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What are the qualities of a good teacher? Have you ever asked yourself this question?
This post is addressed to teacher colleagues who the first time would like to teach English to non-native speakers. They might even have some qualifications, but without job search and classroom experience they might end up disappointed after a job interview. So let me give you some food for thought about why being a good English speaker is not enough to be a good teacher candidate?

Students go to a good teacher's lesson with enthusiasm.

Teaching certificates – not only a piece of paper

The first thing you might be asked in an interview if you have ever attended a teacher training. The most common ones in Europe are: CELTA, TrinityCERT, ACELS and TEFL, but there are many others offered to teacher candidates all over the world. They all teach the basic knowledge to enter a classroom, however, due to their time limits they might not provide enough information. That you need one of these is beyond any doubt. Which one depends on many factors you need to consider:

•Where would you like to teach? If the European Union is your destination, you need a certificate that discusses the different European levels (A1-C2). This is unimportant in Asian schools.

•What basic requirements do they ask for? Being a native English speaker? (If not, check that they require a proficiency level of English). A university degree? Or even being an ENS (Educated Native Speaker)? Question any course that does not require a high level of language knowledge and education from you.

•Do they offer classroom observation and include demo lessons? These are essential parts of a teacher training. I would seriously doubt any exclusively online courses, since talking about a lesson and actually conducting it are two completely different things.

•Do they prepare you for adult teaching or (also) for YL teaching? Do you have any preferences what age to teach?

•Do they prepare you for exam preparation? If not, they will leave you lots of homework in future since most courses prepare for an exam.

•How long are they? How many hours a day do they require your presence or cooperation? Intensive courses are extremely exhausting, however, you can do them in one month, maybe in the summer and start working in the coming autumn.

•Where can you attend a course and what costs do you need to face up to? There are huge differences between prices for the same course in different cities, not mentioning rent, travel fees and cost of food.

•Do they offer reference letters or possible vacancies for the best candidates?

Mind that it often doesn’t matter what grade you obtained at the end of the course. I remember my CELTA tutor saying that he would never hire a Pass A CELTA teacher since they tend to be rigid and meticulously precise which is nerve-racking in colleagues.

Prepare for tough questions about grammar

It’s still fashionable to refuse grammar teaching and to hope that students will learn a second language the way they did with their mother tongue. All this derives from the classical debate between grammar-translation methodology and audiolinguism. It’s essential to be exposed to high level natural English and grammar should not be the main focus in lessons. However, adult students analyse language and will ask for explanations, schemes, comparisons. So being able to talk about grammar is a must for language teachers, even if they follow the communicative methodology.

Teaching Young Learners asks for a very subtile way of teaching grammar. The teacher cannot use technical language to explain a structure. But using fun names for grammar categories, playing games like the one where students represent one part of speech and standing in a line visualize which part of speech can stand at what position, etc. makes it necessary for the teacher to understand grammar rules.

So it would be ideal to grab a grammar book written either for students or for teachers and start studying grammar. It will help a lot later on, when interviewers or students start asking tricky questions.

Be a master of classroom management

Endless is the list of teachers who can answer to job interview questions properly, but then fail in front of the white board. Managing a class is a skill a qualified teacher should have.

According to Wikipedia:

Classroom management is a term used by teachers to describe the process of ensuring that classroom lessons run smoothly despite disruptive behavior by students. The term also implies the prevention of disruptive behavior. It is possibly the most difficult aspect of teaching for many teachers; indeed experiencing problems in this area causes some to leave teaching altogether.

There are no bad students, only bad teachers – one of my colleagues used to say. Well, I might be able to recall some of my naughty students, I still agree that in most cases, the teacher’s behavior fuels students’ disruptive behavior. So the first thing is to understand what is going on in the classroom, then ask why and what can be done in order to change the unpleasant situation.

The magic word is consistency:

There are no students without homework in a class where the class teacher checks on the homework in every lesson;

There is no use of L1 in a classroom where the teacher pretends not to understand the students’ first language and insists on getting questions and answers in English;

There are no students without respect where the teacher behaves as a role model and not too much as a fellow, paying due respect to their students.

