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
… 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
Second Language Learning” in TESOL Newsletter 10: 2.
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
3,700 hours of classroom instruction from 550 elementary
and secondary teachers. They found that students
whose teachers were high in congruence, positive
empathy missed fewer days at school, had increased
scores on measures of self-concept, made greater
gains on academic achievement measures, presented
problems, were more spontaneous and used higher
levels of thinking than students with teachers low
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
Claxton, G. (1989). Being a Teacher. London: Cassell
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.