Article Notes: What is a ‘good’ teacher? – Terry Phillips

‘Article Notes’ is a set of blog posts in which I write down my notes about articles that I read. These notes are not meant to be ‘academic’ or ‘formal’; rather, they are my ramblings and immediate thoughts in reaction to the content I read. I’ve written them up to help me remember the article, and to share my thoughts with those who are interested. I welcome you feedback and comments!

I saw the title of this article in the reading list for the NILE management in language education model and just new that it would be one of those really interesting articles that I would remember for a while. It didn’t disappoint. Even if you’re not a manager (in fact, it may even be more pertinent to teachers), you should read this article.

So, before we get into all the good stuff, take moment to think about the following question: What, in your mind, is a good teacher?

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Summary and notes

Phillips’ article What is a ‘good’ teacher takes a look at just how accurate our perception of what a good teacher is, and asks us to rethink this with the question “who determines what a good teacher is?”. Throughout the article, Phillips emphasises that every stakeholder, from the students and parents, to managers and teachers’ colleagues, have an opinion and ‘judge’ the ‘goodness’ of a teacher, so to speak.

“But do all these people mean the same thing by a ‘good’ teacher? What is a good teacher? What does a good teacher do in the classroom? What does a good teacher do when he/she is not in the classroom? And, as a teacher, which of the (potentially conflicting) definitions should you attempt to meet?”

Phillips, 2013, p.13

Phillips highlights that each stakeholder has a set of expectations, and mentions that if these expectations are met, then they are, generally, satisfied. The problem, however, is that there are times when these expectation are not met, which leads the stakeholder to be unsatisfied. Phillips emphasises that the ‘teaching’ may actually be fine, with learners passing the course, but because, for example, they had the expectation that they would be able to write a fully formed and amazingly beautiful essay by the end of the A2 Key course, their expectations have not been met, and thus have good reason to be unsatisfied. Of course, as Phillips (2013, p.13) writes, “for any stakeholder that we identify, it is necessary to discover or, if that is impossible, assume, the expectations they have”, and this means more than just students – we are talking parents, bosses, etc.

“A teacher may say, with a fair degree of justification, that the expectations of customers and clients should have been discovered before the student ever made it to his/her class. But the fact is that they are often not…”

Phillips, 2013, p.14

The above quote is something that as teachers we can all relate to. Now as a manager, I look at our process for collecting needs and what we encourage teachers to do, and I wonder if there is more that can be done. Or better said, a better way to use the information we collect. You see, in our placement tests, we collect a fair amount of data on learners’ interests, wants, needs, etc. and then give our teachers a quick ‘briefing’ if the learner is joining a group class, or provide a more detailed overview if the learner has bought an individual course. I feel we work to these needs/wants/expectations fairly well for individual courses as we plan a syllabus based on these needs, but what about group courses? I feel that we’re lacking something here – and I feel that an unfortunate (or fortunate?) reason for this is because in Spain, everything is exam-driven. That means, learners/parents frame their needs/wants/expectations at “pass the exam”. This makes things a little easier in terms of planning, but it also makes my job at managing expectations a little trickier. Phillips (2013, p.13) writes that “once we have discerned the expectation of a stakeholder, we must then raise our delivery to meet that expectation, or lower the expectation to the level which we can effectively deliver”, and I feel that with exam-focused course, more often than not we have to lower those expectations (many parents, learners, etc. have the ‘one-year-one-profiency-level’ mindset, which doesn’t actually reflect how language learning works).

But as I mentioned before, and Phillips stresses, it is more than just the parents and students. I put together this diagram to show the stakeholders that are forming opinions regarding a teacher being a ‘good’ teacher:

Two of these that I found really interesting to think about were Admin staff and Colleagues. I already understand the Boss / Manager views (to a degree), but Phillips’ comments on the other two were insightful. When talking about admin staff, he (2013, p.14) writes that “admin staff very rarely see a teacher’s contribution to language learning, but they have a clear opinion of every teacher in the staffroom based on their contribution form filling and the amount of mess they have to clear up when information is not available in a timely fashion”. Working behind the scenes now, I know how crazy it drives the admin staff to have be asking teachers to complete their sign-in registers, or to complete the attendance sheets. And, yes, opinions are certainly formed – and the reality of the situation is that it does affect the person’s perception of their status as a ‘good’ teacher (or perhaps ’employee’).

And what about colleagues? Well, Phillips speaks about the ‘internal’ client. Basically, the internal client references the process of a group of learners being passed on from one teacher to another teacher from one year to the next. That is, I have a group of learners and then next year another teacher will have the group. What I do with this group has ramifications for the next teacher, as Phillips (2013, p.14) writes: “my Elementary level graduates become your Intermediate students – and if I have failed to convey the delights of drilling, or taught them any study strategies or even, horror of horrors, failed to complete the Elementary syllabus in subtle ways that don’t show up in the record of work book, you will have real problems when you take delivery”.

But how do we work to meet stakeholders’ expectations? Well, Phillips recommends creating very specific SMAART objectives:

Phillips, 2013, p.15

Phillips finishing by saying that a ‘good’ teacher can mean many things, and that as teachers we need to be aware of this, and as managers we need ensure that teacher are aware of this – and that they understand how they CAN meet the expectation of everyone (or at least try!). A great article overall – love the tongue in cheek, but more importantly, love the ‘uh-huh’ moments. Well worth the read.

