Thursday, 2 September 2010

Teacher Identity Questionnaire

I've just returned from an exhausting but highly stimulating week in Portonovo, Italy for the Lend Humanism in Language Teaching conference.  I gave a plenary presentation and ran a series of workshops on the importance of affect, interpersonal and performance skills for the teacher.  I have discovered that these areas of teaching are considered highly important by teachers but are rarely covered in any real depth on teacher training programmes.  If you would like to assist me in my research, please follow the link under Teacher and Drama Training (below right) to find the questionnaire and then email it to me (my address is on the document).  Or maybe you'd just like to share some general feelings on the subject here.  These are the key questions:

  • When you are in the classroom, to what extent do you create a separate teacher identity?
  • How different are you inside the classroom compared with outside in terms of your behaviour, how you interact etc?
  • If you are a non-native speaker, do you consciously or unconsciously modify your personality and behaviour when operating in English?
  • How much of any of your teacher training has covered interpersonal skills and skills that are usually associated with actor training e.g creative use of voice and voice development; breathing; developing teacher presence; the place of humour; awareness-raising of facial expression, gesture, space and movement; posture; arousing curiosity and setting up anticipation; and improvisation skills
  • How important is it that your students like you as a person?
  • To what extent is the teacher an actor?
Hope to hear from you ...


  1. Hi Mark,
    You have stated some really interesting questions here. I am a non-native English teacher. Unfortunately, even though I have MA in TEFL and Certificate in TBE, none of my teachers incorporated skills you mentioned here. I would really appreciate that. You can send me questionnaire if you like. vladimira.michalkova@gmail.com

  2. Hi Vladimira,

    Thanks for the reply and offer to complete my questionnaire: I'll email it to you in a minute!! I guess my interest in this area has come from the countless classroom observations I have to do of teachers (experienced and inexperienced around the world) who are mostly in the profession for good reasons: love of language and communication and a desire to inspire learners to have a similar passion but have difficulty connecting with a class on a human level (social/psychological and interpersonal) and maintaining interest, discipline and motivation that can be achieved through skills usually related to the craft of acting. For this reason, I run workshops and short courses for English language teachers in creative use of voice - including training in diaphragmatic breathing and voice development; creating a teacher presence; the place of humour; awareness-raising of facial expression, gesture, space and movement; posture; arousing curiosity and setting up anticipation; and improvisation skills. I believe training and practice in these skills should be inlcuded on teacher training programmes (initial ones especially). However, while I think these skills are important, it is equally crucial that teacher behaviour remains natural to his/her own "normal" behaviour and aspects such as body animation and humour are used in moderation. We're certainly not entertainers but I think if we consider using some of these more creatively, we have a better chance of our learners' viewing us and the language more positively which should lead to better motivation. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on the questionnaire and by the way, please feel free to forward it to any of your colleagues! All the best, Mark

  3. Hi, Mark!
    I'd love to contribute to your research; you can send me a questionnaire to luzbegoth@gmail.com

    Even though, I would never think of myself as a performer/actress, I must say I have built up my "own" performance as a teacher along the years. After 25 years of teaching I feel the classroom (whichever environment that is) as my "home" and the students "my people" so making them feel comfortable and at ease is one of my goals. That surely takes up some facial expression, gestures and movement. Besides, Getting students' direct feedback during their learning gives you a lot of information and helps you gear what seems not to be working that well.

    Begoña Tocino

  4. Hi Mark,
    I am a non-native English speaker teaching in the U.S.
    First of all, I applaud you for doing such research. You are right; most teachers training does not directly address the issues you mentioned in your questions. I was lucky to have had amazing instructors in my MATESOL training that did cover many of the aspects. Interestingly, I do have a separate teacher identity and it’s “show time” during my classes. I tend to disagree about us not being “entertainers”. I guess the nature of the subject I teach (speech and pronunciation) lends itself better to “entertaining” than grammar, for example, as much of the skill development is based on listening and clear “colorful” speech.

