How to Tell if You’ve Found a Good Teacher

English teachers – they’ve been in abundance ever since the Internet opened the door to online language classes. But with so many teachers and programs out there to choose from, how do you really know if you’ve found a good teacher who will really help you improve your English?  

As a long time teacher myself and a lead instructor at SpeakUp, let me take you behind the scenes to show you how teachers are commonly evaluated.

 

What qualifications are often required

 

C2 or above level of English

Did you know that, for many English programs, this is the one and only qualification required of teachers?  Yes, it’s a good basic requirement, but think about your own language. Can every native speaker you know explain how your language works? Many native speakers struggle to explain what an adverb or gerund is – let alone teach  how to nuance speech for specific purposes.   Simply speaking a language well should not qualify someone to become a language teacher.  

 

A certificate to teach English as a foreign language

This is now the second most common requirement for English teachers.  But how much weight do certificates actually carry? Unfortunately, there are many online programs out there that offer English teaching certificates after only – wait for it – seven days!  How equipped would you be to do anything after just a one-week program, no experience?  My advice? Next time you’re shopping around for an English program, ask what educational background they require from their teachers.  Or even easier, do a search for the program name + “teacher qualifications.” 

 

What should be on your checklist? 

So if the basic requirements for most English teachers don’t guarantee you a quality language education, what should you be looking for? Let’s start with the basics and move up from there: 

 

Basic professionalism

  • Personal interest.

A teacher should spend time getting to know you, your current level and your language goals.  There should always be an assessment of your current level to start off!  Let’s get even more basic: a good teacher should care about you as a person. This should be evident in their tone and manner.  

SpeakUp recommendation: Your teacher should be able to tell you what your interests and weaknesses in English are after the first session.

 

  • Punctuality and reliability.

As in any profession, a teacher shows professionalism by showing up on time for class and sticking to the scheduled class times.  Frequent cancelations and late arrivals are immediate red flags.  

SpeakUp recommendation: Change your tutor or go for a different service entirely if your teacher misses/reschedules/is late for 10% of your lessons. 

 

  • Awareness

Remember our first point about personal interest? If a teacher is invested in you as a student, they also know where you left off last class and where you should pick back up.  

SpeakUp recommendation: You shouldn’t’ have to remind the teacher what you did last class! 

 

Technical abilities

  • Years of experience teaching English 

Sadly, this requirement is less common in the job listings out there. Research has long shown that certified teachers improve dramatically during their first few years on the job. In fact, one study in North Carolina revealed that teachers with 15+ years of experience were twice as effective as novices with two years of experience. Granted, some people are natural teachers and may excel even after that first year of teaching. As is true in any profession, however, there’s a strong correlation between experience and skill. It’s no different for an English teacher.  

SpeakUp recommendation: Your teacher should have at least 2 years of teaching experience with adult learners. 

 

  • Knowledge of the language.

As mentioned, a teacher should be able to do more than explain vocabulary, video content and texts to you.  An experienced and qualified teacher should be able to explain the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of English. What does this mean in practical terms? They should be able to coach you on pronunciation, grammar, its usage, the patterns, the exceptions and nuancing, just to name a few.  More than that, a teacher should help you connect the dots between these elements so that you really understand how the language works.  

SpeakUp recommendation: We actually used the following questions ourselves to evaluate our staff, so feel free to use them. You’re welcome. 🙂 “What are the different conditional verb forms? What have you found most difficult to explain to your previous students?” 

 

  • Minimal TTT  

How can you learn to speak a language if you don’t actually practice speaking?  A good teacher will prioritize student participation over TTT (teacher talking time). Observe an experienced teacher and you’ll notice something interesting. Instead of simply explaining a concept, they will lead students to an understanding of it and encourage putting it into practice right away.

SpeakUp recommendation: If your teacher is speaking for more than 50% of your next class, bring it to their attention and request more speaking time.  Find another tutor if this pattern continues. 

 

  • A game plan

Without your desired outcomes firmly in mind, and without a plan to reach them, chances are slim you’ll actually see progress. A good teacher will plan a coherent design of your time together, long term. 

SpeakUp recommendation: Ask your teacher what you will work on for the next class, next week, and next month. If they don’t have an answer, think again about who and what you need to reach your language goals.

 

Soft skills

  • Domain knowledge

Are you a medical student, a lawyer, a data scientist, musician? It’s quite unlikely that your English teacher has the level of expertise you have in your domain.  However, they should be aware of the language used in your field and the situations you have to deal with in English. 

SpeakUp recommendation: Your teacher should be able to coach you on the language you need to pass a job interview, participate in meetings, provide a consultation, give an effective presentation and make a sale. 

 

  • Cultural awareness

A good English teacher shows a keen desire to understand your language and culture, and how that background affects your English learning. They will also help you anticipate situations in which you may experience “language shock.” More importantly, they’ll coach you on how to deal with those. 

SpeakUp recommendation: Your teacher should be able to tell you what common language “faux pas” you should be careful of when describing physical appearance in English.  (Fun note: we offer an entire lesson on “faux pas!”)

 

  • Relationship building

 An advanced speaker of any language needs to be able to go beyond describing daily routines. They learn to express their dreams and emotions, talk about sensitive issues and deal with challenging conversations.  Naturally, as you become a more advanced English student, your classes will involve speaking about more sensitive issues. 

SpeakUp recommendation: You should feel comfortable sharing the ups and downs of life with your teacher and sense a sincere warmth and empathy on their part. 

 

Why SpeakUp

Check our homepage and you’ll see the standard we hold our teachers to. “Your tutor is an experienced English teacher who has gone through a rigorous selection process including at least 20 hours of trial period with us before they lead a live session for you. They typically charge $50 USD per hour for private clients. Our tutors’ expertise spans across business English, public speaking, academic English, standardized tests, English culture, accent training, and more. Together, we’ve created comprehensive curriculums for intermediate, advanced, and professional learners.”

We invite you to bring your new checklist to our live sessions and see firsthand how our SpeakUp teachers measure up. The first week is free for you to try out!  Visit https://magoosh.com/english-speaking today and start seeing real progress in your English speaking! 

Anita Collins

Anita Collins

Anita is a long-time English teacher and language enthusiast from Canada, currently living in the multilingual city of Montreal. She majored in linguistics, dabbled in translation, and has been teaching students from all over the world for over a decade. She now spends each morning trying to balance her two loves: planning the next trip and spoiling her beagle. The rest of her day she spends on curriculum design and language classes, with the beagle underfoot.
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