I’ve been lurking around the fringes of this thought for a several weeks now and so I finally decided to blog about it. Writing always helps me understand and articulate my own ideas better, so here goes. I believe that there are several people teaching English in schools across the world who simply shouldn’t be teaching it. I know that’s a strong statement to make but I believe in it wholeheartedly. Let me explain.
Is a degree in one’s subject the only requirement for top-notch teaching? Not necessarily. I know several teachers who though they didn’t study English formally are zealous, life-long readers—people who have a genuine love for the written word, intellectuals who have a sincere appreciation for fiction, poetry and the arts—these individuals are dynamic and effective English teachers. While a degree in one’s subject is important, it’s not crucial. Passion and a genuine interest in the subject are of supreme importance. One of the best English teachers I know has a degree in Psychology and Sociology but can make romantic poetry come alive in a 45 minute lesson with 21st century teenagers. Now that’s something because it stems from her own love for literature and learning!
On the other hand, I know so many teachers who teach the subject simply because they have to. That’s just terrible, wouldn’t you agree? Their own apathy and lack of interest in the pedagogical developments in their subject trickles down into their classes and affects the children they teach. As a student I experienced that first hand and I know this still happens today.
To teach English effectively, one needs to deeply know and more importantly care about one’s subject. It automatically enhances knowledge, fuels passion and encourages teachers to want to push themselves to ceaselessly explore subject matter and keep abreast with their area of expertise.
I’m thinking about all this because recently I met a few of my own English teachers and a few other people who are currently looking to be employed as English teachers and it left me feeling so dejected and disappointed. Their lack of interest was so palpable that it upset me. Some of them I used to esteem and hold in high regard for what I believed was their love for literature. Something about their choice to teach English makes me slightly uneasy. Yes, I fully realize that my feelings might appear trivial, shallow, even full of pride and that they may have a lot of experience when compared to my seven years, but I just don’t get it.
Of course, I’m selling them short here, for they’re probably, really good at a lot of stuff, but I cannot disregard the fact that they have limited knowledge of literature and very little passion for the subject. The question is: Does this matter? I think it does. In fact I think it’s crucial.
Having a degree in English is surely an advantage however more than that I think one does expect English teachers to be committed readers and writers—to be deeply familiar with texts, poets and language structures, keep up with new fiction, read book reviews, discuss literature, plays and movies passionately etc. etc..
I believe that people who jump into teaching careers without both knowledge of their subject and the love that accompanies that knowledge sort of devalue the vocation. Just because one speaks in English does not mean one should or can teach it. In my case, I’ve seen that schools everywhere often make it seem as if anyone can teach English, and that hurts me deeply.
I’m reminded of a quote I read some time ago;
“A teacher who loves learning earns the right and the ability to help others learn.”
― Ruth Beechick
Sadly there is a worldwide shortage of good teachers which means the situation isn’t going to change in a hurry and children will still remain uninspired and unmotivated to love a subject that can truly teach them how to live.