    I’d love to contribute to your questionnaire. My e-mail address is oflahertycarm@yahoo.com

    Looking forward to following this discussion
    Carmela O'Flaherty

  5. Hi Begona and Carmela

    Thank you for your comments. I've actually decided to attach the questionnaire to the blog (see above) ... to tell you the truth, I've only just worked out how to do it!! I too love BEING in the classroom and BEING with my students. My personal opinion is that I'm not comfortable with the idea of teachers being 'performers' or 'actors' or 'entertainers'. There are undoubtedly elements of these things in my own teaching but if I failed to get the balance right, I would come across as disingenuous and students tend to react quite negatively to any falseness. But what I strongly believe is that we can learn an awful lot from actor training because in a way, our aims are similar: we need to make a connection with our students to gain trust, respect, enthusiasm and motivation. Actors need to connect with each other to make their performance convincing and they need to connect with their audience to provoke an emotional and personal response ie. the audience needs to be able to relate to the characters and story on a human level. Teachers should sometimes (certainly not always) try to trigger an affective or emotional reaction from students for the language work in class to be meaningful and personalised so that they can see a purpose for learning the language. We know that some people have learnt foreign languages very successfully in a mechanical and disciplined way with lots of rote learning and repetition - fine! But I prefer my classrooms to be more akin to a mini-social event where the language and general communication are more of a reflection of the "outside world" in which people need to work together and support each other to the benefit of all. This sounds idealistic but of course I realise people don't always get on so we have to deal with this, too. We have to remember we are teaching language (English as THE world language) and communication skills so demonstrating that inside the classroom surely makes a lot of sense. The conclusion I've come to is interpersonal skills training and elements of actor training can target the teacher's need to make this connection with students. See my workshop handout on this blog as it shows you the areas of actor training I'm thinking about. In fact, I've recently realised another connection: actors sometimes use a technique that Stanislavsky termed 'image acting' where an actor would observe and 'borrow' aspects of a real person's character or even physical appearance to help create the actor's character. I've heard many teachers talk in similar ways when referring to their own previous teachers who have had a very positive influence on them and they 'borrow' aspects of that teacher's approach e.g the way humour can be used. What do you think?

  6. Hi Mark,
    I hope you're still here as I've just found your blog and it seems so interesting!!I'm a non-native teacher of English living in Argentina and I love Drama so much that I started working mainly on it, delivering workshops for children and adolescents as a complement to their scheduled English Classes. I'm very happy working on this... at the same time I believe children need it, I feel they have "forgotten" how to communicate /express with their bodies or how to look at the others in the eyes while speaking. I think that if they feel involved in a dialogue or situation where they play a role, they learn without even noticing they are doing it, That's the fun of it. The other teachers ask me: "How could you make x to speak? In my class she does't say a word", And I laugh, because it's not a big mystery: they have fun,they don't feel judged, they NEED the language to communicate, so they speak.
    Thank you Mark for sharing with us everything you know, I'd really like to keep in touch!
    Sole Martinez

  7. This is example of the excellency and perfection. The article you had posted is quite interpreting can you add some more new ones in this blog. I am the frequent visitor to this blog. Thanks

  8. Hi everyone. Thank you so much for following my blog and I'm sorry I haven't posted anything for a very long time! The Google/Gmail account I used to sign in with was deleted and I don't know how else to sign in! Any technical advice would be appreciated. Otherwise, I suspect I'm going to have to create a new blog and paste everything onto the new one. Sorry again and I hope to be with you again soon! Best wishes, Mark

  9. Hi everyone. I've finally got round to setting up a new drama in ELT blog: http://markalmondsdramaineltblog.blogspot.com/

    Of course at the moment it looks like this one!! .. but at least I'll be able to continue adding to it. Hope you like it ... and please keep on posting your comments. Best wishes and happy Christmas! Mark