TEFL Equity Advocates

In today’ s world, the lottery of birth would appear to be at the forefront of many areas of political issues. Who we are born to, the socio-economic background we are blessed with and the country that we automatically belong to is likely to have consequences that shape our futures. Discrimination based on gender, wealth and nationality can be observed worldwide and unfortunately, the world of TEFL/ELT is also a victim of this, with perhaps the most effected group seen as being our “non-native” teachers. Regardless of these teachers potentially possessing all the necessary attributes and qualifications of an exemplary teacher, the failure to be born in an English speaking country is likely to mark their careers from the very start.

Truth be told, I only stumbled across TEFL Equity Advocates a few months back. Founded three years ago, TEA fights for equal employment opportunities for both native and non native teachers. More information can be found here at http://www.teflequityadvocates.com

As a Director of Studies of a TEFL training centre, I have had the privilege of training many fabulous individuals over the years. Of the 500 plus trainees I have had the pleasure of shaping, I have seen everything from poor, fear-provoking classes, to outstanding masterpieces, and while many factors may influence the performance in the classroom, the “nativeness” of the teacher has never been one of them. Yet many agencies and academies around the world constantly place ads for “native speakers” placing this one attribute above pedagogical skill, personal attributes or qualifications.

Whilst I absolutely agree that employers need to be challenged regarding their job ads and employment policies, I also firmly believe that attitudes should be challenged from “grass roots” upwards. Not only do non-native teachers need to be aware that they have every right to be employed in the same way as a native teacher, but native speakers should also be aware that non-natives have every right to this same entitlement. At my TEFL training centre, the PED team is compromised of five trainers, two of whom are non-natives. As a team we all teach grammar, soft skills, observe classes and give feedback. It is our experience and certification in the field that qualify us for the job. While I hope that my trainee teachers graduate the course with increased pedagogical knowledge, confidence in their performance and with an ability to self-reflect, perhaps my biggest hope is that unfair attitudes are shattered before they have even been formed. By having a mixed training team, I truly hope we are sending the right message to our trainees; that where you are lucky enough to be born has absolutely no bearing on how successful we can become as a teacher, not should it influence the opportunities you have for development within the sector.

Thank you TEFL Equity Advocates for striving for a more just world!

Can a 4 week TEFL/CELTA course ever be enough?

Yesterday marked the end of my Masters with a rather nerve-wracking oral defence. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, it saw me presenting my thesis to a panel of professors, followed by fifteen minutes of questions in which your research, findings and conclusions must be defended. While my thesis explored areas that may be of immense interest to other teacher trainers (and will therefore appear in a future post) it was the questioning on behalf of the panel of professors that has fuelled today’ s blog post.

One of the members of the panel was based in Argentina and was actually rather unfamiliar with the concept of a four week TEFL program. This was due to the preference of Argentinians to gain placement in the public system, forcing them to attend four year programs to qualify as teachers. Her final, and closing, question has resonated since the defence ended.

Can four weeks ever be enough?

As a Director of Studies at a TEFL training centre, there is no denying what amazing transformations can take place within four weeks. Trainees begin the course with little to no knowledge in the field of ESL teaching. Over four weeks we see their knowledge base grow, their confidence soar, their self-reflection techniques develop and their ability to adapt in the classroom strengthen. Without doubt, it is witnessing these transformations that provide the most satisfaction from my job.  Trainees graduate feeling capable and confident in the classroom.

However, while growth on the course cannot be disputed, how do teachers grow when “released” into the industry to begin teaching independently? Here in Madrid, the answer to this question may appear to be rather worrying.

Little ongoing professional development occurs here with ESL teachers. At my training centre, OPD sessions are offered every Friday, covering  a range of topics from teaching phonetics, teaching business English, telephone teaching and classroom management. What do the agencies and academies that recruit teachers actually offer in terms of OPD? The answer, unfortunately, is very little. Prior to entering the world of teacher training, my 5 years working in the field offered me absolutely no opportunities for training. No courses, no meetings, no conferences. My only source of development and training was through my own motivation to read and acquire knowledge.

Some weeks ago I took to facebook to ask my graduates to tell me how many times they had received feedback through observed classes since leaving the TEFL course. I received almost 60 responses, of which only 12 teachers had ever been observed since leaving the course. Some of the teachers that had never been observed had been teaching in Madrid for up to three years. Three years……..no observations……..no feedback. Teaching here in Madrid can be a rather solitary affair. You plan on your own and execute classes on your own. We develop our own methods, our own “go to” activities. What prompts do we receive (apart from those form our students) to question our methods?

Observations are crucial – not for assessment purposes but to encourage ongoing development. In the words of Hughes & Vass (2001, p.231), “the biggest and most underused resource that teachers have is each other.” As well as Director of Studies observing teachers, teachers should be watching each other, to gain new ideas, question their own skills and techniques and to share expertise.