Extracts from article My thoughts
People involved in different parts of the education process probably have different definitions because they are each concerned with a different aspect of the process. (p.13) I suppose that is why having a manager with actual relevant and recent teaching experience is a must (well, a bonus at a minimum!).
When my first temporary ELT post was converted into a permanent one, it was on the grounds that the supervisor had ‘not had any complaints about me from the students.’ (Goodness knows why not. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing half the time!). (p.13)That is why actually collecting data from all stakeholders before, during and after courses is important. Informed decisions can only be made if we have enough data to be able to form a clear picture.
Section: Towards criteria for judging ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teachersSection: Towards criteria for judging ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teachers
Teaching, certainly high-quality ELT, used to have pre-entry controls and very little post-entry monitoring. But in many schools, lesson observation is now routine – not just in a spirit of assistance but in order to make critical judgements about performance. (p.13). As a trainer, and still as a manager, I have always frame observations and their ‘consequences’ as ‘developmental’. Should I frame these differently? I find half my job is countering negative stigma around observations because teachers who come from academies in which observations were used as administration tools left a bad impression.
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with workplace performance standards, as long as:
– the criteria are correct
– the criteria are known and accepted by those who will be evaluated
– those doing the judging are qualified for the job (p.13)
Agreed. I feel that we need to bring this criteria to teachers though, and get their input. Perhaps another session for induction week?
Teachers need to be aware that they are constantly being judged by all stakeholders connected with the business they work in. (p.13) And managers need to raise this awareness, and provide support so teachers can actually (as much as they can) meet the expectations of those stakeholders.
Section: Stakeholder satisfactionSection: Stakeholder satisfaction
Satisfaction is not the same as happiness. A teacher’s job is not, for example, to keep the students happy. Happiness is metaphysical and not susceptible to the application of management theory. Satisfaction is practical and can be worked towards. Satisfaction, in these terms, is simply the difference between delivery and expectation. (p.13) In our evaluation of the programme and our courses, we usually ask if people are happy. It would seem that we need to change that. It seems very de-humanising to remove ‘happiness’, but now that I think about it, it is so hard to define anyway, and satisfaction seems like a much more easily workable concept when dealing with courses, etc.
Section: Stakeholders in the work of teachersSection: Stakeholders in the work of teachers
The most common client in ELT is a parent, whose expectations may be very different from those of the student him/herself. (p.14) I feel that this is one of our biggest barriers, and hence our push to ensure we have very clear communication. One of the biggest hurdles, if you will, that I’ve found in Spain, is communicating exam results in a parent-friendly manner. We use Cambridge exams as one of our assessment tools, and as such if a learner is getting a ‘7’, I am over the moon. However, because at school learners get 9s and 10s (if they are good) and view anything under and 8 as negative, we usually have to make parents aware that their child has actually done quite well, or, most importantly, is actually progressing and is doing fine for where they are at the moment.
It is essential, therefore, that the teacher teases out these requirements, perhaps using a questionnaire at the beginning of the course to find out what the student has to do in English at work or, much more difficult, what they will be expected to do after successfully completing the course. (p.14) This should form part of almost every course! Also, this should, in my opinion, be the job of the management team. We should be collecting this information and creating the course, or at a minimum providing the tools for teachers to use in their classrooms so that they can collect the data.
Section: Understanding stakeholders’ expectationsSection: Understanding stakeholders’ expectations
Your current boss has a direct stake in your moment by moment success. A business normally grows not just by going out and getting new business constantly, but by selling again and again to existing customers. […] The White House Office of Customer Affairs has concluded that it costs five times as much to get a new customer as to keep an old one. (p.14)There are so many implications here, but I’ll mention two. One, this is why internal training and development is important. Those that don’t invest in their teachers and, ultimately, the academy, will have a higher turn-over off learners. Two, we need to look at dealing with ‘customers’ who have issues quickly, efficiently, and learn from the ‘incident’ immediately.
Section: Working to meet stakeholders’ expectations Section: Working to meet stakeholders’ expectations
In many cases, I have found that complaints about the internal client relationship stem from teachers not being aware of the work which is expected of them outside their daily teaching load. Making this explicit improves the information flow. (p.15)Agreed. We’ve made a move to more ‘explicitness’ as well as transparency with our ‘updated’ teacher roles and responsibilities overview. I really should say new, as there was nothing written down before, but I feel that this new document makes things a lot clearer. This being said, when writing it, I found it really difficult to include ‘everything’.
Section: Being a ‘good’ teacher means more than just useful, enjoyable lessons Section: Being a ‘good’ teacher means more than just useful, enjoyable lessons
To sum up: language teachers teach language in a classroom and are normally pretty good at making satisfied customers. Unfortunately, this is not enough to preserve the reputation of the teacher or build the reputation of the school they work in. It is also not enough to ensure long-term employability for the teacher or upward improvement through the profession. (p.15) Wow. Now this is a huge takeaway. Yes, I agree. Teachers need to be made aware of this, although it needs to be a ‘two-way’ endeavour. As managers, and more-so those in charge of finances, we need to make being that ‘professional’ teacher (the one who is good in all senses) a worth-while ‘journey’. This means, good working conditions, development that is provided (although is personalised), and, where possible, a salary that is representative of the work they put in. Sadly, on many of these, and perhaps especially this last point, our industry is far behind.


Phillips, T. (2013). ELT Management Newsletter, Number 5, pp. 13-15.


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