What is it that makes a great teacher? Is it passion? Empathy? Belief – in themselves and their students? Knowledge? Creativity? Flexibility? Dedication? Enthusiasm? Patience? Being a good listener? Having the willingness to try new things? Being able to reflect? Willingness to learn from mistakes and to keep on learning? And the list goes on……
Even though it seems like a very simple question, thinking more deeply about it, the question only leads to more questions! So, let’s imagine we are trying to answer this question for English teachers in a secondary classroom. What makes them a great teacher? There are many more things to say but let start with these.
- Would we get the same answers as above when we ask our learners? When we ask the parents or school management? It all comes down to who defines the term ‘great’. With that, the cultural context also needs to be considered as one might well value high scores more than enhancing the development of learners’ life skills. Speaking to our teens, they might have ‘being funny” at the top of the list. Personally, I’d put optimising students’ learning opportunities at the top. Because if you are in the business of learning teaching but your students aren’t learning, then are we really doing a great job?
- We are teaching in changing times. COVID-19 triggered us to shift, unexpectedly from a F2F context to the online world. I’m sure you agree that a great F2F teacher still needed to develop additional or maybe even different skills working online or in a hybrid classroom. Instead of replication F2F pedagogy, it is important that we become aware of the affordances and limitations of technology available and try to make the best use of it. Above all we need to ensure that we humanise the learning environment, F2F or online it really doesn’t matter. Because if your learners don’t feel you care about them, why would they care about your teaching?
- Another point of debate is the balance between knowledge, experience and personality. Is being a great teacher all about personality? Of course, personality is important. But being passionate, caring and dedicated and being driven to keep learning by themselves aren’t enough. We also need subject or content knowledge to teach English. In addition, we need to know how to convey content information in an age-accessible way to our learners: pedagogical content knowledge. For that you need to know your learners, which might well be the most important knowledge to develop. I think, on top of that, a great teacher knows how learning happens and actively strives to create conditions for learning that work for their learners. Making our learners feel safe, listened to and giving them a sense of belonging and a voice in the learning process can go a long way to get their learning journey started.
- Using a good course book can of course help you teach, but does a good course book make you a great teacher? Again, it comes down to what you define as ‘a great course book’ and that might depends on who answers that question! Nowadays most course books on the market have been well-reseached and are put together by experts. Overall, course books can help you structure your lessons, save you time in planning and preparing and often provide various extras for the classroom, such as workbooks, online resources, audio recordings and a teacher book. However, keep in mind that a course book is not written for your learners, but for learners in general. So, I’m tempted to say that a course book is only as good as the teacher’s abilities to adapt it to their learners and their context. Personally, I regard a course book as a recipe book because I believe you need to adapt the content and delivery methods to your guests’ wants and needs: your learners!