Monday, 22 February 2016

What Makes a Great English Teacher


 This was originally a question I answered on Quora that really got me thinking. We are inviting applications at the moment, and it's my first time recruiting. I'm genuinely excited about it, but it's made me think long and hard about who I want to work with. So, after much deliberation, here is my own guide to what makes a good English teacher.
 
I am in an interesting position at the moment which makes me quite relevant to answer this question; I am about to hire an English teacher to join me as the Second in Department at the school that I teach at. What this means is that I can tell you what I will be looking for in a few weeks time when I come to interview to hire.

First, though, a caveat borne of experience: I once went for an interview at a very good, very traditional school. I was well qualified for the post and when I was rejected for the role I was told that I simply didn't fit the school. I had thought that all the other candidates where quite boring, quite dull people who were overly entrenched in the past. The thing is that the school were absolutely right to reject me. I would've been a terrible fit. I would've fought against the school and they against me. So the caveat is that an outstanding English teacher in one school may well be awful in another, and vice versa.

To continue, then: In a few weeks I will sit across from some candidates and talk to them and what I will be looking for are people who:
Know their stuff: I want staff with great subject knowledge. I want our students to see that their teachers live their subjects.
Care about their subject: I want my students to receive up-to-date and exciting information. I want them to be able to get into deep discussions with teachers that truly care about what they're saying.
Are Interesting: Students deserve staff who lead interesting lives outside the classroom and can share elements of those lives. I want sportspeople, model-makers, musicians, chefs, readers, writers, readers, journalists, historians, film-buffs, artists, critics, nerds, geeks, gamers, because all this enriches the experience of teaching the most wonderful subject there is. Even if it doesn't seem important right now, it will be important at some point.
And then, I am likely to watch them teach a lesson and what I want to see is a lesson where the teacher:
Is Passionate: I want to see how much they care about what they're teaching. Students should be hung on every word because the teacher clearly wants to share their love and interest.
Has very high standards: Students deserve to be pushed and so I expect teachers to speak properly, press students' vocabularies, teach difficult texts and topics and correct students when they use unacceptable language or give simplistic answers.
Has a sense of humour and sense of perspective: You can also read this as 'Doesn't take themselves too seriously.' Schools should be lighthearted, fun places, and expect teachers to reflect this. They should also be able to recognise when a student has done something wrong by accident (as opposed to with malice), and how to deal with this is a way that is appropriate.
So that is my checklist for what I think makes a great teacher, but one last thing. I always want to work in an environment where teachers and students are pushing themselves forward. I think the best trait a teacher can have is to always be learning and questioning. I want to work with people that are unafraid of failure, and embrace criticism and move forward constantly. And if you've got to the end of this, and you live in London and are a teacher and are thinking 'This sounds like me!' then why not apply: Space Studio West London

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