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Home Journal Index 2023-3

What Completes an Excellent Teacher? Care in Higher Education English Language Teaching

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Jock Onn Wong

National University of Singapore, Singapore


The purpose of this introduction is not to discuss the diverse interpretations of teaching excellence or to criticize any party for their particular foci in defining teaching excellence, but to draw the reader’s attention to the curious observation that when educators discuss teaching excellence and its criteria, they seem to place little or no emphasis on care, at least not explicitly. Care seems to be something that is largely outside of teaching. After all, most or all universities presumably have counselling services to support the mental health of students, so faculty members may see care as something that is incidental to their teaching. It is not something that they need to be overly concerned about. When they come across a student who needs care, the teacher could quickly refer them to the university’s counselling service, and subsequently focus their attention on their teaching duties with the rest of the class.


It is in fact documented that “the place of care in university teaching and learning has received relatively little attention in higher education (HE) literature” (Anderson, et al., 2020, p. 2). Similarly, it is said, “When it comes to higher education, the focus in teaching has traditionally been centered on content area expertise” (Barrow, 2015, p. 45). When educators discuss curricula, they might focus on skills that prepare students for the workforce in the 21st century, such as “expert thinking and complex communication skills”, “critical thinking”, “collaboration”, “creativity”, and IT skills, which include “searching for” and “citing information” (Chu, Reynolds, Tavares, Notari, & Lee, 2017, pp. 17, 21). The implementation of “twenty-first century skill education” (Chu, Reynolds, Tavares, Notari, & Lee, 2017, p. 18) does not seem to require care. When educators write about teaching goals to meet student learning objectives, how odd it would sound if an educator presented something like this as a teaching goal: “a learning process that is minimally traumatic and maximally stress free because of the teacher’s care”. Then, when it is time for students to evaluate their teachers, how ridiculous it might appear if one of the official evaluation criteria for the teacher was a “capacity to love” (Freire, 2005, p. 5).


Further, as far as I can remember, of all the educational talks by educators that I have attended, most, if not all, were about methods and approaches, not care. They could be about, for example, the benefits of peer review, feedback practices, CLIL (‘content and language integrated learning’) and multimodality in the classroom, but rarely about care. A talk on care is usually delivered by a representative from the university’s counselling service. Similarly, in any hiring process, the search team might ask questions on anything from the candidate’s experience or expertise in course design, material development, student engagement, online-teaching, educational technology, reflective teaching, research, personal development but, again, rarely on the capacity to care for students.