Articles for Teachers

Characteristics of Good English Instructors
By:Khalid Al-Seghayer, Ph.D <>

Teachers are the key figures in the English learning process. Their influence is fundamental to their students’ progress or lack thereof. To achieve the desired result in teaching English, i.e. guiding students to its successful acquisition, teachers have to be aware of and adhere to certain essentials. They also need to take into account crucial factors such as classroom atmosphere, classroom management, tolerance, patience, passionate, and other aspects. This introspective essay will undertake to highlight a number of good characteristics that make good English as a second or a foreign language instructor. These attributes are not inclusive of all major characteristics that good English instructors should have, but they seem to be the most important ones.

Ya talkin’ to me?

For English teachers, being good at the language is not sufficient; they must also use appropriate teaching techniques. Yet, many times language skill is the sole criterion used to qualify - or disqualify- someone for teaching. This observation or affirmation is based on the personal and perhaps controversial belief that there is no significant correlation between a teacher’s own language competency and the language achievement of his or her students. On the contrary, English teachers must be familiar with and able to adapt and employ a variety of teaching techniques in addition to having an appropriate knowledge of the language. These techniques are methods of teaching that include classroom behavior or classroom activities and procedures which employ specific strategies selected by teachers to achieve their objectives. Language competency and teaching techniques go hand in hand in enhancing teacher effectiveness in the classroom.

I got Attitude!

The attitude of the teacher also influences student success. A positive attitude is essential. Teachers need to be confident that their students are capable of learning another language. If, for example, a teacher assumes that half of the class is incapable of acquiring the passive voice, then many of the students will never learn this grammatical form. On the other hand, if a teacher is convinced that all of the students can produce the /l/, eventually they will all be able to say it. So, good English instructors are those who remain distinctly conscious of their covert attitudes toward their students' efforts to learn English and the impact of those attitudes upon the success of their learning experience.

What’s the Plan?

The ability to design an effective lesson plan is essential to successful teaching. English teachers need to educate and train themselves on how to design a lesson plan that is tailored to the needs and abilities of their students. The educational aims of each lesson must be clear, and activities should be selected that contribute to the realization of those aims. Lesson objectives should be stated in terms of student capability, that is, in terms of what the student will be able to do as a result of instruction. These objectives must specify a goal in terms of student learning and skill. For example, one specific objective might be that students will be able to answer yes and no questions using the present tense.

Master this!

Teaching for mastery is another vital method that teachers of English need to consider. Teaching for mastery means organizing instruction so all students are given the opportunity to learn what is being taught. Teaching for mastery therefore implies the creative use of a variety of teaching styles. Since different students learn in different ways, the strategic introduction of new techniques may help students overcome a learning problem. For example, if a teacher expects the entire class to master use of the subjunctive, then techniques must be utilized to help the eye-minded and the ear-minded students, or those who need explanation as well as those who learn best by developing their own generalizations. Help must also be given to those who are hesitant to express themselves for fear of looking foolish as well as those who are eager to express themselves and are unmindful of errors.

Remain Flexible

English instructors need to learn to be flexible. This is because foreign or second language learning and teaching is dynamic and subject to change, as well as there is no only one way to teach English. This is also due to the fact that maintaining a flexible teaching philosophy allows them to accommodate the various learning styles, greater diversity, and varied goals students bring with them to English classroom.

Thus, good English teachers should embrace or at least recognize the constant change that the field is ever going through. Additionally, they should always try different teaching methods, think of variety of classroom activities, and strive to search out new ideas. In the hope of finding what works best, English teachers should constantly attempt to employ different techniques and approaches and incorporate various methods and techniques that bring more success to students’ language-learning experiences.

The Manager

Teachers of English need to be aware of classroom management so that they can maximize available class time and maintain discipline. Their routines must be a function of the age of the students, the physical environment, and the purpose of the instruction. For instance, independent work, small group conversations, interest group conversations, and student-led drills can all contribute to the smooth functioning of a class. If the students are actively involved in a class which is set at their linguistic level and which takes into account their interests and backgrounds, they will be so busy learning the language that discipline will, in large measure, take care of itself. Therefore, being able to handle and organize the classroom means a greater probability of success in implementing teaching plans.

