mostly on their own. Obviously, I don’t just abandon them to their fate; rather, I hope that they will be independent learners if I step out of the traditional “teacher” role. When I find myself working on my lesson plans, I try to think deeply about the possible outcomes of an activity. This anticipation is what sets me apart as a teacher.

To be a professional ESL teacher and continue to grow on your teaching journey, it’s important to craft an ESL philosophy of teaching statement. Doing so will help you establish a better, more coherent teaching style and be able to express your beliefs about ESL education.

If you want to learn more about ESL philosophy statements, take the IDELTOnline™ TEFL/TESOL course, which will arm you with the methodology and practical skills needed in the ESL classroom.

Coleen Monroe is a Colorado native who has left a trail of new homes for herself around the world. She's set foot in 30 countries and lived on four continents in the last eleven years. Her nomad homes have been in Chilean Patagonia, France, Italy, Switzerland, South Korea, England, and Iceland. Her latest travel adventures took her to Yunnan, Beijing, Jiangxi, and Southern China, where she's currently teaching.