What to Look for in a Language Teacher

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8 thoughts on “What to Look for in a Language Teacher”

  1. These two:
    “We concentrate on how to learn to communicate with each other.”
    “I try to teach the kids communication skills that they will need in the workplace.”
    could also be taken as “not so good” as well. Many of the grammar/textbook-based teachers that I know disguise their teaching by throwing in all kinds of “information gap” and other “communicative” activities to make their classrooms “communicative”. Before I discovered TPRS, that is how I taught last year; fake, unauthentic “communication” and worksheets. Many teachers claim to using “communicative methods/techniques” but it’s just a textbook-grammar wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  2. I love this discussion about what to look for in a language teacher. It once again allows us all to articulate the essence of what drives us as language teachers. I cannot help but mention again the meeting at the end of the last school year I had with the other two Spanish teachers, the principal and a counselor at my high school. The principal asked each of us what would you tell other teachers and students to encourage them to sign up for Spanish the following year. One teacher said, “With me they will learn a lot of discipline that will benefit them in other classes.” The other said, “With me they will learn a lot of grammar which will help them later on in life with their English.” I offered my alternate viewpoint which included students engaged in the class and producing a love for continued language learning.

    I am now reading my 5th book by Alfie Kohn (“Punished by Rewards”, What Does it Mean to be Well Educated”, “The Homework Myth”, “The Schools Our Children Deserve”, “Feel-Bad Education”.) He constantly talks about education that results in a love of learning. He talks a lot about reading instructions that results in a life long love for reading and similar things in other content areas (science, history, math). Before being introduced to CI and TPRS it would have been more difficult to grasp what Alfie Kohn is saying. But now I totally get it. I can not get enough of Alfie Kohn. His works are great for getting the overview of what is taking place in education in the U.S. I also devour what I can about the whole language debate. Many say that whole language lost. That is partially true. But there are many who dare not to flaunt their whole language approach in the present environment but instead use it as much as they can while giving the lip service that is required to the present obsession with direct skills instruction. The whole history of the whole language debate in the U.S. is one that would be good for us to study more. It is so similar to what we are experiencing with CI/TPRS in foreign language instruction.

  3. I wish all administrators and current L2 teachers could read this post. Ben you say:

    Middle school and high school have notoriously destroyed infinitely more possible life long interests in world languages than they have sparked. This is inexcusable, and is what fuels my fire on this blog and in my job more than anything else. We will keep trying to build kids’ confidence so that one day there aren’t millions of adults walking around who actually think that they can’t learn languages, which I find to be a national disgrace and an indictment of the disgusting hubris found in too large a percentage of American teachers.

    And the quote by Saint-Exupéry is perfect. Given the number of hours that I have with my students my goals have to be the following:
    1. To convince students that they really can “learn” this language. They
    can understand, read, and write about the CI we have done in class.
    They feel so proud.

    2. Get them to enjoy the process of “learning¨ a language.

    3. Convince them that being “smart” has nothing to do with L2
    acquisition. Nothing motivates like success.

    The final thought I would have on “What to look for in a language teacher” is that that the teacher must have classroom mgt. down. The teacher must be at the point where they are able to create a relationship between themselves and the students and convince the students that the teacher REALLY loves them for who they are. They must be able to discipline without damaging the relationship. That is where I think a LOT of our effort should focus because it is so hard. It has taken me years and years to even get close and it has taken a lot of conscious effort reading and practicing.

    That is the type of teacher I would want my son to have.

  4. Singing my song, Skip. I’d actually put the classroom management piece as number one. None of the other very important items will actually ring true in a student’s heart unless that atmosphere is safe for them, focused and conducive to learning.

    You are so right about how long it takes and how much personal discipline and effort it takes to create an optimal learning environment in a CI classroom. I find it to be the biggest, most continuing, learning curve for me. Always more to learn about personal relationships, motivation, group dynamics, how the individual’s brain works in a group setting (something I don’t think the researchers talk about enough), and mostly, about myself and my own foibles. Never stops.

  5. The ideal teacher.
    A colleague shared with me recently an interesting distinction which our new principal made: He posed the question: Were the students participating or were the students engaged? My colleague’s view is that they are synonymous: If they are engaged they are participating.

    My response was that every morning the students participate in the pledge of allegiance, but are not engaged. We can participate without being engaged. Engagement is a thing of the mind and the heart.

    Then I realized later that students can be engaged although not participating. In fact, this is what the allowing for a silent period is about. Laurie Clarcq started doing Embedded Readings because of “Justin,” who refused to participate but, at some level, and with his head down, was engaged.

    Another colleague, on the other hand, said I need more activities (and maybe I do). But the activity of activities is not necessarily engaging. It may be fun. There may be a lot of participation. But are the students engaged? And are they engaged in the language? It seems a lot of English and “side-talking” are expended in the pursuit of participation and activities.

    Once we get a taste of TCI engagement it is hard to go back to participation.

    1. Nathaniel, this is excellent. Makes so much sense. Engagement is key, with the lightbulbs going off in the kids’ brain. Love how well you explain this, and the distinctions you make.

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