I’ve read a nice article entitled “building a better teacher” and I had a nice talk today that started during our teacher development session and continued shortly after it. Are good teachers born like that? Is it something innate? Or is teaching a skill that can be taught and learned? As a teacher trainer, I guess there’s no other answer I could give than that it is possible for one to learn how to be a good teacher, even if one hasn’t got all it takes when his or her career is just starting. As a matter of fact, I have to believe in it – I myself have been constantly learning how I can hone my teaching in order to better foster learning. I even had the chance to talk to one of my first employers about that, and he actually confirmed to me that my first sample class was a bit of a disaster, but he said that he could see there was potential for training and development. I’m really grateful for having had that chance. I have learned a lot about the tricks of the trade while working there, and I don’t think I would be a teacher these days if it hadn’t been for that job.
Good teachers can be ‘created’, just like good professionals in any other area. Of course there are some people who excel at what they do with immense ease, and maybe aptitude and innateness have got something to do with that. If you take football, for instance, there aren’t many football players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká or Ronaldinho in the world. There aren’t many singers whose voice is appreciated by nearly anyone. There aren’t many drivers like Michael Schumacher. These people may have an innate ability and have certainly found what they were supposed to do in life. If you ask them, they’ll say that it’s all the fruits of their labour and that they have to practice as hard as anyone, which, in my opinion, is true. What sets them apart from others, well, that’s something I can’t answer. But the thing is, there are many other very good football players who aren’t that well-known, but have decided to put their back into it and work really hard to be at the top of their game and be acknowledged as very good professionals. And the same is true for all professions, if you ask me.
Teaching is no different. Maybe there is such a thing as people who are cut out to be teachers and will be extremely successful at it with little effort. Others may be just as successful, but will have to work a bit harder at it. It may come across as cliché, but I believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Perhaps you will not be the most famous person who’s ever worked in your area, but you may definitely be great at it – whatever this it may be. What are the most important characteristics of a successful language teacher, then? I wouldn’t dare to claim to have an answer, as I don’t think such an answer has been found. This short quote from the article demonstrates it:
When Bill Gates announced recently that his foundation was investing millions in a project to improve teaching quality in the United States, he added a rueful caveat. “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,” Gates said. “I’m personally very curious.”
However, I’ll allow myself to take a guess and see whether you agree with me or not.
Good language teachers should, regardless of training and development, be good at three things:
1. They should have a good command of the language – being knowledgeable seems to be one of the characteristics good teachers share.
2. They should have good people skills – good teachers seem to know how to talk to their students in a way that engages them. They know when it’s their turn to talk and to listen. Good teachers know that they can only talk when his or her students are listening, and they also know they have to listen and respond to learners.
3. They worry more about the product of their work, i.e. they make sure students are learning – the ultimate aim of lessons is learning, not teaching. Good teachers do what it takes to get the job done They don’t sulk if their it-took-me-3-hours-to-plan activity doesn’t work as planned and adapt easily to ensure learning.
The second item above is the most difficult to ‘train’, as it depends a lot more on the individual than on an external trainer. However, if all three are accompanied by a willingness to keep learning and being able to take criticism, then it’s feasible. Good teachers reflect on what they’ve been doing and are always looking for a better way to help their students learn.
What do you think? Can one learn how to teach, or is one born a teacher?