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December 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Teacher Qualities: Something to Think About

Alan Maley is well-known as a trainer and materials writer.  He has been involved in ELT for 55 years.  Now in retirement, he continues to write and give presentations and workshops.  His main areas of interest are in innovative methodology, spontaneity in teaching and in literature and creative writing. Email:


Way back in 2010, I carried out a small inquiry among 40 experienced language teachers worldwide.  In it, I asked the subjects to think back on their own education and to remember a teacher they had particularly liked, respected or appreciated and to say why. I called the project My Teacher.  The vast majority of comments related to the teachers’ human qualities rather than to their technical expertise or subject knowledge.

Interestingly, but hardly surprisingly, others have conducted similar studies. Almond, (2019) reports on a similar study as well as on mine, and there is a summary of other studies in Chapter 7 of Maley & Kiss (2018).  And there are, of course,  many accounts available on line, such as Brooks: )

Since then, I have been increasingly interested in the way that the personal qualities of teachers play a far greater part in their success than do technical, pedagogical expertise and knowledge.   Recently I've been thinking some more about the qualities we might seek to encourage and develop as teachers and as people.  Here is a rough and ready list to think about:


How I can be –


playful without being frivolous,

energetic without being frenetic,

spontaneous without being anarchic,

friendly without being pally.

dramatic without being farcical,

optimistic without being euphoric,

enthusiastic without being fanatical,

confident without being brash,

cheerful without being effusive,

self-aware without being self-centred,


serious without being solemn,

caring without being sentimental.

interested without being prurient,

firm without being authoritarian,

organised without being rigid,

patient without being indulgent,

tolerant without being permissive,

sympathetic without being gullible,

impartial without being indifferent,

flexible without being floppy,

calm without being passive,

simple without being simplistic,

silent without being taciturn,

eloquent without being garrulous,


reflective without being intellectual,

critical without being destructive,

knowledgeable without being smart-ass clever,

expert without being exhibitionist,

open-minded without being empty-headed,

well-read without being pedantic,

holding strong views without being opinionated,

having ideas without being ideological,

resilient without being resistant,

resolute without being obdurate, etc.


This is my list – and you might well come up with a different one, though I suspect there would be plenty of agreement between your list and mine.  But, having established the kind of human qualities we believe to be desirable in effective teachers, we are faced with the question of how to develop these qualities. 

For many, the question is superfluous.  They often claim that ‘Good teachers are born, not made.’ (See Ur,1996) or ‘You either have them or you don’t.’  Alternatively, they might object that ‘Such things develop naturally through experience.’ or ‘You can’t teach them this kind of thing.’

It is undoubtedly true that some people seem to be naturally better equipped with ‘teacherly’ qualities.  It is also true that teachers who remain in teaching often do slowly acquire or enhance such qualities over time, though many do not!  I nonetheless believe that we could do more in initial training and in CPD to raise awareness of the importance of such qualities and to some degree to help teachers acquire them.  For anyone interested in finding out more about how this might be done see Maley & Kiss (2018, Chapters 7-10) and my forthcoming article in  Maley, (2022)

But a fairly painless way of getting started would be to make discussion of such issues a regular part of the mentoring process, or in group discussion on training courses or CPD groups.

One way of opening up such discussion is to ask participants to grade themselves on a scale of 1-10 on each quality.  They compare results and discuss what could be done to improve their score? Plenty of valuable insights are guaranteed to ensue. Clearly you wouldn’t do this with all the qualities at once but just one or two at a time over several weeks or months.

Why not give it a go?



Almond, M. (2019) Putting the Human Centre-Stage.   Shoreham-by-Sea: Pavilion Publishing & Media.  pp 51-69


Maley, A. (2022) (forthcoming) Language Teacher Training: We may be doing the thing right– but are we doing the right thing?  Language & Language Teaching, Bangalore: Azim Premji University.  Issue 21, Jan. 2022.

Maley, A & Kiss, T. (2018) Creativity & English Language Teaching: From Inspiration to Implementation.   London: Palgrave Macmillan.  Chapters 7, 8, 9, 10.

Ur, P. (1996) Can teaching be taught?  BRAZ-TESOL Newsletter. 10 (4), pp 8-11


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Tagged  Creativity Group 
  • Teacher Qualities: Something to Think About
    Alan Maley, UK

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