Magazine 2012
Perceptions Of Who Is A Good  
Language Teacherb &A Case Study  
Dr. Sujatha Rao  
Maniben Nanavati Womenb s College,Mumbai.  
Students studying English as a second language believe that the teacher instructing them plays a vital role in  
their learning the language. Very often, I hear students talk among themselves, is the teacher good? How is  
she? They sometimes attribute their success to the teacher who has been teaching them. It is to this statement  
of students discussing what makes a good teacher that has made me ponder exactly that- b what makes a  
language teacher good?b   
Literature has listed some of the characteristics of a good teacher. A good teacher should have command over  
the subject, should have the ability to understand the needs of the students and perform roles to suit the  
classroom teaching. Teachers should be facilitators to students in learning the language. In accordance to the  
language theories, Harmer (2008, p.23) mentions that a good language teacher should have sufficient knowledge  
of Language and interesting things to narrate in the class. They should be passionate and enthusiastic in their  
teaching and be able to effectively explain the use of the language, e.g. grammar, pronounciation, vocabulary  
to students. Brown (1994, p.428) believes that good language teachers should have received b competent  
preparation leading to a degree in TESLb . He also talks about the importance of the ability to understand and  
adapt to different cultures and the desire to upgrade teaching skills. Both Kral (1988) and Shulman (1987)  
emphasize the importance of teachers reflecting on their own teaching. In particular, Shulman considers it  
essential for teachers to b look back at the teaching and learning that has occurredb  for it is the through the  
process of rethinking and analyzing, and reconstructing teaching steps that a b professional learns from experienceb   
Both high school and degree college teachers teaching in English have felt that it is important for language  
teachers to effectively transmit teaching content in a lucid manner and treat students fairly .The first basic  
priority for an English teacher is to have the command of the subject matter, i.e. mastery over the four basic  
skills-reading, writing, speaking, and understanding.b (Brosh, 1996, p.126) Students at the undergraduate level  
and teachers teaching them, agree that the ability of a good teacher should be, to plan and deliver an effective  
lesson. Fluency and good communication skills are good characteristics of a good teacher. Borg (2006, p.24)  
Language teachers were asked to identify distinctive features of good language teachers, which distinguish  
them from teachers of other subjects. Some of the unique features cited are exhibiting creativity, flexibility and  
flexible teaching methodology...  
The characteristics of good language teachers mentioned above were selected from an abundance of traits  
offered in the literature discussed. With the synthesis of characteristics mentioned the following taxonomy is  
offered for analytical purposes:  
A good command of L2.  
To possess effective Teaching Skills  
Empathy towards Students  
Personal Qualities  
Reflection and Improvement.  
Based on Literature, the five categories of the characteristics of good language teachers were derived for  
study. This analysis is not an overview of all important characteristics of good language teacher, but they are  
chosen by the researcher based on discussion in the literature. Other researches may have a different interpretation  
as to what constitutes the most salient characteristics of good language teachers.  
Research Methods  
Case study  
Participants in this study ranked the importance of each category and commented on these categories .This  
study was not meant to broadly obtain the research participants insights into their reported perceptions of  
good language teachers, rather the intention was to explore agreement and divergence among TESOL teachers.  
This case study was conducted at a college in Mumbai. This sample pool was a convenience sample since the  
researcher had to get across teachers teaching English to Gujarati students. Two Gujarati TESOL teachers  
participated in the interviews in which they commented on the importance of good Language teachers. One  
teacher X was teaching the first year students of B.A. (L.L.) and the other teacher Y was teaching English to the  
English medium students (H.L)  
The interview commenced with a list of probe questions which included questions like -.Have you had a good  
language teacher? What qualities made the teachers good? What about the language teacher you did not  
like, what were the qualities lacking? The participants were presented with 2-3 characteristics for each category  
as examples. They were asked to rank the categories according to their importance and explain their reasons  
for their choices. The interviews were conducted in Gujarati.  
At the end, these two sets of data from the teacher-participants were collated in order to discover points of  
agreement or divergence.  
Research Findings  
Xb s Interview. X ranked the ability to reflect on teaching and to improve as the most important characteristic a  
good teacher should possess. This was followed by sound teaching. The least important characteristic a good  
language teacher should possess was having good command of the L2. X explained the importance of teachers  
reflecting on their teaching and updating their teaching knowledge. She felt that it is boring to teach in the  
same way all the time and teachers need to change their teaching style keeping the change in mind. She  
criticized teachers who were appointed on the basis of their ability to speak, but did not have good pedagogical  
foundation. She explained that language ability is not necessarily an indicator of teacher competence.  
X expressed that sufficient knowledge of L2 is adequate for college level language teaching. As long as  
students understand what the teacher is saying, learning takes place as students are proficient (somewhat) in  
English before they enter the college.  
