Teacher Successes & Failures

One of the questions we ask prospective candidates applying to follow a Cambridge DELTA course at our centre, is to describe an activity they have used with one of their classes which was successful and one which wasn’t. In both cases, the candidates have to explain why they think this has happened.

2013-06-14 13.30.01

A typical response looks like this:


  1. Think of your own experiences as a teacher and describe one   successful and one unsuccessful classroom activity used with a group of adults, explaining the factors contributing to their success or otherwise. Please describe each activity briefly and comment as to why it was successful or otherwise. 

Approximately 250 words

Successful  activity

Unsuccessful activity

Students were asked to follow up a lesson on giving/following directions by hiding/writing directions to a piece of candy.  Students were put in pairs.  One student would attempt to find the candy by reading the directions, the other student taking note of any confusion caused by the wording or structures they used (and maintaining silence). If the first student was unable to find the candy using the written directions, the students would then attempt to verbally direct their partner to the candy (If they managed to find the candy, they would be verbally directed back to the classroom).After both partners found the candy they would report back to room and the teacher.  Students would be put in groups as they arrived back in the classroom and encouraged to speak about what structures/wording was easiest to follow and where they became confused (problems in structure/wording for the most part).The activity was successful for several reasons.We focused entirely on directions for a couple of days before the activity, so the students were aware of directions (and directions vocabulary) and how to go about phrasing them already.Students were able to spot mistakes more easily because the directions were written down and being interpreted by someone else in their presence.The small group discussions helped me to see and understand who might need more help with the topic and also helped students become more aware of the language they were using (rules, things they ought to consider, etc.).

When all of the students had returned we had a short class discussion on common mistakes/troubles, that allowed all students to learn from their collective mistakes (and helped me know what to focus the final lesson on).

This activity was structured around a course designed to provide students with English skills they might use in the workplace.  The unit related to restaurant services.  The activity was a reading exercise designed to produce vocabulary from students/expand their vocabulary by explaining words they might not understand.The focus of the lesson was to be vocabulary and pronunciation, as my job was to teach this class conversational/spoken English skills as opposed to grammar and structure.The students were asked to read through passages as a group and individually.I was unprepared for the students to not understand the grammar presented in the chapter (the grammar teacher’s class had been cancelled). We got bogged down in things (mostly grammar and structure) that I was unable to adequately explain, as I was not fluent in the students’ native language (I did not know the grammar terms in their language and they did not know the grammar terms in English).I was so focused on trying to fill this gap in their knowledge that the class hardly learned anything in the lesson and both the class and I left incredibly frustrated.If I had been aware of several factors the situation might have improved. First off, had I been more aware of my teaching environment I would have known the grammar teacher was absent and I could have changed the lesson.

Secondly, if I had had an alternative plan ready just in case, I could have taught something else/presented the material in a different way.

I was caught unprepared.  Because I was unprepared for this to happen, I shifted the focus of the lesson drastically to try to salvage some part of the lesson.  I tried to take on another teacher’s job, a job for which I was not qualified.  All in all, the lesson was unsuccessful.  I later presented the material again (successfully).


Is it possible to predict something about a teacher from this write up?

We believe it is. A reflective teacher is one who can learn from their successes and failures but who can also analyse the processes follow and reflect on the factors that allowed or prevented success.

Failure and success analysis are a vital part of our development and should be practised regularly, on a blog, in a private journal, even as a recorded comment on our iPhone or laptop

Can all these reflections be accurate?

Reflecting on the reasons for success or failure is more important as a process than as an outcome. In the case above, there may be factors which the teacher has not considered, e.g. the grammar lesson got bogged down because the teacher did not have any methods of teaching grammar without recourse to terminology in the learners’ L1, something which may spring to mind in this instance.

Recording one’s reflections in some way

This is actually not as important as the recording of the reflection and revisiting it later, possibly in the light of further reading or discussions, or even a staffroom or online chat!

We learn by constantly assessing and reassessing our teaching practices and planning decisions and this learning needs its own time and its own individual pace for each teacher.

Published by Marisa Constantinides

I train TEFL teachers at CELT in Athens Greece and online - our main courses are Cambridge CELTA and Delta. I interact with educators from all over the world through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and through blogging

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: