My mind is ramblin

It seems that the post DELTA negativity I mentioned in my previous post has worn off. With time to reflect, relax and recharge I now have a variety of ideas to play around with for the next teaching year. Moreover, I am also trying to visit ideas that have been on the back burner for some time now, as well as getting back to blogging regularly. So, here goes.

Before you read this post please bear something in mind. My comments below are about the structure of the pre-service courses currently on offer and in no way a reflection of the excellent work done by hardworking, dedicated and highly professional trainers and tutors in the ELT/EFL community.

Let me take you on a quick journey into the past, if I may. Before I did my Trinity Cert course in 2010, I went to visit a friend in Germany. We attended a party with some friends and as always with a multi-lingual group, the conversation turned to Languages. As I recall, It went something like this:

German girl: Adam, do you speak any languages?

Me: A little bit of Spanish, which I learnt while I was travelling. But it was this experience that made me decide to become an English language teacher.

German girl: Oh really! And which University are you going to study at?

Me: Oh no, it’s not a university course. I’m attending a 4 week course in London.

German girl: 4 weeks! (coughs, trying not to choke on her bratwurst) is that it!?

Me: Well, it’s quite intense and very practical.

German girl: Yes, but 4 weeks. Is that really enough time to become a teacher?

I’ll never forget the look of incredulity on her face. It wasn’t enough to put me off doing the course but it always stuck with me and niggled away when ever I thought about it.

These thoughts continued to reside in the darkest depths of my grey matter and were provoked to resurface a couple of weeks ago, after reading this blog post by @KateSpringcait, who talks about her struggles with lesson planning after completing the CELTA

http://iamlearningteaching.wordpress.com/about/

I shared this on Facebook and not long after received a comment from a CELTA trainer colleague and a then from another colleague who is also a CELTA trainer and the following exchange ensued.

David Valente: learning teaching is a never ending journey which can take many directions, CELTA is only ever intended to be a PRE service course and a foundation on to more experimental, critical and needs driven approaches, methods and techniques…

Sarah Findlay: Is it not just bad school management/ DoSing, Adam? I think NQTs need additional support n having the realities v expectations made gradually clear? If you hire someone fresh-off (CELTA) u can work with them to minimise the stresses of transition, I reckon…

Me: You both make valid and good points and I have no doubt both of you offer NQTs the support they need after finishing the CELTA, but I would say that sadly this support is in the minority. I think that the most glaring and obvious point, that is often overlooked is simply the length of the course that the CELTA and Trinity cert offers. We are doing the trainee a disservice by only allowing them 4 weeks with well trained, knowledgable and supportive tutors. Subsequently, we are doing the students who are taught by the NQTs a similar disservice by offering them a teacher that is simply not ready yet. Just stop and think about it for a second, maybe say it out loud. 4 weeks. 4 WEEKS! How can we be taken seriously as teachers when this is the entry level course? Post CELTA support is essential but with all the added responsibilities of admin and everything else how much time can a DoS really spend with that NQT? As CELTA tutors don’t you wish you had more time to work with your candidates? If there are three tutors working a CELTA course, with let’s say 30 yrs of experience between them, why would you restrict the flow of this knowledge to just four weeks? And in reality, of the four weeks, how much time of that is face to face where you really get to work with the candidate?

David Valente: well yes, but preaching to the converted, tis the awards bodies like Cambridge English Language Assessment and Trinity which need to reconsider course lengths, intensity and the impact of such on entry level teachers… Robust CPD is defola the way forward mind…

Now, while I was ranting slightly, what I posted contains my biggest problem with the pre-service course that all teachers must take to enter our profession. It is simply too short. Way too short! 4 weeks is an awfully short time in order to learn something from scratch and then be expected to immediately put this training into action and teach. Why do we persist in offering a course which primarily gives trainees just enough to survive in the classroom and not what they actually need, which is knowledge. Knowledge of methods, the language itself and how learning works.

While writing this post I was reminded of what Michael Lewis wrote in his excellent book, The Lexical approach. Using ten simple points, Lewis picks apart everything wrong with Pre-service courses and even today, 21 yrs after it was written, I believe it is still totally relevant and applicable to today’s current courses.

image

20140726-095413-35653228.jpg

M. Lewis The Lexical Approach. The state of ELT and the way forward. 1993, Language teaching publications.

As you can see, Lewis has put it better than I ever could have. Yet, has what he wrote ever been taken on board and tackled in order to make the CELTA/Trinity cert courses more robust and ultimately useful to the trainees attending the courses? Seeing as the length of the course has not changed, I would stick my proverbial neck out and say no. Undoubtedly, the excellent tutors and trainers on the courses do amazing things, but with very little actual time in which to work with the trainees, all we can expect are trainees that can survive in a classroom environment. Why would we limit well trained and experienced CELTA tutors to just 4 weeks with trainees? I imagine that a lot of CELTA trainers often find themselves muttering to themselves, “If only we had more time, then we could actually get down to what teaching really is.”

