Seven habits of highly effective language teachers

What are the requirements to be a good language teacher?

January 21, 2023 07:39 pm | Updated 07:39 pm IST

English is a language like any other. Anyone can learn and master it. 

English is a language like any other. Anyone can learn and master it.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Recently, a 16-year-old girl committed suicide in Tamil Nadu allegedly because she was upset at being humiliated by her teacher before her classmates for her poor English language skills. According to her suicide note, the victim felt bad as she couldn’t catch up, as her early schooling had been in Tamil medium.  Incidents of teachers humiliating students for lack of English language skills have been widely reported across the country. Why are such incidents on the rise now? Why do school managements tolerate behaviour that traumatises students? Why does our society look down upon those who do not speak English well? 

One reason why some teachers have lower tolerance toward language errors is that they have been trained to take all errors seriously. By focusing too much on micro-level grammar, such teachers demotivate students and make them lose interest in learning the target language. The fact that most speakers of any language do not use perfect grammar while speaking implies that making language errors is quite normal. Another reason is that English teachers equate the language with intelligence and success in life. They seem to think that those who are proficient in English are more intelligent. English is a language like any other. Anyone can learn and master it. 

Like bullying, picking on students and humiliating them before the class is a crime. It is a shame that school managements allow teachers to behave like bullies. A good education system never tolerates teachers who bully students. Such an environment in the class does not help students learn effectively; rather, it has a negative impact. Teachers are expected to treat students with kindness and motivate and encourage them to accomplish their goals. 

In this context, it is apt to discuss the characteristics of a good language teacher. Proficiency in a language alone is not enough to be a good language teacher. There are other qualities that are required. Based on my experiences, I have arrived at the following seven habits which, I think, are followed by most successful teachers.  A habit, by definition, is a routine of behaviour that tends to occur subconsciously. As the phrase “7 habits of highly effective…”, used by Stephen Covey and his son Frank Covey, has become synonymous with success, I am using the same phrase to talk about the habits of effective language teachers.  

Habit 1: Be passionate about teaching

It is often said that some become teachers by choice and others, by chance. The former is passionate about teaching and love their profession. I have come across many English language teachers who are passionate about teaching the language. Such teachers become increasingly passionate about teaching as days go by and generate passion in students. By doing so, they not only help them learn the language effectively but also make them fall in love with it. Passion is contagious. 

Habit 2: Be knowledgeable

Teachers who have the habit of developing their knowledge as a routine, focus on their professional development. This helps them become effective teachers. Apart from developing their domain knowledge, such teachers also have a basic understanding of how students acquire and absorb knowledge. This habit of trying to understand the students’ psychology enables them to teach the target language (English) effectively.

Habit 3: Be patient

Contrary to advertisements from some coaching centres, it is not easy to become proficient in English in 30 days. Learners learn at their own pace. English language teachers need to be patient and tolerate mistakes. Such teachers will know how to care for introverts in the class and tolerate learner errors.  

Habit 4: Ability to connect with students

Teachers can who have the habit of empathising with others are able to connect with learners easily. Language teachers need to develop the habit of making connections easily. Such teachers put themselves in the learners’ shoes, know their language needs, spread optimism and make them believe that they can do wonders. 

Habit 5: Be polite and encouraging

English language teachers who have the habit of talking to people politely always use positive language, which is informative and proactive. They encourage learners to do things correctly instead of pointing out errors. 

Habit 6: Be a good listener

Being an active listener is an important characteristic of a good language teacher. A listening teacher is open-minded and makes students realise that they have a voice. This habit of being a good listener helps the teacher listen to students, understand their problems, and give them empathetic responses.

Habit 7: Be proactive

English language teachers, who are proactive, know their moral responsibilities as a teacher, create a good learning environment for students, in the classroom, maintain high standards, and make wise decisions. 

The writer is an education columnist and media critic.

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