So before entering a classroom, give it a thought to what you can do, if things don’t go as smoothly as planned. Have your self-confidence and your charisma with you and everything is going to be all right.

Study languages

A good teacher is also a good student. How could you understand the frustration of an adult in a beginner class if you have never experienced the embarrassment of not understanding a word or not knowing how to say something. The way you deal with frustration, failure and struggle of students is at lower levels more important then the language itself. It might even influence a student to love or to hate the language itself.

So enroll onto a language course and watch yourself, analyse your feelings, reactions. It will be more useful than any teacher training.

Prepare for cultural differences

Teaching in Japan sounds good, but are you prepared of not having much social life? You might not make friends easily. Teaching in Italy sounds even better, but if you don’t know the language, you might feel isolated in the first weeks or upset by their ‘warm’ welcome.

People are different and in different countries these differences become even more obvious. You might feel like an alien at the beginning of your contract and making friends in places, people speak, think, pray differently might be a real challenge.

So make sure, you are ready to put up with some loneliness or find your most social face and change things.

Have hobbies

Teaching is the best job on Earth, but it can become very stressful sometimes. You might have to cover for a colleague and teach 8 hours back to back without time to prepare. You might have to correct 100 test papers in one week, since all of your classes got the final test in the same week. You might have a bad lesson and need to enter the next class immediately afterwards. You might have to deliver student reports and complete lesson plans/registers in few minutes between two lessons.

Being able to work under pressure, to coop with stress is something a language teacher should master. The best way to do it is to accept that things become sometimes rough and that we are human. To accept that stress is part of the teaching job, that we cannot please everybody.

You can do it as long as teaching remains your job and does not become your life. Have a life outside the school. Take up hobbies if you don’t have any at the moment. It can be simply reading, trekking, painting, but whatever it is or better to say they are, they need to involve movement (to get rid of physical tension) and self-expression (to release psychological tension).

One of the most popular questions in a job interview is what makes a good teacher (and whether you have all these qualities). The most appropriate answers to this question are:
– patience (a teacher must stay calm and explain sometimes the same concept in many other ways to the students, they must deal with students on their worst days, I mean on the worst days of either the student or the teacher, teach with limited resources under hard conditions, in noise, in big classes, etc.)
– preparation (being able to improvise is important, knowing when to leave a lesson plan and come up with a new activity if things are going bad, nevertheless, no teacher can afford not to prepare for a lesson. They must know what they are supposed to teach, how, what materials they need, they need to have all equipments set up, everything ready before the lesson starts; even more important to know what we prepare for: know the exams your school offers to their students and prepare to prepare your students for them)
– flexibility (important in order to survive in a school, where things might change on a short term: be flexible with your availability, with your plans you had for a lesson, with your students, etc.)
– curiosity (to find out about new trends, ideas, technology, etc. and to get to know your students as much as possible in the limited time)
– good organizational skills (so that you know where to find a material you made for a previous lesson, to correct all homework assignments and tests for your classes in time, to find registers and books for the next day, etc.)
– time management (not only to finish lessons on time, but also to finish the syllabus by the end of the course and not much sooner than the last lesson)
– good sense of humour (to laugh and make people laugh, learning a language is sometimes tiring/hard/boring, you need to be able to get your students over difficult moments
– honesty (don’t only use positive language with your students, be clear about their achievements, but also about the things they must do better and why couldn’t they do it better?)
– good knowledge of one’s own limits (if you know yourself, you can control yourself and the situations you might be thrown into and this enables you to manage even larger classes)
– charisma (something no teacher candidate would mention, but if you want to convince people who might be elder than you or if you want to grab the attention of a whole class of annoying teenagers, you must be a charismatic person).

I found another post about the same topic really interesting. If interested, click here.

Final note:

There are teachers who were born to teach (my mother kept telling me that I would become a teacher even when I was a little child and wanted to become an astronaut, then a researcher, finally an American hairstylist…), but the real wonder is when somebody becomes a great teacher. Somebody who can learn from the others (students or colleagues), stay open to new ideas, analyze their own mistakes and improve day after day, knows everything (not only language) teachers are supposed to teach to their students.


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