Help! My Private Lesson is a Disaster

Dear Betsy,

Every teacher has had that moment when they THOUGHT their lesson plan was solid but before they can recognize it happening, it’s going downhill fast. I know I personally have had more times than I want to admit that I left a lesson feeling like a disaster. Not to worry! We’ve already shared some great advice as to where you can find teaching resources and for planning and executing a successful private lesson for kids. But if you’ve still got yourself into a teaching rut, here are some more thoughts for reflection and consideration.


Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself

Sometimes you’ll leave a lesson feeling like a million bucks and sometimes you’ll leave feeling that you didn’t actually teach your student anything. You may get positive or negative feedback from your student (or student’s parents) and, oftentimes, you’ll leave feeling like you need to invest a lot more time into planning lessons or practicing management skills—especially because you can just never get the kids to do what you want. First off, allow yourself time to take a deep breath and remind yourself that although the expectations for classes may be different from learner to learner, your students (and the parents of your students) are probably not judging you as harshly as you are judging yourself.

Regardless of how your lesson goes, be kind to yourself.When dealing with private lessons for kids, most families will expect you to put a bit more effort into teaching their kids than simply showing up and babysitting but they likely will not expect you to carry out a full curriculum by the end of the year. Remember that most parents simply want their kids to have fun with English and the best way to create fun is to have some yourself!

In the same way, adults in classroom settings or private lessons will often communicate their expectations to you (i.e. “I simply need to improve my confidence” or “I want to take [fill-in exam] by [fill-in date]”) and you can check in with them periodically. You might be surprised to learn that they feel like you’re meeting the expectation more often than you do! Give yourself some credit and cut yourself some slack!


In any case, reevaluating the tips we shared in the planning and executing post can help get you back on track

1.) Did you really stick to the main goal with your activities or did you get wrapped up in secondary goals? I often find that I get frustrated with myself because a student wasn’t interested in learning the vocabulary I spent a lot of time preparing tasks for, but the reality is that they DID engage with the action verbs that were necessary to play to the games and they DID return time and time again to a song I had taught them last week, to which they remembered all the words! Although the secondary goals I had set weren’t necessary accomplished, they engaged and had fun with English so the real goals of the day WERE met.

Actionable Tip: We can all use a pick-me-up from time-to-time and there’s no shame in reverting back to a successful activity if a new one doesn’t go well. I carry my Old Maid cards with me to almost every lesson with kids. As often as possible, I avoid using them as they know the vocabulary inside and out but if nothing else is working, it’s rewarding (for both of us) to switch to something that is sure to please.


Especially with young learners, there’s no shame in going back to a successful activity and repeating.2.) Did you acknowledge your student’s uniqueness? Oftentimes, I find I get most disappointed when an activity that another student loved doesn’t go over so well with a second student. This is because I had high expectations due to a past success with this game but forgot to consider that it doesn’t fit the needs and interests of my second student so well.

Actionable tip: Is there any way you can change an activity in the moment to make it fit the student better? There are sometimes simple fixes such as setting the story in a fantasy world or finding a way to incorporate their toys. Oftentimes, a young learner will find learning clothing boring but if you ask questions about what their toys are wearing it’s much more interesting. In the same way, an adult might find clothes to be too simplistic and dull but asking them to talk about their office dress code or what they think about celebrities’ recent outfits could achieve the same objectives without the monotony.


3.) Did you allow yourself to be flexible? When we invest a decent amount of time in planning a lesson, it can be really difficult to let go of that and watch it ‘unravel’ in front of our eyes. However, it might be necessary in order to honor the first two points. Although you want to maintain an air of authority during your lessons, it can also be really helpful to let the student feel they have autonomy to choose which activities you will do and that you pay attention to what’s important to them. I’ve found that students and the parents of young students are less likely to complain about not practicing a specific set of skills than they are to complain about being bored in your classes.

Actionable tip: Especially with kids or adults with short attention spans, I try to plan/bring materials for 1-3 activities more than I think we’ll get to during the lesson time. This is helpful not only because we’ll sometimes manage to get through it all more quickly than I thought but because, from time to time, a certain activity will be a complete flop and it’s okay to admit that and try one of the back-up plans instead. The best thing about this is that half the time you won’t need to use those extra activities and you therefore have than much already planned for the next lesson!


Being a good teacher is sometimes an uphill battle, but with all of the above in mind I’m sure you’ll be ahead of the curve in no time!

Have you had a disastrous class recently? Were you able to get it back on track? What will you do differently in the future after having that experience? We love hearing from you!


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