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December 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Twelve Important Traits of an Ideal EFL Teacher

Brooks Slaybaugh is a university teacher in Japan, in the Tokyo area. He also works as a speaking examiner and TOEFL instructor. He is interested in assessment. Email:


In my opinion, teachers need to be mindful of traits such as these in order to be better at teaching. These are traits I have considered in the time I have been teaching for over twenty years, mostly in Japan. My goal has been to realize these traits in my teaching. But sometimes I need to be reminded of them.

  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Rapport
  • Being serious about teaching the subject matter
  • Taking care of oneself
  • High expectations
  • Sense of duty
  • Global awareness
  • Drawing out the potential of students
  • Being able to work well with other teachers
  • Being humble
  • Ability to reflect

Patience – Lesson plans do not always work. Not all students learn the same way. Some students do well and some do poorly. Adolescents are not always easy to teach, nor are they always polite. Patience and the teacher’s composure may be the most important traits in teaching, as things do not always go to plan, and the better teachers learn to expect the unexpected and make adjustments to their lesson plans during the lesson. Teachers need to focus on the goal of teaching and should not become distracted by other things.

Empathy – The teenage years can be challenging as the young can be plagued by self-doubt. Adolescence is a challenging time as students have much to learn and it can be overwhelming for them. Good teachers remember what it was like to be young, even as they continue to age. Good teachers try to think how their students are feeling and what they may be going through. Instead of disliking a bad attitude, teachers should consider why a student is behaving in a certain way. Maybe what students need to learn most is time management, and about balancing their schedule when they may have other things on their minds. Some students try to do more than they are able to do, since they may be trying to please others.

Rapport – Teachers should get to know their students as individuals and to get to know their hobbies and interests, as teaching is about people. Some students have long commutes or are busy in their clubs, and so their minds can be distracted by different things. That is why it is important to get to know one’s students, in order to identify any potential issues the students may have, in case they have any academic difficulties. Small talk is important.

Being serious about teaching the subject matter – There is not just one way to teach and good teachers try to be creative and try to search for different ways to teach and to assess. Some ways of teaching are not effective in getting some students to learn. Sometimes teachers need to adjust their way of teaching and need to spend more time on review, or need to expand on the subject matter.

Taking care of oneself – Teaching is not an easy profession. It takes a lot of energy and teachers must make sure to take care of themselves in order to be productive. Working six days a week is not uncommon, so teachers should make sure they can get enough rest and find positive ways to relieve any stress. I do this by getting exercise and by walking my dogs. Walking clears my mind.

Sense of duty – Teachers that are in charge of something like clubs or homerooms have to work extra and need to consider the well-being of their students. This goes beyond what they do in a normal class. Running a club will challenge a teacher to be more flexible and more patient. Teachers must listen more to their students and need to have good rapport in order to have a club which goes well. Some clubs can be busy and teachers must share clubs with other teachers, and so they need to flexible about scheduling.

Global awareness – Good EFL teachers know more about the world since they have traveled, learned other languages, and have seen firsthand how people in different cultures have lived. One can gain a different perspective on life by living in a different culture. Teachers gain a lot by living and learning the languages of different countries. This cannot be learned just by reading books. Teachers who travel also learn a different way of perceiving life. Teachers who have lived in other countries can serve as a model and as a guide for their students. They can encourage them to travel and study abroad. I have worked in Japan, Morocco, Poland, and Russia. I can share what I learned with my students. I know what it is like to be a member of a minority.

Drawing out the potential of students – Some students do well and some do not. Standards are needed to ensure that all students reach a basic level of competence. Teachers should not be satisfied with students who merely have an adequate performance. Teachers need to push their students to be the best they can be. Failure is simple but success does not always come easy. Teachers can identify students that have potential to do better while maintaining standards for all students regardless of their perceived ability.

Being able to work well with other teachers – Teaching is more than just teaching in a classroom.  In order to run a school, teachers must collaborate when it comes to meetings, clubs and school events. Students come and go, but it is the teachers who will be there year after year.

Being humble – Classes can be different depending on the groups of students. Teachers can be challenged by teaching different levels, multilevel classes or students with different levels of motivation. Not all lessons are a success but teachers have to stay positive and think about tomorrow. Good teachers realize that it is not about them, but it is all about finding new or effective ways for students to learn.

Being able to reflect – Teachers can always improve and can learn new things. Some teachers do the same thing again and again, but if they become bored, they can lose their students. In addition, teachers need to think about what aspects of a lesson did not go well, but must not be too hard on themselves, either. Teachers need to stay positive and need to know that half of teaching is learning.



Washington Post article (2011, June 17) The 12 Qualities great teachers share,

Southern New Hampshire University (2019, February 8) The 10 qualities of a good teacher,


Please check the Pilgrims courses at Pilgrims website.

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    Brooks Slaybaugh, Japan

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