If a plastic surgeon does a bad job reconstructing a client’s face they can be sued for medical malpractice. Compensating the patient/victim is the least that they can do for creating such a traumatic experience that inhibits their patients ability to live a normal life.
A system of recourse exists to protect consumers against bad doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals, but what can students do after they’ve had classes with a bad teacher?
In the case that a teacher either through negligence or lack of skill creates a negative learning environment for a student, there isn’t much that can be done other than to not take classes with them again. The best way to avoid having your learning experience inhibited by bad teachers is to avoid them in the first place.
Unfortunately most people have no idea how to identify a bad teacher until it’s too late, and even then they might not realize just how bad they are. This is especially problematic for people who are seeking out a private teacher for foreign language classes, as these lessons are generally quite expensive and most people aren’t equipped in self-study.
The biggest mistake that you can make as a student seeking out a teacher is to underestimate all of the behind the scenes work that goes into the production of a foreign language class and assume that anybody can do it. Just because someone speaks a language fluently does not mean that they’re able to transmit that fluency to a student.
A good teacher knows how to structure a class that is tailored specifically to your level. They know when to push you outside of your comfort zone and when to stop so you don’t get overwhelmed. They know how to simplify complicated ideas and break things down in a way that is easy to understand. They’ll encourage you to keep going when you feel like giving up and they’ll create an enjoyable and fun learning experience.
A bad teacher is worse than having no teacher at all. A bad teacher will leave you stressed out and make you doubt your own intelligence. They’ll teach in a disorganized way that makes the material seem more confusing than it actually is. They’ll bore you with a teaching style that is inappropriate for your situation. Worst of all a bad teacher might destroy your desire to learn altogether.
I’ve had some experiences with bad language teachers recently and they’ve forced me to come up with a series of questions to ask so that I can weed them out before I take classes with them.
When I was in Bulgaria I enrolled in classes at a nearby school so that I could learn some of the local lingo. In a decrepit Soviet era building I was greeted by a stout headmistress who assured me that her “teacher will do good job with me.”
The class that ensued was so traumatic that I get goosebumps even thinking about it. I’m not entirely convinced that she wasn’t trained by the KGB to give that class to captured American spies as torture during the cold war.
The bad experience I had was my own fault though because I didn’t properly screen out the teachers before I sat committed to classes with them.
If I had asked these questions before I would’ve realized that I’d be better off not wasting my time with her.
Questions to Ask Your Teacher
What languages do you speak?
If a foreign language teacher doesn’t speak at least one foreign language I will have serious doubts about their commitment to their profession. A good teacher can might make up for this with professional training and years of experience, but even with that though it’s hard for a teacher to truly have empathy for their students until they’ve walked down the path that they’re leading people down.
When did you learn them? How did you learn each one?
If they learned them a long time ago they might have forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner. I want to take classes from the teacher who is constantly pushing themselves to learn new languages and experiment with new learning methods.
Have you ever lived in a foreign country before?
It’s not absolutely necessary that they’ve done this but a teacher who has lived abroad will be able to better relate to the struggles that you’re facing . They’ll also understand the role that culture plays when learning a foreign language and be a better cultural tour guide for you.
What is your teaching experience?
If they’ve been teaching for a short time I want them to tell me how some other experience they’ve had has prepared them to be a teacher.
Have you taught to people like me before?
By this I mean have they taught students who have a similar background and goals as me.
As an American who speaks fluent Spanish and wants to learn Portuguese in 3 months so that I can get a job in Brazil, I’d rather learn from a teacher who has taught that type of student before. I’d rather learn from the teacher who teaches to just that type of student.
How long did they take classes with you? What results did they get in that time?
Some English schools in Brazil can boast students who have studied with them for 7 years but couldn’t hold a conversation with a native speaker if their life depended on it. I want to be inspired by my teachers past results and feel motivated to live up to their standards.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
I say, “The unexamined teacher should not be teaching.”
If they can’t wax philosophical about their profession then they have no business calling themselves a teacher.
What do you think is the role of the teacher in the classroom?
Their answer will help you understand how they’re going to act in classes with you and should raise red flags if they’re a bad teacher.
What do you think are the responsibilities of the student?
As someone who is interested in learning as much as I can, if you tell me that my job is to show up to class and do assigned homework and nothing more, I’m going to be disappointed in you.
What does the typical class look like?
I’m looking for a super specific answer that details minute by minute what a class with them is going to look like. If they tell me that they just follow whatever the book says then…
What book do you use? Let me see it.
I haven’t found a textbook that didn’t bore me in some way. It’s fine to get ideas from a book, but I won’t take classes from a teacher who teaches straight out of a boring book without adding their own material.
What is your homework philosophy?
Are they going to give me worksheets because that’s what the book told them to do or will they assign work that inspires me to push the boundaries of my knowledge in my free time.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Are you teaching because you have a deep passion for education? Or was it the only job you could find?
Do you teach full time or do you have another job?
I would worry about their commitment if they’re doing unrelated work on the side.
If this seems like a really intense interview process, you’re absolutely right. I take my learning very seriously and I don’t want to waste my time with teachers who don’t know what they’re doing.
As a teacher myself and someone who speaks multiple languages I am very picky about who I’ll allow to teach me and I wouldn’t feel inspired to learn from any teacher who isn’t at Adir Ferreira’s level. Adir is the rare type of teacher who has committed himself to lifelong mastery of his craft and is constantly seeking out new ways to grow as a teacher. I wish there were more like him teaching less common languages like Bulgarian.
There area lot of good Portuguese teachers in Brazil, but fewer great teachers and only a handful of masters like Adir. If I was learning Portuguese again I would teach myself by using a course like Semantica.
I hope these questions help you have a better experience the next time you go looking for a teacher. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this subject in the comments.