• Destiny Yarbro

What are the components of a "good" language teacher?

I teach American Sign Language (ASL) and create curriculum for international sign language courses housed at InterSign University. My students tend to be college level learners (regardless of their actual age) and thus behavioral “problems” are minor in comparison to my peers who teach elementary, middle, and high school children.

For better or for worse, ASL instruction is largely unregulated. As a result, there is a wide spectrum of teachers, from good to bad. Within the context of language instruction, I believe a good teacher with a good curriculum will:

  • Create a safe environment for trying and failing. As my curriculum concentrates on useful content (ie. the ability to walk out of the classroom door and have a meaningful conversation with a Deaf person), grammatical and conjugational perfection is not the goal. I want my students to be “comfortable and safe” enough (WGU, 2020, para. 7) to “see the humor in their mistakes,” “celebrate their successes”, “feel a sense of belonging, trust others,” and “tackle challenges, take risks, and ask questions” (Young, 2014).

  • Balance clear expectations with a growth mindset. Students thrive when they have a strong foundation of expectations but are also encouraged to try and fail. One of my greatest challenges in college was taking courses from professors who had no clear expectations for their students or themselves. (Ironically; should not a college teacher in education be an expert in teaching?) As a perfectionistic student, I needed a professor to take me under their wing, clearly outline their expectations but soften them by teaching me how to develop a growth mindset. Thus, a good teacher is one who can encourage less-motivated students to increase their “capacity to tolerate the discomfort that comes with working hard” (Young, 2014) while also decreasing the pressure on their perfectionist students and helping them to increase their “capacity to tolerate the discomfort” of trying to speak to a Deaf person without a script or guide.

  • Teach with their students’ goals in mind. A good language teacher will teach within the context of their students’ passions for learning. Hand-in-hand is their expertise in matching “the difficult level of the instruction materials” to their students so they are not “too easy or difficult;” ensuring that students avoid “off-task behavior” (Kratochwill, DeRoos, & Blair, n.d.)

In my area of education, language teaching, I have found that students gravitate toward the content when it helps them reach their individual language goals. Students are usually learning a new language for a specific reason; to chat with their friends, live abroad, or watch their favorite TV series. A good teacher will set up their curriculum and classroom to be flexible enough to support these individually critical objectives.

I remember taking an Arabic class in college with a professor who did not understand this concept. Nearly all of my fellow classmates were learning Arabic to either (1) communicate with their extended family members or (2) they were in the military and would be deployed to the Middle East in a few months. Unfortunately, our Arabic teacher focused our entire course on writing Arabic script, completely ignoring her students’ pre-existing and meaningful motivators for learning.

Nurturing students’ greatest motivators is key to being a “good teacher”.


International Baccalaureate. (2010). The IB Learner Profile: A singular capacity for invigorating campus life. https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/recognition/learnerprofile-en.pdf

Kratochwill,T.R., DeRoos, R., & Blair, S. (n.d.). Classroom management: Teachers modules. APA. http://www.apa.org/education/k12/classroom-mgmt.aspx

Sieberer-Nagler, K. (2016). Effective classroom-management & positive teaching. English Language Teaching, 9 (1). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1087130.pdf

WGU. (2020, July 21). What is humanistic learning theory in education? Western Governors University. https://www.wgu.edu/blog/what-humanistic-learning-theory-education2007.html

Young, J. (2014). The importance of a positive classroom. Encouragement in the Classroom: How Do I Help Students Stay Positive and Focused. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/sf114049/chapters/The-Importance-of-a-Positive-Classroom.aspx

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