Describing on what a good English teacher is. What do students have to say about this?


La comprensión de la opinión de los estudiantes, en lo que se refiere a lo que es un buen profesor de Inglés, durante su proceso de aprendizaje del inglés, es discutible. En función de la experiencia de alumnos en el aprendizaje de idiomas, tienen el suficiente conocimiento para aislar las características que hacen a los buenos y malos profesores de inglés. Derivado de estos datos, un conjunto de definiciones que describen características y comportamientos de profesores buenos y malos de inglés ayudan a comprender las necesidades reales que tienen los estudiantes de idiomas. Las coincidencias y singularidades de los datos muestran que los buenos profesores de inglés ofrecen un buen modelo a seguir, con fluidez en el idioma y buenas habilidades comunicativas, y el malo, todo lo contrario.

Palabras clave: convicción, experiencia, características, necesidades, coincidencias


Understanding students’ beliefs in what a good English teacher is, during their English learning process, is debatable. According to students’ language learning experience, they are knowledgeable enough to isolate the characteristics they believe are features of good and bad English teachers. Derived from data is a set of definitions that describe good and bad English teachers’ characteristics and behaviors which help understand those real needs that language learners have. Coincidences and singularities of data show that good English teachers are a matter of teachers offering a good model, fluent in the target language with good communicative skills; the bad, quite opposite.

Keywords: beliefs, experience, features, needs, coincidences

“The mediocre teacher tells.
The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.
The great teacher inspires”.
(William Arthur Ward)



When a school course finishes, a teacher reflects upon his or her teaching, the positive and negative outcomes, and English teachers are likewise in the same category. They are the main figures in the English learning process and their influence is fundamental to their students’ improvement.

Now and then, during the 19 years working in the field of English language teaching, I have put myself in the position of an English language learner rather than an English language teacher. I consider viewing the practice through the eyes of a language learner as a beneficial and valuable yardstick, and this has driven me to contemplate their points of views on different issues. When it comes to language learning, having been in different schools, I know language learners have come across many types of English teachers, some are good English teachers while others are not so worthy; learners appreciate and respect the good ones, but the bad, they bear.

When asked at the right moment and in an appropriate manner, students become a significant source of information and evidence on the quality of teaching and the learning environment in classrooms. Exploring the characteristics of English language teachers, as perceived by students, may be beneficial to teachers, students, and also to researchers. English language teachers can understand what their students expect from them and develop their pedagogical techniques through reflection on teaching, which will in turn enhance the complex process of teaching and learning. Students can understand the different type of language teachers hoping to change their erroneous beliefs about foreign language teaching and learning. Therefore, the characteristics of good English language teachers need to be studied thoroughly.

Beliefs about good English teachers

Most experienced English teachers have beliefs about what makes a good English teacher, however, only few teachers can express with equal belief about what makes a good English teacher according to our students' educational beliefs and goals. From what contextual factors do they consider for those assumptions? How do their beliefs vary from teachers?

Seymour Ericksen, in his book called The Essence of Good Teaching (1984), describes a study in which administrators and learners’ opinions about teachers were analyzed. The final conclusions were that “an outstanding teacher should be an inspiring instructor who is concerned about students, an active scholar who is respected by discipline peers, and an efficient, organized professional who is accessible to students and colleagues” (Ericksen, 1984:3). For English teachers, this means that being good at the language is not synonym of being a good English teacher; we should possess other qualities, and language learners definitely know and appreciate that.

To live up to learners’ image or ideals of a ‘good English teacher’ is quite difficult to achieve. This fact should be of particular concern to English teachers. We usually think that our personality, teaching skills, and strategies are suitable for learners to ensure a good level of English, but this conception is far from reality. It is a controversial topic as the question remains unanswered; what makes a good English teacher? What are those aspects of his/her teaching or person that students consider important in order to say that their English teacher is a good or bad teacher?

Research which focuses on the student and considers the role and qualities of the teacher from the student's perspective has become interesting. There have been numerous studies that have identified the characteristics of good and effective teachers (Bernhardt  and Hammadou, 1987; Lafayette, 1993; Shimizu, 1995; Hadley and Hadley 1996; Mollica nd Nuessel, 1997; Makarova and Ryan, 1997; Freeman and Johnson, 1998; Schulz, 2000; Vélez-Rendón, 2002). Although some characteristics of good teachers are universal and others are domain-specific, students hold different views on what characterizes good teachers. Even though the teacher will always play an "obvious and central role in creating effective environments for language teaching and learning" (Flood, 1995:549), modern teaching methods also require a shift towards the learner (Nunan, 1988).

“What would be the ideal English teacher for you?”

The stated purpose of students’ answers (table 1) is to discover what teaching qualities they feel are important in good language teachers, thus qualified as a good English teacher. The essence of an English language teacher is difficult to qualify, but that route leads directly into most essential criterion.


