Saturday, 18 December 2010

Born or made?

When I was young I used to ride horses. I spent my childhood in jodhpurs and wellies. I was told that I was ' a natural' with horses. I wasn't  'a natural' at maths, science, or school in general. I wasn't ' a natural' sailor, skier or water skier. I have no special talent for cooking or writing.

One day, along came teaching and once again I was labelled  ' a natural'. So, what does it mean '? 

Lets set the scene, this was way back when RSA CELTAs existed. I was 23 and had never taught anything. I knew very little, to nothing about English grammar or teaching so, what were they talking about?

Good Teachers are born NOT made.

Enough of blowing my own trumpet. 

This post was sparked by a great #eltchat about soft skills in teaching last Wednesday. If you are thinking What are those ? , don't worry, so was I before the chat. I suppose you could say that soft skills are people skills, roughly speaking. 

I don't think that you can teach these qualities I think they're innate. That's why a four week Cert course can be all that some people need. If you already have the soft skills required  such as empathy, patience, a willingness to learn and rapport ,to name but a few, you're off to a running start. It's not rocket science after all!

You can learn the subject and be very knowledgeable but without these personal qualities you will never be a 'good' teacher. Teaching is an 'art', a 'vocation' and a 'privilidge'.

What do you think BORN or MADE?
 What can be taught?
Just read this article TES The Myth of Presence 
What do you think? 


  1. Leahn,

    Everything you say is true but you are not considering one important factor in all this - the student.

    There are many kinds of students and each need a teacher that "matches".

    You can "become" a better teacher through training BUT you also can become a better teacher (be made) by finding your right teaching environment. What we so often think of as "bad teachers" are just misplaced teachers, unsupported teachers....

    I've thought a heckuvalot about this question over the years and really don't agree. It's both, made and born, depending on the students, the environment and many other factors.

    But also good to see this question chewed upon.


  2. Hi Leahn,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I would say that I am a 'made' teacher rather than a 'born' one simply because many of those skills you mentioned are ones that I feel developed throughout my 20s as I became more experienced as a teacher.

    That fact is I was shy as a kid, impatient as a teenager and stubborn as a university student - so much so that most of my family and friends were surprised by my decision to enter the world of TEFL.

    These days, I would describe myself as a patient person, sympathetic and responsive to the needs of others, as well as someone who is willing to learn - all qualities I have developed on the job, especially since I started working with kids!

  3. Hi DavidD,

    Thanks for popping by. I can see I've opened a bit of a wasps' nest with this post. Oh, Leahn....
    What have you done?

    Well it's opened a line of discussion and I may end up changing my mind! (That may be a good thing)

    Interesting to see how you developed your teacher qualities on the job and were 'made' rather than born.

    Thanks I'm gonna be doing some more thinking........


  4. Hi David Deubelbeis,

    I like your comment about the student and their need for a teacher that 'matches'.

    I'm one of those all rounders... I teach happily and, I think effectively a huge range of students and don't really have a group that I match. So perhaps I've overlooked that factor.

    I've tossed the idea around and will toss it around some more. I see that there are 'learnable' bits but ..... just can't seem to get passed that feeling that teachers are born....

    Thank you for taking the time to stop by and share your ideas and thoughts and for making me think some more...


    But YES I see that you have a point and there may well be teachers out there who are more suited to teens, or VYLs.

  5. Hi Leahn,

    I came here because we featured this post on the #ELTchat website and because you asked me the question on Twitter challenging me to reply as 'a CELTA tutor'.... as if CELTA tutors possessed the secret? Or to prove they know nothing? Not sure about your motivation.

    But I found myself hard put to answer in any intelligent way - your conviction that you are one of the 'born' or the 'naturally gifted' ones totally stumped my reasoning powers.

    At first.... only, at first.... :-)

    You see I wasn't 'born' with it but I very carefully and systematically 'made' myself. And now I am in the business of 'making great teachers' I know exactly how to do it.

    David's response is great - you develop over time. Personal qualities, apart from the few easily identifiable ones, at least those that add depth and value, come to us with time, for some, more time, for others less.

