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.