The Myth of the Perfect Teacher
Note: This post was originally published on June 26, 2012. On October 14th, I did a presentation at JALT 2012 in Hamamatsu with Chuck Sandy and Ozge Karaoglu, during which participants created this prezi. So, I’m adding the prezi to the original post and opening it once again to comments. What are the stereotypes of a perfect teacher? What are real teachers like? And, how can we help each other become the best teachers we can be? (Barb)
“I could be a perfect teacher, if only I didn’t have to deal with students, parents or administrators!”
(overheard at a professional development workshop)
I rarely hear teachers say that they want to be perfect, but I do, quite often, hear them say that some flaw of theirs prevents them from being good teachers. Whether that “flaw” is the lack of training, or lack of language ability, lack of confidence, or something else, the statement implies that there is some sort of ideal for teachers to aspire to.
Becoming the best teacher I can be is a great goal. But, my best is a relative thing. It was different when I was a young, single teacher than it was when I had a young child at home. It was different based on the knowledge and resources I had available at any particular time.
Even though the perfect teacher is a myth, I’ll bet we can describe him or her. I’ll start the list, with myth vs reality check, and I hope you’ll add more in comments.
Myth #1 The Perfect Teacher has an MA or DELTA.
Reality Check: If you’re looking for a job teaching English, a degree or advanced certificate is definitely as asset. But, it’s no guarantee of teaching ability. My MA may have gotten me a job, but most of what I know about teaching I learned after I left the classroom. With so much online, and such thriving social networks for educators, we can all find something to learn. However, what I feel I need to learn in order to become a better teacher may not be the same thing you feel like you need to learn. That’s okay. We can complement each other.
Myth #2 The Perfect Teacher is a native speaker of English.
Reality Check: Some of the finest teachers I know learned English as a second or third language. Since the myth also comes with a hiring bias, these teachers usually teach in their home countries, which often means they understand their students’ language learning needs than I do. All teachers have ideas and experiences that, if shared, will make the rest of us better teachers, too. Sometimes limited English ability holds teachers back from sharing, but most of the time it’s simply a lack of confidence and a fear of ridicule (since Perfect Teachers are native speakers). It can be scary to take that first step into sharing ideas about teaching in English, but simply participating will increase both language ability and confidence. And we’ll all benefit from having more diverse voices in our discussions.
Myth #3 The Perfect Teacher is motivated and confident.
Reality Check: Some of my greatest improvement as a teacher has come from periods of self-doubt and lack of motivation. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard to push yourself to try new things when everything is going well. I don’t think I really began to grow as a teacher until I realized that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Motivation is an odd animal as well, and there are some wonderful posts on the iTDi blog on the subject (that I’ll be summarizing on Wednesday). Particularly in these tough economic times, when teachers find themselves having to teach more hours just to pay for rent and living essentials, it’s hard to stay motivated. I think that’s not just okay, it’s natural. Online and offline groups help us keep up morale, but there are times for all of us when teaching is just a job. Luckily, good training enables us to a provide good value for our students until our natural motivation returns.
You get the idea. What are some other myths that describe the Perfect Teacher? Hopefully, by providing some reality checks we can do a better job of supporting each other in becoming the best teachers we can be, even if we define that best differently.