It is a great topic for discussion!
As a mentor and teacher trainer, I tell my colleagues that some skills are a given. Meaning, before we even start working as teachers, we acquire enough knowledge of the subject. We are supposed to be able to read, write, listen and speak English fairly well. Coping with the inevitable discipline problems is also part of our pedagogical training. All of us come against the same problems regularly: discipline, motivation, tardiness. I would add dealing with very gifted children and those with psychological problems to the list. It is also a given that to develop professionally, we should continue to educate ourselves: read books in the original, watch videos, listen to audio recordings and use every opportunity to talk with native speakers. Consulting dictionaries and reference books, using the internet to search for information add a lot to our professional growth. It is a life-long process.
And then there is a different list of qualities, skills and knowledge to develop.
• LOVE. We should love what we do! A teacher is a person who knows a lot in their chosen sphere of activity, and who wishes to continuously share with others. We should also love those we teach, yes, the good, the bad and the ugly. The familiar quote from “Romeo and Juliet” is, “Love goes toward Love, As schoolboys from their books; But Love from Love, toward school with heavy looks”. Blessed is the teacher who is always happy to see his or her students. It is a great professional victory when the students rush into our class with eager happy faces.
• TOLERANCE. We teach mixed-ability classes; the adults are no different from children. When I face a new group of teachers at a professional development course or a training seminar, I can see at a glance that some of them are really good, some are average, and some are sadly lacking in an important skill. It is my task to share my knowledge with them, and to do my best for them all. We should also be tolerant to children, no matter what problems they may have. It may be easy to love a brilliant winner; it is much harder to love a loser. It is even more difficult to be tolerant to one and all, and to teach your audience this vital skill.
• PATIENCE. When dealing with children, we should always be ready for the unexpected. Adults may surprise their mentor as well. We may have to repeat the same instruction ad infinitum, feel totally frustrated when our class cannot understand what seems completely obvious to us, and get an impulse to yell or bash our heads against the wall when listening to some students’ parents. It requires a lot of patience just to keep our cool! These are not skills which are usually taught at a pedagogical institution. We pick them up as we go along and use them to our advantage. We may help an unruly or over-excited class calm down simply by staying calm ourselves.
• CHANGE. Children are malleable. We can often do something even for and with those who are considered to be incorrigible, slow, disruptive or even dumb. Love, tolerance, patience always pay. It is extremely hard to change the way adults act and think. “All children should sit straight, raise their hands when they wish to answer or ask a question, perform all the tasks I set, and behave!” a not-so-young teacher recently informed me at a seminar I was conducting. “Have you seen… children?” I was tempted to ask. There is an old English joke which goes this way: “Mother to elder daughter, “Mary, John has been quiet these five minutes! Run and check what he is doing, and tell him to stop at once!” Any mother knows that when children are quiet, it spells trouble or mischief! There is a fine line between allowing younger students to relax, and managing the class. Certainly there are impediments. If there is at least one pupil whose behaviour is disruptive, they may wind up the whole group into some frenetic activity which has no connection to the aims of the lesson. There may also be such an adult in any group we teach. Once we identify such a student, we can work out some measures to control the situation.
• ACCUMULATION. Some things work, some don’t. What is good for one class may be bad for another. It is useful to have a folder with one’s own little or big findings. What we learn during our education, what we hear at any training course may be very good. The techniques which we worked out and tried successfully are our own. They work for us, so we can try them again and again if needed.
Nina MK, Ph.D.