Being an ESL Teacher: What Teachers can Learn from Don Cornelious

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ESL Tate
I have been an ESL Teacher for more than 15 years and a Teacher trainer for the last three. Now I help new teachers start their journey traveling and teaching English abroad.
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Being an ESL Teacher and Don Cornelious

He was a pioneer who wished to get the African American music into American mainstream society. Using $400 of his own money to begin the show, he did just that. And for 30 years Don Cornelious, ‘Soul Train’ host and creator brought music to our homes and premiered artists like David Bowie, Elton John, The Jackson Five and many more. Today at the age of 75, he was found dead at his home of a self-inflicted gun shot according to LA times.

Being an ESL teacher and Don Cornelious
Don Cornelious, 1936-2012

What does he have to do with being an ESL teacher?

It’s because Don Cornelious embodied the characteristics that make a fine ESL Teacher. What are they?


He was not scared to start something new. In a time of hate and instability for blacks in America, he looked to brighten the mood through his love for music.

Music is an essential part of any ESL classroom.


He reached out not just to the black community but to everyone. He featured stars such as David Bowie and Elton John on his show.

Reach out to every student, not just the good ones.

Fun & Exciting

The dancers lined up and showed their best dance moves. It was exciting to watch and join in the fun if you wanted.

Make your lessons fun and exciting and the students will love you as many loved him.


When many stood against his idea he did not stop. He tried new things and ideas. He dared to stand against negativity and a later, his show was a hit.

Dare to be different and be like no other teacher before you.

Informative & Given

He brought ‘love, peace and soul’ to our hearts. Not only that, he made many artists famous and even kick-started their careers.

Give your students the best of yourself, ask for nothing back.

Good To Read: 6 Reasons Why an English Teacher in Korea Fails


Don Cornelious regardless of what his life became after brought us music and kick-started the careers of countless artists. He showed us what it means to be innovative and given. I believe that is what being an ESL teacher means.  And on this black history month, I like to say rest in peace Don. And like you always said may ‘love, peace and soul’ be with your family in this trying times.

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  1. Great post!! Its so true to add music in your lessons…I’m not the best with singing and don’t have a CD player so when I do sing it was rare…anyways, I do have a “baby class” that I taught for just over a month now and when they were cutting and gluing paper (it was shapes on a school bus) I went around for fun and was singing “the wheels on the bus”. Anyways, today when I had them cutting and gluing “eyes, nose, mouth, and ears” on a blank face they asked me to sing a song…haha. I have been looking up easy kids songs that I can use with my lessons, and even though you may not be that great of a singer, kids actually really enjoy it! I’m continually learning!!

    • Thanks Kayla. Very true, I am not a good singer either but I learned that the kids love music; even the older ones so I make it a habit to use music in my lessons as often as I can.


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