We’re guessing you’re here because you are spending too long lesson planning.  It isn’t quite what you thought you were signing up for.  What’s that all about!  This blog post may not provide you with the answer you’re looking for, but it might help you reconcile your expectations with reality.

Before becoming a TEFL teacher, one might expect that all teachers do is swan into the classroom, teach their classes and leave.  This couldn’t be further from the truth – a good portion of a teacher’s work is done outside the classroom.  One of these tasks is lesson planning.  It does take up a lot of time, especially when you take into account the procrastination around writing up the lesson plan!  But, believe us when we say, lesson planning helps you save time – later  (sometimes much later!).

All of the investment you put into planning your lessons diligently and writing your lesson plan will mean that in the future, you’ll be able to look at some class material or aim and know exactly what you will do with it.  We really work hard in and outside the classroom but it’s worth it when we’re able to really see our students’ progress.  Admittedly, that’s not really much comfort when you’re stuck at home on a Sunday afternoon while your social media feed will have you believe everyone else is drinking bottomless mimosas.

Of course, the hard work doesn’t stop at just writing the lesson plan.  During your planning session, you will be thinking about all of the aspects of your lesson and how your students might respond to it.  You will reason with yourself (or your planning partner) and develop a way of thinking that helps you see where your lesson is going and how you can help your students learn best in the time you have.  Lesson planning helps us think things through thoroughly so that the surprises that spring up in class are minimal.

On a good lesson plan template, there’ll be space for anticipated problems and solutions.  In this space, you should write possible problems that you or your students might have during the lesson – these might be linguistic, affective issues (relating to emotions) or logical ones (like what will happen if the computer doesn’t work and you can’t use your powerpoint!?).  Ideally, during your planning, you’ll look at possible solutions to the specific issues that may arise in your lesson and you’ll be prepared for (almost) anything that goes awry in the physical or virtual classroom.  Anticipating problems and solutions will also help you check that you have included everything that the students ‘need to know’ about the topic of your lesson in order to achieve the aim.

Ok, but let’s be real.  Thinking about and writing lesson plans for every lesson every week is extremely time consuming so it’s just not going to happen.  Experienced teachers find their time is better spent preparing materials, expanding their teaching repertoire or simply getting a good night’s sleep.  You don’t need to write a lesson plan for every lesson you teach, especially if you’re using a course book.  However, it is beneficial to write a plan for lessons you know you’ll teach again.  This way, you can reflect on what went well in the lesson and what could be changed for the next time, then change your plan accordingly.  This will improve your future lessons and help reduce your future planning time.  You’ll also save time not writing out things that you will never look at again!

No matter how much time we spend on a lesson plan, there’s always room for improvement.  If there’s one thing you take away from this post it should be to teach the class, not the plan.  When we’ve spent a long time on a lesson plan, we tend to get a bit rigid about our expectations for the lesson.  We should respond to what is happening in the class rather than getting frustrated with our students for taking too long or doing something too quickly.  We can and should change the plan after a lesson or we can even do it in the middle of a lesson to take into account our students’ emerging needs.

To sum up, lesson planning is a necessary evil but it isn’t required all the time.  It helps us to develop our toolkit and gives us time to mull over all the details of a lesson that may not have occurred to us if we didn’t put the time in beforehand.  This way we can make the class go as smoothly as possible.  We also have to remember that it’s important to be flexible when we’re in the classroom and the teacher’s attitude toward the learning and the students is what is going to help them achieve the aim of the lesson, not the plan itself.