Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who is a good teacher?

On Friday night, I had an interesting conversation with a coworker about who the best teachers at our university are. One conclusion we came to is that having an advanced level degree in ESL/TEFL essentially doesn't matter that much with regard to student evaluations. Of course, student evaluations are not the only thing to consider when evaluating a teacher but I think they should be a very big part of it. After all, they're the ones that have to deal with you on a weekly basis! And to be fair neither of us have advanced degrees in ESL, but instead have 4 or 5 year's experience each. And we both have gotten some of the highest evaluations around (among those who share this information!) the previous couple semesters, so this conclusion was pretty easy to reach after a couple beers.

Anyway, I still think this is true, 3 days later for the following reasons:

1. You're either a teacher, or you're not. Of course you can improve your skills with training but if you don't have that intangible quality in the first place, it will be tough going I think. It's a sort of charisma, or just being an attractive kind of person (not talking only about appearance here!) that people want to learn from. Advanced degrees don't seem to matter in this regard.

2. Emotional intelligence. Knowing when to push and when to back off. Having good hygiene! Being good at small-talk and keeping the conversation going. Smiling a lot. Not talking too much. Making sure everyone has their turn. Being aware of class dynamics and who is being left out or ostracized. Not everyone just has this I think and it's hard to learn.

3. Teaching intelligence. Knowing how to make things simple so the students understand. Talking slowly. Grading fairly. Making a syllabus that the students understand. Organization skills (very, very important!). These things seem like they could be taught, but I seriously wonder if this happens in the Masters ESL programs with all their focus on theory. It seems like it could perhaps just complicate these matters.

My thoughts on the matter. Of course, I'm sure many will disagree. Please feel free to leave me some comments :)

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