Last Saturday, I concluded my presentation with 4 expert teachers at the Learning and Teaching Expo 2013 with a maxim by my dissertation supervisor, Professor Jack Richards, when I did my MA TESL many many years ago. Professor Richards contended: “There is no such thing as good teaching. There are only good teachers.”
Professor Richards’ entire professional career was about good teaching, training teachers to teach English as a second language effectively. His research and publications all centred around good teaching. His book Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching has become a classic textbook in ELT methodology. Yet he would take every possible opportunity to emphasise that there is no such thing as good teaching. There are only good teachers.
Of course Professor Richards doesn’t mean that in second language teaching, anything goes. He explains: “Teaching is realised in teachers. It has no independent existence.” In other words, good teaching is not a standard procedure that exists ‘out there’, so that any teacher who follows the procedure to the letter will produce good teaching. Good teaching is the result of the teacher having thought through her own teaching situation, capitalising on her professional knowledge, experience, and personal attributes, and made informed decisions about her pedagogical approach.
For example, it is not like that if we can come up with the perfect lesson plan for teaching the Present Perfect tense, then any teacher who follows this model lesson plan will pull off great lessons on this particular tense. If such a lesson plan exists, it can only be used as a source of inspiration.
To return to the EEGS project I took part in at SHCS last year, it was a success because the teachers concerned believe in good teaching; they care about their students’ learning; and they are highly professional and creative. This experience is testimony to Professor Richards’ maxim: “There is no such thing as good teaching. There are only good teachers.”
I am proud to have been taught and supervised by Professor Richards, a world-esteemed scholar in TESOL. In fact, his motto has had a profound influence on how I myself go about my work of teacher education and development. Although my work is mainly concerned with training teachers in TESOL methods, I remind myself from time to time that at the end of the day, it’s not the method, but the teacher – that counts.