Classrooms are extremely complex places where teachers have to make moment-by-moment decisions to translate a plan into action while attempting to maintain a friendly, constructive atmosphere. Unlike other classrooms, students learn through the second instead of the primary language. They deal with all aspects of reading, writing, listening, and speaking in a language other than their native tongue. This is what makes the English as a second or foreign language classroom so complex, requiring special attention. Knowing that the students’ goal in attending English classes is to learn the language requires teachers to create an environment suitable for learning. A friendly atmosphere must be the major characteristic of the classroom. Students need to be shown that the teacher cares about what they are going through and is doing his or her best to help them learn effectively while developing their proficiency levels. Learners after all need a rich and safe learning environment that is exciting, engaging, and allows learners to take risk.. In such an atmosphere, students become self-motivated, willingly playing an active role in the learning process. Consequently, an attempt should be made to create a friendly atmosphere so students are free to express themselves openly, without fear of being embarrassed in front of their peers when they are corrected. This is all can be summed on the conclusion that suggests learning is best achieved when students are in a caring, welcoming, non-intimidating learning environment

A Smile won’t hurt

Another crucial characteristic is tolerance. Students need to feel that the classroom is a place where mistakes are tolerated, where teachers understand that, given the nature of the classes, progress will be slow. Moving from one stage of learning to another takes time, and students should not be upset by mistakes they make. Similarly, teachers should not be discouraged or disheartened when their students do not accurately use what they have been teaching. Students also need a place where they are encouraged to do more and use English all the time. This can be done by means of challenging activities that require students to work hard and/or that provide opportunities for using English. Students, while in the classroom, need to feel encouraged to use whatever they have learned and recognize that their efforts are appreciated. Bear in mind that the classroom atmosphere is affected by the teacher’s attitude and behavior.

Attention Span

Teachers of English should make it clear that each individual member of the class deserves attention, whatever his or her level of achievement. Students should be equal in the eyes of the teacher and receive an equal opportunity to participate and receive adequate feedback on their performance. The advantage of doing so is to show students how they are performing and to increase their motivation through praise. The last point to be addressed concerning the atmosphere of the English classroom is that activities should be designed to reflect actual use of the language outside this somewhat closed environment as much as possible. Students need to be taught the elements of language that enable them to take the right action and use the appropriate responses in real situations.

Patience and Passion

Another vital characteristic of good English teachers is patience. This trait entails that English teachers give their students sufficient time to internalize the point in question. A successful teacher must also wholeheartedly enjoy the work and be committed to their students. English teachers can show that to students through showing their students his or her enthusiasm for learning English, constant efforts to find new and creative ways to immerse our students in the process of teaching them English. Since English teachers usually have students from different cultural background, teachers need to show passion for the various cultures that their students represent. In so doing, English teachers will speared the level of passion to their students who in turn will develop, expectedly, a passion to become better English learners.

Be Informed

In order to understand the underpinnings of their own teaching philosophy and to be a more effective instructors, English teachers should continuously seek all sources that inform them of issues confronting the realm of second language accusation. Through these constant updating efforts, they are able to employ the most recent teaching methods supported by current research in the filed.

Be Dynamic

Another important characteristic is to maintain classroom dynamics, excitement, and a sense of fun. The philosophy behind calling to adopt such character is that students can see the passion of their instructors toward the presented materials, which gives them a reason to become motivated. In implementing such attribute, teachers should assume particular role and employ engaging and fun activities. They can engage students by making them responsible for their own learning, create opportunities, where they take active role in the class activities, and maximize each individual participation and contribution. While doing so, they should act as a guide, a facilitator, and a resource, not an authoritative figure.

Last Words

The complexity of the English as a foreign and a second language classroom requires a qualified teacher and an adequate classroom environment. Adoption of some of the qualities discussed and establishment of the supportive environment described can significantly simplify this complexity and thus enhance the English learning process. Overall, it seems that a successful English classroom is the direct consequence of a qualified teacher.


Khalid Al Seghayer has earned his Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. His research interests include Computer-Assisted Language Learning and second language reading. He has taught English in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. He has published in TESOL Quarterly, Language Learning and Technology, CALL Journal, Internet TESL Journal, CALICO Journal, CALL-EJ Online, and the APA News. He has served as the chair-elect (2002-2003) of the EFL Interest Section in TESOL and the editor of the Newsletter in TESOL (2002-2004). He also served as the Chair-Elect of the Non-Native English Speakers (NNEST) in TESOL (2003-2004). Currently, he is the editor of the CALL Media Software of Reading Matrix Journal and the Chair of the English Department at Al-Kharj Community College.

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