Is empathy the no1 characteristic of a great English teacher?

Director of Studies at SGI, Josh Round (@JoshSRound)… also Chair of LONDOSA – London’s DoS group… in discussion with SGI teacher, Bren about what makes a great English teacher and someone that he would consider recruiting.

Josh covers the following topics which explain his thoughts on what contributes to making the ideal TEFL teacher:

  1. Performance element (Incidentally, I wrote an earlier blog on whether we should let know students about our other lives as performers here)
  2. Empathy for the students
  3. Language learning of teachers themselves
  4. Fun lessons to reduce tension/enhance learning
  5. TEFL teacher recruitment policy

Great English Teacher

Do you agree/disagree with the opinions expressed? Is empathy the no#1 characteristic of a great English teacher? Or did we miss something extremely obvious in the discussion?

I know that the legendary, Brad Patterson has had some great posts on the nature of English teaching (becoming a happier teacher by letting go, a quote that defines your teaching & why you became a teacher in the first place) which you should read if you haven’t done already and even though this is not an exhaustive, in-depth discussion (who wants to listen to long audio?) on a very broad theme, we would be very interested to hear your thoughts on what the most crucial characteristic of fantastic teaching is.







Bren Brennan

About Bren Brennan

Bren initially trained here at SGI and then joined the staff in 2005. Since 2006, he has taught abroad in Budapest, Berlin and now at Mondragon University in Spain. He returns to teach at SGI London every summer and completed the SGI Trinity DipTESOL in 2011. He also regularly writes posts for students here.
This entry was posted in Professional Development, Reflecting on Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Is empathy the no1 characteristic of a great English teacher?

  1. Great listen Josh n Bren. Fun to hear you two go back and forth. I do think that “being able to put people at ease” or the “showmanship” of teachers is important. Students do need to feel comfortable in order to open up.

    Interesting to hear Josh’s change in recruitment and how it’s more professional development-oriented teachers. Like the sound of that!

    Cheers, Brad

    PS… legendary… blush, blush and not at all good for the ego… only if it comes from the etymological sense of “something to read” :

    • Bren Brennan says:

      Cheers for stopping by, Brad.

      The knack, I think, is being able to get the best out of ones natural showmanship whilst not being T-focussed.

      I love the way you shoehorned the etymology into your comment – awesome stuff! And of course, I meant legend in that sense.

  2. Marisa Pavan says:

    Hello Bren,

    Great post! I totally agree making students feel at ease ensures the success of the learning-teaching process.


    • Bren Brennan says:

      Thanks for commenting, Marisa.

      Yes, it’s super important to have fun and when we’re in the midst of that, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the learner outcomes. I know Josh is big on aims boxes and varied methods of error correction, so I’ll try to get him to voice his opinions on those in the future.

  3. For me, the #1 characteristic of a great teacher is not being a teacher. By which I mean remembering that we do not teach but learners learn.

    Love the blackboard graphic 🙂

    • Bren Brennan says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Josef.

      Nice one on ‘the anti-teach’ principal

      I absolutely agree. For me, languages cannot be taught, only learnt. I commented on one of Brad’s posts to that effect; something like, ‘my teaching ideology is to help motivate students teach themselves’.

      Might seem odd to say that and seem like it’s the road to putting language teachers out of business, but think of it like this: in a national park a lone walker might have a nice day out or even possibly get lost, disheartened or even scared. With a trained guide, a group can get the best experience possible, containing all the views and beauty that nature can afford them. They’ll be safe, feel much better for having done it and have a lifelong memory of their journey. Their own input of energy will have carried them though. That’s what teaching sould offer, shouldn’t it? 🙂

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