Table 1. Features of good and bad English teachers, according to students’ responses from a research study.

knowledge/command of the language 35 problems with spelling 28 vocation 16
fairness/impartial 11 depends on book 17 patient 15
explains well 25 problems with grammar 29 tolerant 8
Involving students (engaging) 10 depends  on grammar exercises 19 respectful 10
motivates 22 discouraging/undermine confidence 27 clear 5
tolerant/patient 16 apethetic/no interest 28 intelligent 1
builds rapport 13 unkind/unfriendly 23 impartial 4
human/friendly 10 impatient 29 follows school norms but flexible 1
respectful 18 treats students as idiots 32 proficiency 23
vocation/professional 24 works only for money 23 objective 1
dynamic 4 irresponsible 28 motivates 13
strict 1 unpunctual 17 has group control 3
self-evalauative 1 no clue on how to teach 1 dynamic/practical 11
    scares students 1 classroom management 4
        innovates 3
        interested in students' progress 6
        skillful 3
        teacher must be a foreigner 1
        friendly 3


Douglas Brown (2000), a distinguished ESL expert, provided a fairly comprehensive list of characteristics of good English teachers which can be classified into four categories: technical knowledge (understanding the mechanics of the language, such as phonology and grammar), pedagogical skills (approaches to language teaching, uses different techniques, designs and executes lesson plans efficiently, uses principles of classroom management), interpersonal skills (engage students through enthusiasm and humor, valuing the opinions and abilities of students, and seeking opportunity to share ideas with students and colleague), and personal qualities (flexible when classroom activities go wrong, maintain an inquisitive mind in trying new teaching methods and have goals for professional development). Students’ general description of a good English teacher is that of a proficient teacher who has the knowledge and command of the language, but with teaching vocation, and motivationas a personality characteristic. Furthermore, according Douglas Brown’s classification, language learners, according to their experience, see their good English teachers as follows:

a) With technical knowledge:

b) With pedagogical skills:

c) With interpersonal skills:

d) With personal qualities:

Good English Teachers

a) A good English teacher is a person who is particularly suited or qualified and who has the knowledge and command of the language.

Respondents who identify professional, pedagogical and/or content knowledge as a characteristic of a good English teacher expressed features that include: vocational, likes to teach, fairness and engaging, impartial, command of the language, among others. Respondents to the survey commented:

S1: “Like any teacher, he/she must be a person that has a vocation for language teaching, in this case, English”.

S2:  “he/she must be English proficient and have a vocation to teach it”.

S3: “he/she must have a vocation for English language teaching and apply the appropriate strategies to students and be patient”.

S4: “I would like to have a teacher who completely dominates the English language…”

S5: “a professor who motivates and is tolerant, but who perfectly dominates the language…”.

S6: “a teacher who totally dominates the language, who has a good teaching method…

S7: “a foreign professor whose mother tongue is English”.

S9: “… capable of transmitting his/her ideas clearly, with intelligence, and respectfully…”

S14: “who explains in an adequate way depending on each student…”

S10: “who has the knowledge and patience to explain with detail…”

S15: “my ideal English teacher is a teacher who explains well, plus is patient and tolerant…”

S16: “who manages the language perfectly, but also must possess the ability to explain things and knows how to teach the language…

b) A good English teacher is a person who is patient, respectful, and motivates.

Those who identify socio-affective characteristics expressed features that include: respect, patient, friendly, builds rapport, among others. They appreciate teachers who are tolerant, respectful, and those who motivate. Respondents to the survey commented:

S8: “the ideal English teacher is a teacher who has teaching vocation, patient, and that motivates the group in general…”

S9: “a good English teacher is objective, patient, tolerant, respectful, and does not show favoritism…”

S6: “who is respectful, likes his/her work…”

S10: “who has the knowledge and patience to explain with detail…”

S11: I think the ideal English teacher would be a teacher who motivates us to like the language through dynamics, being patient with us, which is necessary for us to be interested in the subject”

S12: “the teacher who motivates and that is tolerant…”

S13: “he/she must be patient and motivate me to learn the language”

Bad English teachers

What criteria do language learners use to define what makes a bad English teacher? First of all we must ask ourselves, what are the qualities of good English teachers? As mentioned above, there is a huge list of adjectives or features which describe them: he/she should be patient, well-prepared, punctual and confident, be a clear speaker, check for understanding and have a good material selection and timing, etc.; with this criterion students defined what makes a bad English teacher. Based on students’ responses (table 1), language learners consider a bad English teacher one who has difficulties with spelling and grammar; one who depends his/her entire class on grammar exercises and/or course  book; a person who is apathetic and has no interest in students’ needs, impatient and treats them like stupid.


Do you identify any English teacher you have had in the description? The suggestion that through the discovering of perceived language learners’ opinions and interests on what a good and bad English teacher is can become an active contributor in research.  In addition, recognizing the ways English language learners would like to be taught and becoming aware of language learners’ beliefs will make us, as English teachers, better at language teaching as these perceptions develop our knowledge and experience about our views in ELT.

When we draw attention to the quality of English teachers, we state issues of knowledge, proficiency, technique, communication, and presentation. Nevertheless, we all know that many English teachers have exceptional knowledge, but somehow fail to communicate it. There are teachers who prepare great lessons, but whose students get frustrated or bored for some reason.

The qualities that have been discussed can be separated into four areas: (1) affective characteristics, (2) skills, (3) classroom management techniques, and (4) academic knowledge. A good or bad English teacher’s influence depends mostly on his/her demonstration of affective characteristics. The skills and classroom management techniques are often overlooked, but they can be crucial to effective teaching. Lastly, a teacher with good academic knowledge gives himself/herself credibility and stature in the eyes of his/her students.


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[a] Área Académica de Lingüística, Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo.