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Why Develop? It’s Easier Not To
Dr. Susan Barduhn

The second attitude is something called “unconditional positive regard.” This means a non-judgmental caring of our students as people. When students feel confident that we will value and accept them for who they are rather than who we want them to be, then living up to their highest potential becomes a decision that they make for themselves, not just to please us. As belief central to Humanistic Psychology and backed up by extensive research is that each of us has a natural tendency to work towards the fulfilment of our potential, like a plant to grow towards the light, and to achieve our deepest satisfaction in doing so.

The third attitude is empathy, an ability to understand the inner world of the student, as the student perceives it, and an ability to express this understanding. If a student must study a language in a classroom setting, he needs to believe there exists a personal application of the experience, be it practical, intellectual or emotional.

… under the surface of the learning that is apparent to us in our classrooms may be not only the ‘questing’ of “Why am I learning this?” but also “Who am I” and “How does what I am learning relate to whom I am and where I am going in life?” This makes the teaching/learning relationship immeasurably more complex and challenging but, at the same time, more humanly satisfying.
Rardin, J. (1976). “A Counseling-Learning Model for
Second Language Learning” in TESOL Newsletter 10: 2.

The teacher’s empathy is known to be one of the most powerful elements in facilitating change.

In 1976 Aspy and Roebuck conducted a major research project to learn more about how these qualities actually affected learning. They recorded and assessed nearly 3,700 hours of classroom instruction from 550 elementary and secondary teachers. They found that students whose teachers were high in congruence, positive regard and empathy missed fewer days at school, had increased scores on measures of self-concept, made greater gains on academic achievement measures, presented fewer disciplinary problems, were more spontaneous and used higher levels of thinking than students with teachers low in these qualities. So if the focus is to be truly on the learner then it needs to be on us first.

I have no doubt that most of the teachers who belong to Braz-TESOL are hardworking, caring teachers and that they inspire their students. Why would you take the trouble to belong to a professional organisation, read professional journals and go to conferences if you were not concerned with being the best teacher you could be? But we are in a difficult, demanding profession and it is not easy to juggle our personal lives with continuing to grow and develop professionally. With as much energy as we devote to helping our students learn, we need to focus on how to help ourselves, and the people who are best-qualified to provide job-related help and support are the people on the job: our fellow teachers. Studies show that turnover among teachers, even under the most incredibly difficult conditions, is remarkably lowered when successful peer support exists (Maslach, C. 1982). Peers can provide help, comfort, insight, comparison, rewards, humor and escape. A teacher development group can be any form of co-operative and ongoing arrangement between two or more teachers to work together on their own personal and professional development. A book which is a great resource on teacher development is Readings in Teacher Development, edited by Katie Head and Pauline Taylor, published in 1997 by Heinemann. The original idea for the book was inspired by the Teacher Development movement which occurred in the 80s, out of which came the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group.

I’d like to close by saying that by forming your own teacher development groups you can work in a supportive climate not just on becoming better teachers technically, but on developing yourselves personally and then daring to let those personal changes influence who you are in the classroom. It’s the most important risk you’ll ever take.


Aspy, D. and F. Roebuck, (1976). A Lever Long Enough. Washington D.C.,: National Consortium for Humanizing Education.
Claxton, G. (1989). Being a Teacher. London: Cassell Educational Limited.
Head, K. and P. Taylor, (1997), Readings in Teacher Development. Oxford: Heinemann.
Maslach, D. (1982). Burnout – The Cost of Caring. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Rardin, J. (1976). “A Counseling-Learning Model for Second Language Learning” in TESOL Newsletter 10, No. 2.
Rogers, C. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.
An earlier version of this paper was printed in Edge, J. (ed.) (2002). Continuing Professional Development. Whitstable, UK: IATEFL.

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