There goes the fear

Like most people in the UK, and also those further afield, I have been watching the recent Scottish referendum vote with great interest. For me it encapsulated everything that is good and bad about politics. It was played out across social media and 24hr news channels, with every man or woman and his or her dog throwing in their two pennies worth. Yet the outcome was, for me at least, a huge disappointment. Not least because I think it was a huge opportunity to give politics and Westminster a huge kick up the backside but more depressingly because the result was never going to be anything but a ‘No’ vote. In my opinion, the media, the entire English political establishment and many others worked together to paint such a bleak picture of an independent Scotland that fear gripped those undecided voters and tipped the balance in favour of making sure everything remained exactly the way it was, because lets face it, nobody likes change. Russell Brand puts it much more eloquently than I do here – How Westminster Fear & Media Bias Shafted Scotland

Well, I want to change something! I want to be the metaphorical ‘Scotland of the ELT world’, as it were. My proposal is a change to the current pre-service courses that are presently on offer. Maybe even a radical overhaul, one that sees a three stage process for trainee teachers. The first stage being a period of study before attending the second practical stage(the CELTA/Trinity cert as we know it today) which would need to be extended in length and a final post qualification stage which would be a standardized, across the board, professional development course. Therefore we would be looking at a much longer course, which incorporates trainee reflection, more intensive and extensive language awareness, a more thorough assessment and more time in the classroom.

I know this is a big ask. I expect a lot of resistance from many different areas. I certainly don’t have all the answers yet. What I intend to propose will not be summed up in a few blog posts. This thing will take time, therefore patience is required. The push for Scottish independence took years of painstaking hard work to get together and while I don’t envisage such a long time frame for this project, I don’t expect it to come together any time soon.

I don’t think I need to explain why I want this change to come about. My previous posts have, I hope, expressed my feelings on the matter. Yet, I would like to draw your attention to a talk given at the 2014 IATEFL conference by James Pengelly, called Rethinking communicative language teaching. (click the link for the Brainshark video and talk) James talks about the need to rethink how teachers are trained and how we view the way we teach. Towards the end of the talk, James speaks about the assumptions of newly qualified teachers and delivers this damning view;

“If a CELTA trainee is taken out of the course and straight into the classroom, with the assumptions and beliefs about language teaching instilled in them from teacher training courses, then what we’re doing is selling a deficient product. We are putting a teacher in front of a classroom, who is not ready to teach.”

 

I strongly urge you to take the time to watch the talk. James can be found on twitter @hairychef and also check out his website thescarletonion.com

My final thought for this post is to quickly draw your attention to a simple survey I posted in August. It asked whether people would like to see the topic of Pre-service courses debated and discussed at IATEFL 2015. The response wasn’t amazing, but 15 people took the time to register their opinion and these were the results;

No 53.33%  (8 votes)    Yes 46.67%  (7 votes) 
Total Votes: 15
 Now look at the official results from the Scottish independence vote. (http://en.wikipedia.org/)
Yes or no Votes Percentage
Yes check.svg Yes 1,617,989 44.7%
X mark.svg No 2,001,926 55.3%

Okay, okay, I’m perhaps grasping at straws and it takes a big leap of imagination but I hope the comparison highlights what I believe to be a huge fear factor in ELT towards change, similar to what we witnessed in Scotland. I envisage this to be the biggest obstacle I will face when taking on this project.

I will leave it there for now and as always I welcome any comments you may have. I will endeavour to reply as soon as possible.

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ELTchat Summary

Is a 4 week CELTA/Trinity Cert course enough time to prepare someone for a FT teaching position?

This is the summary of #eltchat held on 10th August 2011 at 12pm BST by Adam Beale @bealer81 (twitter)

This was only my second #eltchat and it also happened to be about the topic I suggested for this particular session. So who better to do the summary and unashamedly use it to promote my new blog.

