#ELTChat summary, 18/4: Qualities of good teachers & learners

@TyKendall requested that we start “by debunking the idea that you can reach any conclusion [about whether a teacher is ‘good’ or not] in 5 minutes”; @shaunwilden’s response was that you can form opinions if not conclusions. Similarly, @michaelegriffin and @teflerinha later agreed that “being a good teacher is  (to an extent) in the eye of the beholder”.

The chat then got off to a gentle start with a few short responses to the first question, ‘What makes a good teacher?’

  • tolerance (@bealer 81)
  • perseverance (@AlexandraKouk)
  • being inclusive, involving students in the learning process (@esolcourses)
  • curious and critical (louisealix68)
  • patience, knowing how to listen without being judgmental, , creativity and passion (@hartle)
  • the resolve to make sure your learners can be the best they can be (@rliberni)
  • the openness & curiosity to be continuous learners (@ShellTerrell)
  • being creative, willing to try out new ideas (@Antoniaclare)
  • a good teacher helps their pupils fly, and bring an enjoyment to learning (@tesPrimary)
  • excellent interpersonal and organisational skills needed (plus good knowledge of subject matter) (@louisealix68)
  • important to admit when wrong or not know (@louisealix68)
  • acceptance of cultural differences, caring of individual abilities differences (@MonaAlBader).
  • resilience? (@AlexandraKouk)
  • I think flexibility goes a long way in the classroom! Wish more learning institutions recognized this & supported it (@ShellTerrell)
  • Good teachers trust their students, and good student’s trust their teacher. Leads to understanding, Ss take risks when they trust (@dalecoulter)
  • Gd Ts realise that if they know something hasn’t worked, the Ss probably do too so just admit it and move on! (@ElkySmith)
  • A good teacher is inspired by his/her students – they bring out the best in each other! (@gnc957)
  • A good teacher doesn’t know that they are. They are always looking for ways to improve their practice. No arrogance about self. (@tesPrimary)
  • Learning and discovering along with your class. Not being a disengaged know-it-all. (@planet_tweets)
  • Good teachers get to know students levels of self confidence (@AmpaIesIsabel)

After a few minutes of this, Shaunwilden tweeted: “Lots of adjective being floated around are [we] trying to get one for every letter?”

Some of these short responses struck a chord with quite a few eltchatters. @bealer81 mentioned passion as an essential quality. @ShellTerrell responded that it is one of the best qualities to have as a teacher and student. @Marisa_C stated that “Passion came out as top T quality in research amongst learners” and directed us to What kind of teacher are you? Are you in your students’ “Hall of Fame”? @tesPrimary tweeted: “Being a good teacher is something that comes from within. Difficult to train. Got to have a passion for teaching and learning”

Empathy was also felt to be very important. @rliberni called it “One of the ‘humanistic’ skills necessary for teaching”. AudreyMisiano said that “knowing u care motivates them to work harder in ur class!”

@Marie_Sanako’s comment that “If you don’t like people, then you won’t make a good teacher” and that a sense of humour is a major asset was one of the top tweets of the session. Another popular tweet that resonated strongly was @bealer81’s statement that “It’s important to remember what it’s like to be a student.” @Shaunwilden agreed and said we should also “remember what we liked and disliked about being [in] a classroom.” @ChristineHealey asked whether, as teachers, we ever stop being students. @MrChrisJWilson cautioned that “The only danger about placing ourselves in learners shoes is we over personalise. Assume every student is the same as us.”

@TyKendall said, in reflecting on his school days, his favourite teachers were the ones who had time for him as an individual; @louisealix68’s favourites were those who answered her questions and showed interest in them. @ChristineHealey appreciated teachers who let her ask questions, even when they didn’t know the answer. @ElkySmith agreed and stressed the importance – at least in students’ eyes – of getting back to students later if you can’t answer their questions on the spot.

A common thread was the ability to recognize individual differences and needs.

  • @hartle said that “students like to feel you care abt them”;
  • @ElkySmith commented that “Ss highly value Ts who recognise that they are individuals and can adapt + respond to that in the classroom.”
  • @AudreyMisiano pointed out the motivating effect that this can have on learners.
  • “Best kind of Tchrs build relationships w Ss & collaborate with parents, staff & student to provide tools for that learner” (@ShellTerell)
  • real teachers never give up on any child in the room, no matter how difficult that child might be. (@bealer81)
  • teaching the whole class, engaging strugglers and bright kids alike. (@planet_tweets)
  • A good teacher supports the learner on their journey, helping with direction, motivation & stamina as well as content & pedagogy (@rliberni)
  • A good teacher smiles a lot and acknowledges everyone in a calm and reassuring way. (@ChristineHealey)

@TyKendall also mentioned the importance of empathy and a “positive mental attitude” and then went on to coin a great new term when he said “there’s nothing worse than a bitter or perma-angry teacher!” @Shaunwilden asked whether perma-angry teachers are “the ones that have been in the school for years and are cynical about everything.” @TyKendall lamented perma-angry teachers who make him cringe, especially when observing them, “you just want to slap them and tell them to turn the frown upside down. ” @AlexandraKouk recommended that negative feelings should ideally be left outside the classroom.

