If we look up the definition of teacher in various dictionaries we would come up with the following definitions:
one that teaches; especially one whose occupation is to instruct (Merriam- Webster)
someone whose job is to teach in a school, college, etc. (Cambridge)
A person who teaches, especially in a school. (Oxford)
Reading these definitions, we can come to the conclusion that teaching happens under certain constraints such as place, time, subject and many others. We tend to put teachers into a square box and envision them teaching their subject within the four walls of a classroom. However, as we have already mentioned before, teaching goes way beyond that.
Just like all other professions, teaching has also come a long way, although many might still contradict me and say that we are still teaching the same way as one did in the industrial world. As much as I would like to agree with this statement, when I look back at the way I was taught, when I think about the relationships I had with my teachers and the means of communication within my school, I believe we have gone through slight changes. However, we still have a long way to go and unfortunately not all schools and teachers are running after their professional development. Many language teachers are pursuing their professional development; unfortunately, however, I believe that once they have achieved their Masters, Celta, Delta or any other kind of certificate that entitles you to be a language teacher, all has been set and they are at the top of the pyramid. I am not overlooking the challenges and hard work that is put into pursing these certificates, and how extremely crucial they are regarding the amount of knowledge and training we get before being granted with one. However, the world is lacking one of the most important aspects of character, which a teacher must have: humbleness.
Again, if we check the dictionary we will find the following definition:
the absence of any feelings of being better than others.
Teaching is not about what you know, but about what you can teach the other. And in order for that to happen, one needs to be humble. Some people mistake humbleness for weakness and passivity. For not speaking out and not letting people know your thoughts and ideas. Some even think that to be humble is to not talk about your own achievements. To hide away and not express yourself. It actually means that although one may know a great deal, one does not know everything. It means we are willing to learn from others, whoever they might be. It means to listen and connect to others.
With that being said, I would like to share with you how I see the role of teachers and what I am still in constant pursuit of.
Of course, mastery over what one is teaching is a must as education is a never-ending story. Our mission as teachers is to keep on walking and keep on learning no matter in what level we find ourselves. Teaching is dynamic as is language and the world. We must never stop. Not in the sense of getting stressed and overworked, but in the sense of always being open to learn new things and to reach out to new opportunities and tendencies.
Why do we teach languages? What is the purpose of teaching someone to communicate in a foreign language?
The world is indeed becoming a global village, where there is an increasingly crucial need for all of us to understand one another and communicate with one another. Languages are all about connecting with people. We also know that when someone learns a foreign language there are many cognitive advantages and changes going on inside our brain. Read a little more about the bilingual brain and you can understand the advantages there are in learning languages. Teaching languages is above all, dealing with people, cultures and connecting thoughts and ideas and having a certain passion for people in the first place. Not for languages and not for pronunciation or whatever your line of expertise is, but people. We will not succeed in being a good teacher if we cannot connect to people, listen to people and learn from them at all times. Understanding, having compassion and being passionate about people and about how one can relate to these people, which is not an easy task, I believe is taking the first step towards being a good language teacher.
Teaching is about making yourself a better person, it is about helping others find their own strength to fight their own battles within some limitations of your subject. It is about bringing a compelling topic to your class and involving all students to try to make the world a better place, whether it is by teaching the language itself or about bringing up topics to the language class that can make students reflect upon issues that are bugging them in their lives. It is about showing students the diversity of culture in the world, not the right or the wrong but the different. It is about showing students that when they learn a foreign language they are also learning to acknowledge the different outlooks on life. It is about giving students a possibility of change of perspective in their own lives and realising that the grass is not always greener on the other side, it is just different. And of course, we teach for students to be proficient in the language, but we do so much more than that, or better say, we can do so much more than that.
Teaching languages is not about us, teachers. It is about opening the world to our students. So, I ask myself and you again: who is the teacher you want to be?