Growing up I assumed the perfect teacher was loud and extroverted. Someone who’d stand on desks and inspire students with their all-round wonderfulness. Like Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society.
Then when I started as a Russian tutor at university, I thought I had to become this charismatic teacher ideal. I’d run about at the front, trying to impress students by telling stories, cracking jokes, enthusiastically talking about things.
That same year I enrolled in a French class. It turned out to be the best class I’d ever had. Why? Because the teacher danced around and made us laugh? Not at all. She was quiet and calm. She would explain something for a couple of minutes, and then WE would do things. It was exciting because WE would learn how to say something, then WE got to practice it. I’d walk out of every class thinking, ‘Wow, my French is getting pretty good!’
I realised in my Russian classes the students hadn’t said a single word in Russian. Basically it had all been about me. No wonder they lost interest in learning the language.
So, in my opinion, being a great TEFL teacher isn’t to do with having a particular type of personality. It’s making the class about your students. It’s showing them how to do things, and giving them lots of interesting practice activities, so THEY feel a sense of achievement.
With this in mind, can we summarise what makes the world’s greatest teacher?
They Are Themselves.
A high-energy person can be brilliant teacher, but, equally, so can someone quiet. It’s about using your personality to your best advantage. Students warm towards a teacher who is genuine.
They Are Positive About Learning.
This means they think learning English is useful and interesting, and they show it.
They Want to Help Students.
This is crucial for motivating students. The teacher knows why the students are there and what they need. They encourage everyone equally.
They Give Students Space.
A good teacher steps back. They give students time to process and work things out themselves. They let students have the floor. ‘Urging’ students tends to be counterproductive – students feel under pressure and clam up.
They walk into class with an aim. They think about how they’ll teach something clearly and efficiently, and plan interesting things for students to do.
What do you think?