While the teaching of English as a career choice has been ridiculed and mocked as the travellers way of funding their way around the world, the teaching of English as a serious profession has begun to build strong foundations. There is now a large and committed community of professionals that continually strive to develop not only themselves, but also other teachers around them. Twitter and the rise of CPD in the workplace have done wonders for ELT and with the amount of Conferences available both physical and online, as well as the sharing of materials and a large array of teaching blogs, teaching English as a profession should be taken seriously. Therefore, it beggars belief that we only offer a 4 week course to be apart of our profession and all the hard work that we do with conferences, CPD and the like is undone and largely ignored by people that can’t see past the 4 week pre service training course.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves, our students, our profession, future teachers and the English language to offer a course that produces teachers that Lewis describes as competent and with a deep understanding of the language and learning, and who are expected to be teachers and not performers?

During the process of writing this post, I had several questions that continued to hang over me and I feel still need to be answered.

1) Does this topic warrant sufficient discussion in the ELT/EFL community at present?

2) Am I barking up the wrong tree? Is it just me that feels this way?

3) Do I have enough experience and knowledge to even be contemplating looking further into this issue? And, will it make any difference?

I guess that with time these questions will be answered. So now it’s over to you the reader. Is it time for the pre-service courses to change?

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10 thoughts on “My mind is ramblin

  1. Thanks for sharing this post, Adam.

    I studied an intensive, five-year-long MA programme to be able to teach English in my country. Along with methodology and psychology courses, we obviously had a long, intensive language training, but also Historical Development of English classes, Language Acquisition classes, Cultural and Literary Studies, etc. I also had to learn another foreign language at B2 level to obtain the diploma. And it was, by no means, a waste of time.

    That makes me agree with you that four weeks is not enough and it would be great to make the course longer because there’s so much involved in language teaching, be it a native or a mother tongue.

    Finally, maybe a bit off the topic, I’m well aware of the fact that I’m in a disadvantage because I’m not a native speaker of English, but I’m really sad when somebody looks down on me because I don’t hold a CELTA (or any other internationally recognized) certificate. There are many ways of becoming a good professional, so there’s no need to look at some with suspicion just because they are different from the ones we acknowledge.

    Hana

  2. I agree, Adam – you can’t acquire anything but the bare basics in four weeks. But what would the alternative be? And, more importantly, how much would it cost? Even the four-week course is prohibitively expensive for many wannabe teachers and, given how poorly paid EFL teaching is in most contexts, would anyone be enticed into the profession if they had to fork out the cost of even the DELTA, let alone an MA? The four-week model is directly proportionate to the value that the market places on language teaching in the private sector, and until that value changes (unlikely) we are stuck with it. The challenge, then, is to try and make it better – rather than simply extend it. And to provide the means for immediate and regular online post-CELTA inservice training – something, admittedly, that the providers could take more responsibility for.

    • Hi Scott,

      when you say ‘The four-week model is directly proportionate to the value that the market places on language teaching in the private sector’ could you explain a little more about what you mean?

      James

  3. Adam, do you think that course providers are unaware of this? Personally, my trainees have a 3- month distance-learning programme before their 4/5 weeks f2f. This covers lots of methodology and language awareness in order to free up time for reflective practice during the course. I know many other centres who do something similar.

  4. That’s exactly what I think, Adam! Thank you ever so much for this honest article. After 25 years of teaching in Russia I decided to do CELTA in 2010. That was a fantastic experience for me as a practical teacher and it pushed me father to develop language teaching and learning (I do believe that being a non-native speaker I’m an eternal learner myself). For me CELTA was like a moment of recognition by the English teaching community. And I was really disappointed when at the end of the course some young trainees (they did the course only to be able to travel or get jobs) said that now they were ‘real’ teachers. CELTA only opens the door to teaching world and opportunity to develop. it doesn’t mean to become a teacher after 4 weeks of study.

  5. I certainly agree with what has been written above but I have a couple of points to add.
    ST talks about acquiring the bare basics but I am not convinced that CELTA necessarily achieves this purpose in terms of employability. CELTA hardly does this in terms of preparing teachers to teach; it is essentially a narrow and specialist ground-level introduction to TESOL and can only be seen as a qualification for entry to the TESOL classroom. It is not a teaching qualification per se. It does not produce teachers; I have observed a number of unsatisfactory teachers over the years some with a CELTA and some without. My point is that the possession of a CELTA is no guarantee of classroom competence.
    Another problem with CELTA is its essentially euro-centric one-size-fits-all nature [with the exception of the bolt-on CELTA YL]. Employers throughout the world use CELTA as a benchmark for all TESOL contexts and frequently require it as a minimum qualification for posts. Yet in many of these cases, such as TVET and VESOL, CELTA is at least an irrelevance and may even be an impediment in the implementation of appropriate methodologies. Once again the possession of a CELTA is no guarantee of classroom competence.

