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What makes a good foreign language teacher?

Modem methods of language teaching, with their emphasis on the teacher as model and the constant interchange between teacher and student, require a more sympathetic relationship between student and teacher than did earlier, more impersonal methods. ...

It seemed to me appropriate to question the students themselves regarding that topic of such vital concern to all of us: What makes a good teacher of English as a foreign language? In tallying up the student responses, one salient and somewhat heartening factor be­came apparent. The students, speaking from sheer experience on the receiving end of the classroom situation, tended to put forth advice strikingly similar to that which most methodology and educational psychology textbooks and courses offer... The students had had a variety of teachers. They were not required to sign the question­naire and they responded at length with a complete lack of diffi­dence. Despite the diversity of the students themselves, the respons­es were revealingly uniform.

First on the list — mentioned by an overwhelming 78 per cent of the students — was the teacher's thorough knowledge of his subject. As one student wrote: "It doesn't matter how nice a teacher is if he doesn't know what he's talking about."

Logically, the next most important concern was how the teacher goes about imparting that knowledge — in other words, methodol­ogy. What the students requested most often was variety within the lesson hour.

"If we just do drills forever, I fall asleep. Why do we have to do idioms for a whole hour? "

"It's nice when you have a little grammar, and then a dictation, and then some reading or a discussion."

The students also frequently mentioned the need for activity in the classroom. Many of them referred to language games as being useful and enjoyable. They also seemed to feel that they should be constant participants:

"The teacher shouldn't do all the talking."

"I like it when the students go up to the board."

"Discussions and debates are my favourite way of learning."

Students complained vehemently about teachers who use up pre­cious class time telling personal anecdotes. On the other hand, the importance of a teacher's sense of humor and his ability to take the tension out of language learning was mentioned repeatedly:

"If he can laugh once in a while, you don't get so nervous about making mistakes."

"When the teacher is smiling at you, you want to try."

Also stressed was the teacher's preparation of the lesson and a conscientious attitude toward student papers:

"You can tell if he runs out of things to do before the bell rings."

"Why should I turn in my homework? He doesn't grade it.for about a week, anyway."

Discipline, although mentioned specifically by only a few, was hinted at by many.

"There are some teachers who just let a class talk all the time. Then you never learn anything."

"He says your homework is due on a certain day and then he lets people turn it in later. Or he forgets."

"I don't think she cares if we're absent or not. I wish she did."

Getting away from actual teaching methods, over half of the students had something to say about the student-teacher relation­ship. Most often, they expressed a desire for a sympathetic teacher who "remembers what it was like to be a student.": "He should," as one student with an obvious command of the colloquial idiom put it, "be on our wavelength." They felt that the teacher should "know each student as an individual," and there was a frequent demand for justice:

"She only talks to the best students. Doesn't she know I'm try­ing?"

A significant number of students expressed a fear of being embar­rassed by a teacher's caustic wit.

"They ought to be polite to us. We're people, too."

"She only became a teacher so she could be powerful and hear her own-voice."

Lastly, just short of half of the students had something to say about the character of the teacher himself. A majority of the responses praised a teacher who is confident and who obviously enjoys his pro­fession and specialization:

"I liked him right away. He walked in, wrote his name on the board, and started right in. You could tell he wasn't new at it."

"If he doesn't know the answer, he's not afraid to say so. So you know you can trust him."

"I used to hate compositions, but my teacher likes writing and she just makes you like it. She has a lot of fun."

"He could probably have done a lot of things, but he wanted to be a teacher. It wasn't for money either."

The students also referred to teachers with endless patience and amiable disposition that could be provoked to anger only in extreme cases. The teacher's voice was mentioned, too:

"It shouldn't be monotonous."

"You have to hear him in the back row."

Finally, a surprising number were concerned about the appear­ance of their teachers:

"He's always neatly dressed. It makes things business-like."

"She's not really pretty, but I don't mind looking at her all hour. Anyway, she tries to look nice."

The composite ideal teacher, then, with infinite knowledge and energy, impeccable teaching techniques, a sense of humor and a talent for discipline, along with personal charm and eternal pa­tience, may seem rather hard to live up to on some Monday morn­ings. But as one understanding student wrote:

"What makes a good teacher is someone who tries to do every­thing I have listed above. But I understand that teachers are only people like me."

2. Answer the following questions:

1. The author claims that "modern methods of language teach­
ing... require a more sympathetic relationship between student and
teacher," Do you think that the language classroom differs funda­
mentally in character from the science or maths-classroom? If so, in
what ways?

2. Teachers and learners are subject to social distance. The rea­
sons for this are as follows: different ages and interests, different lev­
els of knowledge of the subject, unequal status, unequal distribution
of power. Do you think there is a high or low level of social distance
between teacher and student in this country? Does it not contradict
the idea of "a more sympathetic relationship"?

3. Do you think that the responses of the students about a good
foreign language teacher depend on the age of the students? Would
the requirement "teacher's thorough knowledge of the subject" be
the first on the list in all the age groups?

