How to choose a teacher

No matter if you’re looking for a plumber to fix your bathroom or a teacher to help you with a language, you need to have a few orientation points that may enable you to decide which is the right specialist. As you may have no idea about plumbing or language, there have to be some checkpoints that even you, as an outsider, are able to identify.

Starting from my example of plumbers – or indeed any other workers you need about a house – I have learned from my own, bitter experience, that it’s better not to hire workers that

  1. talk too much
  2. say that there’s no problem, they can sort it all out
  3. explain to me in detail what the worker before them did wrong

Now since I’m a language teacher too, and have been for quite a few years, I think I’m in a better position to drop some hints on how to choose specialists in this category. I mentioned a few months ago that a teacher is like a manager, so my first and foremost tip is don’t hire a language teacher unless you’d like them to be your manager. You may ask yourself questions like:

  • will he/she be able to take me to my goal?
  • will he/she be able to motivate me to go all the way to my goal?
  • will he/she make my life a hell on the way there, or is he/she likely to make my work easier?

Of course, you can’t know the answer to these questions before you’ve tried the teacher. Having met so many of my profession in my life so far, I’d advise my best friend not to hire a teacher that

Talks too much – they may be very knowledgeable, but talking too much is usually the symptom of people who

  • can’t listen to your problem, so can’t adjust to suit your needs, or
  • can’t focus, so will spend your time inefficiently, or
  • have a very good opinion of their own person, so won’t really take your suggestions to change anything about the way they teach you.

Can’t answer a question directly – say, you ask what you are going to do in the course, and the reply you get is too long and too general to give you any picture. You can’t choose someone to help you communicate effectively if that person is an ineffective speaker him/herself.

Cannot hand you over a master plan for your course – a plan that should make sense to you, too! For example, you need to improve presentation skills for an important conference, so a sensible plan might be split into a) Work on the language, b) Work on body language and diction, c) Work on rhetoric. Teachers often start a course without planning at all, arguing that it’s too early at the beginning of the course to say what needs to be done. After 1 seminar at the latest, there should be a master plan, or else your course will get nowhere.

Cannot commit him/herself to a course material – I mean, whether they are going to use one or two books, or compile materials for each seminar, or use internet resources etc. I’ve met teachers who confidently started a course with one coursebook, and ended up using two coursebooks in parallel, one grammar book and the odd photocopies on top – and these are usually the teachers who make no master plan either…. The result: chaos!

Can’t stick to the point of your talk, but give you numberless details about their daughter, aunt, husband, university professor, books they’ve written, countries they’ve been to, cats they’ve had and lost etc. That’s exactly what your course will look like.

All in all, hands off the teachers who want to teach you too much, who speak too much, about the wrong things and in the wrong tone of voice. They may be exactly the patients who most badly need training in communication – and social – skills.