Be their shining light

I wish we could dispel the myth that all it takes to be a good teacher is knowledge. You only have to watch five minutes of Jamie’s Dream School to see how ridiculous this assumption is. Teaching is a hard job! I’ve lost count of the number of times a trainee has said to me that it is much harder than it looks.  We all know that it takes a combination of personal qualities to become a great teacher: someone who can relate to their students; nurture each and every one of them; show that they care but who is also passionate about their subject.

I think all teachers have that one person that stands out in their school memories as the one who sparked a passion for learning. For me, it was my A level Spanish teacher; she was so keen to pass on this love for the language that I couldn’t not enjoy her lessons.

Thinking back to my secondary school days, the subjects I enjoyed often changed from one year to the next. Why? It was almost entirely down to the teacher. Did they really convey their enthusiasm for their subject? If they seemed like they didn’t care, I didn’t care either… and I was a keen and hardworking student!

Learning a language is difficult; there is no denying it. And so being really passionate isn’t enough. These are some elements of my day to day teaching that I try to incorporate to make the ‘non-naturals’ thrive too:

  • Independent learning – getting them to do the work and not me. They need to build their confidence up in order to feel successful so the more they can work things out for themselves the better language learners they’ll be.
  • Feedback for impact – constantly in lessons, via questioning, modelling etc.
  • Engagement – plenty of activity ideas and variety along with pace and a sense of urgency help here, but none of it will happen unless you show you are engaged too!
  • Challenge – for example, give them an authentic, challenging text and get them to work it out without looking up vocabulary. (This is essential exam skills building too – no dictionaries allowed in the exam hall!)
  • Practice – Inter-leaving content, keep referring to what they should know, and not assuming they’ve remembered. Regular quizzes to highlight gaps in knowledge.
  • Memory skill building – helping students find ways to remember things.
  • High expectations – make sure they know that you believe in them, that they can do it and that hard work pays off.

It is reassuring that when writing that list, the Heathfield Pillars appeared – this happened totally naturally: I promise!

Of course, there is more to teaching than just knowing your subject well, and motivating the students to do their best. I just wanted to convey the point that on days when you really don’t feel like it, I find it helps to pretend you are brimming with enthusiasm.


What strategies do you have to help you on days when you’re not really ‘feeling it’?

Do you feel that pretending to be enthusiastic helps you?

Does it have an impact on levels of engagement in your lessons?  link to Jamie’s Dream School clip.


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