Hengameh Ghandehari

The Whole Teacher – Hengameh

Understanding Teacher Effectiveness –  Hengameh Ghandehari

Hengameh Ghandehari

A great deal of literature and theory in ELT supports the worthiness of a set of core competencies that makes a teacher deserve the title of “one of the best”.  Despite the relatively opposing arguments coming out from a plethora of research findings on learners’ perception of an ideal effective teacher, there is still an overall consensus over what constitutes effective teaching in its modern EFL sense.

A broadly defined view of teacher effectiveness has been put forward by Hunt (2009: 1): The collection of characteristics, competencies, and behaviors of teachers at all educational levels that enable students to reach desired outcomes, which may include the attainment of specific learning objectives as well as broader goals such as being able to solve problems, think critically, work collaboratively, and become effective citizens.

Such attempts to define effective teaching, though quite ambitious, seems to have failed to contribute to EFL practitioners’ clear understanding of what exactly creates effective teaching in practice. The modern EFL teaching/learning context brings with itself a set of different cultural, affective, pedagogical opportunities as well as limitations which require teachers to show higher levels of dynamism and efficiency in order to respond timely and effectively to their learners. This simply means that a sharpened conscious understanding of such effective qualities is strongly demanded by both teachers and policy makers in the EFL industry.

In search for a deeper understanding, a number of studies regarding the characteristics of effective English language teachers have been carried out in a variety of EFL contexts. For instance, in one study, Shishavan and Sadeghi (2009), investigated the opinions of English language teachers and learners.  They figured that English language teachers believed that preparing lessons well, using appropriate lesson plans and assessing what students have achieved in a reasonable manner are the most important. On the other hand, the students who took part in the study assumed that the ability to teach English using the learners’ mother tongue was the leading quality of an effective language teacher. In addition, while proficiency in the target language, a sound pedagogical knowledge, and the use of the most efficient techniques and methods were important for the teachers, the students voted primarily for a teacher’s positive personality.

In a similar study carried out in Iran, Ghasemi and Hashemi (2011) probed students’ views of the characteristics of effective English language teachers under three main categories — subject matter knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and socio-affective skills. According to their findings, certain teacher characteristics such as reading and speaking proficiency, ability to arouse students’ interest in learning English, and building students’ self-confidence and motivation were seen as universally desirable. Moreover, many of their participants emphasized listening ability and grammatical proficiency as especially important.

In other studies, Wichadee (2010), priority was given to organization and communication skills as favored by students. Teachers’ personality and teacher-student relationships were considered to be playing a more vital role than instructional competence in a study done by Chen and Lin (2009); the teachers surveyed similarly believed that enthusiasm, friendliness, openness, respectfulness, and responsiveness were the leading qualities of effective English language teachers.

Considering the competing qualities reviewed and scrutinized in different contexts, it seems that more can be said about what makes a mediocre teacher rather than what specifically characterizes an effective one.  However, given the cultural, socio economic and affective factors and the continuing interplay among these, teachers might need to show higher flexibility to downplay or highlight certain characteristics and teaching behaviors according to the changing levels of learners, their age range and the expectations students bring to a language class.

With all this in mind, practitioners and classroom researchers seem to reach this agreement through intuition and practice that the modern EFL learner values certain non linguistic attributes more than others when forming her general assessment of a teacher’s performance. It can be grasped cautiously from the existing literature and anecdotal evidence that creating a positive learning attitude that results in students’ confidence counts as a key element in a teacher’s success. Such qualities are far more likely to result in a perceived level of success and satisfaction than having just a native like accent or a sound pedagogical knowledge.

Pedagogically speaking, students have seemed to favor special qualities over others in the teaching practices of their EFL instructors. Within an EFL context, based on students’ reports, a great deal of a teachers’ effectiveness has been usually attributed to clarity of instructions and directions for practices and drills in a class. Clarity in assessment criteria as an indicator of fairness is frequently reported to be a determining factor in characterizing levels of effectiveness by learners across different levels.

Given the above, EFL teachers and learners have developed a keener sense about the concept of teaching effectiveness in the 21st century. Broader frameworks now seek to not only to look at students’ surveys but also to probe into teachers’ reflections of their own effectiveness and inadequacies. A teacher’s view of her own effectiveness can be refined and adjusted only when we heighten our awareness of the fact that effectiveness is a relative concept. Such understanding helps us view effective teaching as a journey towards professional growth; and thus, teacher effectiveness should be perceived as a fluid dynamic rather than a fixed stage.



Hunt, B.C. (2009). Teacher Effectiveness: A Review of the International Literature and its Relevance for Improving Education in Latin America (Working Paper No. 43). Washington, DC: Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the Americas.

Shishavan, H.B. and Sadeghi, K. (2009) “Characteristics of an effective English language teacher as perceived by Iranian teachers and learners of English”, in English Language Teaching, 2, 4: 130-143.

Chen, Y.-J. and Lin, S.-C. (2009). “Exploring characteristics for effective EFL teachers from the perceptions of junior high school students in Tainan”, in STUT Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2: 219-249.


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Hengameh Ghandehari

Hengameh Ghandehari is Head of the English Department at Hermes Institute in Tehran, Iran. She has an MA in TEFL and holds the Cambridge CELTA. She has taught in both public and private sectors as both an EFL teacher and teacher trainer. She’s presented several papers on TEFL issues in national and international conferences. Her most recent paper "Using Dictogloss Task to Enhance EFL Learners' Language Proficiency" was published in SSTESOL Journal in Fall 2013. Her research interests include testing and assessment, teacher training and education.

4 thoughts on “The Whole Teacher – Hengameh”

  1. Hi,
    A great post!
    Teacher effectiveness can be discussed in terms of both human dimensions and scholastic achievements. According to Stanley Zehm and Jeffery Kottler (2005) in their book “On Being a teacher:the human dimension, we do not remember, if asked, the content of what were taught by our teachers at school. However, we have a vivid view of the character of our teachers. This substantiates the point that in addition to what it take to be good language teachers in terms of knowledge, they should also have good relationship skills so that students would accept and learn what is imparted on them.
    I do not mean to give the impression that I am in favor of human dimensions only. From my own experience I can say that there ought to be some sort of structure to base learning and teaching activities. As a result, students would take the lessons seriously know what to expect in the language classroom. The human considerations should be subliminal.

  2. Thanks, Hengameh, excellent post. Absolutely intriguing: do they see what you see, do you see, feel what they do? You never know. How difficult it is to know wat your students think and then how relevant to actual effectiveness what they think is and how you see yourself and your work. It’s all a big mystery and one that keeps many dedicated teachers in the profession you never know if what you do and how you do it work or at least matters for your students. It is defintely one of the resons why I can never get bored with teaching and wy it is so important for teachers to understand that they cannot teach the same thing the same way because it is not what you teach but who you teach that matters and the specific set of variables that create a certain situation to which you have to adapt your material, your approach and your expectations. I do have a very serious issue with the whole concept of effectiveness. I don’t know what imopact something I sauid yesterday will have on someone’s life in two years’ time. who is to determine what is effective? It’s a very tricky question and the more specific and exact someone tries to be about it, the less likely it is that it is actually going to work. (Therein lies my whole big problem with the whole standardisation malarky….)

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