  6. Adam, I think that your points are very valid. However, what it boils down to is the question of quantity over quality and vice versa. Are 4 weeks of intensive, daily teaching practice/observation better than, let’s say, a year’s college attendance? Well, my take is that it depends on the quality and content of both courses.

    Personally, I think that a CELTA course benefits more the teachers who have some classroom experience than novice ones. Yet, how can one define “some”? Would it be in terms of teaching hours or years of experience? Most of the training centres require perspective candidates to demonstrate ability to attend the course by means of tasks, tests, and/or interview(s). It is up to the trainers themselves, though, to decide on the people who would benefit the most out of a 4-week program.

    It is also up to the trainers to deliver top quality input sessions and provide fruitful feedback. Speaking from my experience as a CELTA trainee, input sessions and teaching practice(s) were very helpful. What was of utmost benefit for me, though, was observing and commenting on my fellow trainees’ TPs. So, during the 4 weeks of the course, I was able to observe 48 x 45′ lessons taught by fellow trainees, which is more than enough given the fact that I had to provide adequate feedback on all of them.

    Following my own CELTA course, the director of my training centre, Marisa Constantinides, was kind enough to allow me to keep observing lessons taught by the next intake of trainees. Being detached from the intensity of CELTA training, I am able not only to observe lessons in more detail, but also to observe the trainees’ progress – which is remarkable.

    What I am trying to say, here, is that the intensive nature of a CELTA course makes its short duration disproportionate to its results. Imagine a 4-year course on Theatre Practice. Will all graduates be good actors? My guess is no. Will CELTA holders apply the skills, techniques, and methods they learned while training to their post-CELTA career? I guess that this is what will differentiate good and bad professionals.

    When I read your very interesting post, I thought of a triangle of success: the trainee, the trainer, and the content of the course should collaborate with each other to make sure that the possibility of producing responsible ELT professionals is enhanced as much as possible.

    Thank you for writing such an inspirational post, Adam.

  7. Hi Adam
    I’ve had very similar concerns, still do actually, and have recently started to work on it from a different angle, i.e. designing a new course. It is still a 4-week course though, and basically that is because that’s how the market works at the moment – or ever. It was not so difficult to innovate with methodology, timetable, etc, but with the duration of the course it’s not the same, whoever does it in 5 weeks for example might be in disadvantage if their neighbour provider offers in 4.
    We’ll see. I’ll share more after we run the pilots.

    Anyway, the reason I popped by was to draw your attention to these articles, in case you haven’t seen them yet:
    Allowing for practice: a critical issue in TESOL teacher preparation, by Caroline Brandt (ELT Journal Volume 60/4 October 2006)
    ‘A basic starter pack’: the TESOL Certificate as a course in survival, by Valerie Hobbs (ELT Journal Volume 67/2 April 2013)
    One-month teacher training course: time for a change?, by G. Ferguson and S. Donno (ELT Journal 57/1 January 2003)

    If you can’t find them, drop me a line.

  8. Good references there Willy – I read them soon after meeting at IATEFL this year.

    I think, really the issue is that the entire CELTA model for teacher training is based upon assumptions and designed for contexts that are no longer relevant.

    It was John Haycraft who ‘invented’ the CELTA, which was based on in-company or corporate models of training: short, intense, serving a clearly define/understood defecit.

    The 4-week model was then adopted by RSA and then Cambridge and expanded world wide. Back then the ‘clear defecit’ was the need for the Haycrafts to find teachers who were qualified to a certain standard as fast as possible to teach their multilngual classes in Spain.

    I would argue there is no long such a need or pressing defecit in the TEFL industry (remember this was happening back in the 70’s or even earlier).

    You wouldn’t find teachers using methodology that had been around for 30 or 40 years without adapting and improving it. So why are we still training teachers in the same way? For instance, on the back of your CELTA certificate you can see the explanation of the grade you’ve been awarded. All of these criteria are framed in terms of the amount of support the NQT will require in order to develop appropriately in his or her future positions. There is an assumption built into the CELTA that ongoing, high quality and individualised support will occur for all graduates in order for them to become effective teachers. In my professional observations, this is an assumption that is misguided.

    You simply wouldn’t train a doctor to be dependent on supervision, post qualification, in order to be ‘effective’. No would you any other educator (because they’re your children whose future is dependent on the matter). So why does the industry continue to accept money from people and in return put them in a classroom with someone who may well not have received the support that is assumed to have taken place post qualification?

    My talk at IATEFL was plugging a similar line: that we’re training TEFL teachers in ‘the wrong’ or in an inappropriate way, many of the highly experienced teachers I talked to would respond with ‘well what other option do we have’….which is not a response I’m all that happy to accept.

    • Hi James,

      Thank you for the comment and I apologize for the late reply.

      I completely agree with everything you have said above and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one that feels this way. The last paragraph in particular is something I would like to change in the future. I would be very interested in seeing/reading your talk. Is it available to view somewhere? I am thinking about submitting a talk this year on the same issue. Perhaps in a sort of plenary discussion style format.

      Looking forward to hearing from you

      Adam

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