    As far as I am concerned, the really important question that isn't being asked here is:

    "Are the personal qualities that make up a good teacher's profile enough on their own?"

    To which I would reply "No"

    You need professional understanding (background) and technical know-how (methods - techniques - classroom skills)

    But perhaps you were born with a knowledge of how to do task based learning and how to set up group work, how to design a really good information gap... :-)

    If so, I am very jealous and want some of that DNA that came packed with a TEFL course.

    Seriously though:

    I think to some extent we are all born teachers, a biological code in our DNA includes the ability to teach language and behaviour to our young - every single parent is a teacher and every non-parent a potential one.

    So, really the big question is what is it that makes some teachers better than others and what is it that makes a few teachers truly outstanding?

    To which the answer is not so easy or simple to articulate in a quick comment on a teacher's blog.

    Have a look at what learners think makes a teacher great - I did a small scale research some years ago

    A small pointer to those ambitious to achieve hall-of-fame status:

    You really have to stop thinking that you are god's gift to your learners and start thinking about your learners instead of standing in front of the mirror admiring yourself.

  6. Hi Marisa,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I asked you on twitter to get your opinion as an experienced CELTA trainer.

    You see a lot of trainees and are able to comment on whether you see trainees and think they are 'naturals and if so, I thought you might be able to comment on what it means.

    I agree with you about personal qualities not being enough. I learnt a great deal on my CELTA and Dip and am still learning a lot everyday.

    I really didn't want to come across as an arrogant mirror gazing maniac but seemed to have managed that! Oh God.. I promise I'm not!

    I still think that there is something to the 'born' argument at least in that some people have personal qualities that make them better teachers.

    But since it's got me into hot water I'm going to stop talking! :) I really haven't expressed myself well. I said writing wasn't my thing....aghh I thought teaching was but now I'm just a mad arrogant nutter (agh)

    Going now as I'm feeling all humbled and in the wrong!

    Thanks and Merry Christmas


  7. Leahn,

    It wasn't my intention to make you feel humbled in any way. As I said in my own comment, there are qualities people come with into our courses which make them easier to develop and turn into good teachers.

    But trainee teachers and, especially new teachers, do have a tendency to get too preoccupied with themselves, with technique etc, forgetting about the learners. A tutor's job is to point this out as an obstacle - many are not even aware they are doing it and totally astonished to be told they are... :-)

    As I have indeed observed quite a lot of trainees - upwards of 2,000 - I have come across teachers who have made quicker and more confident progress towards meeting the criteria for high quality performance in the classroom EARLIER than their fellow course members.

    But does this mean they were BORN and the others weren't?

    I cannot make that statement with any confidence, I'm afraid.

    Perhaps they are faster learners - why do we accept differences in learning rates in our learners and not ourselves?

    I do apologise again if I made you feel you were "one of those arrogant...etc's" !!!

    If I came across as somewhat negative in this discussion, it wasn't against you in any personal way.

    But I do feel very strongly that attitudes like this are not very useful. If we are to believe the "born" argument, then there is no hope for those who were not "born with it", is there?

    They might as well give up trying to improve themselves, working on their professional development and start looking for some other job in order to leave teaching to the naturally gifted...

    Doesn't this flipside sound harsh for all those teachers who are out there every day working hard to get into some student's "hall of fame"?

    But I do think you did well to write your post.

    It is a topic that is well worth discussing, if only because many people take this dichotomy for granted and opinions and experiences need to be shared.


  8. Hi Marisa,

    Yes, I see your point about the flipside being hard.

    I wasn't born with any skill at writing and here I am struggling to write and get better at it. It hasn't stopped me!!!

    Although yes, I can see where you're coming from with the comment about 'born' statements not being helpful.

    I said in my post that I was labelled 'a natural' not 'gifted' so now I see that maybe this just means faster learner which makes sense as I knew nothing about how to set up a task based learning exercise (back then:).

    Maybe that's what it means to be 'a natural' and maybe that's what it means when we say 'born' a flip, flyaway comment that just means FASTER NOT BETTER....

    Still thinking about it all, which is what is great about blogging and I really enjoy being able to discuss these things.

    Thanks again