Teachers in training

What's deep for some may be shallow for others... | Photo on Flickr by FeatheredTar

Suppose you want to start teaching English. Now, suppose you have never taught English before and that you’re looking for a way to start your new career. This is the moment you will get acquainted with acronyms and abbreviations such as TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, DELTA, TTC and a couple of others. I mean, you may come across these if you’re lucky (?); another possibility is sitting through an initial pre-service session lasting anything from simply receiving your textbooks and a quick hello from your coordinator to a longer training session to teach how to implement the magic method that is likely to – ahem – make all learners, from all sorts of backgrounds, learn English magically and miraculously. Ask any experienced professional in the field of ELT and you’ll hear that there are, until today, many language institutes that abide by rigid methods from the days of yore.

On a different note, you may have come across this post that questions whether teacher preparation courses are dangerously irrelevant or not. This is something that strikes a chord with me as I’ve been involved with teacher training and development for quite a long time, and this is likely to become my main activity in the foreseeable future. Are teachers really being prepared effectively to what they’ll face in the classroom? Are they being prepared to deal with the fact that the role of the teacher is changing faster than many of them would like it to? The question, to me, is not whether teacher preparation is irrelevant or not, but whether we’re doing it right or not.

I guess one of the most complicated things these days is that we’re in some sort of a conundrum – many teachers believe that what matters is what you’ve learnt, and not the piece of paper you’ll get afterwards. Yet, teachers themselves tend to only favour teacher training programs that will give them a piece of paper to be described in their CV’s without actually looking for learning opportunities that may also be fruitful. But instead of questioning the validity of certificates and such, I train my words at another target. I’m yet to hear from any teacher who gave informal PD a serious chance through actively participating and engaging in the world of blogs and twitter the words that I hear from many teachers who are forced to participate in sessions given by their school – it was a waste of time. Much on the contrary, actually. You don’t even need to ask, teachers who engage in PD online are the first ones to say they have learnt more in 8 months of twitter and blogs than they’d learnt in 4 years of college. Even if this is something that we can’t measure scientifically, it does say something. The message conveyed here is the one that we experience a sense of progress we don’t usually experience when we are shoved training sessions.

Could this be easily explained through motivation? We do know that motivated students tend to learn more effectively, or at least they try much harder. When we’re told what to do, do we look at it as if someone else tried to tell us what we need and, even if it’s subconsciously, sabotage any learning experience that may come from that? Is the belief that teachers should know all so ingrained in some (most?) teachers that it prevents us from opening up and making our weaknesses seen? Do we honestly believe that we know everything someone is trying to teach us? All of these could be drives for our motivation, which would then lead to lack of commitment in any kind of teacher training programme.

On the other hand, when we think of online, informal PD, we soon discover that it’s all about sharing. We’re not being taught, we’re discovering things together, exchanging ideas and opinions, but not being told, “this is right, and that is wrong”. Is the fact that we don’t need to fear being graded, or is the fact that we feel we’re not being judged or assessed so liberating that we finally open up for learning? The intriguing thought to me is that we can certainly see the benefits of sharing online, learning from so many different and interesting people, and yet fail to see that we may also learn from those next to us. How many teachers, for instance, would be dying to attend a conference with only ‘local’ teachers?

Training and development are two different things, but if we believe that teachers are not to be replaced by machines and computers, if we believe that teaching is a lot more than simply transmitting information, then we should embrace each and every opportunity that comes our way. But how do we know what is worth? This semester I’ve decided to deal with teacher training and development more as tutoring than as lecturing. Is this the right way to go? Well, at least there’s one thing I’m sure of – it’ll certainly help me spot talents and identify those who are willing to walk the extra mile and separate the wheat from the chaff. In a smaller scale, tutoring makes it harder for those who simply attend lectures and sit in classes to get away with laziness and last minute cramming.

