Are good teachers born or made?

We often discuss this question both in the field of education and during informal conversations elsewhere. A similar debate is not that frequent among other professions, for instance we do not seem to ask whether doctors are born or need to study hard to develop. Many people advocate that teachers choose to work in the area out of passion or due to vocation. Contrasting it to other occupations and you will be glad to board a plane whose pilot is not simply someone who loves flying (Green, 2015). A passion for the subject matter and for teaching is positive to the mix of what builds the teacher. However, it is far from being enough if we aim at quality teaching.

Teachers can be born with a passion for learning, for teaching, for education. Nevertheless, if no action is taken towards the development of more effective and innovative techniques to follow changes in society, in the context we work, and the ever-changing human nature and needs, we risk becoming obsolete in the modern world. How many advances in other domains have we heard of in the past decades and how much have we done for education at the same time? These are questions that may help us to distinguish between teachers who feel entitled to recognition because they chose to follow a vocation and those who work hard to improve their effectiveness in the classroom (and outside, if possible or needed).

The inquiring mind of educators may inspire learners to reach beyond past generations and positively affect society. This kind of reflection requires not only questioning the status quo or what we have been doing for a long time, but also critically considering feedback received from learners, trainers, peers. That is one possible manner to keep developing professionally.

Language teachers have diverse backgrounds, many unrelated to teaching (Rossner, 2017), career changes to the field happening more frequently than in other teaching areas. How do people become language teachers? Once again, it is widely believed that someone speaking the language may teach English lessons. Therefore, many start with very little training learning informally while teaching. Most novice teachers tend to follow models set by the teachers they had (Rossner, 2017). Some pursue a university degree or certifications such as Cambridge English CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL. After some success with learners that validate our work by feeling motivated in lessons and generally performing well, many teachers feel accomplished, believing they are doing a good job.

Despite the favourable outcome, some students are not learning. Even though there are certain aspects of learning that are beyond the teacher’s control, the most effective professionals do reflect upon reasons why one of their students are not learning. Also, they research and try out new techniques to reach those students, rather than easily stating they will never learn. Learning requires an active part from the students as well, that seems to be true for all classrooms. However, there are also those learners in our classrooms that will learn despite our work and teaching and we usually forget that is also true – some learners would be successful even if we were not there and should not be included in our list of achievements.

It is how teachers help each language student develop further than what they would do on their own that makes a teacher effective – those who would learn anyway are pushed harder, those who cannot learn on their own are given support, and the ones in the middle faced with a balance between challenge and support to go further. Successful teaching then may lie in helping those autonomous learners to learn better or more, strengthening their skills, reaching those who do not seem to learn, and, at the same time, support the ones in between in the best ways possible.

In conclusion, the passion we seem to be born with may contribute to the empathy and a constructive learning environment. As Bligh (2012) mentions, ‘teachers’ personality traits mean much more than mere academic ability.’ This is true in building the atmosphere and inspiring learners. Nonetheless, techniques, knowledge about the language, the learners and learning, and learning management need constant efforts and an active participation in our development. Teachers’ attitudes, values, beliefs may come naturally. Other skills can be taught and improved. Neither category is enough without the other. Teaching is not easy, it is not for anyone who loves the language or the classroom, only for those willing to go beyond, born with or developed teaching talent.


Bligh, R. (2012) ‘Are teachers born and raised (not trained)?’  ‘The Washington Post’ 13th November 2012. Available at (Accessed on 20th February 2012).

Green, E. (2015) Building A+ Better Teacher – How teaching works (and how to teach it to everyone). New York: Norton & Company.

Rossner, R. (2017) Language Teaching Competences. Oxford: Eaquals.

Marcela Cintra

Marcela Cintra is the Head of Products in the Academic Department at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. She has been working with English language teaching for over 20 years, been involved in teacher training and development programmes and presented in ABCI, LABCI, BRAZ-TESOL, TESOL and IATEFL conferences. A CELTA, ICELT and Delta tutor, she has an MA in TESOL. She is the current first-vice president for BRAZ-TESOL.

  • Katia umekita
    Posted at 08:56h, 02 março Responder

    When you are part of a system where standardised tests are much valued, it is rather easy and therefore dangerous to evaluate your skills as a teacher. As you’ve mentioned, there are many factors taken into account and it that does not mean learning is taking place. From what I have seem, teachers have devoted themselves to acquire the knoledge of techniques. I trully understand that we, teachers, must be constantly developing and getting updated and adapting and studying. However, I have had this terrible feeling that this almost obssession for certificates have transformed teacher in “technicians”. Powerpoint has killed creativity and emphaty has got lost in the way. We have been relying ourselves too much on factors that push us aways from students. The current question should not be, then, if we are good teachers. We are extremely well prepared teachers. The puzzle here is: how do we know students are learning?

    My doctor is an excelent teacher. He thoroughly explaims anything he believes to be important to me. My hairdresser is an excelent teacher. He explaims in detail his reasons for me not to have such haircut. My fisiotherapist is an excelent teacher because he patiently explaims all the muscles and moviments I have to perform. All of them have the same feature: they can see and deliver what I need. As I mentioned before, standarlised test prevents it to happen. Foccusing on techniques as well.

    • Marcela Cintra
      Marcela Cintra
      Posted at 18:14h, 30 abril Responder

      I agree with you, Katia, in the sense that standardised assessment may prevent us all from looking at the bigger picture. A teacher is needs to develop knowledge and skills (we cannot neglect that), but also attitudes and awareness. That means understanding learners, having empathy for colleagues and students is a must.

  • Beckett Haight
    Posted at 15:16h, 10 novembro Responder

    In the same vein, I wonder are good PARENTS born, or does one need to really work hard to be a good parent.

    Read books, talk to others, take classes, etc. Or can you just innately pick up best practices?

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