I suggested this particular topic as it was a question I had been asking myself for some time since finishing my first year in teaching and felt that it would be an interesting subject to debate in #eltchat.

It all kicked off with the rather blunt statement from @TyKendall       

12:02    RT @TyKendall: #ELTChat Lets cut this short. NO , 4 WEEKS IS ABYSMALLY INSUFFICIENT

Thankfully nobody took him literally by leaving the discussion at that and several people chipped in tweeting that they hadn’t completed a CELTA or didn’t actually know what it involved;

Shaunwilden      12:02     I am odd position of being a (lapsed) celta tutor and not having ever done the 4 week course myself 🙂 #ELTChat

cherrymp            12:03     @Shaunwilden even i haven’t done a celta bt had heard a lot abt it #ELTChat

barbsaka              12:03     This will be a learning experience for me–not all that familiar with either certification 🙂 #eltchat

The chat moved back to the length of the course or lack of it and its value;

bealer81              12:04     Too much info crammed into too short a time. #eltchat

TyKendall            12:04     @bealer81   #ELTChat exactly, you simply can’t absord the necessary knowledge in 4 weeks

TyKendall            12:06     @theteacherjames   #ELTChat not necessarily, i cant comment on the quality of teachers it produces, but it is simply too short!

cherrymp            12:33     v recently i came across 2 celta cert Ts who still remembers their ‘rigrous’ course n felt too much is crammed in to too little #eltchat

TyKendall            12:07     #ELTChat as a teacher you’re meant TO REFLECT on teaching, how well can you reflect over a 4 week period?

Imadruid              12:20     People pay a fortune for course that is outdated and based on poor pedagogical theories. This then leads to low wages & status.  #Eltchat

But it wasn’t all negative as people started to stick up for the CELTA:

Shaunwilden      12:06     As a tutor I always maintain that the 4 weeks give you the start but then you go into ‘apprenticeship’ #eltchat

nutrich  12:06     A 4 week course should enable a new teacher to be able to take control of their future development as well as teach basic skills  #eltchat

theteacherjames             12:08     I worked freelance for 2 years, then did a 4 week CELTA be4 my 1st FT job. More than adequately prepared me to begin my PD journey. #ELTChat

elchrys  12:09     CELTA doesn’t ‘produce teachers’ overnight. It’s an excellent training program for inexperienced teachers. #eltchat

nutrich  12:17     RT @theteacherjames: I should state that my CELTA was fantastic. I know that not everyone is so lucky.  #ELTChat Mine too. Great exeprience.

Shaunwilden      12:08     Isnt doing a 4 wk course better than doing nothing at all-looking back I wish I’d  rather than going to teach cos I cld speak Eng #eltchat

So there were people for and against the CELTA. From here the discussion splinters into various different threads, (1) with discussions about alternative qualifications available, (2) possible next steps after CELTA and (3) the need for teachers and their employers to continue their professional development. Below is a brief summary that captures these parts of the discussion;

(1)

pysproblem81   12:21     #ELTchat I got full-time #fe job with *just* CELTA but had to do DT(E)LLS equiv within 2yrs http://t.co/1lWWzNn

Imadruid              12:22     Either we’re teachers or not. Pgce should be entry requirement (if anything).

harrisonmike     12:22     #eltchat re apprenticeships – this is how I got started during French/Spanish degree http://www.britishcouncil.org/languageassistants.htm

Shaunwilden      12:23     @mcneilmahon though you can do PGCE in EFL these days #eltchat

harrisonmike     12:24     @mcneilmahon @Imadruid There are PGCE’s in post compulsory education AKA adults. That’s what I did, with ESOL focus #eltchat

ELTExperiences 12:54     There are CELTA extensions but are they worth it? #ELTchat

(2)

mcneilmahon    12:12     RT @pysproblem81: #ELTchat is there need for qual between Dip & Cert? Maybe follow up modules (open university style?) > You mean IHWO CAM ?