There was a fair amount of discussion about the importance of rapport. @Shaunwilden posed the question “How do you find your way to your new students, especially if they are not too open to you?”

@antoniaclare said that “getting them to write diaries/blogs etc. can be a good way of opening communication”; that when “you bring something of yourself to the classroom +be honest, sts more likely to open up too” and that sometimes “doing something unexpected, shaking up the norms can help get sts to respond to you, change the staus quo.” @cioccas said she ‘listens to them and observes them. @Marie_Sanako felt that “with big, demotivated groups, giving them something creative to do (projects etc) can work well.”

Enthusiasm was another highly-valued quality as “it always rubs off on them / me” (@lu_bodeman). @royparmesan put it this way: “You can’t engage students if you’re not engaged yourself. That’s why curiosity & attitude are needed to go beyond skills.”

Only a couple of people mentioned “knowledge of subject matter” (@louisealix68) or language awareness. @timoslimo suggested that the best teachers “are those that come later to teaching” as they ‘bring confidence from outside of the educational sphere to bear in class’.

@TyKendall, @ElkySmith and @Marisa_C emphasized the importance of reflecting on one’s teaching. @tesPrimary said that a “good teacher recognises that they are on a continual learning journey themselves.” @antoniaclare added that a teacher needs an ‘ability to reflect on his or her own performance and then to change it’; this ‘creative subversion’ is discussed in ‘What makes a good teacher?’

@TyKendall shared a quote from Professor Patricia Broadfoot from the same article that “the highest quality teaching and learning comes when we have the greatest autonomy for the teacher and the learner”. Marisa_C responded that this idea was ‘in tune’ with her own feeling that the aim of all teaching should be ‘to wean the learner away from the teacher’. @JoHart agreed that we have to “invoke ‘self interest in some way’ but stated that ‘for some students we need structure to generate motivation’. On a similar note, @tesPrimary commented that good teachers “build good boundaries and structures that pupils respect and feel safe with.”

@TyKendall, playing the role of the ‘link guy’, provided another interesting link: http://t.co/B4CzTOmR. He also added this memorable quote from Mustafa Kemal Atataurk: “A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.” @ElkySmith suggested being “careful about taking that simile too far – don’t want to burn out!” @teflerinha said there was ‘too much burnout of good teachers.”

@pennyhands cheekily asked if “any other professions require you to be such a nice person?” which lead to these comments:

  • @teflerinha: Warm ,genuine, involved..but not ncssrly always nice?
  • @pennyhands: Ah, yes, that word ‘nice’. You’re right. Not good to be too nice. Just like being a parent, really
  • @rliberni: Being ‘touchy feely’ is good but I think some ‘authority’ is necessary too – think why your learners have come to you
  • @teflerinha: Authoritative rather than authoritarian

As Marisa_C pointed out, it seemed that there was tacit agreement that teachers’ “personal qualities and values are much more important than technical know-how” – “Personal Qualities first, Professional Understanding Second and technical know-how last – methinks”. However, @MrChrisJWilson recalled the words of @englishraven: “great teachers know their subject, can explain it and make it interesting”.

In the midst of all this discussion of the various personal qualities teachers need, @rliberni asked “Can those personal qualities be acquired or developed in same way as knowledge and skill?” In other words, “do you think good teachers are born or can everything be learned?” @ElkySmith suggested that the idea of personal qualities being more important than anything else might be “the uncomfortable truth to trainees and trainers”; @Marisa_C replied: “but so true… through very difficult to tell sb ‘your personality really sucks – u should not be a teacher”. She also stated that “some are born with the qualitites & struggle less with rest but you can work on it”. @rliberni    said “I know ppl who should NEVER go near a c’room just wouldn’t be able to do it (not tchrs I hasten to add)”. @ Shaunwilden’s response was that the ‘basic skills’ can be learnt but being a ‘good’ teacher takes ‘something that is innate’.

