Today’s #ELTchat on twitter revolved around this question: Looking back, what would you like to have had more/less of in your initial teacher training experiences?
It was my topic suggestion but – as has unfortunately happened before – I couldn’t make it to the chat in the end (I was busy teaching one of our teaching practice learner groups, as I do between courses). Always sad, even a tiny bit guilt-inducing. But I’ll get over it.
Anyway, I’ve just gotten to the chat transcript and whaddyaknow! it looks like another quality #ELTchat went down. So…I’m here posting this now in an attempt to catch up a bit for myself, maybe process some of the ideas, and retroactively contribute a few responses and thoughts of my own. There were certainly lots of different thoughts on the topic – and though most participants tended to refer to CELTA or CELTA-like early teacher training experiences (and some taken many years ago) the comments below also refer to a 4-year degree context as well. So, let’s see what we’ve got here…
Firstly, the car of MORE ran over the dog of LESS. It really was all about what people would have liked to have MORE of in retrospect.
People tweeted they would like to have had MORE:
- classroom management techniques
- SLA fundamentals, allowing trainees to evaluate the plethora of methods, techniques, EdTech, etc. we encounter
- practice and less theory
- reflection on local teaching contexts
- chance for a closer look at teaching English in non-lang school contexts e.g. #ESOL/FE, unis, charities
- insight into how other contexts differ from traditional language school settings because we don’t all end up in language schools
- reflection on teaching
- discovery by trainees – projects – trainee presentations, etc. I just remember myself writing notes from lecture
- understanding of the importance of continuing professional development
- thoroughly introduced to proficiency standards (CEFR, ACTFL, ILR)
- work with advanced students, because jobs demand ability in this
- training in teaching beginners
- balance in RP vs. AmE in phonology focus
- phonology training
- feedback from fellow trainees, not just trainer
- highlighting of the benefits of doing your CELTA or similar in the place you want to teach
- variety in how we were given feedback (bar the tutor barking at me – tie him to his chair)
- positively delivered feedback after observations
- recording of lessons
Now, if I may, I’ll add what I think I might say in answer to the question. Let’s see how many ‘haves’ I can fit into this sentence: I would have liked to have had…
(on my CELTA cert course):
- MORE time! Maybe another week or two – I remember it felt like ‘uber-cramming’ at points, there was so much to do with all the required lesson planning plus assignments.
- MORE follow-up. I’d really have liked to have some specific post-course thing (6 months later?), even if it were just some kind of online event.
(on my SIT TESOL cert course):
- MORE than 6 hours of observed, assessed teaching practice time (applies to the CELTA as well). I know it’s very hard to manage, but I’d swap a few workshops for more teaching and feedback on teaching.
- LESS focus on learning styles (though I was less critical of it at the time).
(on my MA TESOL):
- MORE ‘distributed’ practicum teaching (rather than all in one semester). Also, more ‘micro-teaching’ in classes (that might go for the certs as well).
- MORE observation. Specifically, I never got to see my wonderfully sage professors just getting down n’ dirty teaching an ESL class.
(in TT workshops, typically):
- MORE ‘open space’, allowing for teachers to share and compare their own experiences rather than being the passive recipients of pre-determined knowledge.
(^ that reminds me of a quote I really like from an Anne Feryok article: “Teachers sharing common experiences may…share an ‘attractor state’ with stable cognitions…”)
- Again here, MORE follow-up. Sometimes I’d like to have at least a shared Google Doc where workshop participants could report back if and when they used some suggested technique, etc. (I have to add though, that as a workshop leader I’ve done this and was disappointed nobody used it, *sniffle*).
During the chat there was some back and forth about the value of more “SLA fundamentals” (the second bullet point above) being part of an initial teaching training course focused on practical classroom skills. I like the idea that with some basic “SLA” tools trainees might better “evaluate” methods and techniques in more critical fashion. But it’d be a slippery slope: it may be easy to lose contact with the shore and float into the waters of theory in a way that wouldn’t help neophytes in particular. Perhaps the key here would be to introduce certain SLA principles in an effectively straightforward but yet not dumbed down way (update: I just noticed @rachelTESOL’s tweet linking to a nice Prezi on SLA in Teacher Education). As a trainer I certainly allude to SLA with some regularity, adding something like “research shows that X”. If nothing else, I think there’s value in reminding teachers on a course like the CELTA that the things we suggest doing aren’t presented as good/best practice just because we like them. What do you think: how much focus on SLA can/should be part of, say, a 4-week cert course?
Interesting, too, was the couple of comments about getting more exposure to local/different teaching contexts. That seems like a tough one. How ‘generic’ does a TT course need to be in terms of the contexts we imagine we’re potentially heading for? It might simply come down to marketing, or to logistics. But I definitely understand the attraction of being exposed to the broad diversity of language teaching contexts rather than having the ‘language school’ atmosphere be made to dominate your imagination.
Finally, for now: the one about more recording lessons. As a member of the unofficial John Fanselow admiration society, I’m all for recording lessons! That said, I did wonder if it was a good idea when a friend and former colleague, Chris Meoli (see some of his excellent work here) brought his camera in to film trainees’ lessons, providing them with the recording afterwards. The intimidation factor being my main concern. But it turned out to be less of an issue and trainees who request it are able to get their teaching practice lessons recorded so they can watch them back. I’d like to be able to provide the same resource, I’m just lacking the equipment.
It’s not the same thing, but I try to always do take a few snaps of trainees in action in the classroom to give home with them. It’s extremely rare for any of us to get photos of us doing what we do everyday. I wish I had more, and a picture or two of me teaching on my initial cert course(s) would definitely be a precious artifact now. Anyway, the fact is that I just think about people’s moms being really happy to see those. ;P
And just for the *BONUS* prize, a contribution to the chat which kind of broke the mold and added a refreshingly frank, if (obviously!) somewhat questionable, take on the whole thing:
- Honestly, I’ve never been to any teacher training. It’s either outdated to what’s in blogs or hidden for sale in course books