Teaching, Coaching, and ESL

a terrible thought

It began after one of those difficult days in the classroom. I was again brought to the realization that the kids had not been able to retain the fantastical knowledge i bestowed upon them a week prior. I began to wonder what I am actually doing here at this middle school. I thought, “hey John, you’re a dedicated, empathetic individual. You love this teaching thing, but maybe this is not teaching. Maybe I am not the teacher I thought I was.” That thought brought me down even further. I tried to banish it from my mind, but it kept popping up.

I kept thinking, how on Earth can I be expected to properly teach my kids with one 45 minute segment a week!?!

I struggled for a few days until serendipity struck and the great Alex Walsh (@alexswalsh) posted a tweet on twitter. It went something like, “Wondering if I am a teacher or a coach, hope I am a coach”.

“HEY!,” I thought, “DUH! that’s just it. I AM NOT A TEACHER! I am a coach!”

Immediately the weight personal expectation was lifted from my shoulders. I was able to view what i do from a different prism. It reinvigorated what I do, and how I do it.

The more I have thought about the distinction between teacher and coach the more applicable I find it to the ESL classroom.

Now, I’d like to say right here, that I by no means am trying to imply we ESL teachers do not teach. On the contrary! We do much more! A teacher gives information to a student. A coach helps the student use said information. A coach guides the student through the process of acquiring a new skill. A coach finds exciting, new, fun, interesting, intriguing methods to drill those skills.

A good coach finds ways to mask the drilled repetition of skills learners need to attain mastery. Anyone who has played under a bad coach knows just how quickly a sport you love can become a tedious, onerous task.

A good coach remembers that new skills need to be integrated with old ones.

A good coach knows their learners strengths and weakness and finds ways to challenge them in their weaker areas.

A good coach knows when to push and when to empathize.

A good coach realizes that the pathway to mastery is not straight, but winding.

With these realizations I no longer worry about HOW MUCH, of what I bestow, my students remember. I concentrate on what they CAN DO. I help them remember what they could do before, and find drills that will pique their interest. This, in turn, keeps them motivated through the practice necessary to cement the new skills being practiced. I concentrate on feedback. By raising awareness of where they are lacking and making sure to acknowledge their achievements, motivation remains.This process also creates the necessary bond and space for learners to feel confident to branch out into the skills they are not yet comfortable with.

My paycheck may say teacher, but I know I am a coach. What are you?


7 thoughts on “Teaching, Coaching, and ESL

  1. Hey John- ok wow.

    Good for you and Alex for that matter to rethink your positioning in the classroom. Actually, I am currently reading an article from a friend and grad school buddy as I am trying to get my head around academic writing again and he reminded me of the idea of metaphor specifically the work of Lakoff and Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, 1980). They argue that “metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action” (p.3). I guess by examining some of the metaphors we live by we can gain insights into how our personal/professional experiences inform our lives.

    My friend uses the metaphor “As a Teacher I am a Tour Guide” because of his personal affinity for geography and history. I think of teaching according to travelling as in I am on a journey with belongings in tow, an itinerary to boot, open to the unexpected and so on.

    Here’s a short online resource: http://theliterarylink.com/metaphors.html

    And for your future graduate studies (nudge, shove!):

    Lakoff,G., & Johnson,M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Steady on Coach, and good on ya!

    • Hi Darryl,

      Thanks for the reading material! I will definitely be adding these to my “to-read” list.

      I very much am in agreement with the idea of metaphor effecting our outlook. Changing my personal metaphor has been hugely helpful. I also like your “learning is a journey” metaphor. It’s very true and gets one to remember that, every day is a perfect day for learning. Learning should never stop!


  2. Yo buddy!

    Wow, glad that one of my many many many many many tweets actually had a positive purpose! I think that you’re absolutely right, that by redefining and accepting our role it helps us really get to grips with what we are doing and feel much more satisfied with what we achieve.

    I think one of the reasons I love my job SO much is that I have begun to understand my role as a coach and accept the limitations brought on me by only having one 50 minute session a week with 35 exhausted students. In that time I can’t suddenly transform their ability to speak English, but I can help interest them in English as a language that can be used to express themselves creatively and as a language that will help them explore the world and themselves and open their mind to new possibilities. Of course the primary goal is to improve their ability to communicate in the English language, but to add a point to your list I think:

    – A good coach can teach students more than the day’s target language, and in doing so tease language and knowledge from his or her students they may not have produced otherwise.

    Although there are obvious negatives to only getting 50 minutes once a week with 35 students, on the flip side, we get to inspire, mature, develop and love up to 500 young minds at any one time. What a privilege that is and how lucky we are 🙂

    • Hey Alex,

      That is a great addition to the list. Thank you!

      And what a positive, lovely way to think about the task of teaching 500 students!


  3. I love the way you defined our nature as teachers. Indeed, we are more of coaches than teachers, although I feel that being a coach is far more demanding than being a teacher. Sometimes it takes a “bad ‘class’do day” to fuel is forward and bring that realization of who we really are and where we’re heading to. I love teaching because I know I am a part of the change that’s taking place within my learner. And ain’t it a nice feeling? 🙂

    • Hi Ratnavathy,

      I absolutely agree, we are SO much MORE than mere teachers, and it is far more demanding, but also far more rewarding!

      It definitely is a nice thought to think about the positive change I can make every day. Sometimes, with the demands of life, we allow ourselves to forget that fact. Thank you for reminding us!


  4. John, I am with you…I am a coach…Coach Biffle of “Whole Brain Teaching” points out the same things…In fact the “scoreboard” rewards the learners based on what they can do (or remember) and doesn’t penalize them for what they don’t know…

    Go John Go…Coach on!!!… M.Lee… 🙂

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