Stephen Greene

What Has Teaching Ever Taught You?

Things that teaching English has taught me

It is something of a cliché that the best teachers always learn from their students.  It has become a cliché, though, because it is true, or at least it should be true.  For example, some of the things I have learned this week include

  • why there isn’t one standard voltage for all of Brazil from a retired electrical engineer,
  • how to do a cool magic trick from an amateur magician
  • I realised that I like fantasy books, but hate fantasy films, while I love whodunits on the screen, but find them boring as a form a literature.

But these are all one-0ffs.  There are other things I have learned that have taken me whole career, so far, to develop,



When I first arrived in Brazil I knew no Portuguese at all.  I have been lucky to have found a number of different sources to learn some of the language, but undoubtedly one of the main forms, at least at the beginning, was in my English classes.  I am not talking about teachers who directly, and shamelessly, ask their students how they say such and such in Portuguese. Instead, I picked up a lot from the mistakes my students constantly made.

For example, I noticed very early on that a common mistake was when students said ‘I am living here for 10 years’.  I realised that if all my students were saying this it was probably because of some negative language transference.  In future classes I was always on the look out ofr patterns of common errors in English so I could incorporate them into my own Portuguese.



Apparently, as a teenager I wasn’t the most patient of people, especially when it came to people who didn’t know what I knew.  The phrase ‘he doesn’t suffer fools gladly’ could almost have been created just for me.

I can lay no claim to being the most patient person in the world now, but I have come to realise that not knowing something is great.  It just provides you with an opportunity to learn something.



I now work for myself as a freelance teacher, trainer and materials writer.  This means I have had to develop skills more commonly associated with running a business than controlling a classroom.  I still need to work on my negotiation skills, but I am improving all the time with experience.  There is a chance that I would have worked for myself if I had never become a teacher, but we’ll never know.


Upside down…

I quickly learned to read upside down when I became a teacher.  While monitoring writing exercises it was much easier to read the wrong way up than interrupt the students to see what had been written.


…and back-to-front

Think reading upside down is no biggie?  To be honest, it isn’t.  I was able to master it pretty quickly.  It took me a lot longer, though, to master my party piece which is being able to write upside down.  Since I started teaching a lot of private classes I have found it makes things slightly more efficient if I can write something on a piece of paper and have my students read it as I write.  As they usually haven’t mastered the art of reading upside down, this meant I have developed the skill of writing upside down and back-to-front.  The sad thing is that my handwriting is often more legible this way than when I write in the more traditional manner.

And what about you, my reader?  What has teaching ever taught you?


P.S.  In preparing for this blog I learned about the Yellowstone supervolcano.


Image Credits

Hand up by Charlie Baker  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ring by Taymaz Valley (CC BY 2.0)

Student silhouette by John Jordan (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Teacher by Roberto Verzo (CC BY 2.0)

Pages by Iwan Wolkow (CC BY 2.0)

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Stephen Greene

Stephen is a freelance teacher, trainer and editor. He has been teaching for over 20 years all around the world, but has been living and working in Curitiba, Brazil for the last 6 years. He writes self-indulging articles about all things associated with languages at

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