The perfect-teacher-checklist: Part 2

Yesterday I went into what a teacher needs to do. Sometimes though people come in with an entirely wrong set of expectations and get disappointed when the teacher doesn’t provide that. Therefore, I’ll cover today common misperceptions about teachers and what a teacher doesn’t need to do.

He doesn’t need to be your friend

I’ve had this happen a couple of times to me. Students come in and think they are looking for language classes but actually what they are looking for is someone to talk to and a shoulder to cry on, aka a friend. It’s always women that fall victim to this fallacy because men don’t seem to require the same amount of emotional comfort in the teacher-student relationship.

However, a teacher doesn’t need to and shouldn’t be your friend. He can be a good acquaintance and someone you enjoy talking to but not a friend. Reason being is that it’s not his role to provide you with the emotional comfort of a friend. The relationship should still contain a minimum amount of professionalism so the person can give you constructive feedback and hold you accountable to your goals. The lessons should also be geared towards learning and having a good time but not the latter only. For the same reason girlfriends or boyfriends can also never be teachers or really help you with learning. First, they don’t know how to help you and second, even if they did, they probably wouldn’t be professional enough to tell you what you’re doing right or wrong.

He doesn’t need to motivate you

This one is maybe surprising but I’m a firm believer and practitioner of the fact that your teacher is not there to motivate you. The two biggest problems that people have with learning a language to the degree they want to learn it is being consistent and keeping their motivation up. The latter problem really boils down to:

Why are you learning this language?

If you can answer this and if the answer is good enough to convince yourself of the necessity of learning the language, you won’t have problems keeping your motivation up. In other words, it needs to be internal not external. Of course, we all know that and we also know it’s easier said than done. I’m the first to admit that motivation comes in ebbs and flows. With this, a teacher can and should help you by praising, showing how far you’ve already come and painting a picture in your mind of how you’re going to achieve your goal. However, he can’t and shouldn’t answer the question “why am I learning this” or “what do you need this for”. You have to know that yourself.

He doesn’t need to correct your homework

A very practical point. In my opinion, correcting homework together is a waste of time if we are talking about checking correct answers. This does not apply to written homework, which absolutely needs to be corrected and ideally together. Also, if you have a question about something or don’t understand a solution, this is where your teacher comes in. Pure answer checking is better done alone in order to save time for more effective stuff.

He doesn’t need to interest you in the language

Closely related to the motivation argument and often applies to kids or teenagers. I’m not one for teaching youngsters because they, understandably, don’t see the value of learning a language and are interested in other things. There are people that enjoy working with children and learning with them in a playful way and I think that’s awesome and more power to them. However, it doesn’t work for me.

It also doesn’t work if we’re talking about teenagers or adults that want to take classes because “it could be useful” at some point down the road, thereby implying they don’t need it now and they don’t have much of an interest in it. It’s hard to convince someone to eat fish if they never do it and like meat more anyway and it’s the same with languages. If you don’t need a language immediately and don’t have a damn good reason to learn it now, don’t expect your teacher to entertain you so much that you’ll be blown away by it.

He doesn’t need to hold your hand when doing exercises

Some people just want to or need to be spoon-fed everything but that’s not how it works. Working through exercises yourself without winded instructions saves time and nerves and helps you to learn more independently, thereby speeding up your learning process. Not every word needs to be translated and not everything needs to be explained five times. Generally, a student should be able to work on his own and only check back with the teacher if instructions are unclear or understanding something is impossible. Again, really a common sense approach is sufficient but not everyone seems to know this.


This second part turned out to be shorter than I thought, which is a good thing. This means there are more positive attributes that you can look for in a teacher and only few negative ones that need to be avoided. Overall, finding someone that can help you is not difficult at all and it often comes more down to rapport and personal chemistry than methodology and the way someone works.

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