On a more optimistic note, @rliberni added that qualities can be learnt and cited the patience that we develop working as a teacher. @AlexandraKouk responded that “teaching’s the kind of work that can change you as a person – hopefully for the better! So you develop some needed qualities”. @cioccas made the important point that one has to first recognise the need to develop good qualities, bringing us back to the concept of the ‘reflective practitioner’. @mltmpk felt that “willingness to improve the skills is the most important thing. Skills can be learnt & improved, but the need to do so is inborn.”

It’s clearly a tough question; it will be interesting to see what @mltmpk comes up with in an ongoing MA study on the relationship between EFL teachers’ personality traits and classroom management efficacy – keep an eye out!

@pennyhands hit a nerve with the following question: “Can people think of occasions when they have concluded that they haven’t been a good teacher?” @TyKendall’s comment “sometimes a bad lesson is merely because something you may have spent hours planning went down like a lead balloon” was a top tweet.

  • @teflerinha: Oh God, yes! Teaching is mostly wonderful, but when it goes wrong I want the earth to swallow me up
  • @TyKendall: we all have “bad lessons” when we think to ourselves we weren’t on our game,
  • @surreallyno: If you never doubted your teaching abilities you are not that good a teacher. IMO.
  • @TyKendall: but a good teacher has the ability to reflect and develop from thrinking through their own practice – so a reflective T
  • @Marisa_C: In the same way they see Ss’ errors as learning opportunities,. too
  • @rliberni: true lead balloons are all part of our own learning journey! & to stop learning means death 🙂
  • @mltmpk: I sometimes feel bad when I am not interested in the topic, then it is hard to motivate and engage std
  • @bealer81: yes. My first year teaching. It was more about getting through the day and surviving than what was being taught
  • @antoniaclare Sometimes you can misjudge yr sts, and lesson doesn’t fly, make me feel like bad t
  • @hartle: gd or bad teaching may also be context relat[ed]. Contexts with unmotivated stds very challenging
  • @esolcourses: I think I would be worried if I didn’t! IME, even the best teachers have self doubts and not all lessons go as planned
  • @Boz23: In all my years of PD I have found that the very best teachers are those who think they’re not so great.
  • @lu_bodeman: Yes, when I realized I was following the lesson plan too closely, and neglecting the ppl around me.
  • @coachyetter: Dont be afraid to fail.  Try something new. If it works, great, if not then you learned something today!
  • @ElkySmith: Too many ‘I’m a rubbish teacher’ thoughts/moments to mention/remember!

Conversely, as @pennyhands pointed out, “bad teachers have a bad lesson/day and don’t notice.”

@Marie_Sanako mentioned the impact of lack of planning: “If I’ve had a bad lesson, it’s usually because I haven’t planned it properly. No excuses :-)”  @louisealix68 said she’s “found un-planned lessons can actually go better than planned ones” and @teflerinha  responded that “Sometimes unplanned means you are responding to ss more I think.” @esolcourses said “Some of my best lessons have been very ‘planning lite’”.

The discussion lead on to the subject of stress and its impact on teachers. @ShellTerrell had a bit to say on this: “A time I was really stressed & one S said you don’t smile so much anymore. I changed my attitude after that…Realized that my stress of teaching had impacted my students. It was a really good wake up call…I found if I was stressed it added to probs w the classrm behavior but if I was relaxed my classrm managmt much better.” @Shaunwilden agreed and added: “It’s amazing how quickly the sts can pick up and even mirror the teachers stress…you see all the time on training courses, the tchers stress, nerves etc actually make for a bad lesson”

@rliberni recalled “a case where we had a ‘staff’ problem which affected every [single] student in the school by osmosis!” @MrChrisJWilson mentioned that ‘bitch sessions’ amongst teachers can lead to a situation where they end up complaining about the same things constantly and feeling worse; @TyKendall  strongly agreed  and added that “even if we are in a mood ourselves, we should always put our “poker face” or “teacher face” on for the SS.” @JoHart said “we should not let our anger re system etc impact on stdnts.”

@antoniaclare recommended this TED talk: How to make a teacher great – Bill Gates

What makes a bad teacher?

@hartle and @TyKendall objected that the ‘good/bad teacher’ dichotomy is “too simplistic and somewhat unrealistic.” @esolcourses stressed that we must “differentiate between attitude & inexperience.” Along the same lines, there was this exchange:

  • @esolcourses: labelling inexperienced teachers as unsatifactory can be demoralising & cause them to switch off
  • @rliberni: good point do as you would be done by & they’re learners too!
  • @esolcourses: yes – agree.  What tends to happen I think is failing teachers are told to improve & left to get on with it
  • @rliberni: I have some who are feeling v overwhelmed in ELTMentor , thrown in at deep end with v little support
  • @Shaunwilden: Thats often the way though esp in private lang schools – from celta to full timetable in a matter of days
  • @teflerinha Agree- don’t think FE system in particular takes enough account of need to develop- all about ‘taking a snapshot’

@teflerinha expressed alarm at hearing teachers say things indicate that they ‘hate’ their students or find teaching boring. @TyKendall suggested that “we all hate our students sometimes if we’re honest.”

