The need for English teachers is increasing as 2 billion people in the world are expected to be using the language by next year, and some experts say non-native English speakers can be effective teachers.
Babi Kruchin holds a master's degree in TESOL — Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages — from Hunter College in New York City. Kruchin has been teaching at the American Language Program at Columbia University since 1999. She is a certified teacher trainer for the Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) from the University of Cambridge/Royal Society of Arts.
But she didn't start out on that path.
"I got into my field by accident," Kruchin said. "I was actually an art student in Brazil, and when I started college, the school where I had studied ESL [English as a Second Language] as an after-school program invited me to teach small kids. And, I started teaching small kids, and I enjoyed it."
So she changed her major from art to languages and moved to English-speaking Britain for a year for her CELTA training, which is a certificate program. She returned to Brazil, continued teaching and started training educators. She moved to the United States and decided to work on a master's in TESOL.
"And then my career kind of took off. I taught at many different programs in New York as an adjunct professor until I got a full-time position at Columbia," she said.
Benefits of being non-native English speaker
Being a non-native English speaker has been an asset, she said.
"Because, like your students, you have gone through the process of learning the language. You are better equipped to understand what they are going through," she said. "If English is your first language, you may not empathize with what it is like to learn a second language.
"If you think not being a native speaker of English is an obstacle, you're wrong, because it is actually something that gives you another set of skills."
Other skills, like interpersonal communication, are important to teaching English, too. Having "a great awareness" of your students at many levels is key, she said, "like at the personal level, at an academic level, at a critical thinking skills level."
Other skills to bring to the teaching table, she said, are organizational skills to arrange materials, classes and student assignments. And English teachers should be comfortable with public speaking, she advised.
"If you have a fear of speaking in front of other people, I wouldn't recommend that career," Kruchin said, "because you are in front of a classroom and addressing them."
Two other qualities she recommended are leadership and creativity.
"You do have to tell students what to do and how to go about doing tasks," she said. And "a great deal of creativity" is necessary to create interesting lessons.
Developing teaching skills
So how do you develop these skills while you are learning to teach?
Kruchin recommends the following: getting feedback from colleagues and asking them for peer observations; attending professional conferences; being aware of what's new and current; reflecting on what you are doing and where you are going.
"Sometimes at the beginning of your career, it's good to discipline one's self and do it more rigorously," like reflecting on a lesson just taught, she said. "But then as you become more experienced, I think it's also very important to look back and say, 'Was this a good class? Was this a good semester? What worked? What needs to be improved?'
"In other words, the idea that it is never ready, you are never done, you never know it all," she said.
Students who think they might want to become teachers should know the amount of work that goes into teaching is significant and compensation is not often generous.
"It's a tremendous amount of work," she said. "So I think one needs to be aware of that, that you need to like it. Because if you don't like it, it's not something you can just jump through the hoops."
Teaching is not a well-paid profession, but "think about how rewarding it is to meet people from different cultures" and "to know that you learn all the time from your students," Kruchin said.
"It's a very rewarding field because it is intellectually stimulating, and you are involved with other people, and you can use your creativity. I think those would be my final words."
VOA Learning English reported this story.