Philip Kerr’s Six Inspirations to become a teacher

philip-january-2007This list was supplied to me by Philip Kerr, teacher, trainer and materials writer. I had the pleasure and honour of working on the Straightforward course with Philip and have always immensely enjoyed his talks and articles for teachers. In fact, I wish he’d write more! Anyway, he supplies here a very interesting list of things that inspired people to become teachers. Food for thought… 

In January of this year, I moderated an online discussion organised by SEETA, the South-East European Teachers’ Association, the subject of which was ‘who or what has inspired you most in your work as a teacher?’ The topic of the discussion itself was in part inspired by own mid-life need for an inspirational shot in the arm. If I learnt one thing from the experience, it was to revise my profound suspicion of online discussions. Here is what people said … in order of frequency.

1 Other teachers

The most frequent postings concerned teachers (mostly from high school) as role models. The inspirational qualities included patience, treating students as equals, approachability, dedication and a sense of fun. One comment that particularly struck me (as a writer of coursebooks) was a description of one inspiring teacher as ‘fun and different … she didn’t use coursebooks’.

As a follow-up, I asked my teenage daughter if she had any teachers who might inspire their students to become teachers. Her response was a bemused smile – parents ask such dumb questions sometimes.

2 The English language and cultural icons

With my native-speaker-tinted spectacles, it had never crossed my mind that anyone might actually be inspired by the language itself. One participant talked about the endless joy of learning a language; others talked about an obsessive interest in the language. I realise now that I should have been aware of this long ago: as an itinerant teacher trainer, I know that many people are much less interested in what I’m saying than how I say it.

Closely related to the language interest is an interest in the culture of the English-speaking world, especially pop singers. One participant’s path to becoming an English teacher began with a compulsive desire to understand the lyrics of a Tina Turner song. Others cited Duran Duran (Lady Di’s favourite band) and George Michael. Is there a new generation of young teachers out there inspired by Britney or the Pussycat Dolls?

3 Students

No one has been inspired to become a teacher by their students, for the obvious reason that you don’t have any students until you become a teacher. But having taken the step of becoming a teacher, many testified to finding an on-going motivation through their relationships with both individual students and whole classes. This is also, of course, the ‘correct’ answer to the question of who inspires you.

4 Trainers and training

Four-week certificate courses or longer diplomas often work their magic, and MAs have been known to do the trick, too. This business is not short of ‘gurus’ and Super Mario, (aka ‘Mario Rinvoludicrous’, with 19 hits on a Yahoo search) duly got a mention. Starting 11 May, Mario will be moderating another SEETA discussion on the following topic ‘What have you always thought is absurd in EFL thinking?’ Should be fun …

5 Family

Teaching often seems to run in families – both my sisters are university teachers – so I wasn’t surprised to read stories of being inspired by older siblings and, less commonly, parents. In my own family, however, it doesn’t look as though there will be much generational continuity: maybe it’s a recessive gene.

6 A higher calling

Given the atrocious salaries (or wages in the case of many language school teachers), a higher calling is not perhaps too surprising. One teacher described her work as ‘a form of social and political action and as a way of giving something back to the community’. Another felt called to the profession by God. Sobering thoughts.

I must take this opportunity to thank everyone who took part in the discussion (especially Melania in Romania; Zarina in Bulgaria; Aneta and Suzana in Macedonia; Natasha, Lora, Vesna and Isidora in Serbia). Thanks, too, to all those who were prepared to write their narratives (especially a group of teachers at St James Academy in Seville).

This makes me wonder about my own inspirations. What inspired YOU? Post a comment, if you feel so inclined…


Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Got robbed in Thailand. Had 200 left to my name (actually in my boots), flew to Hong Kong.

    Got the first job I could.

    Happy ever since.

  2. It was my marvellous teacher of English at my secondary school that inspired me to become a teacher. Although I was too young then, I knew this was what I wanted to do in my future and I have never regretted my decision.

    I also inspired some of my students, as they told me so, to become a teacher of English. As they shared this with me, nobody in the world could be happier than me. I love my job and it is great to share this with people.

    Many thanks,

  3. I also come from a family of teachers. My parents were both language teachers (English and French) so it’s in the blood.
    I don’t know if they were the inspiration. I’ve been thinking about this and I would have to say it was an English teacher at high school that inspired me. Terribly unoriginal but there you go.

  4. I was inspired to become an EFL teacher by a student of mine at the Secondary school where I worked, in London’s Eaat End.

    He threatened to kill me, so I left the country.

  5. I think I have to admit that my inspiration was nothing more than wanting to be on stage. But not having the strength, guts or wherewithal, I concluded that the only place where a captive audience was pretty much guaranteed was a classroom!

  6. Two inspirations.
    For a love of the English language: a high school teacher who set aside half an hour each week for an animated reading of Winnie the Pooh. No ‘comprehension questions’, no tests, just enjoying the sounds and the fun of the language. Pooh to ever gloomy Eeyore: “How are you today, Eeyore?” Reply: “Not very how.”
    For teaching: Caleb Gattegno for his deep insights into the nature of learning (see John Holt’s “How Children Fail” pp. 98-101)and insisting on teachers subordinating their teaching to their students’ learning.

  7. […] Philip Kerr’s Six Inspirations to Become a Teacher […]

  8. Great article, I’ve bookmarked it to read again. This site was really a worthwhile find.

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