What is this?

This is a new personal ELT blog which will, I hope, be a fun and functional place for me to share some of my thoughts and reflections on the training I help facilitate and the teacher learning I witness as a course tutor on an intensive initial certificate course (and trainer learning, too!).

I’m calling it ‘Muddles into Maxims’ because I think this describes, sort of bluntly in a good way, the overall objective of the 120-hour initial teacher training course experience: to successfully extract out of all the proliferate possibilities and inherent, inevitable confusions and complications (muddles) a collection of working pragmatic principles (maxims) to carry into the processing actual classroom and staffroom experience on the job (where the real training begins).

Plus, I’m a sucker for alliteration. So there you have it.

MintoM first post pic

By the way, as I’m really still quite new as a teacher trainer it won’t necessarily be the sage wisdom of an experienced expert I’ll be laying down. I won’t come here to write what I know absolutely, or what I think others should agree with, or to convince anyone of anything; I’ll come here to write as part of a reflection process that I know can help me to learn. I’m still, a la the title of my previous blog, a “newbie trainer”. So, my own muddles and struggles and ongoing search for working maxims will be as much a part of it as anything else.

Muddle Definition

Maxim Definition

Now that I think of it, the term ‘maxim’ in reference to teacher cognition is also probably so salient for me because of one of my favorite articles read during my MA TESOL studies: Teachers Maxims in Language Teaching by Jack C. Richards (TESOL Quarterly Vol. 30, No. 2, Summer 1996). This is the abstract, along with an opening quote:


This article (and its ilk) was a real eye-opener during my MA studies, the personal focus of which was understanding my own behavior and beliefs which developed over my previous 8 years as an EFL teacher abroad. And this is the level at which I want to think about teacher learning and my ultimate sphere of concern in the training work I do.

Frankly, I really don’t care too much what trainees come out from our course believing about teaching simply because we told them they should…because I know those things are going to get taken apart and re-digested and even rejected and won’t ever in and of themselves constitute a ‘knowledge base of teaching’.

Instead, it will be the ‘wisdom of practice itself’ and associated guiding maxims (along with what Lortie called the ‘apprenticeship of observation’) that will most likely and most deeply influence their choices and the focus of their energy. Part of why I believe this is because, upon much reflection, I can confidently say that that was and still is very much my own experience as an ongoingly (forgive me) developing teacher myself. So what, if any, ‘wisdom’ do/can they really internalize in just these 4 weeks? That’s my concern (I don’t mean that’s my ‘worry’ or ‘doubt’ here – I mean that’s what I feel is the most important focus).

When I read in Rose M. Senior’s The Experience of Language Teaching (Cambridge University Press, 2009) a course participant quoted as saying:

It’s a matter of realising how the CELTA people want you to teach. And then, provided you follow the pattern they want, you’ll meet their criteria and they’ll be happy.

I kind of cringe a bit. I don’t want to be that ‘pattern-seller’, trying to stamp out another clone. And I certainly don’t want a trainee more focused on making her trainers “happy” than what her learners need. Sure, of course I do want to suggest – and sometimes insist on – ways of doing, but I need that person to have (and use!) space to ‘maxim-ize’ teaching for and within themselves! How and where can this experience provide a jump start for this, how does it arm teachers with a real sense of agency? How can I help it do so? Again, that’s my concern here.

So what really happens during these initial 120 hours of training? Lots of things, clearly – just have a look at the sheer number of criteria points these course participants are checking off! Lots of amazing things seem to be going on; I’m constantly amazed and enthralled by it, and it’s why I always rave about how cool my job is. I’ll try to get some of the good bits down here – sometimes it’s highly entertaining!

But also, stepping back, there’s got to be skeptical realism, and a constant question: what, of all these criteria points and competencies satisfied by this or that TP lesson or assignment are actually going to take root as guiding maxims? Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what’s not simply flashing…and sometimes in all the flashy activity the shadows are many. So here I am, writing and reflecting in an attempt to shed some more light and get an incrementally clearer picture. And, I hope, get better at training people in the context of a 4-week initial teacher training certificate course.

Thanks for checking this out! During the next month I’ll hopefully be posting a number of times and also upgrading the blog design, etc. WordPress is oh so neato!

**Do you have questions you’d like to pose for me? Do you have a particular interest in the 120-hour teacher training thing that you’d like me to write about? Please share in the comment box below! The more of this that goes on, the better the blog will be, that’s certain.

Oh, and happy new year. Here’s to a wonderful 2016!

PS – the image in the header is taken without official permission from but with deep gratitude for Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching (Macmillan, 2005).

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