If you think of great teachers, who do you bring to mind? Some people will probably recall a favourite university lecturer or high school teacher, someone who was entertaining and educational. Others might think of Robin William’s character in Dead Poet’s Society. Defining what makes a great teacher is a more difficult task though.
A fascinating article published on the website of The Atlantic goes deep into this very subject. For sure, it’s easy to put someone’s proficiency as a teacher down to ‘dedication’ or ‘a love of teaching’. It’s not very quantifiable.
Defining the role
Teach for America is an organization that has been researching the qualities of superstar teachers. The yardstick by which they are measured is largely the improvement in their students’ examination results. Teachers who were having the biggest impact on their students were fairly closely monitored. One thing soon emerged: ‘great teachers’ always reevaluate their methods and set high standards for themselves and their students.
Superstar English teachers
Putting this into a TEFL context, a superstar teacher would be one who does not give into complacency. It doesn’t matter who you are teaching; it’s about your attitude as a teacher.
Examine your own methods – see what’s working and what’s not working. Try something new. There are countless approaches to teaching English as a foreign language (although not all of them are worthwhile, it has to be said). Reevaluate your own style and approach in the light of established teaching patterns and the needs of your student. A great teacher will never stop changing.
Perseverance and enthusiasm
Perhaps the most interesting quote found in the article is from Steven Farr, who was one of the researchers trying to define great teaching. “Strong teachers”, he says, “insist that effective teaching is neither mysterious nor magical. It is neither a function of dynamic personality nor dramatic performance.”
So it’s not something you’re born with. Nor does it require that you become a performance artist in your classroom. Qualifications can’t even guarantee success. ‘A master’s degree in education seems to have no impact on classroom effectiveness’, the journalist writes.
In fact, it’s incredibly simple and incredibly human. Teaching expediently requires grit, preparation and positivity.