@antoniaclare commented that ‘bad teachers’ “don’t respond to what’s happening in the room [and] have given little thought to bringing material alive” and @teflerinha described them as “inflexible, uninterested, unwilling to learn”, though often teachers mightn’t respond  to students because “they’re stressed ‘rabbit in headlights’ syndrome.”

Some other characteristics of bad teachers:

  • bad teachers R fossilized, uncaring, uninterested in stds & job, basically counting the hours until retirement (@hartle)
  • some of the worst are those who think they have nothing to learn (@cioccas)
  • sloppy, lazy…don’t take time to help stds with basic problems bcs they are focusing on themselves (@hartle)
  • The worst say “I’ve been teaching for years and all this new stuff is what I’ve always done anyway”. (@Boz23)

The dreaded inspector reared its head: @rliberni           said, “I’m inclined to agree here & often ‘bad’ tchrs are in the wrong profession (or school inspectors !)”, to which @Shaunwilden replied, “Yes bad teachers become inpsectors to inflict their paperwork on us all ;-)”

Good learners

After all this introspection, discussion turned to what the qualities of good learners. @ChristineHealey joked that good learners “shuttup and listen.” Marisa_C        referred eltchatters to Bernard Spolsky’s Conditions for Second Language Learning for a summary of most ‘good language learner’ research; @AlexandraKouk recommended Learning to Learn by Gail Ellis and Barbara Sinclair for questionnaires which can be used for awareness-raising activities.

Other characteristics of good learners:

  • Good students often think that learning is not enough, need to experiment what they are taught (@AmpaIesIsabel)
  • They know how to learn? i.e. they are not stuck in their ways, expectations, old habits etc, they trust the tcher… (@Shaunwilden)
  • Gd Ls don’t sit back and say ‘I’ve studied this before, I don’t need to do this’ – they’ll do it better than last time. (@ElkySmith)
  • try to take care of their of learning, revising, they are responsible (@mltmpk)
  • great students to me are simply those who don’t give up. I’m determined to help them more (@yitzha_sarwono)
  • know how to learn? i.e. they are not stuck in their ways, expectations, old habits etc, they trust the tcher… (@Shaunwilden)
  • motivated, accepting me as human, snse of humour (@JoHart)
  • try to take care of their of learning, revising, they are responsible (@mltmpk)
  • good ss are like good friends. They’re always pushing further. (@alhen)
  • Good Ls pay attention to detail (@ElkySmith)
  • Good students go one step forward, it doesn’t have to be the one we expect (@AmpaIesIsabel)
  • they are lifelong Learners (@Mltmpk)
  • “those who [want] to/have passion to learn (@JoHart)

As the chat drew to a close @ShellTerrell mentioned the importance of teachers collaborating to help each other develop and asked how we can help teachers that haven’t yet discovered #eltchat. @ElkySmith suggested encouraging teachers to put aside their preconceptions about Twitter and give it a go and also starting a new hashtag for local ELT industries – e.g. #qldelt – and spreading the word. @Shaunwilden responded that it is often easier said than done but that eltchatter “need to make sure we keep going with showing how useful it is despite the opposition.”

@bealer81 said that a good support network – from fellows to academic managers – is essential; @Shaunwilden agreed that it was essential but not always available in-house, to which @bealer81 replied: “That’s where the PLN steps in.” @teflerinha agreed that the PLN is great for “those without peer support or supportive DoS etc.” @Shaunwilden added that, in addition to support being available, that teachers must have the willingness to be supported.

@cioccas said she’s “started a community at work to try to ease other Ts into sharing, supporting & collaborating” but that it might be better to start more at a local level before going global. @brambruggeman suggested running Twitter workshops for teachers as  “they often don’t see Twitter as PLN”. @yitzha_sarwono recommended sharing links, inviting teachers to an #eltchat or webinars.

@ShellTerrell reminded us that “Sometimes it’s all about reaching out to at least one colleague & pointing out what they do well & asking them to share.” @royparmesan agreed and said that, although it is tough, we should lead by example and hope for the best. A bit like teaching itself sometimes!


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