nutrich  12:24     Perhaps there should be a qualification for some sort of post-CELTA apprenticeship – a scheme run with schools cooperation #eltchat

mcneilmahon    12:28     RT @nutrich: Maybe CELTA should be 4 weeks f2f then a year of distance online?  #ELTChat > Nice idea – ensuring apprenticeship continues

pysproblem81   12:34     @mcneilmahon some training def needed… How does CELTA compare with Arg profesorado? #ELTchat

mcneilmahon    12:35     @pysproblem81  #ELTchat Completely different fish. Profesorado much more theory, CELTA gives survival skills in class, profesorado doesn’t..

pysproblem81   12:39     @Shaunwilden @mcneilmahon I like College model of req further quals within 2yrs – CELTA recognised as start, but prof.dev req #ELTchat

harrisonmike     12:39     @Shaunwilden @escocesa_madrid Does the name need to change? How many CELTA trained Ts end up with YL classes in their 1st job #eltchat

Shaunwilden      12:40     @harrisonmike No celta ia still very adult – there is celtyl  – delta kept the name as a brand #ELTChat

esolcourses        12:44     @harrisonmike  @chucksandy  for unqualified teachers, yes – agree. Maybe an intermediate qual to bridge CELTA + DELTA, too? #ELTChat

(3)

nutrich  12:07     It’s up to the schools employing recent CELTA graduates to help support their development #eltchat

gknightbkk          12:09     @Shaunwilden Yes the employer needs to be series about ongoing development post Cert #eltchat

esolcourses        12:10     @Shaunwilden in theory, I agree the CELTA provides a good foundation – not all employers provide support afterwards, though #eltchat

Shaunwilden      12:10     @gknightbkk Yes completely and we should help new teachers find schools that provide that #eltchat

nutrich  12:10     An important point to be made to all new Ts should be that learning how to teach   will never stop #eltchat

Kalpanapster     12:30     @cherrymp @theteacherjames. Experience does count. It’s really upto the teacher to keep pushing oneself hard. CELTA taught us that.#ELTChat

cherrymp            12:34     @esolcourses @Kalpanapster @Marisa_C yeah well said – continuing learning in supported environments – nurturing #ELTChat

gknightbkk          12:50     Many are suggesting CELTA is necessary but not sufficient. It’s a pre-service vocational course. It’s the in-service PD that counts #eltchat

Bee_Kids             12:51     #eltchat …The better teachers are those who cont. working to improve -those who genuinely enjoy the learning process.


Throughout the whole discussion there seemed to be a general sense of agreement that a CELTA type course is a basic but useful foundation for teachers to have but that the real work and experience is gained from being in a real working environment and this needs to be supported with ongoing professional development from both the teacher themselves and the employer. Of course this is just my interpretation.

I have tried to put the discussion into some sort of cohesive order but it’s not always that easy. If I missed anything important I apologize. Feel free to look at the whole transcript and make your own conclusions to what was said. Below are links that maybe useful for additional reading to this discussion;

Transcript of the chat – http://bit.ly/qmVZXq

My blog with a post about my CELTA experience – https://fiveagainstone.wordpress.com/

CELTA details – http://bit.ly/oTTUST

Trinity CertTESOL – http://bit.ly/4Fzu3B

ELTNews has been trying to get information about CELTA efficacy – http://bit.ly/nNCAQf

Link to a book about the potential shortcomings of pre service teacher training courses such as CELTA – http://bit.ly/nSQodE

A link to a poll on facebook showing what CELTA holders think of CELTA – http://on.fb.me/fx3QgC

ELTchat address – http://eltchat.com/

#eltchat takes place every Wednesday, via twitter, at 12pm and 9pm BST.

4 weeks just doesn’t cut it.

Now that my first year of teaching is finally over and I have had time to wind down and reflect back on what was an epic 9 months, I find myself continually asking myself the same questions. Firstly, was I really ready for a full-time teaching job with my lack of experience? Secondly, and for me the most important question, had my CELTA course prepared me for a life/career in the EFL/TEFL teaching world?