What X perceived as characteristics of a good teacher when she was a student differed from her current  
perspectives as a language teacher. In her interview she talked about the two good teachers she had when she  
was a language student. One was good due to her teaching skills of English pronunciation and the other was  
good due to her patience with the students.  
When asked to identify distinctive features of good language teachers which distinguish them from other  
teachers, X did not rank teaching skills and personal qualities as the most important characteristics she now  
holds. This shows that the characteristics of good language teachers can be a concept that changes over the  
time. How a student views a good language teacher could be very different from the characteristics language  
teachers believe are important. This could lead to a significant gap that fosters mismatched expectations  
between language teacher and her students. A language teacher might expect the teacher to exhibit sound  
teaching skills and possess qualities like patience while the teacher may reflect on her own teaching and  
update her knowledge. A mismatch could create tension in the classrooms as the teacher strives to fulfill her  
own expectations which students may not appreciate.  
Yb s Interview.  
Y selected having good command of L2 as the most important characteristic for a good language teacher to  
possess, followed by good teaching skills and empathy towards students. She believed that a good language  
teacher should at least have a good command of L2. In other words, if one is teaching language to others,  
she should at least know the language enough...Yb s opinion echoes Brosh (1996) whose research participants  
also mentioned the teacherb s command of the target language was vital. Yb s opinion on teachers personal  
qualities was the least important. On one hand, she felt being humorous or active is an innate quality and it is  
difficult to ask people to change. She felt that that a language teacher should be very patient, although while  
ranking she marked the teacherb s qualities as least importance.  
Y felt that her conception of the characteristics of a good language teacher is none different from when she was  
a student. Referring to her past experience of language learning she mentioned that as a student she focused  
more on the pragmatic qualities of good teachers. They needed to possess good teaching skills and help the  
students to get high marks in the exams...  
This section presented data from Xb s and Yb  s interview who ranked the characteristics of good language  
teachers .In the next section a discussion will follow to show how two teachers point of view agree or  
Point of agreement  
Both the teachers agree that it is very difficult to define a good language teacher and should be evaluated from  
different parameters .This mirrors Mullock (2003) that there should not be clear cut answers when it comes to  
good teachers since it involves various aspects. One of the reasons is that it is hard to define the characteristics  
of a good language teacher as the characteristics may differ from age groups of the learners. In the interviews,  
both of them indicated that their ranking of the characteristics of good language teacher may depend upon  
the age of the learners.  
It is possible that students within the same group have different needs and expectations.  
Points of Divergence  
X believes that language teacherb s ability to reflect on their teaching and improve their teaching skills is what  
makes a good language teacher. This is a direct contrast to Y who believes that a teacherb s command of the  
L2 is the most important characteristic of a good language teacher. What one teacher finds important could be  
very different and contradictory to another even if both the teachers are considered effective language teachers.  
This research is not meant to suggest teachers change their beliefs or styles to fit into the formula of a good  
language teacher since there are no formulas for good teaching (Prodromou,1991.p.3). This research is meant  
to raise the language teacherb s awareness of the diversity of expectations as to what constitutes a good  
language teacher and to initiate communication with their students to discuss these issues. With this kind of  
communication between the student and the teacher, the students would be fully aware of what the teacher is  
doing and may support what the teacher does in the class. Teaching is a two way process.The quality of  
teacher and student interaction is significant.  
This study explored TESOL teacherb s own reflective thinking on the important characteristics of good language  
teachers. All these findings suggest that language teachers should not be defined as general global phenomenon  
that applies to all contexts. The concept of what makes language teacher is individualistic and complex. As  
Borg (2006, p.29) concludes in his study, research of distinctive language teachers would be most b productiveb   
and practical when it is conducted in specific language teaching contexts since a language teacher is not a  
monolithic phenomenon amenable to globally meaningful definitionsb  This study suggests that sometimes  
there could be diversity of perceptive within the same teaching contexts among college age learners of similar  
ethnic background.  
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Brown, H.D.(1994).Principles of language learning and teaching. New York Pearson  
Brosh, H. (1996).Perceived characteristics of the effective language teacher. Foreign Language Annuals, 29(2),125-  
Bryman, A.(2001)Social research methods. Oxford University Press.  
Dormyei ,Z ,Murphey, T.(2003)Group dynamics in the language classroom. Cambridge; Cambridge University  
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Kadha,H.M.(2009)What makes a good English Language teacher?: b Teacherb s perception and students  
conceptionsb  Humanity and Social Sciences Journal491),1-11.  
Kral,T.J.(1988).Life saving techniques for the foreign language learner lost at sea. English Teaching Forum,26,6-  
Mullock, B (2003)What makes a good teacher? The perceptions of postgraduate TESOL  
Shulman, L.S(1987).Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review,57,1-