We’ve talked a lot about how to find the best italki teacher for you: one that is a good match for your personality, one that understands your language goals, and one that shows up on time and prepares for your class beforehand.
You may know intuitively that you have the right teacher, but what if you’re not sure? Here are some lesser known but surefire (very certain) ways to tell.
Your teacher is energetic during lessons
Being alert is good, and we expect that from our teachers. But being energetic is even better! Some teachers are more energetic than others, and if you have an energetic teacher you should count yourself lucky. An energetic teacher comes to class with enthusiasm. He or she greets you when the class begins, looks you in the eye (a little difficult on Skype, I know), and starts off with some friendly conversation before the lesson begins. Your teacher praises your accomplishments and gives you polite, constructive feedback on ways to improve.
Now, all of us are prone to off days (days during which we feel tired, ill or in a bad mood). Your teacher experiences these just the same! A good teacher that is usually alert, however, will apologize if she seems sleepy or not as enthusiastic as usual (for the sake of consistency, I will oftentimes refer to the teacher as she moving forward, as an example). If your teacher is really unwell, she should offer to reschedule your class. This scenario is unusual, but a truly enthusiastic teacher will not try to fake their way through a lesson just for the sake of it. A great teacher knows that it is better to reschedule if she’s not herself (feeling unusual or not good), and know that it’s better to change the lesson (if you agree) so that when she does see you again, she’s at her best.
Your teacher asks permission to have a cup of coffee (beverage)
Teachers should not be chomping and slurping during the class. Eating or drinking during class is distraction -- and is frankly just plain rude. Many teachers will have a coffee cup in hand when they start a lesson, but not yours if she’s an excellent teacher.
Drinking coffee can be OK, however, if the teacher asks your permission. Your teacher might say, “Do you mind if I have a cup of coffee during our lesson?” Most students don’t mind at all and will often join the teacher by having a cup of their own. Over time, it may become a ritual for you and your teacher to drink something during your lessons (not alcohol, please).
Remember, though, that a really good teacher will already have their coffee prepared. He or she shouldn’t say “Thanks!” and then dart away from the lesson for ten minutes to make a fresh cup.
Your teacher makes you her first priority
If you have a teacher who gives you all his or her attention, despite the usual distractions, you should feel very blessed. If your teacher is expecting a very important call or someone at their door, they should tell you this before the class begins. Otherwise a good teacher has their phone on silent during the lesson, just as you should.
An attentive teacher keeps their eyes on your face or the material that you are both looking at together, at all times. While you’re reading something or thinking of a response to a question, your teacher shouldn’t be grabbing these moments to do something else. You won’t catch a wonderful teacher repeatedly checking the time. Nor will he or she be looking down or at another part of the computer, indicating that she is trying to accomplish other unrelated tasks during the class.
Most of the time, a really good teacher will keep their breaks to a minimum during a lesson. Urgent matters arise with even the best of teachers -- like having to visit the restroom -- and this is acceptable, as long as they don’t become routine. If your teacher has children at home, she shouldn’t allow them to interrupt the lesson. She should have plans beforehand to keep them out of the picture.
Remember that recent video in which a broadcaster working from home was almost run over by his kids who escaped from their bedroom? To us it’s a good laugh, but to this professional newscaster, it was an embarrassing disaster at the time.
Your teacher doesn’t try to pressure you or commit you to another class
Good teachers are confident in their work and don’t feel like they have to talk their students into scheduling another class. Unless you have a special contract with your teacher or are accustomed to meeting regularly, a teacher should not ask you when you want another lesson. It’s fine if your teacher simply says, “Looking forward to seeing you next time” or, “Let me know when you want another class”. But a good teacher does not stalk his or her students.
A really good teacher directly gives you positive feedback
While every student needs to improve in language learning, each student also does some things well, and a great teacher will relay that to the student either during the lesson or in the space left for feedback. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the teacher telling the student to improve something if it’s done in a respectful manner and is preceded by an inspiring comment. But a good teacher regularly gives feedback, both positive and constructive. By the same token you -- as a student -- should leave a brief feedback message for the teacher even if it’s a simple “thank you”.
A really good teacher uses real-life examples in teaching
A really good teacher isn’t lazy, using only a textbook or pages taken from the Web. He or she will be creative when teaching you because there is so much to talk about in regular life. After all, real life topic matter are the type of conversations that will increase your speaking and listening skills. Isn’t this exactly why you’ve chosen a teacher to help you in the first place?
Now, it’s fine if your teacher gives you a few links to relevant pages on the Web to help you in between classes, or to encourage you to practice some aspect of the language that you’re struggling with.
If you have an extraordinary teacher, you’ll know because you look forward to your next lesson since it’s fun and you’re doing something you’ve always wanted to do: learn a new language. If you think you have a great teacher, make his or her day by saying so. Tell your teacher you like how patient she is, and how she sincerely takes you seriously.
So, the next time you finish a lesson, go and leave some feedback to let your teacher know how much you appreciate her time. Believe me, your teacher will love it!
Ilene Springer is a long-time italki teacher specializing in advanced language students. She is a writer and author of The Diary of an Expatriate (AUK, London). Visit her website Chocolate English.eu.