Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


Being and becoming a language teacher

Being a (language) teacher in the classrooms of today's schools - as they mirror historically unprecedented degrees of diversity and inequities present in society at large - is one of the most challenging and demanding professions (both intellectually and mentally) that liberal democracies have to offer. For these reasons, being a teacher is potentially also one of the most rewarding professions, too. Teachers work in an environment in which they are instigators of meaning (Sinnstifter) for children, teenagers, and young adults.


For everyone embarking on a journey to become a teacher, we believe that some deep reflection is strictly necessary. Teachers-to-be need to de- and reconstruct their own understanding of school and edcuation.


This is because the school teaching profession is pervaded by multiple "antinomies" (Helsper 2012). Helsper argues that such antinomies - understood as characteristic constellations of mutually exclusive claims that teachers necessarily face in their work because of the very nature of the teaching profession. Antinomies are typically sets of competing demands that claim to inform and give structure to teachers' pedagogical actions and judgments. In this way, they are constitutive of teachers' professional existence and teachers can, therefore, evade, avoid, or ignore them only at the cost of loosing their professional legitimacy. In order for them to respond to these antinomies in a pedagogically responsible way, teachers depend fundamentally on continued and thorough reflection of their daily practice but also of their core beliefs about teaching and learning, the subject and content they teach, and about classroom practice and the broader context of institutional education in schools as such.


The obvious diversity of learners leads to one of the antinomies in teaching, which is to appreciate and foster diversity at the individual level while at the same time teaching all learners under the homogenising conditions of schools, classrooms, curricular guidelines and subject-specific requirements. In this context, Farrell and Jacobs underline the critical significance of teacher awareness:


We suggest that any discussion of diversity start with second language teacher awareness in that we become more aware of who we are as people and second language teachers. As people, we language teachers need to develop a critical level of awareness in terms of who we are in terms of background influences such as our race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This awareness allows us to understand how people's backgrounds affects who they are, what they do and how they feel about themselves and others. Equipped with this growing understanding, we are better prepared to gain insight into our students and how too they are affected by their backgrounds. (Farrell/Jacobs 2010: 72-73)


A complete resolution or non-conflicting reconciliation of the manyfold antinomies within their profession is neither possible nor desirable for institutional and pedagogical reasons alike. Therefore, we believe that teachers should be equipped with the necessary pedagogical and content knowledge, but very much also and with such cognitive, emotional and affective resources that will allow them to grow as a caring practitioner and as a person. The way for this to take place is continuing reflection of (but not only of classroom) experience.


Reflection in teacher education starts as early as the university level. We aim to provide opportunities for principled reflection on teaching and learning experiences, including reflection on our own teaching practices, in all EFL modules in different ways and formats. We aim to teach both through reflection and for reflection. Engaging our students in reflective processes is, therefore, the fundamental principle of our teaching. We do not teach ready-made, one-size-fits-all kinds answers to the challenges of language teaching. We consider reflection a continuing requirement for language teacher students working and learning with us on their way to become English language educators.


Click here to read more about our own Teaching Philosophy.