Becoming an Autotelic English Teacher

“The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity, and the brute by instinct.”

Marcus Cicero, Roman statesman and orator

How do potential English teachers gain the experience and knowledge to become successful English teachers? The answer is both more complicated and simpler than many people believe.  The internet provides exceptional opportunities for potential English teachers to become autotelic (self-directed) learners. Following your own interest and creating your own educational program has never been easier.

The cult of paper continues to reign – especially in educational bureaucracies. Perhaps this remains the largest discrepancy between ESL and EFL faculties. In immigrant-friendly societies English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors usually have been formally trained in actually teaching ESL learners. Many English as a Foreign Language (EFL)  instructors, in contrast, are enticed to pursue teaching English while traveling abroad as a means of earning some extra cash. While some of these impromptu instructors are confident, worldly, intelligent, and often become outstanding educators in their own right, more often they are less-than-successful, holding to the assumption that teaching is easy, and teaching English even easier.

As the Bulgarian adage goes, “Many learn to walk by stumbling.” Over time and after several awkward classes, some instructors grow through experience, becoming better, more effective teachers. A key fact remains the ability to zoom out and reflect upon an English lesson; what worked, what didn’t work, what could be done differently, etc. By reading and reflecting, and then developing Personal Learning Networks, some “instant English teachers” can become stronger and smarter classroom guides.

Further, the reality remains that too  many education classes  bore students,  obsess  over  theory, and neglect teaching any practical instruction techniques. Plus, these formal certificates and advanced degrees can become rather costly and do not guarantee success in the actual EFL classroom. Combined with the reluctance of so many private English language schools to spend money on professional development and pay higher salaries for more credentialed teachers, many EFL teachers choose to find their own paths to becoming outstanding instructors. Teachers’ conferences, professional seminars, carefully observing successful English teachers, and finding a mentor are all beneficial for English teachers, both novice and experienced, trying to learn how to better instruct their students.

While it is obviously possible for EFL instructors to be hired in China, Vietnam, Thailand, and many other countries without a strong background in teaching, I still recommend that most EFL and ESL instructors get more training and share teaching experiences – for your students sake and your own pursuit of excellence.

Yet this professional development does not have to be sanctioned by any formal educational institution. As the great American historian Henry Adams observed, “”They know enough who know how to learn.”

The best thing that I can advise ESL instructors is to create a PLN, or Personal Learning Network, as it has become the fashionable rage among many English language and trainers around the world. Here are some links for insight into becoming a more learned and practical English teacher, all 100% free internet resources that I personally follow and have learned from over the years. – Larry has become a living legend among American English language and social studies teachers for his ability to find, analyze, and describe the best sites for educators. I learn every time I allow myself the pleasure to explore his “best of” series of links. – Tech savvy, energetic English teacher trainer Shelly Terrell. – The Australian education blogger Sue Waters. – Teaching with technology creates new possibilities and Evridiki Dakos  has established herself as a leading expert, especially for teaching English to children. Check her creative blog out! The always informative ELT specialist and conversation enthusiast  Karenne Joy Sylvester.

Bottomline: Do yourself a favor, check out these outstanding EFL and ESL experts, and become an autotelic English teacher.


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  1. Larry Ferlazzo


    I don’t know about the “living legend” moniker, but thanks for the kind words 🙂


  2. You’re being a gentleman and a scholar. You’ve won numerous awards for your outstanding education websites, and I heard two speakers express admiration for your work (and stamina) at the 2011 TESOL convention in New Orleans. From my perspective, you have earned the moniker ” living legend”.

  3. A very impressive post Eric. I have shared it both on Facebook and Twitter and I added your blog on my Blog Roll.

    Thank your very much for mentioning me and my still baby blog which is only 7 months old. I am not a leading expert of course but I am an autonomous or as you use the lovely Greek term autotelic teacher (restless learner)who sets goals to herself to develop and of course I like trying different things. 🙂

    I am so proud and happy that you are a part of my PLN! You always motivate and inspire me! And you are so humble and so friendly.

    Now that I know your blog I will often come and read your valuable sharings.

    Thank you Roth and keep up spreading light and your positive energy! 🙂


  4. Zümrüt Çimeli

    Shared from dear friend, Evridiki,,,great post ! will be following at close quarters 🙂 ,take care !

  5. Dear Evridiki – Thank you for visiting the blog, leaving that very generous comment, and sharing with your Facebook and Twitter friends!

    Your friendly comment brought a big smile to an exhausted English teacher and occassional blogger’s face. As a fellow restless learner, we will continue to explore and share insights – and inspire each other. Consider me honored to join your blogroll of more tech savvy folks too. Given the exponential pace of technological change – and rising expectations for English teachers, it’s a blessing that we remain curious and love to learn.

    Congratulations, by the way, on becoming the keynote speaker at that conference of English teachers in Turkey.



  6. Dear Zumurut – Thanks for following Evridiki to my little blog and your kind words of praise. Let’s keep exploring new ways of being autotelic English teachers!



  7. Thankyou for sharing Becoming an Autotelic English Teacher with us keep update bro love your article about Becoming an Autotelic English Teacher .

  8. This is exactly what I call myself. Thank you so much Eric for sharing your idea. I just hope companies especially government will not depend only on the certificates and records ( paper made) but i hope they will also create an authentic assessment that will has consideration in other learning areas because Free training such online will not give any certificates but I find it more informative and useful.

  9. Rhonda – Thank you for sharing your perspective and appreciating my observations. Far too many teachers, and students, focus on formal nods from authority in terms of certificates or exam scores and ignore the genuine reason to learn. Trust yourself and create your personal learning network – and your students will benefit from your greater knowledge.

  10. Thank you for visiting. Glad you found the links helpful.

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