ELL Students’ Descriptions of Effective Teachers

How can we become effective teachers? What do we need to do to better help our students and endow them with necessary skills and strategies, so they can continue obtaining knowledge independently? Receiving proper teacher education, attending professional conferences, observing experienced instructors, and conducting classroom research are only a few of the many tools that teachers can use to develop as professionals. However, our students, too, can be a source of our professional development. Therefore, asking students questions and reflecting on their feedback can help us better meet our students’ needs and implement activities that they want to see in our classrooms.

Today I’d like to share my students’ thoughts about effective teachers. Some of them may seem too obvious or perhaps even too demanding, but I think, overall, they are quite illuminating.

An effective teacher is someone who …

  • can let students understand what she or he teaches.
  • knows what the students need.
  • cares about students and respects them.
  • gives students interesting and engaging projects instead of asking them to write boring papers.
  • gives students enough space to communicate with each other and exchange their ideas.
  • gives good grades to hardworking students.
  • can teach and help students solve their problems.
  • comes to class prepared, uses the time wisely, and gets along with the students.
  • provides ways for students to find answers by themselves rather than someone who simply provides students with answers.
  • has a good way to build relationships with the students.
  • makes everyone feel accepted.
  • knows how to effectively explain the meaning of the course material in a way that is easy for the students to understand and remember.
  • communicates with students well and knows how to clearly teach them. The most important thing is to help students learn more knowledge and help them feel happy about getting this knowledge.

What do you like the most that teachers do in class?

  • Humor. Jokes.
  • Give notes in class or during presentations because they will really help me understand what she or he talks about.
  • I like teachers that give students some time to discuss their ideas.
  • Assign students to present in front of the class or teach a short lesson.
  • I like the teacher who won’t judge my thoughts and who will respect my ideas.
  • I like when teachers use videos to explain the material.
  • Activities that require active participation of all students, such as group discussions. It’s not only for our learning, but it’s also fun.
  • Give students enough time to have the self-study.
  • Give us some key knowledge that will help us solve problems.
  • I like classmates’ presentations.
  • I like to get to know the teacher and talk about things that happened during the weekend, for example.
  • Stories that lighten the mood but relate to the lesson at the same time.
  • Interaction with students.
  • Add humor and make jokes related to the things we are studying. It helps students stay more engaged on what the teacher is talking about.
  • Understand what he or she teaches.
  • Know who their students are, so they will find their unique ways to teach them.

What don’t you like the most that teachers do?

  • Talking about some complicated things.
  • Free talking. We may have a lot of fun but we will learn nothing that will help us on the test.
  • Too many reflective papers.
  • I don’t like the teacher who only teaches lessons by following books and rules.
  • Silent readings or activities that do not require everyone’s participation.
  • Pretend that they respect students.
  • I don’t like when teachers give us activities that consume a lot of time but make no sense.
  • Pop quizzes.
  • Talk all the time without giving students time to think.
  • Give only lectures and read from PowerPoint.
  • When they call on students to answer questions or point out in front of the whole class that they are not paying attention.
  • Don’t consider students’ feelings.

The best way that teachers can help their students is …

  • conferences. Talk to students directly.
  • knowing clearly the lesson for the day: what he is going to teach and what students need to do to improve.
  • caring about students because sometimes students may not see the problem the way the teacher does.
  • having time to talk to students face to face.
  • asking students to do some practical projects.
  • giving students more encouraging.
  • to find what students do wrong and help them.
  • understanding everyone’s capabilities and educating them accordingly.
  • teaching them how to make a good presentation.
  • not telling students what to do but giving them tools to solve problems independently.
  • having one-on-one conferences.
  • to know what students really need and want.
  • to notice students’ progress and faults and help fix the faults.
  • trying to give some amount of personal attention to the students.

I will definitely use my students’ comments to improve my teaching, and I encourage all of us to regard students’ perspectives and to use their feedback as we strive to become more effective teachers.

Have you asked your students what they think makes a good teacher? What did you find out?

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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2 Responses to ELL Students’ Descriptions of Effective Teachers

  1. Jean Arnold says:

    Thanks for putting these ideas out there. I noticed the repetition by the students of wanting individual attention, and one-on-one conferences.This past semester I had three writing classes and felt so overwhelmed that I did not have students come for individual conferences as I did in the past because there just wasn’t the time. Big mistake! I also realized that so few students come to office hours; so this semester I’m going to have students sign up for a time to come for at least one individual conference this semester during office hours (which I will have to extend a bit). It’s always good to check in with the students, our ultimate customer, after all! Thanks for doing your survey and publishing what you found.

  2. jitzi Samuel Ngala says:

    I just wish to say congratulations for the research you guys are doing out there to educate other teachers in the suburbia in some part of the World. My questions are: what is required of an effective teacher in an emerging economy like the case of Cameroon? Secondly, are western teachers’ reputations thrown to the dogs as it is the case of Cameroon and other African countries? –Jitzi Samuel Ngala, a primary school teacher of English in the French speaking regions of Cameroon. Looking forward hearing form you and other important tips with regards to what is required of nowadays teachers compared to yesteryear teachers through my e-mail box.

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