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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Six people who would make great English teachers

Photo from via MorguefileI’ve never played Fantasy Football, but I understand it involves creating an ideal squad of players. Following another suggestion from Hall Houston I’ve created for this site a “Fantasy Staff Room” – six people I’d love to see as English teachers in an imaginary language school. Here they are, along with what kind of class I’d assign them.

1. Barack Obama, current U.S. President – I’d put Obama in charge of the large classes, especially the low level mixed ability ones. Regardless of how much English they learn he would give them hope to keep going (and keep coming back). Yes we can!

2. Margaret Atwood, Booker-winning Canadian author – Atwood would teach the higher level classes, and have a special class on writing skills. I get the feeling she would be a calming influence on the students and the staff, although someone told me she might be a bit strict.

3. Robin Williams, American comedian and actor – Despite Scott Thornbury’s comments about Dead Poet’s Society (see them here), I still have a soft spot for Robin Williams as an English teacher. He would get the intermediate classes, especially the teenager groups. He’d be fun to have around at the staff party too.

4. Helen Mirren, English actor – I realise that many students still (mistakenly) want to learn the Queen’s English. I personally think the Queen would be an awfully boring English teacher, but Helen Mirren would be great! She would get an advanced pronunciation class for  snobby aspiring students.

5. Javier Bardem, Spanish actor – Let it not be said that I am discriminating against non native English teachers! Javier Bardem would get a couple of elementary classes. Plus he’d be a draw for the female students (most language students are, anyway, female). I would also make him the union rep (he’s got the right politics) and I think he’d be great to go for a beer with after class.

6. Joni Mitchell, Canadian folk singer. I wanted a singer to round off the staff room. Joni Mitchell would be my choice. She would organise the school sing-a-long during the summer course (outside, around a fire, with a guitar of course) and be another calming, motivating teacher. Plus she could paint the staff room walls and design the school brochures. Yeah, another Canadian I know… my bias is showing through here.

So, two Americans, two Canadians, one Englishwoman and a Spaniard. I’m only allowed six though, but it doesn’t mean you can’t add a comment! Who would you have as an English teacher in your Fantasy Staffroom? Post a comment (but no indecencies please!).

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 10:19 am  Comments (9)  
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