TEFL Oxbridge Language Institute
In this essay I am going to discuss three major topics:
What makes the worst teacher I’ve known and why, and what a best teacher looks like;
I will discuss the kind of teacher I would want to learn from;
And the opposite of a teacher I would want to have.
In high school Fr. McHugh terrified me. I was an awkward stumbly boy in the honors freshman class program filled with the academic cream of the crop. Before then I was a big fish swimming in a small pond, now I was a minnow facing a lot of sharks in a huge ocean.
Enter Fr. McHugh, the instructor for freshman honors algebra. Short, tough and wiry, he had a gruff voice that could be heard down the length of freshman hall. His fame as a former boxer enhanced his reputation as Dean of Discipline. Other boys did not want to get on his bad side, especially when he could frequently be seen grabbing boys by the collar and holding them up against a locker until they cried.
In class he was abrupt, short and not one to repeat himself. You either understood or you didn’t, on his terms. Questions were not welcomed or encouraged. If other students didn’t understand the material they rarely spoke up; most were silent before the tyrant. I was lost. I was intimidated. And I was failing for the first time in my young school career. I contracted measles in the middle of the school year and was gone from school for 10 days. Above all, this was the teacher I feared explaining my absence to and asking for make-up help. He instilled fear in me and I hated him and his class for the rest of the year. My grades reflected that affective bent. Fs and Ds all four academic quarters.
Fast forward two years to my Junior year. I had another Algebra teacher, Sr. Mary Gabriel. She was in most ways the polar opposite of Fr. McHugh. Her demeanor was caring and professional. She always seemed to be prepared for class and explained clearly what we were going to learn each day. I was quickly engaged in the class and made an attempt to please her. I enjoyed her Irish lilt and the way she wandered around the room to observe our work and make corrections where necessary. She may not have known it but she made a real difference in my academic career. I had no interest in being a mathematician but learned I can thrive when a teacher gives me a fair chance at success. In junior year algebra I earned ‘A’s all year long, regained academic confidence and ended up earning a perfect academic record my last two years in high school.
It is obvious that Sr. Mary Gabriel is a far better model of a good teacher. Her preparation was evident, even to a high school student. Her interactions were respectful and affirming, and she had the respect of the class. I remember earning all As in her year-long class.
A lot had changed in me over that two-year period so I cannot entirely chalk up my success to the teacher. But in this case the teacher was the most critical element that helped me find success in math, a teacher who cared and translated the material into easy to grasp packages of information and encouraged forays into mistakes. No public shaming or intimidation.
In reflecting on best teaching practices I can truthfully say I have not always been the Sr. Mary Gabriel kind of teacher. In spite of my best intentions I have, I’m sure, appeared to students as a Fr. McHugh kind of teacher. But I always felt confident in my knowledge and approach. As a music teacher I always have to analyze the material versus the learners’ ability to comprehend and grasp. Indeed each class offers a different challenge since so many come from different backgrounds and skill levels. That is the kind of teacher I need to be, one who is prepared to not only deal with English language subject matter, but demonstrate a professional level of caring.
As a learner I would readily respond to a teacher with the following characteristics:
One who is prepared and organized. An organized teacher has all instructional materials readily available so time is not wasted during a lesson. An organized teacher knows where we begin each lesson and can describe the scope of a lesson at the beginning so all learners are on board with the plan.
One who involves me and works to find the learning styles/environment in which I can thrive. I have observed teachers who do most of the talking and those who invite participation in the flow of the lesson. As a learner the more involved I am the more I take away from the lesson.
One who plays learning games and has a good sense of humor. Games are fun. Learning can take deeper roots when fun is part of the activity. Humor connects to the brain, significantly enhances learning and promotes a welcome environment.
One who finds the things that interest me and incorporates those things into lessons. Most people have a reason for learning a language and those reasons can be quite varied. A good teacher will soon learn what motivates a students and key into those motives in order to help students make greater progress.
One who can diagnose any learning difficulties I may have and find ways to resolve them.
There are many other characteristics in a good teacher that engages me as a student. But I want to know that I am in a safe place as a student so I can make mistakes and be supported in my learning adventure. I also want to get immediate feedback so I might improve and get and remain moving in a positive direction.
I have had other kinds of teachers, especially as an undergraduate and graduate student. No teacher can be perfect fit for every student, and vice-versa. I have had students in groups who I can’t seem to reach individually. Sometimes in a school setting it is harder to crack the tough nuts especially when a specialist teacher has so many students and limited amount of time to work with them. One of the things I’m looking forward to as a TEFL instructor is more small group and one-on-one work. This will enable me to get to know each student better and work more successfully with them.
I’ve observed two very good TEFL teachers so far: Kristina and Gergo. Each had a different situation but above all it was clear the rapport between teacher and student was strong. Breaking the ice and making progress is apparently something each teacher has successfully done. All the technique in the world won’t overcome affective difficulties. As I work to learn more technique and teaching content, I hope to learn how to make a lesson flow smoothly while folding many language skills into the mix. Most of all I want to always remember, “They don’t care what you know unless they know that you care.” Obviously, Sr. Mary Gabriel was a model of this adage, and Fr. McHugh was the polar opposite. I’m glad I’ve had the example of both kinds of teacher so I can align my own teaching practice along more productive and positive lines.