Oct 15, 2008


It's back to school and/or back to work. For many schools that means a new intake of teachers and the trials and the pleasures that involves. Here at our school we ran a training course for new (and hopeful) staff and what an experience that turned out to be. I think (and hope) I learned a couple of important lessons. Seeing new teachers' response to the method on these courses is always enlightening. Most have already observed lessons as part of the selection process and have read introductory material on the methodology and approve of what they have seen. However, learning to work with it comes, to some, as an unexpected effort; like with many things, it looks easy when you see it being done well but that 'ease' is the result of experience, intuition and attention.
On this training course were two teachers (from a total of five) who came from a relatively long backround in TEFL (the others all had between six months and two years experience) and who both seemed keen to work with a method that was new to them (all credit to them). What soon transpired was the difficulty they had working in lessons where there is a tight focus on language and learning, and where any issues that emerge need to be faced and addressed. They were both happier in the kind of classroom environment they were used to: a kind of self-created space which allowed them to move in any direction that seemed to lead towards least 'trouble'. In our classroom practice sessions, 'trouble' emerged most evidently in the awkwardness there was with dealing with some areas of grammar. Teachers don't need to be 'authorities' on grammar but they do need to know more than the people they are likely to teach: when this is not the case the ice they tread on is horribly thin and I saw it break. I was frankly appalled - and the trainee in this case saw so (and dropped out the following day). Both teachers showed remarkably little awareness of 'language accessibility' - how to make yourself understood to learners at different levels, and they seemed irritated when this aspect of classroom teaching was mentioned (possibly for the first time in their teaching careers).
What amazed me was that these teachers had been teaching for years. I can just think that they had become 'teachers' simply because that is what they had been called for so long. In some schools the role of teacher seems to be virtually 'sacred'; teachers expect autonomy and school owners and students alike need to take it on trust that their much vaunted 'creativity' will see things through to a satisfactory conclusion. These two teachers were used to working in a vacuum with no objective and observable standards. Pleasant manner and good intentions are enough. We were not asking them simply to 'conform to the method' thoughtlessly, we were asking them to apply their skills, knowledge and experience within the framework that the course provides. The training course was no leisurely stroll I admit, and when push came to shove, they simply didn't have the knowledge or the skills - and they didn't like that being touched on either. I hope the students of the respectable school that one of these trainees is now working for don't press too hard on 'troublesome' language issues (like conditionals or the present perfect).

Reading through teaching forums the question 'what is a 'teacher' in TEFL?' occasionally crops up. Any contributions?


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