By and large, traditional teaching is not as beautiful as we wish it were. There are many “teachers” who could care less about their work and don’t really worry about their students’ learning. And it’s a shame that many schools (at least where I live) look at education as if it were simply another business and give these “teachers” a job. this is why the best place to find like-minded educators is online and elsewhere instead of in the same teachers’ room you’re in. Isn’t it time we started changing this and accepting that the guy next doors can teach us, in the broad meaning of the word, as well as, or even better than the VIP speaker who comes and talks to an audience for a couple of minutes? But most importantly, isn’t it time we accepted that, as teachers, we should be open to learning and developing? Teacher preparation is not dangerously irrelevant, but perhaps our attitude to it is.

9 thoughts on “Teachers in training

  1. Great reflection, Rick, about what is the ultimate role and aim of a teacher training/development course.

    For me, it’s the same as the ultimate aim of any good educator, no matter what they are teaching: to wean the learner away from the teacher.

    If our trainees leave our courses still needy of us and thinking of the next course they could follow to learn more, I think that is serious evidence that we have not really fulfilled this aim.

    For me the road begins at the end of a course, not the start of it and so I always strive to equip teachers not so much with tips and tricks but with the power and control that a reflective teachers has over their own development beyond their course.


    1. Hi Marisa,

      The role of the teacher is to make himself or herself scarce and to make the learner independent and autonomous.

      I liked your comment of the road beginning at the end of a course, not at the start of it. That’s exactly it, and even more so with so much information widely available to all. If all we do is provide them with information, we’re not doing a very good job, right?! We should always strive to teach what to use with the information, and how to transform it into knowledge.

      Thanks for the comment! Always a pleasure to have your input! 🙂

  2. Good post–there are many main points I could go off tangents on, but I’ll follow one initially as it’s speaking to a thought I have about our accreditation system here.

    Though I agree that we ultimately aim to prepare trainees to be less dependent on us, that also comes down to the intensity, practicality and length of training they are receiving. I took a 10-week course, which amounted to 350 hours of instruction alongside the in-class teaching I was doing at the time. Aside from higher education, like an MA or PhD, this is the highest standard set by our government for language teachers. Not only does it not include any online components (except for a very outdated CALL module — see http://fourc.ca/call for more about that), students come only barely more prepared for classroom teaching than they were when they started. It’s hard enough bringing people up to speed with basic methodology, let alone having them apply that to a classroom in 5 or 10 weeks. I know CELTA drops students in on Day 1, not that I agree with that approach either, from the student or trainee’s perspective.

    In no other field is the length of training so short as it is in ours.

    1. Hi Tyson,

      As usual, your comments strikes a chord with me. It’s a bit sad to realise that most other professions out there do have a certain apprenticeship period in which one learns the necessary skills with the supervision of those who are more experienced and (supposedly) better prepared to tackle the tasks. Teaching, contradictorily, is the one profession that aims at preparing citizens to society, but teachers are poorly prepared to face the classroom and we have to learn by doing. Nothing wrong with learn by doing, but I do have an issue with learning by doing ONLY.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  3. Basically, being a great teacher, is a life-long learning experience. I am thankful for the opportunities we have now to continue sharing & discovering things together via the internet and face-to-face with our fellow teachers who share this passion of guiding our students toward autonomy.

    1. Hi Lois,

      Indeed, the Internet has opened up many possibilities for like-minded educators to share and keep learning. We’re the ones who have to be the life-long learners if we are to be preparing people to be so themselves. I’m looking forward to reading your contributions here and also to reading your thoughts on your blog – how is it coming along, by the way?

  4. As a freshman to the teaching life all I can say is: why did it take me that long to start reading your blog? It is filled with interesting and important issues about the career I want for my life. It is an honor and a privilege to be your newest grasshopper Rick!

    1. Hi Bruno,

      I’m flattered by the kind words! Even though you’ve just started on this path, it’s easy to see you’ve got lots of potential to shine. What makes the difference in life is how passionate we are for what we do. It’s easy to see you’re passionate about teaching. I’m looking forward to having the chance to tell other people I contributed a little to your career. 🙂

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