The Only 3 Things Teachers Must Do

Think of a teacher who had a positive effect on you.

Maybe this teacher made you think that teaching might be something you would like to try.

Maybe this teacher awakened a passion for learning in you that was previously dormant.

Maybe this teacher opened a window to a subject that until then had held no interest for you.

When I think about great teachers I have had, I realise that I don’t remember the specific content of their classes.

What I remember about them is that they were able to create a learning environment that ignited something inside me, that made me think that what I was learning was enjoyable and interesting, and something I would like to continue studying when the lesson had finished.

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I can’t really recall any special techniques they used or methods they employed. All I know is that they were able to do three things really well:

They entertained me.

entertain (verb) – to keep a group of people interested or enjoying themselves.

They educated me.

educate (verb) – to teach someone, especially using the formal system of school, college or university.

They inspired me.

 inspire (verb) – to make someone feel that they want to do something and can do it.

(Not dissimilar to Jeremy Harmer’s Engage, Study and Activate Approach!)

When we think about teaching, we can take a top-down or a bottom-up approach. If we choose the former, I think that reflecting on our ability to entertain, educate and  inspire our learners provides a solid  foundation for reflection. We can analyse each element and create as many sub-categories as we want but the fundamental objectives remain the same.

We may not always teach as effectively as we’d like – we forget to elicit items of vocabulary, neglect to monitor certain students, provide vague grammar explanations – but these weak points can be improved on with practice. But, if we fail to entertain, educate and inspire, what business do we have in the classroom?

Which element is the most important?

All three elements are vital but I wonder if the lesser of the three is actually the ingredient most associated with teaching.

Formal education is not as valuable as it once was. In the 21st century, information is now cheap. 

When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive. James Gleick.

As language teachers, we have to do more than provide information. 

What we need to do is create learning environments in which our students pay attention to the language, feel engaged, interested and enthused. We need to find ways to inspire them so they want to learn and feel that they can become self-reliant and self-motivated learners.

What do you think? Is this view of teaching too simplistic or do you agree that everything we do in the class comes down to either entertaining, educating or inspiring?