Not every teacher will earn a teacher of the year award.
In fact, most of us never will in our lifetimes. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t great teachers. The best teachers don’t always have a medal or a certificate, but they do tend to have certain qualities in common. Here are five of the most important qualities the best teachers share. How many of them do you have?
5 Qualities Every Great ESL Teacher Should Have
Top Teachers Are Flexible
Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape. I often remind myself of this proverb when things don’t go as I had planned. Which is far too often. But that’s an occupational hazard in teaching. Things frequently don’t go as planned. Activities take too much time or too little. Students need more explanation or additional practice on concepts we think are easy to grasp. Students are absent or they are full of questions or they want to learn about something you hadn’t planned on teaching. And these are just the normal kinks that come in a teaching day! If you are a teacher, the unexpected does and will happen. Frequently. You have to be flexible, to bend with the breeze like a palm tree rather than letting it break you like it does the mighty oak.
Top Teachers Are Creative
If you get excited about scrap book paper and laminating, you are provably a creative teacher. I’d be willing to bet almost all teachers are at least a little bit creative. It’s always necessary to supplement the text book and come up with new and interesting activities so students can practice the skills they are learning. But it’s even more important for ESL teachers to be creative. We have to be creative with language itself. We can’t take it for granted that students will understand the instructions we give or that they will be able to say out loud an answer that they know in their heads. Language is so essential to communication, and language is exactly where our students are struggling to improve themselves. ESL teachers need to be creative in what they do in class but also in how they communicate with their students and how they ask their students to communicate with them. And laminating and scrap paper aren’t bad, either.
Top Teachers Are Organized
Creative people are often the least organized, and people born organized aren’t necessarily creative. But the best ESL teachers are both. For ESL teachers, organization is necessary on a big level as well as on a small level. You have to be able to look at your curriculum or text book and determine what you will cover in the school year. That’s big level organization. You also have to know how long certain activities will take each day and how to fill the extra minutes when they come up. That’s small level organization. Plus you have to keep records of student performance and calculate grades on a regular basis. You have to know which papers to bring to class which days and what equipment you will need for any given lesson. It’s a lot. But even when organization doesn’t come naturally, it is something we can grow in ourselves. If you aren’t a BO (born organized) you can still be a successful teacher with a little intention and attention to keeping yourself and your students organized.
Top Teachers Are Good at Getting Students to Talk
We all know those people who seem to have gone into teaching just so they can hear themselves talk. This is not a good trait in an ESL teacher. In fact, the opposite is true. ESL teachers have to love the sound of their students’ voices. As teachers, it is our role to get our students talking as much as possible and using the language they are learning. That means we have to stop talking and turn the conversation over to our students. In fact, if you do any amount of research, you’ll find one article after another on how to reduce TTT (teacher talk time). All of this isn’t to say you can’t talk while you are in class. That is unreasonable. But you should seek to keep your talking as minimal as possible and instead encourage your students to communicate with you and with each other as much as possible.
Top Teachers Are Knowledgeable
I have heard it said that there are three levels of knowledge. The first is taking information into your own mind. The second is being able to use that information. And the third is being able to explain to someone else why you do what you do because of that knowledge. It can be tempting to think that speaking the English language is all it takes to successfully teach the English language. This is not so. Even if you aced all your language arts classes in elementary school, teaching language takes more than just being able to speak it. You have to know and understand the rules and be able to explain when things do and don’t follow them. You have to teach students the way language is actually used as opposed to all the theoretical rules or the ones in an old grammar book. And you have to be willing to always add to your knowledge of English. It is essential for ESL teachers to be knowledgeable, to be learners as well as teachers. So much of language use, in any language, simply emerges via by autopilot. The best teachers go beyond this and actively learn about the language that they teach so that they can explain the whys and hows to their students.
You are not perfect.
No teacher is. But if you strive to always become better – better at what you do, better in how you communicate, better in what you know – you will be a successful English teacher. If you feel like you lack in any of these areas, it’s okay. As long as you are willing to become better. That’s what we love as teachers, isn’t’ it? To see people learn and become better at what they do. How good would it feel to look in the mirror and see that same kind of progress in ourselves?