I’m not setting out to criticize the people who run, design, plan and ultimately teach CELTA courses. I enjoyed my course, the tutors were great, informative and willing to help and give support. It’s just that, if I was a tutor on that course, I probably wouldn’t have passed me. I would have given myself an A+ for effort but in reality failed simply due to a lack of knowledge of the English language. Surely if I don’t know enough about the language I’m not in the position to go out and get paid to teach it to someone else. Or so I thought!

Let me take you back to the beginning. I signed up for my course and a week later some papers arrived that consisted of application forms and also some pre-reading with a general grammar question paper thrown in for good measure. Being unemployed I had lots of time to spare, so set about reading some grammar books and preparing. The start date arrived and I turned up feeling excited, nervous and more importantly willing to learn. Which looking back was a good thing, as my learning curve went through the roof and my eyes were opened to just how expansive the English language was and therefore how much I didn’t actually know.

The phonetic chart was a new one to everyone on the course, which was somewhat of a relief to me, and we had some input sessions introducing us to the different sounds, how they were produced and so on. We were then told we had to learn the whole chart as this was likely to come up on the end of course test and we swiftly moved on to something else. With the course being so intense, no one really thought to stop and ask if that was actually possible in 2 weeks while trying to cram in tons of other information, so heads down, we pressed on. We had three chances to observe other teachers in the school, all the time slots being 30 minutes or so. Surely, I thought, this is something we should be doing everyday and for a whole lesson, with perhaps the chance to sit down with other teachers and get the low down and give feedback. But no, we ploughed on headlong into the next input session, the next observed lesson and so on. By the end of the 4 weeks I just wanted to crawl into my bed, switch off and disconnect. The end of course exams came and went, final observations were planned, executed and slowly taken apart in the feedback sessions and all the paperwork was handed in. 4 weeks seemed like 4 days. I wasn’t quite sure if I had actually retained anything, and I was sure that I had only just scraped through the last exam and was extremely grateful not to be one of the those called back to re-sit. I had passed, I was excited about my future, excited about teaching but despite this I still didn’t feel ready to be a teacher, surely 4 weeks isn’t enough to cut it in the teaching world.

Everything just seemed so rushed and frantic. It was as if we were on some sort of teacher production line, built up, filled in, packed up and shipped out just in time for another course to come in the front door as we went out the back. How is it possible to retain so much information in such a short space of time, while being stressed and sleep deprived? What we needed was time. Time with other teachers, observing, giving feedback. Time to do background reading of our own. Time to put into practice everything that we were being taught. Teachers in other professions spend a year learning how to teach on the job! It just doesn’t compute. And I think this leads into my final point. The standard of teacher that a 4 week course produces. At times, looking back at my first 3 or 4 months of teaching, I felt like a bit of a fraud. I was under prepared and at times out of my depth. I was working all hours to plan and to do my own background reading. When I walked into some lessons I could sense that the students didn’t have confidence in me and this took months of hard work to turn around.

Now maybe this is a one-off. Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself and I should have worked harder, before and after my CELTA. But I do believe that 4 weeks could perhaps become 6 weeks, with an emphasis on being within a teaching environment, interacting and learning through doing and observing, instead of being taught at with the minimum amount of time to actually practise teaching. A variety of teaching methods (Dogme, TBL, the Lexical approach) should be demonstrated and analyzed. The use of technology should be a must in all CELTA courses. I believe that the initial entrance requirements should be tougher and more rigorous. A solid knowledge of the English language is a must and should be demonstrated, before and after the course. I know I wouldn’t have made it through if this was the case. All in all the standard must be higher.

This must all seem very self-deprecating, but it’s generally how I feel. I feel passionate about my job, about not letting down my students and about making a career from teaching. I wanted more from my 4 weeks and not just enough to pass the final exam.