How to Hold an ‘Open Door’ class without losing your damn mind

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)
<–That is the very first time I’ve used my master’s letters! Wheeeee!

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in 1997:


Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Teaching Writing 

Supplementary (non-grammar) 

Classroom Management For Newbs

Today’s topic: Open Door Classes

Open Door (n.): 1. A class that’s not really a class, where the parents and grandparents of the students in your class come in and sit at the back, ostensibly observing and critiquing the teaching methods of an English instructor but really taking a lot of pictures and/or complaining aloud about various things 2. The bane of an ESL teacher’s existence. 

In my year in Korea, I held exactly one ‘Open Door’ class for my highest-level kids. In China, I averaged one per WEEK. Yes, more or less 52 ‘Open Door’ classes in as many weeks. For all levels, preschool to high school.

The mechanics of an Open Door class should be relatively simple. Parents come in, see some English being spoken, and Ta-da! Everyone goes home happy. In an ideal world.

The reality of the Open Door class is different. Parents routinely complain about everything from their children’s perceived grammatical prowess, to the accent or national origin of the teacher, to the fact that a chair is a tiny bit wobbly. I’ve had parents complain that we didn’t do enough writing when I had specifically pasted handwriting worksheets as thick as wallpaper on the walls of the room. I’ve heard stories of parents getting up and disciplining their offspring harshly in front of everyone, although that’s not happened to me personally. I performed an Open Door when I had the flu in March.

The Open Door is a sleep-stealer for many TEFL teachers I’ve met on the road. I’ve laid awake when I knew I had to be up and out the door in less than five hours, wondering if the particular incarnation of Musical Chairs I had planned would shake out properly.

So, newb TEFLers, here are some bits of advice about this inevitable part of your new profession. Hopefully, these two lists will help you to sleep soundly before your own Open Door classes.

The most important thing to know is that this is NOT an ordinary class. You’ll hear people say, ‘I just do my normal class,’ and ‘I don’t change anything for the parents.’ Don’t believe it! The very fact that parents are in the room changes the normalcy of a class entirely. You will have a different flow than usual, even if you don’t feel like you are making a big production out of the class.

Open Doors are performances, above all.

But then, my philosophy on TEFL/ESL is that teaching is at least part performance on any day. It’s part of why I love it! The Open Door is just the fullest expression of the performance of teaching.

Before your first Open Door, make sure you pay attention to the following!


  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. There is nothing worse than a surprise Open Door, but if you can have a plan, make a detailed one. Know when they are coming, and plan at least a week in advance.
  2. Do not attempt anything too difficult or overly-ambitious. Make sure you can work within the constraints of the time you have and the level of the students.
  3. Talk to your coworkers. If you share the class with another teacher, or have someone who helps organize the class, talk to them constantly in the days leading up to an Open Door. Communicate in writing where possible.
  4. Play games with grammar. Explicitly put the word ‘grammar’ in the title of the game. Write the word ‘grammar’ on the board. Say the word ‘grammar’ throughout the Open Door.
  5. Realize that your class will most likely never reach parent expectations. Make peace with that.
  6. Show individual attention to each and every student. Make it obvious. If you think you’re being too obvious, be more obvious.
  7. Always have more activities ready to go than you actually think you’ll need. Stalling for time is not an option once the parents are in the room.
  8. Hit all the major skills and draw attention to them specifically. This means explicit demonstration of reading, listening, writing, and speaking. Call all of these by name; it will make parents stop texting and look up.
  9. Check any and all technology before (!!!!) you need it.
  10. Caffeinate yourself properly. Not too much.

It’s tough, no lying. I struggled through the month of November in particular, when we pushed about three months’ worth of Open Doors into a single 30-day period. My husband and I both had more than one week where we had four or five Open Door classes. It might be the worst part about being an international English teacher.

But we have to do them, and I’m pretty damn good at them these days.

How do you prepare for the dreaded Open Door?

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