We were recently asked by eCollegeFinder & Language Magazine for the greatest advice we could give to teachers. All of the trainers in the TESOL Department love teaching, even though teaching ESL is an often under-appreciated job. I read a blog entry recently about someone vilifying the industry and teachers, claiming that ESL teachers were just escaping the reality of their lives and didn’t care about anything except traveling and doing something easy. Well anyone who has taken a TESOL certificate course or who has stood in front of a class and taught a lesson will know that it is anything but easy. And there are so many people in this industry who really care about our colleagues, language, learning, the profession and most importantly our students.
At the TESOL Convention in New Orleans last year, I attended a lecture that presented findings on the important qualities that effective teachers should possess. Not surprisingly, at the top of the list were empathy and genuine caring for their students. A little more surprisingly, at least to me at first, was perseverance. Given the constant challenges that teachers face, it is perseverance that can help the teacher make a difference – never give up, no matter how hard it may seem. I think that similar advice could also be given to our students, given that learning a language is a life-long challenge. In light of these challenges, I think it’s also very important that we love what we do. A teacher’s joy is infectious – and students who are enjoying themselves are more likely to learn. Interestingly, content knowledge was not high on the list – though I often hear students criticize teachers who can’t explain a grammar point or the meaning of a word to them, so I would add knowledge of English to the list.
The quality that I think is the most important for an SL/EFL teacher to possess is to always think about everything they do in terms of their students’ learning. Looking at everything you do through this ‘lens’ can really change the way you teach. I always say that I don’t need to practice my English – my students do. If it’s all about my students, then they take center stage and the focus on my lessons turns to the students. So the student talk time increases exponentially and every decision I make is guided by what will best serve their learning. It’s amazing how a seemingly simple thing like can dramatically change the way your lesson proceed and the learning that takes place in them.
So my advice to teachers: don’t give up, have fun, know your stuff and always, always, put your students first.