01 mar 2018 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 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/13/are-teachers-born-not-made/?utm_term=.e2f0c99de398 (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.