How many jobs can you think of where no ongoing training is given? Why do ESL teachers not receive the same degree of ongoing training as their secondary, primary and infant teacher counterparts? I think this is a serious question that requires consideration.

With such a lack of ongoing development, an even greater pressure and responsibility is placed on teacher trainers: responsibility to provide potential employers with highly skilled teachers, responsibility to provide the very youngest members of society with language teachers who will shape their futures and the responsibility to ensure that all trainee teachers embark on their new careers with confidence and self-belief.

Can a four week TEFL program ever be enough? Absolutely not – and it shouldn’t be. TEFL offers a wonderful basic package of skills, techniques and teaching awareness. It cannot be the only source of training for those who later invest years into the world of ESL teaching. To support our teachers, inspire them and give them a need for growth, a much more united front is required. It is in the best interest of recruiters for them to train, support and encourage development in their teachers. This may further spark teachers’ individual interests in the area of personal growth. Not only do we owe that to our teachers, we owe it to our students and clients too.

What ongoing development is offered in your part of the world? I would love to hear your comments and ideas J

 

Hughes, M., Vass, A. (2001). Strategies for closing the learning gap. London: A&C Black.

The balance between teaching English and teaching the learning of English

The topic of acquiring language has always been of great interest to me. The arrival of my 16 month old son to my life has made this an even more fascinating topic, that I’ m sure will feature at the centre of some future blog posts. Last week while having a coffee (and attempting to appear engrossed in my own book) I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two people speaking English. Neither were native speakers but both were absolutely proficient in their English use. On discussing the process of learning second, third and fourth languages, one of them said, “the third language was very easy to learn, as I knew what to look for, what to focus on.” This comment really struck a chord with me. While a great deal of planning goes into curriculum design, topic selection and language components to teach, are we, as teachers, avoiding a crucial component of teaching: the teaching of how to learn language. Are we spending too long on teaching English and not enough time on teaching strategies to learn language?

For many Spaniards that I have taught in company over the years, the time spent in English class may contribute to almost 90% of their weekly contact with English speakers. Combined with the general low attendance levels that seems to plague classrooms and the lack of any attempt to complete any assigned homework due to home commitments, the ESL teacher is catapulted to a position of higher importance. Should we be using the precious contact time our students have with English to highlight learning strategies, rather than simply delivering classes sculpted around lexical or grammatical objectives?

The answer is most definitely yes. Our students must be made aware of the fact that the onus is on them. According to Weinstein and Mayer (1986, p.315), learning strategies can be defined as “behaviours and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning, intended to influence the learner’s encoding process” While a coherent definition, are our students even conscious of their own behaviours and thoughts during their learning process?

Throughout the years there has been much research about effective strategies to promote L2 acquisition. If we first consider lexicon, vocabulary is key in building language. Many teachers may use imagery and contextual examples to encourage self-discovery of a word. Scurletus (2009, n.p) states that imagery “can help students learn new words and can also aid in overall reading comprehension and retention.” While these are very effective teaching strategies, are students aware that they can apply similar processes to vocab themselves to aid retention? When our students read outside the classroom and learn new words, do they too conjure up a mental image in their heads to aid retention? Possibly not.

A google search will quickly yield results regarding learning strategies that can be used by students (trust me, the list is endless!)  It is our job to make them aware that such strategies exist. It is our job as teachers to explicitly educate our students about the processes that aid retention and acquisition. It is our role to inform students of the way in which their acquisition is dependent on their own abilities to implement these learning strategies. By students becoming more aware of the power that they possess regarding their own linguistic development, the more effective the language learning process may become.

 

A little food for thought for a wet and windy Hump Day here in Madrid!

 

 Scurletis, G. (2009) Visualization and Vocabulary Retention, retrieved 10/05/2017, from https://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wordshop/visualization-and-vocabulary-retention/

Weinstein, C., & Mayer, R. (1986). The teaching of learning strategies. In M.C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3rd Edition (pp. 315-327). New York: Macmillan.

All about me warmer

Level: Intermediate + (perfect for teacher training purposes too)

Focus: Ice breaker

Instructions: This warmer is perfect for one of those first classes you have with a new group. As teachers come and go, students are all too familiar with those “tell me about you” activities that tend to take place in first classes. Given that the students within the class probably already know each other reasonably well, this warmer places the focus on them getting to know you.

Prior to the class you will need to find a selection of cryptic images that represent you and your life. I have always told my students (and trainees on the first day of each TEFL course) that this is their one and only opportunity to ask me any question they like in order to determine the significance of each. Guide students to the correct answers through elicitation and prompting questions.

Click on the document below which will show a sample three images. See if you can work out what they represent (answers at the bottom of the page)

All about me warmer

Teacher Tip: this is a fab activity for building rapport with new students/trainees etc. You sharing a glimpse of your life is often enough for rapport to be established from the get-go.