4. What do you think of the students' assessments of a teacher's
efficiency? Can it be regarded as objective? Do you think that the
students should be questioned regarding this topic? In what way?


3. Make up your own list of qualities that make a good foreign language teacher
and compare it with the one given in the article.

4. Read the following text for obtaining its main idea:

Quite properly, one may argue, the emphasis in society today is falling upon the need to individualize. The danger that the individ­ual may become lost in the crowd has led in turn to the questioning

of the very basis of authority by students, and in some cases by Au­thority itself.

It is for this reason, among others, that schools constantly need to examine the relationships that exist between teachers and pu­pils, indeed within the school as a whole, and ask some, or all, the following questions: is it possible in today's climate of opinion to continue operating on an athoritarian basis? Can discipline be maintained in a situation where there is little day-to-day social com­merce between students and teachers, and where relationships are based not upon mutual trust and understanding, but upon a "Do as I say and argue afterwards" approach? How much effort are we making to understand the pressure under which children are op­erating (or failing to operate)? What, come to think of it, do we mean by discipline, anyway? How far is it possible to open lines of communication in such a way as to admit the possibility of children being outspokenly and fiercely critical of what is happening in their own school?

Primarily, however, the concern must be with the child and the way or ways in which any child lives and moves within the school.

There is little point in teachers believing that an expressed desire to help, to guide and to advise will be accepted at its face value by today's child. The teacher has to prove himself through a period of apprenticeship, during which time he will be assessed by the children themselves. If, during this time, he reveals a genuine, as opposed to an expressed interest, he will eventually be accepted in both a tuto­rial and perhaps a counselling role.

I admit to a personal doubt as to whether any teacher will be ac­cepted in a counselling role if he has not at some time or other joined regularly in some activity involving prolonged contact with children in a social setting. Once a child has committed his trust there is a further need to create situations where, if necessary, the teacher may make himself available to 'children in a private capacity, as a friend, when he may be talked to alone and in confidence.

But the pressures on teachers today are considerable, especially since their sphere of operations has increased to include the individ­ual welfare of all children in form or tutor groups. Unfortunately it is hard to see how tutors can become tutors in the real sense of the word unless they are prepared to become deeply involved (though not so involved as to be unable to be dispassionate and clear-sighted) in the interest and preoccupations of the children. To fill the position sat­isfactorily implies a desire to know the child's background and his

family history, and it implies also a respect for the child as he is, and not as we would like him to be.

(From: Stuart-Jervis C. Pastoral care. L., 1974. P. 15-19.) 5. Answer the following questions:

1. Why does the need to individualize become so urgent in our
society in its present stage of development? What is your idea of the
basic requirement of our educational system: "The child is not an
object but a subject of education" ?

2. Do you think we can say that the "climate of opinion" has been
created in our country? What does it mean? In what way does it af­
fect the atmosphere in school and the teacher-student relationship?

3. What does the author of the article mean by "operating on an
authoritarian basis" ? Is this manner still characteristic of modern
schools in our country?

4. What are the pressures under which children nowadays are
operating? Are the schoolchildren of today different in anyway from
what you used to be at school?

5. What personal qualities of a teacher can help him to pass
"a period of apprenticeship" with his pupils successfully?

6. How can you create situations where you can be available to
children as a friend? What do you think of teachers who, for exam­
ple, invite students to their places for a get-together?

7. Do you agree with the author's recommendation to respect the
child as he is, and not as we would like him to be? Does it not con­
tradict the basic idea of educating the child?

8. It is clear that the pressures on teachers very often prevent them
from becoming a tutor in the real sense of the word. Do you see any
practical ways of improving the situation?

6. Very often the form tutor's role lies somewhere between the extremes of the tutor as "register clerk" and the tutor as the "key person" at school. Enlarge on the list of his duties and obligations to his pupils. Which of them are the most im­portant ones?

—to have all the necessary information on his pupils;

—to have interviews with parents;

—to be informed by subject teachers about problems or worries
of a pupil;

— to make written records of the assessment of his pupils;

— to see pupils in times of crisis or when they are in trouble, etc.

II. Social skills in meeting people, listening and conversation are very impor­
tant for a teacher.

1. Act as a teacher in the situations given below. Make dialogues based on the following:

1. Father — to Teacher

The conflict is my relationship with my son. On the one hand, I want to be a good father and give him the advice he is asking for. He is in the tenth form, not sure where he wants to go, what he wants to do. But on the other hand, he reacts like crazy to me. I know that he needs to make his own choices about where he goes and what he does ' and so I am kind of torn between saying, "This is what I think you ought to do," and saying, "Stay with the moment and focus on each day and your studies and the next day will take care of itself."

2. Pupil — to Form Tutor

I' d like to tell you something in confidence. Do you know why our boys missed the chemistry class? It's because we hate the chemistry teacher.

3. Headmistress — to Teacher

Frankly speaking, your manner of dressing and your hair style seem a little bit bizarre for a school teacher. Don't you think that a teacher has some special obligations to his pupils in setting a cer­tain example?

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