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
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.
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?