I wish +past perfect (for regrets) memory game

Level: Intermediate +

Language Focus: I wish + past perfect (for regrets)

Instructions: Once the structure of “to wish + past perfect” has been taught, introduce students to your friend “Fred” on the board (as demonstrated in the photo below). Fred has numerous problems. Tell students that they will receive 45 seconds to memorize them all.

Once 45 seconds have elapsed, place students in pairs and inform them that they now have 7 minutes to remember as many of Fred’ s problems as possible and that they must convert each problem into a regret. As an example, the problem “He lost his keys last night” would become “he wishes he hadn’t lost his keys last night.” For groups where competition works well, students may be told that the first pair to remember all the problems and convert them all into regrets wins.

Teacher tip: This can be adapted and used for other grammatical areas such as to want+ object + infinitive and the “used to” expression.

 

The beginnings of bilingualism: the important questions to ask before birth

TEFL_bilingual_decisions

During the course of my 2 year Masters in TEFL, L1 and L2 language acquisition featured consistently. How does the way in which we learn our L1 differ from the ways we learn L2, what similarities can be shared and what factors influence levels of acquisition? While for many the acquisition of L1 and L2 occur at different stages of life, for others they occur at the same time due to simultaneous bilingualism.  While I found this area of study fascinating at the time, this interest was magnified ten-fold upon the arrival of my little boy back in January 2016. As an English Mum-to-be married to a Spanish Dad-to-be, we perhaps had more important decisions to make before the birth than simply what brand of nappies to buy!

For those of you who are perhaps just embarking on this journey, there are generally two main approaches to encouraging bilingualism. The first, often referred to OPOL, stands for One Person One Language. As the title suggests, each parent speaks their own language to the child. In our household this would have seen myself speaking English and my other half speaking Spanish. The second strategy is referred to as Minority Language At Home. Given our base is here in Spain, this option would require both Mum and Dad to speak English at home.

There is no one set recipe for bilingualism and my husband and I read various articles regarding which strategy may work best for us. Given that maternity leave is a shockingly short 16 weeks here in Spain, we knew our son would have to attend nursery from the ripe old age of 5 months old.  My experience in the teacher training and education sector here in Spain has also lead to an acute awareness of the generally low levels of English spoken by teachers in the school system. With, perhaps, a rather cocky attitude of “no one will teach my son better English than me,” we had little interest in finding a “bilingual” nursery for him, opting for solely Spanish instead. Therefore, I was concerned that following the strategy of OPOL would see my son being exposed to far more Spanish than English on a daily basis. Would so much Spanish see him able to understand English but unwilling to speak it? Would he develop a preference for Spanish over English?

Another factor that played into our decision was our own language capabilities. Regardless of my level of competence in Spanish, me speaking anything other than English simply made no sense whilst living here in Spain. Instead, focus was placed on my husband. Thanks to a five year stint in England from the tender age of six, my other half had, without doubt, acquired a proficient level of English with a Midlands accent to boot! While little errors are occasionally made (we have spent years throwing things TO the bin in my house!) his level of English is an absolute credit to him and such mistakes would never impede his ability to be understood. On such reflection, the choice became clear to us. If our son was to attend Spanish nursery, be exposed to Spanish whenever he left the house, it seemed logical to balance this by creating an English bubble around everything we did at home. This included communication between all members, books, films and TV.

While it is far too early to see what consequences our decisions will have, we truly believe we have made the most logical decision for our family and our settings. As an adult learner of Spanish, I am only too aware of the challenges and difficulties that learning an L2 can bring. I truly hope that by making simultaneous language acquisition as natural as possible for my son he may be spared the difficulties I have faced.

In summary, for those of you embarking on this journey, the following may be points of consideration:

  • Where do you live and what language is spoken in the community?
  • What language capabilities do the parents possess?
  • Where will the child spend the majority of their time and what language will therefore be exposed to them most?

Social Circle English

Level: Intermediate +

Language focus: small talk, question tags

Activity: Divide students into two equal groups. The first group should stand in a small circle facing outwards. The second group should stand in a bigger circle around them facing inwards. When teacher says “Go”, the inner circle moves in a clockwise direction and the outer circle in an ant-clockwise direction. When the teacher says “Stop”, students are to pair up with the person closest to them. The teacher then gives a scenario. Possible scenarios could be:

  • Student A is a taxi driver. Student B has just arrived in Gatwick and is in the back of the taxi travelling to his/her hotel.
  • Student B is an employee. Student A is the husband/wife of Student B’s work colleague.
  • Student A is the main speaker at a conference. Student B is an attendee at the conference. The conference has just finished.
  • Student B is a guest at a party where they know few people. Student A is the host’s cousin.
  • Student A is attending a training course. Student B is also attending a training course. Both are travelling in a lift to the twelfth floor.

Allow each round to last 45 seconds before telling the students to start rotating again.

 

Teacher Tip: If you have an uneven number of students in class, participate yourself to even up numbers. This will also allow you to monitor different students every 45 seconds, increasing your ability to provide group feedback.